Bina Shah is a Karachi-based journalist and fiction writer and teacher. She is the author of two short story collections, Animal Medicine and Blessings, and four novels: Where They Dream in Blue, The 786 Cyber Cafe, Slum Child, and A Season For Martyrs. Her work has been translated into Urdu, Spanish, and Italian. She has written extensively for international and Pakistani newspapers, including The Independent, The International Herald Tribune, The Express Tribune, Dawn, Libas, The Friday Times, and (online) at Chowk and Granta magazine.
– WOMEN WRITING WOMEN: A Conversation with Nafisa Haji, Bina Shah, and Maniza Naqvi
-MIRACLE MAN: Book Launch and in Conversation with Mohammed Hanif, author of
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti
How does it feel to be a part of an event that seems to be getting bigger and better with each passing year?
I’ve been attending the KLF since year one and I’ve seen it grow from infancy. I wouldn’t say it’s an adult yet but it’s definitely a teenager now and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it!
Since the Karachi Literature Festival is happening so close to the Jaipur Festival, there are bound to be comparisons between the two. Do you think it’s fair? Especially this early on?
KLF is a completely different animal. For one thing, it’s much younger. Comparing it to other festivals is essentially like comparing your eldest child to your youngest child. You can’t expect a child who’s still learning times tables to be good at Algebra.
Who were you most eagerly looking forward to meet at the festival this year?
I was most looking forward to listening to Hanif Kureishi but unfortunately my panel got scheduled at the same time as him, so I missed it. I’ll try not to miss Vikram Seth’s session now!
I believe you’re working on a new novel these days? When can we expect to get our hands on the next Bina Shah title?
Yes, I am working on a new novel but you won’t get to see it for a long time! It still needs to go through a lot of revisions. I read an extract from it in my session this morning. It’s about an American businessman who comes to Karachi for three days and gets into a lot of trouble. It’s fun and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot!
Last year, in response to people’s concern over how someone like you who’s essentially led a rather privileged life would know anything about the hardships faced by slum-dwellers, you said that you’d “traveled in a Rickshaw,” and that comment made quite a buzz. In fact, people have continued to be overtly critical of you over this past year. Would you like to put an end to the accusation once and for all?
Gosh, nobody understands sarcasm here! People who criticize me don’t know what they’re talking about! I worked for an entire summer with mentally and physically handicapped children before writing ‘Slum Child’. I based the book on my experience working with the children one-on-one with a British social worker. I’ve been in those slums! How could I pretend to write about something without experiencing it? It’s a ridiculous accusation!
Tell me a bit about your panel with Maniza Naqvi and Nafisa Haji on women writing for women. What’s the significance, in these days, of South Asian women writing about women?
Well, the concept of women writing for women is important because it’s time someone brought their issues to the forefront. Our women’s voices need to be heard! I write for women and I write about women. I think it’s one of the most important parts of my job!