Sabyn Javeri is a Pakistani English novelist, short story writer and essayist. While her novel Nobody Killed Her has been one of the best-selling books reviewed by journals, newspapers and scholarly websites from all over the world, she also has the Oxonian Review Short Story Award and The Missing Slate’s Author of the Month accolade to her name. After having attained a Masters degree from Oxford University and a doctorate from the University of Leicester, Sabyn Javeri now serves Habib University as the Assistant Professor and Director of its English department, where she is striving to explore the neglected areas of Literature in Pakistan and make them available as interesting and respectable fields for her students. This writer of numerous essays and stories was asked a few questions by us, to which she gave rich, interesting and informative answers. They are as follows:
Questions by Maimoona Khan:
What are the prospects of Pakistani English’s consideration as an accepted version of English language?
It depends on what you mean by acceptability. English is spoken differently even within England. So, it isn’t really a big deal if we use it colloquially. Most colonised societies do, whether it is English or French and to an extent, even Arabic is spoken differently within the Middle-East depending on the region you are in. This can be applied to Urdu language as well for that matter.
How far have we come from Post-colonialism? Is there a new defence of Muslim culture as our agenda?
Post-colonialism is something we will be grappling for a long time and there is no short answer to this question. The fact that we still grapple with our regional or national language yet go to great lengths to learn English and are proud of it is just one example. The shame that is associated with speaking our mother tongue shows how little we have come away. I don’t think there is a universal mono-Muslim culture. It differs from nation to nation and from region to region. And I think piety needs no defence while violence can never be justified.
How have modern immigrant situations, political uprisings and Islamophobia affected Pakistani English fiction?
They have affected our fiction the same way they have affected everything else. Our stories reflect the times we live in.
What would it take to have our own Arundhati Roy, Khushwant Singh, or even Manto of the yester years?
Manto and Singh wrote about Partition which obviously new writers are not writing about because they feel more strongly about themes which reflect the times they live in. However, if you mean the creativity that these writers reflect, then I think Pakistani writing is at a fantastic stage with so much good work being produced. Sidra Sheikh’s Sci-fi novel, Ayesha Tariq’s graphic novel, Sheheryar Sheikh’s psychological novel, my own new book which is a collection of very experimental short stories titled Hijabistan, all reflect the diversity of contemporary Pakistani fiction. Unfortunately, most of us have never even heard of them because we only read books by the few big names who have gained international fame. I think until reading culture really takes hold in our society and we actually start reading books than names, we will not be able to appreciate the amazing literature that is being produced. I personally think we have many Roys and Mantos amidst us today, simply for the bravery and courage of the subject matter they write about.
Questions by Muhammad Ali:
How did you happen to act in Sahira Kazmi’s drama serial Zaib-un-Nisa? Are there any other acting projects to your name?
That was over twenty years ago I think. I’m surprised that people still remember it. But then Sahira Kazmi’s dramas are legendary. It was a strange co-incidence that I met Sahira somewhere and she asked me if I would like to act in her upcoming drama. I got married just before the shooting started and moved abroad soon after. I have recently come back and now writing is my creative outlet. But I’m tempted to act.
Do you agree that there is a lack of 'feel-good' stories when it comes to Pakistani English fiction and that many writers are not being able to snap out from the trauma of Partition, the after-effects of 9/11 and the dark world of 'Heera Mandi'?
I think most writers write what they feel strongly about. A lot of contemporary Pakistani writers who are actually based in Pakistan like Shandana Minhas and Omer Shahid write about everyday themes. I feel my own novel Nobody Killed Her is quite contemporary and although the subject matter is dark, the treatment is very entertaining. No novel can be completely 'feel-good' but neither are these works completely gloomy and stale.
There is an absence of professional degrees in creative writing in Pakistan. Are you making any efforts for filling this gap?
I am currently working as the Programme Director at Habib University’s Literature and Languages department and we do offer Creative Writing courses. In fact, we even published an anthology of our students’ works which was launched last year at the Karachi Literature Festival. I edited this anthology myself. So yes, I am doing all I can to promote creative writing because I really feel young people need a space to express themselves creatively where they can write freely without the pressure of grades.
When you write, is it with the objective to ‘write back to the empire’ or for the sake of writing only?
I write when something moves me. Granted that we still have not been completely decolonised but when you live in Pakistan and publish in South Asia, your audience is very much local and your themes, your language, your thoughts all reflect that.
Why do you think most of the Pakistani English writers choose to stay abroad?
I think there are more Pakistani writers writing in English in the country than abroad. Unfortunately, we don’t appreciate our writers till they are validated by the West. In other words, until a writer is published in the West, we usually don’t give them much publicity or appreciation. Therefore, the authentic Pakistani writer remains unknown in the shadow of the international Pakistani writer. If you walk into a bookstore today, you will see many books by Pakistani writers published in India or locally but they hardly get the same kind of coverage than those Pakistani authors who live or get published in the West do and therefore mostly remain unheard of.
As is evident from her answers, Sabyn Javeri is someone for whom her surrounding matters a lot. Despite her prolific work in the field of Creative Writing, she has not remained confined to her own world of imagination, but has shown veneration for all the indigenous authors and consideration for the aspiring writers of Pakistan. Many young writers from our country might surely be waiting for something like Arzu Anthology of Short Stories to come to them and provide them with an opportunity to express themselves through a notable platform.