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New generation of Bush House writers

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 26 May 2011

In my last entry I wrote about the language services that are known for their literary traditions at BBC World Service headquarters Bush House.

The names of Qurrat-ul-Ain Haider, Momin Khan Momin, Obaid Siddiqui, Mohsena Jilani, Fahmida Riaz, Mohammed Hanif - all of whom have passed through the doors of the BBC's Urdu service - are well-known in the Urdu- and English-speaking literary worlds.

I also mentioned the name of Waheed Mirza - who is currently with the Urdu service and has just published the acclaimed novel The Collaborator.

"It is Kashmir in the early 1990s and war has finally reached the isolated village of Nowgam close to the Pakistan border.

"Indian soldiers appear as if from nowhere to hunt for militants on the run.

"Four teenage boys, who used to spend their afternoons playing cricket, or singing Bollywood ballads down by the river, have disappeared one by one, to cross into Pakistan and join the movement against the Indian army.

"Only one of their friends, the son of the headman, is left behind.

"He, under the brutal, drunken gaze of the Indian army captain, is seemingly forced to collaborate and go into the valley to count the corpses, fearing, each day, that he will discover one of his friends lying amongst the dead..." - so says the synopsis on the back of the book.

I digress here slightly...

Last week I attended a BBC masterclass, run by Adam Hochschild - an American writer of non-fiction.

He said that he is writing non-fiction because it doesn't restrict him.

Hochschild says that how ever unbelievable the reality is, the evidence always backs up his writing, but with fiction he is doomed to doubt himself: is this or that scenario plausible or not?

Waheed Mirza works as the Online Editor of the BBC Urdu Service and by the very nature of his job as a journalist he writes extensively about Pakistan and Kashmir.

I asked him: what does fiction give you which journalism does not? He replies:

"There is no single reason why I chose fiction.

"Many things come to mind: you've been nursing writerly aspirations forever.

"You think you have something to say.

"Then your political baptism happens at home in Kashmir - a most intense political baptism, I must add.

"Then you've been waiting for the moment when you hit upon a voice.

"Added to all that is your work as a journalist, which, in it's short everyday news form is sometimes inadequate to tell complex stories such as Kashmir's.

"Fiction - I have always believed - allows for the greatest complexity and mystery; with the novelistic form, one can go anywhere.

"That is one of the reasons it has survived for so long.

"My career as a journalist has helped me to recognise the value of regular output.

"You need something on the page everyday, every week, to arrive at something substantial.

"In other ways, it's sometimes an impediment: You've just hit upon a terrific plot turn or thought of a great line, but then you've got to be at that important, and sometimes crushingly boring, meeting at work, or a big story has just broken.

"But then that's something which can be true of all careers, isn't it?"

I also told Waheed about our common project - writing a radio drama and asked him for his contribution, to inspire our thoughts.

He gave his plot the title The Pacifist:

It's about a separatist militant leader's long-drawn dilemma over his decision to give up arms.

"As a rather naive metaphor - and some kind of dramaturgical device - the play shows his Kalashnikov as an extension of his right arm.

"Unable to shake it off, he wants to cut it off but can't bring himself to do it as it hurts.

"Eventually he's surrounded by armed forces sent by the state to capture him.

"They are not interested in his complexities or his internal struggle which he tries to speak about through a megaphone.

"He is shot dead the moment he declares a surrender to become a pacifist.

"His dead body is then shown as a trophy on TV."

PS I'm aware that there were some problems with writing comments on the blog, which are fixed now. So if you were unsuccessful in your attempt to send your plot, please try now once again, it should work. I need more of your suggestions before we proceed further.

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