By Puja Roy
Lahore-based writer Sana Munir’s debut collection of short stories, Unfettered Wings, was published by Rupa Publications, India, in 2018. In this conversation with Puja Roy, Munir recounts her exhilarating journey with the collection, from its conception to its publication.
Puja Roy: With your debut book being received extremely well in both Pakistan and India, how does it feel, Sana, to have finally arrived?
Sana Munir: It is a dream come true. At the same time, it is also a huge responsibility to keep learning to bring about better work than before.
PR: You selected an Indian publisher and not a publisher in your country Pakistan. How did that come to happen? Can you tell us a little about it?
SM: The publishing industry in Pakistan is in its pre-natal stage. We have publishing houses but they all work as privately-run businesses. I had already tried self-publishing a novel titled The Satanist and it had not worked out well for me. The dream to get a book traditionally published demanded a difficult path which promised recognition at the end and that is how I tried to get signed up with a literary agency and was very happy when my manuscript was taken up for representation by The Book Bakers who later helped me get published with Rupa Publications. Indeed, the insignia of Rupa on the book added oomph to its credentials.
PR: Each story of yours takes the reader to a different geographical location of Pakistan. Was it by design?
SM: Absolutely. I intended to show a holistic picture of Pakistan to the Indian readers, and also remind Pakistani readers that humble environs of the desert of Baluchistan, the mountains of the Hazara belt, the sandy terrain of Waziristan and the dingy neighbourhoods of the urban cities, too had stories that were waiting to be told and read. I am glad, the literary trip through Pakistan – a country with multiple cultures – was accepted by the readers.
PR: In your story “Habiba”, you have written about the patriarchal nature of life that is prevalent in those areas. Does it also have some political message? What is your idea about such difficult rules being imposed in women of certain tribes in your country?
SM: Anything that is imposed on another, is wrong. It must be changed. There are several ways to do it – through law, legislation, social work and whatnot. Being a writer, my limitation is that I can write about those women and create a narrative that represents their struggles, tests, triumphs and stoicism. Women are facing oppression one way or the other in every part of the world and speaking up about it, is not just a way to protest, but also the first step towards solving the problem.
PR: From symptoms of Down syndrome to minute details of places in Pakistan, your homework seems damn good. Are these all a result of research or are there real life observations as well? Tell us about it.
SM: The human mind is a wonderful place. It is not physically tactile, like the human brain, but the functionality of the mind is far more complex than the brain itself. The mind stores images, sounds and feelings from the conscious senses as well as the subconscious. If the ‘reality’ is being sensed by the brain, the subconscious is being preserved by the mind – imagination, dreams, symbols, etc. A writer’s mind should be capable of merging the information from the mind and the brain – physical observations and creative imagination – into a make-believe reality that reads off as a ‘story’. There is a lot of research involved in this book since my settings are realistic, as are the plots, but research cannot become part of fiction unless it is paired with double the amount of creativity.
PR: Your protagonists speak for themselves. Maria, Habiba, Reema, Meera, Zainab, they are women who we feel we know… how much of it is fiction and how much real? We would love to know.
SM: The characters are entirely fictional. However, the situations in which they have been put, the issues that they are tackling, the struggles they are facing – are all real. To be honest, I have been asked this question many times before. The reason readers connect with the characters, is, they are all represented in a realistic way, in their environs, which are, at times pretty much our own environs. The stories I have spun around the characters are also pure fiction, but the problems that the book highlights, are completely realistic.
PR: An entire collection on women characters. How did the concept of the book germinate? How did you finalize on the theme and characters? Were there many versions? Or was it a draft that happened in a single shot? We are curious to know.
SM: I have a certain way of developing a rapport with the characters I want to write about. Until and unless, the characters reveal themselves to me, I cannot begin writing. So with this book, my imaginary friends all showed up, one after the other – one was a girl from the mountains, the other was an old professor from the city, one was a divorced girl trying to reboot her life and another was an old woman in a hospice. If I tried to put them all in a novel, it would have been too messy, therefore, the only way out was a collection of short stories – extraordinary stories about ordinary women. There was one draft.
PR: A writer cannot become an author without the support of his/her dear ones. We would love to know how your family played a role in making Unfettered Wings a reality.
SM: I am blessed to have a very encouraging set of people around me along with the blessings from above. Indeed, my family is the moral support who helped me to go on after every hindrance, especially my children.
Puja Roy is the Founder of the digital Book Club – The Book Buzz. She studied Comparative Literature (Hons) at Jadavpur University and has a Diploma in Film Studies. She holds a Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations and is a writer by profession. An avid reader, Puja loves to research on history, cinema, art and culture. Currently, she is working on her debut book of short stories.
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