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Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times
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Interview with the Karachi-born novelist, part II.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Sehba Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston. There she lives with her husband and daughter. She also has a website. This is the second part of the interview Ms Sarwar gave to Pakistan Paindabad. You may read the first part here, third part here, the fourth here. This exclusive feature is an attempt to understand the alternative reality of Pakistan.
Ms Sarwar, what things do you like about Houston, your ‘adopted city’?
Actually I frequently write on the similarities between Houston and Karachi.
Karachi and Houston – similar!
You know, sometimes when I want to be provocative I say: I like Houston because it's ugly, polluted and hot - just like Karachi. But yes, Houston has open spaces like Karachi, and is very quirky. I published an essay about just these kinds of similarities in CITE, an architectural magazine that comes out of Rice University (in Houston). Of course, you have to know the city very well before understanding it.
This could be true of Delhi, too, where I live.
Yeah? But the truth is that both Karachi and Houston have depth, and one cannot really appreciate the beauty of either city without exploring, or digging deeper. In Houston, there are many reminders of ‘home’. I can eat samosas, naan, chaat, or drink chai without going too far. I also like that I can navigate between different worlds because the city draws people from around the world: South Asia, different parts of Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Mexico.
You know, Mayank, one of the best things about Houston is that it's an open city, and I have been able to walk into the space - without any prior connections - and create my own non-profit arts organization, practice my art and get support (both funding and community) to do the work that I am driven to create.
Ms Sarwar, how different is your life in Karachi and Houston? What do you usually wear in Karachi? What in Houston?
Life is very different, I suppose, in both cities. However, I don't act too differently in either place: I wear what I feel like wearing and that runs the gamut from jeans and skirts to shalwar kurtas and saris.
You never feel the pressure to dress or behave differently?
Look, the communities in which I socialize and work in Karachi are generally open-minded. Also, because of the nature of my work - I'm deeply involved in the arts and activist communities in Houston - I don't feel any need to conform to a lifestyle that's not my own. And even though it's been a while since I've worked full-time in Karachi, I do run workshops when I'm in Pakistan, and have held many readings there.
Are you more a Houstonian than a Karachiite?
I don't call myself a Houstonian nor do I aspire to. And I've never called myself a Karachiite either, even though I feel as if a part of the city lives in me. After all, that's where the heart of my writing emanates. Anyway I’m not committed to living in the States for good, and am working on increasing my time in Pakistan, and the region.
You would upset those with a high regard for passport boundaries.
But I don't really like borders. I find them a bit superficial. Ever since I was a child, I've always been interested in exploring the Subcontinent as a region, rather than the countries defined by recent borders.
And you did explore this region...
Yes. While raised in Pakistan, I have spent time in north, south and eastern India, and have traveled through Sri Lanka. I haven't been to Bangladesh, yet, though I've been very close. In 1987, while enrolled in a graduate program in Austin (US), I spent three months in Calcutta doing an internship at The Telegraph in Calcutta. I never went across the border, but would very much like to do so.
Gosh, you just don’t respect borders!
History and human connections happen despite political borders. I've always loved travel, and over the years with my husband, have spent time many other countries including Thailand, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Australia.
[The second part ends here. You may read the first part here, the third part here part, the fourth here.]
Her life in Houston
On the job