Maniza Naqvi is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Lahore, she considers Karachi to be her real home albeit mostly living, in her own words, “in a suitcase.” Her four novels are Mass Transit, On Air, Stay With Me, and A Matter of Detail. She has also published a book of short stories called Sarajevo Saturdays. She writes fiction and essays for 3Quarksdaily.com. Her short story: An Impossible Shade of Home Brew is included in the anthology And Then The World Changed.
-WOMEN WRITING WOMEN: A Conversation with Nafisa Haji, Bina Shah, and Maniza Naqvi
-PAKISTANI CONTEMPORARY FICTION WRITINGS
This is your second time at the Karachi Literature Festival, isn’t it? How does it feel to be a part of an event that seems to be getting bigger and better with each passing year?
This is my second time at the festival, yes. I couldn’t come last year but this time I made it a point to attend. It was one of those important things on my calendar this year and I know dozens of people have made the same effort. I’m very glad to see how big the whole affair has gotten. Last time around I remember it was small and intimate with just about 5000 guests. I think this time it must be at least double that!
So you’re thoroughly enjoying yourself?
I am! The panels and discussions are all delightfully intellectual and it’s amazing to me because the people of Karachi—everybody you see here today—don’t take art and literature lightly. It’s very important to them because it’s an important part of their lives.
Are you based in New York?
Well, I’m based in a suitcase. I’ve been based in a suitcase for a long time now! My brain and heart is in Sarajevo and Addis Ababa and Karachi and New York. I said this earlier once and people asked me not to say it again but in Satanic Verses, right in the beginning, Salman Rushdie wrote something about when God condemned Lucifer from the heavens, He said you’ll never set foot on any part of Earth… and sometimes I feel as if I’m Satan and I’ve been condemned never to be able to stay in one place for a long time!
You’ve been very vocal about your love for Karachi even though you’re officially from Lahore. Why this fascination with the city?
Karachi is like a home to me and I come here regularly. Four of my books are based in Karachi and I bet I could show you a thing or two here that you probably don’t even know about! I know the city very intimately. I am a Karachiite at heart. And let me tell you, there are a lot of similarities between living in Karachi or Addis Ababa or New York: you’re a citizen of a big city and it’s a wonderful feeling!
Who were you most eagerly looking forward to meet at the festival this year?
I’ve been eagerly waiting for hear Hanif Kureishi speak. I met Vikram Seth earlier and spent half an hour talking to him and let’s just say for a while there I thought I’d actually died and gone to heaven! He’s so wonderful!
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?
I’ve heard a lot of comparisons being made too and I think it’s unfair to compare anything to something else. Be it literature, art or books… I shy away from this noise people tend to make. I’d never compare one book to another or one author’s writing to another author’s writing. Jaipur is Jaipur and Karachi is Karachi. And we’re just lucky to be around.
So when can we expect to get our hands on a new Maniza Naqvi title?
Well, there is a novel grinding in my head. It’s slowly cooking up like a pot of Haleem, and I don’t know what direction it will eventually take. Not yet anyway! I’ll definitely let you know more about it when I’ve figured it out myself! Until then, if you want to read something by me, I write for a blog every month called www.3quarksdaily.com that keeps me busy and it’s a wonderful way of getting my stories up. It’s instant gratification!
How long does it usually take you to cook up a novel—from a sketchy idea in your head to the bookshelf?
It usually takes about a year to get things going… but when I seriously sit down to write and bring it all together I can do it in a couple of years. I write all the time so hopefully the one I’m working on now will come together soon!
So, other than making sense of the Haleem, what are your big plans for the future?
I’m too old to be making plans, but if you insist I think I’d like to fall in love! Not that I need someone in my life because I’m already in love with Karachi! On a serious note, my only big plan in life right now is that from here on, I’ll try to spend as much time being in the place that I am in physically, and see and hear stories, write about them, and just remain emotional… I think emotion is very important no matter what you do; whether you’re an author or a physicist or a journalist. Our ability to express emotion by writing or singing about them or dancing is what really differentiates us from other living things, wouldn’t you say?