AZEEM: When did you leave Pakistan? When
did you come to Canada and for how long you have been living in Toronto?
SOHAIL: I graduated from Khyber Medical
College Peshawar Pakistan in 1974. After one year of internship in
Medicine, Gynecology and Obstetrics, I went to Iran. I stayed in Tehran
for a few months and then moved to Hamadan for a year. I used to work in a
Children’s Hospital that was located just opposite to the tomb of famous
physician philosopher Avicenna. During that year I applied to different
universities all over the world to do my residency in psychiatry. I was
accepted in Ireland, New Zealand and Newfoundland, Canada. I chose Canada
and did my four year residency training in psychiatry from 1977 to 1981.
After receiving my Fellowship in psychiatry in 1982 and working for two
years in New Brunswick, I moved to Ontario in 1984. I worked in Whitby
Psychiatric Hospital for 10 years and then started my own Creative
Psychotherapy Clinic. I have been working there since 1995.
AZEEM: You are a prolific writer. You
have published nearly twenty books in Urdu and English in the last couple
of decades. What is the secret of your prolific writing?
SOHAIL: There are many factors that are significant. One factor is
that I have lived alone for the last two decades. I have not carried the
responsibilities of a traditional family on my shoulders. Many poets,
writers and artists that I know spend a lot of time and energy looking
after their children. After fulfilling those responsibilities they feel
tired and exhausted and have hard time creating. It is very difficult for
them to balance their personal, professional and creative lives.
Over the years I have discovered a few things about my
creative process. I am most creative in the mornings. So I have dedicated
my Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings for my creative work. On
Mondays and Tuesdays I start my clinic after lunch.
A few years ago I wrote an article titled From Creative Rain
To Creative Spring. In that article I shared the dynamics of my creative
journey. There was a time I used to have creative rain and I would write a
poem, a story or an essay and then there would be dry period for months.
Over the years that rain has transformed into a spring that flows in the
depths of my being and now I write on a regular basis. When I am not doing
some original writing I translate world literature in Urdu. Such
translations help me in maintaining my creative mood. I also have regular
meetings with my creative friends on Sunday afternoons and discuss
creative ideas and writings. Those discussions are quite inspiring and
creativogenic. We add those writings on my website
so that other creative friends who live in other parts of the world can
read them too. I also contribute regularly to Urdu magazines in Pakistan
and India and English magazines on internet. Those publications keep me
connected with the creative community all over the world. Internet is such
a wonderful medium.
The last thing that I want to mention that helps my creativity is
taking a week off after working a few weeks in my clinic and going to an
island, the land of sun, sea and sand with my books and papers and
finishing my unfinished creative projects. All these factors have helped
me nurture my creativity. I have developed an affectionate relationship
with my muse. She is very kind to me and brings me creative gifts quite
frequently. Most artists and writers that I know ignore their creativity.
Creativity is a special gift that needs to be taken seriously and
AZEEM: Do you see literature a source of
entertainment or a vehicle to share one’s philosophy of life?
SOHAIL: Some writers like to entertain
and create recreational literature, while others like to enlighten and
create serious literature sharing their insights in life. Literature, that
I respect the most, is wisdom literature. Some of the folktales and mystic
poetry are part of such wisdom literature.
In my opinion all writers are in search of their truth.
After they discover their truth they like to share it with others in a
creative way. Those writers who are successful in sharing their profound
life experiences and insights in their writings become the representatives
of their generation. They offer new forms of expression and new insights
of human condition to humanity.
AZEEM: How are your creative writings
different than the writings of your contemporaries?
SOHAIL: Most contemporary writers that I
know primarily focus on the form, while my primary focus is on the theme.
For me form is secondary. I express myself in many creative forms. I
usually pick a theme for my book and then create many poems, essays,
stories and translations on that theme. In that way I can collect my
observations, experiences, readings and analysis in one book. If you see
my books, you will find that the first one is about peace, the second one
is about humanism, the third one is about women’s liberation and the
fourth one is about struggle of blacks. In my creative writings alongside
sharing my truth I also like to raise social consciousness of my readers
and translating world literature in Urdu is one way of doing that.
AZEEM: You are not only a poet and a
writer, you are also a psychotherapist. What is your concept of man?
SOHAIL: As a humanist I have great
respect for humanity. I believe that every human child is like a seed that
has a unique temperament and potential. For a seed to become a healthy
tree and offer wonderful fruits, it needs fertile soil, fresh air,
humidity and sunshine. Similarly for a child to become a peace loving
healthy adult he needs love and nurturing and discipline. Those children
that get all the needed nurturing they become successful scientists and
artists and politicians and doctors and lawyers and serve their
communities. On the other hand those children that are deprived of love or
have to experience neglect and abuse, they turn into angry and violent
adults. Modern psychology, medicine and literature are helping us find
ways to evolve to become fully human individually and collectively. I
dream of a world where all children will have opportunities to express
their full potential.
AZEEM: Over the years you have
interviewed many poets and philosophers, writers and artists? What
inspires you to take those interviews?
SOHAIL: For me an interview is a creative
expression. Socrates taught us that dialogue is one way of discovering
truth. Freud shared that interviews can become part of the healing
process. To find right answers in life we need the right questions. The
bigger the philosopher the bigger question he asks. We need to teach our
children to ask the right questions to learn and grow. In one hour of
interviewing creative personalities I discover the essence of their life
struggles and the lessons they have learnt in life. A lot of people come
to my website to read those interviews.
AZEEM: Many immigrant writers have
written about the struggles of living in a foreign land. How do you see an
SOHAIL: When immigrant writers move from
one culture to another they are able to experience two languages, two
literatures and two lifestyles in two communities. Experiencing two
cultures can open their inner third eye and they can create literature
that can become a metaphor of our contemporary world. As far as my
personal life is concerned I had more smiles than tears in this journey.
By coming to Canada I had so many wonderful and inspiring experiences that
broadened my existential horizons. My world view grew and I became a
better writer, a better therapist and a better human being. Urdu writers
are preoccupied with nostalgia. Many of them are physically living in the
West but emotionally living in the East. We are living in a global village
and immigrant writers can express the angst of living in a global village.
AZEEM: Do you consider yourself a
SOHAIL: I have been inspired by the
philosophies of socialism, democracy and humanism. One of the reasons I
chose to live in Canada than America was her free health care system. When
my patients come to see me they do not have to pay me. Our government pays
for their care. In America there have been millions of citizens who have
no adequate health care services and if they do not have health insurance
they cannot be admitted to the hospital. I think state should provide
housing, education and health care to all citizens. I do not mind paying
high taxes to the government so that she provides such services to the
needy. I consider that a part of social responsibility. I like to share
that responsibility and serve my community as a therapist.
AZEEM: There has been a wave of
fundamentalism all over the world and America has been reacting strongly
to it. What are your views about this issue?
SOHAIL: When human beings start feeling
insecure they regress and become extremists. Fundamentalism is a
psychological reaction to world wide anxieties and insecurities. Karen
Armstrong in her writings shared the view that in the 20th
century there were three waves of fundamentalism. The first one was
Christian fundamentalism, the second Jewish fundamentalism and the third
Muslim fundamentalism, and each one was more extreme than the previous
one. Even the Hindu communities in India are affected by Hindu
fundamentalism. When religious fundamentalism became militant it became
violent and thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed in
the name of God and religion.
In my opinion democratic and humanistic values prosper in
those communities where:
…the gap between different classes is reduced
…literacy rate is raised
…people develop social consciousness
…masses become ready to fight for their human rights.
It is very naïve for American politicians to think that by having
elections in many countries they will pave the way for democracy.
Democracy is far more complex than elections. Until the social, economic,
literacy and human rights issues are not resolved, it will be hard for
democracy to prosper. Even then their democracy has to rise from their own
traditions. They may not accept a Western type democracy.
AZEEM: What are your views about peace?
SOHAIL: In my opinion inner and outer,
emotional and social, psychological and political peace are
interconnected. It is hard for those people to bring peace who are full of
anger, resentment and bitterness. I read an article in Toronto Star in
which the writer analyzed people involved in different movements. His
analysis was that of all the people involved in political movements only
20% were pro and 80% were against. In the struggle of women more women
were against men and less in favor of women. Similarly in the struggle of
blacks majority were fighting against whites and minority were struggling
in favor of blacks. In one interview Mother Teresa had said that she will
join a pro peace rally but not an antiwar rally.
I consider war an expression of collective anger and
hostility. In my opinion peace is more than absence of war. Peace is a
positive, constructive and progressive way of living. In cold war there
was no war but there was no peace either. Peace comes into existence when
both parties are willing to live in harmony and resolve their conflicts
respectfully and gracefully.
I believe world peace is intimately connected with justice.
As far as poor countries are exploited by rich countries and there is no
justice in the international courts we will not see lasting peace in the
world. I am totally against veto power of five countries in United
Nations. All nations of the world need to have power in United Nations.
United Nations need to declare our planet a nuclear weapon free zone for
global peace. No nation need to have army and nuclear weapons. Only United
Nations need to have peace force to police the whole world and that peace
force be prepared from representatives of all nations in the world. How
can we have peace in the world when we are living in the era of war
economy and rich nations are thriving by selling weapons to poor
AZEEM: What do you see the future of the
SOHAIL: I believe in human evolution. In
my opinion humanity is at a crossroads. We have two choices. We can commit
collective suicide and kill millions of people with modern nuclear weapons
or we can grow to the next stage of human evolution and learn to live
peacefully with each other. We need to rise above the tribal mentality in
which human beings are at war with other human beings based on different
classes, races, languages, religions and nationalities. We need leaders
who will promote peace consciousness rather than violent consciousness. We
need to find peace
…with other humans
To create a peaceful world together we need to learn that we are all
members of the same tribe, the same family, the human family and our
enemies are our distant cousins.