My only barometer that the novel is well and truly over is that I’m writing short pieces again… and that I’m getting ideas and concepts for them again. I’d started wondering if I was just a one-trick pony, having concentrated almost exclusively on writing this thing for the better part of six years. I am happiest with it today, after two premature attempts at sending it to agencies; once in 2014 (which was way, way too soon) and then in 2016. But the latter version was still tarred with the same brush as the version preceding it. The current draft is quite finished.
I’ve always said my essays come out fully formed because they’re so angry; fed up with the status quo, these pieces are yowls of frustration. But I’m looking at translating a lot of the ideas that might once have fueled essays back into writing fiction. Because what sets my soul on fire the most? Social upheaval and the desire to do something about it.
The angle of my work hasn’t really changed in the last decade–when I started writing the “towel girl story”, otherwise known as ‘Blue Line’. The piece takes place in a transit hotel while the protagonist, a woman, contemplates aborting her unborn child on the one hand, or telling her parents she’s been having sex. Both unsavory options, but over the course of 1,500 odd words, decides it’s her life and she intends to live it. Of course, the woman is Pakistani. If you’re looking for a fuller resolution, don’t read my work. I like character pieces. Something changed along the way for me as a writer when I started putting character progression on a higher bench.
‘Grey Unrest’, as the novel’s titled, doesn’t veer too far from the misogynies and double standards Pakistani women face in living their lives and owning up to their careers. It throws cultural Islam into the mix, too, and the tricky webs we weave of misunderstandings and missteps, acknowledging that so often the power is in our hands to own up to our decisions to really move forward.
The current piece I’m writing–‘Through the Crucible’ (working title)–focuses more on that, specifically about the intolerance two professional women face when running a clinic specializing in IVF. First, that they’re women; second, that it’s IVF, a procedure that’s fairly common, but is still considered somewhat of a taboo; third, how often not being able to conceive is considered a “female issue”. This mayn’t fall strictly into my core themes of “place, identity, and family”, but it’s all about social constructs, with some focus on female relationships thrown in there. I have an ending in mind and know it’ll need to go through a couple drafts to really tease out the story I want to tell. But tell it I must. And I think it’s that connection to writing that I really missed.
The ideas are coming quickly and close together. In the complex realities of contemporary Pakistan, there is so much ground to cover, so much to write about. So many dialogs to foster. And amidst all of it, I hear Victor Hugo in my head, in his preface to ‘Les Miserables’–
“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality […]; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
Social asphyxia isn’t going anywhere.