posted by Noor

We recently posted Mohammad Umer Memon’s interview conducted by on the DWL forums. I was particularly intrigued by the quality of work he has translated from Urdu to English. I have always felt that literature in Urdu is overwhelmingly rich – like the arable lands of the country it originates from.

I grew up reading books and short stories in Urdu – literature that was perhaps more suited for an adult than a child. My parents, both writers by profession, maintained an overbearing library – a room with an imposing desk, carefully decorated with fountain pen holders and crystal paperweights, rocking chairs, floor pillows, sketches of writers, my parents’ awards, and wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books and magazines. From a very early age, I began to know names like Bano Qudsia, Nazir Ahmad, Ishfaq Ahmad, Qurat-ul-ain Haider, Imtiaz Ali Taj, and the like. I devoured these books just like I ate up every last word of Dickens, Shakespeare, and Eliot.

I remember, I was in the library once, and my father came in and saw me with one of Manto’s anthologies. “Perhaps this is better suited to a young lady’s tastes,” he said and extended a copy of Mira’at-ul-Uroos towards me. “After you’re done with this one,” he said pointing to the book I was holding. Manto is nothing if not controversial. But so layered is his work that I find something new and rather chilling every time I read one of his stories. So rich with metaphors – there was this one story in which a man collects empty cans and bottles and ends up marrying someone who looks like an empty bottle after getting rid of his collection. Sigh! I have butchered it. If you have not read Manto, READ MANTO! His work contains perhaps the most powerful social commentary that I have ever read. Alas! I digress.

I slowly discovered poetry in Urdu, too. I cannot claim to fully understand Ghalib and Iqbal, but took a particular liking to Mir Dard and Mir Taqi Mir. Contemporary Urdu poetry opened up to me like a ball of yarn running loose around the house. The romance in Parveen Shakir’s work took me through my angst ridden adolescence. I found thehrao, control, clam (how would I translate this?!) particularly in Mansoora Ahmad’s work. Gulzar’s “Chand Pakhraj Ka” remains a favorite to this day.

There is such a wealth of Urdu literature in our country – both classic and contemporary – and it’s tragic that many in our generation are not familiar with it. In a time when Urdu is no longer the fashionable or cultured language to speak, Mohammad Umer Memon is translating books and short stories from Urdu to English to introduce the depth of human emotion, understanding, and wisdom contained in them.

It’s unfortunate that I, too, living in a world where Urdu is seldom recognized as a language in existence, let alone spoken or read, am losing my command over it. Sometimes, I find myself wondering how a word is spelled – if it uses “tay” or “tuaein.” Small, everyday battles to keep a little bit of my roots alive. For people who are not familiar with the richness that is in the works of authors who write in Urdu, Memon comes as a fresh breeze, a rescuer of the ignorant. More importantly, he is an ambassador of literature written in Urdu and is a voice that reaches everyone in the world and proclaims: “This is how we do it!”

Currently reading: Harper Collins Book of Urdu Short Stories by Mohammad Umer Memon.

Get a copy!

How to Tackle Writer’s Block (By Indirection!)

posted by Noor

We have all encountered this beast at some point in our writing careers. Sometimes you can fight it head-on; other times you have to cheat it, find a way around it, and give it a surprise defeat.
These techniques may work for you!

1. Start with Chapter Two. Pretend that you have already given all the background information about your characters. Start writing the second chapter.

2. Dessert First. When you’re just writing, write the delicious parts, write the parts that you like.

3. Resist the rapture of research. Stay away from Google, the library, reference books. Look up information later. Write now.

4. A good idea that doesn’t happen is no idea at all.

5. XX factor. When you don’t know a fact about your story, don’t stall to ponder it. Put XX there and move on. When you are ready, go back and fill the gaps later.

6. Listen to your characters. How do you know who they are?

7. Interview your characters.

8. Take a shoebox and put physical things in it that remind you of your character. For example, you see an easy chair in a catalog and your character should be sitting in that chair or you can imagine him/her sitting in it, cut it out and put it in the box.

9. What if? Ask creative what if questions that might just jump start your story.

10. Even if you feel like life is interfering with your writing, remember that you need that life and its activities in order to write.

11. Banish the devil on your shoulder – the critical voice. You need a critical voice at some point, but certainly not when you’re blocked.

12. Write letters. Besides being an emotional catharsis, it also leaves you with a bank of emotions that you can withdraw from later.

13. Responsive writing. Keep asking yourself questions, they can be random questions, and keep answering them. Question-answer loop on a page to break out of the block answer by answer.

14. The Hemingway Technique. Hemingway often stopped writing at a high point, frequently even in the middle of a sentence. Instead of writing and writing until you get stuck so that the next day you’re dreading the point where you left of, you should perhaps stop when you are in the zone and you’re loving to write, so that you will be looking forward to the writing the next day.

15. Sometimes writer’s block is a message to you that you have picked something inherently wrong to write about – emotions, material, characters, voice, it can be anything. Once you have recognized and acknowledged this message, the writer’s block becomes a building block.

16. Sometimes the silence of the black screen is really a shout – it’s the silence of incubation.

Useful Resources, Good Books, Websites:
Publisher’s marketplace
Halldor Laxness – Independent People
Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
Enzo – book written from the perspective of a dog – Garth Stein
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers – Anne Bernays, Pamela Painter
The Paris Review Interviews (3 volumes)
Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott