Nida Fazli is one of the
most popular writers of India. He is not only a poet but also a screenplay
writer for television and films. His ghazals have been composed to music and
sung by popular musicians like Jagjeet Singh. In the last few years his
autobiography has created a stir in the literary circles because of its
honesty and literary style. When he was invited by Writers’ Forum, a dynamic
literary organization of Canada, who invite leading Urdu poets, writers and
intellectuals from Asia, Europe and North America to Toronto, I had an
opportunity to interview him. I was quite impressed by his philosophy and
I feel very excited that I have this
opportunity to interview you. You are one of the few writers I know, who is
popular among intellectuals as well as general public. You shared with me
earlier that in one of your interviews you discussed your philosophy of
creativity. Can you share with me what is your understanding of the creative
Nida Fazli: I believe creativity is not a
voluntary process. That is why I call it a miracle. If it was a voluntary
process then artists could have easily created masterpieces. When we study
history we discover that such miracles took place sometimes to some chosen
people in some special circumstances. I think the whole process is mysterious.
Even great poets
Meer are known because of there selected
works. That is why I believe that creativity is not a voluntary process.
There was once I
did experiment to write poetry voluntarily. I had not written a poem for a
while so I picked up a pen and paper and decided to write a poem. Those days I
was reading an article that stated that one can learn to create voluntarily. I
wrote one line and erased it, I wrote another line and erased it, I wrote a
third line and I erased it, as I was not satisfied with them. But then I wrote
a line that had the whole poem hidden in it.
I feel every day
we get distracted by so many things and people and activities that it becomes
very hard for us to concentrate and create. Creative process is like hunting a
wild animal in the jungle. Before hunting you have to corner the animal and to
do that one needs a lot of time and patience and strategy. Usually I am struck
by a line, or an idea or an image and then I pursue it to create a poem. It is
the journey from the known to the unknown. It is like the travels of Columbus
who did not know where his journey would end. I have to find that line or
image that acts as a hook to take out the poem hidden inside me.
When I get up in
the morning, I get a little distracted with the movie scripts, a little
distracted by the household activities, a little distracted by my
idiosyncratic habits, a little distracted by the trees, a little distracted by
the beautiful women, a little distracted by the charming children. So it is
hard to focus and collect oneself and then create something. Creative
relationship is a relationship between a statue and worshipper. He sculpts a
statue from a rock and then worships it. By worshipping, the statue gets
extra-ordinary power and then becomes a source of inspiration. A few months
ago I met a young woman. I was fascinated by her smile. Later on I fantasized
about her, and I felt intoxicated by her smile. That intoxication gave birth
to one poem, then the second, then the third. After a while the fantasy lost
its spark and I stopped creating poems about her.
Once I did
another creative experiment. I go for a walk every morning to the nearby ocean
as I like water. One morning I saw a little five year old girl standing on a
bus stop. She looked half asleep. She was carrying her school bag. I liked the
girl. While I was looking at her, I felt as if the sea and the winds were also
looking at her. When I passed close to her, I casually said, “Good Morning”.
Hearing the greetings from a stranger she became serious. A big seriousness on
a small face looked wonderful. For the next few months every morning I said
“Good Morning”. I used to imagine how would she look if she smiled. And then
one day while I was passing close by, she came running to me and said, “Uncle,
I saw you on television last night.” And that time she was smiling and looked
wonderful. When I asked her about her name, she said, “Shurdha”.
next day the political situation between Pakistan and India got worse and the
schools closed in Bombay. I did not see her for a few days. So I went looking
for me and met her family and took some pictures of her. Her father was quite
fascinated by my interest in her daughter. He asked me, “Why are you taking
her pictures. What will you do with them?”
I said, “I will
send them to the political leaders of Pakistan and India and tell them that
life is more than religious extremism and terrorism. It is Shurda’s wonderful
smile too. And then I created a poem called “Shurdha”.
creative process is very complex and mysterious. You will be surprised to know
that there is an old tree in front of my house. After my breakfast I go and
stand under the tree for a few minutes. If I do not do that, I feel something
is missing in my life. I find those moments very inspiring. That tree helps me
in completing my poems and developing new ideas.
I find children
very inspiring. I enjoy watching them go to school. I carry chocolates and
toffees for them in my pocket. All the adults in my neighborhood do not know
me but all the children know me very well.
I am also friends with crows. When I moved into my house, a crow used to come
to visit me in my studio. During my breakfast I threw a piece of bread for him
and he jumped to pick it up. Then he brought some of his friends. They used to
come regularly. They were very punctual. If I got late, they used to remind me
of my breakfast. They pick up the bread and then go to the tap and drink water
that drops from the tap drop by drop. Now I leave some bread for them at
night, so that if I sleep in, they get their breakfast. Those crows have
helped me develop a sense of responsibility.
In my creative
life, my prolonged isolation and loneliness have also played a major role. In
1964-65, my family decided to immigrate from Gavaliar to Karachi, from India
to Pakistan. At that time I believed that we couldn’t solve our problems by
leaving our homelands. So I decided not to join them and became a stranger in
my own home and homeland. I felt lonely for a long time. Because of that
loneliness, I developed some attitudes that other might find un-ethical or
anti-social. For example I stopped believing in the institution of marriage.
Now the woman I live in is a non-Muslim and because I am a Muslim, so our
relationship cannot be legalized. For a while my loneliness had also given
birth to fear. I used to lock all the doors and bolt things at night as I used
to be scared. I was nervous that someone would come in the house in the middle
of the night and kill me. The interesting thing was that during the day, I
felt normal. In short all I am trying to say is that my relationship with
nature, with birds and trees and animals and people are all connected with my
creativity and I find the psychology of creativity quite convoluted but
Can you share with me some things about your family and your relationship with
Nida: My father had a colorful personality.
He was very popular among women. Before marriage he had a number of liaisons
with prostitutes. Even after he was married to my mother, he still used to
visit the prostitutes. In my auto-biography, I have written about that topic
in detail. I have discussed the middle-class values of his time, in which men
used to marry one woman to have children and a family but used to be sexually
involved with many other women to have fun.
I faced a lot of
fear as a child. Dad used to come home late, and my mom used to get
hysterical. All of us were small, so we used to get scared of the evil
spirits. My older sister used to put the Holy Quran on the table to protect us
from those spirits. We used to wait for our dad to come home so that we could
feel safe and go to sleep. Because of such an environment, all the children
reacted strongly. I cannot say about the psychological reactions of my
siblings but I became rebellious. My mom did not want me to socialize with
children of lower class but I did not listen to her. I knew it would bother
her but I did not care. After getting disillusioned with my dad, my mom
directed all her affection and love to her children. But it was too much for
me. I used to feel the pressure of her love. Her mothering became smothering
and I rebelled. I also felt jealous. I thought my mom preferred my older
brother over me. I used to feel neglected as she would ask me to wear the left
over clothes of my brother. I resented that.
When I look back
at the time when my parents moved to Pakistan, I remember that my older
brother had moved to Pakistan in 1952. I wonder whether I resented my family
joining my brother in Pakistan. Those days Muslim families moved to Pakistan
for different reasons. Many Muslims felt they were not treated fairly and
justly in India. They believed Pakistan was a paradise for Muslims. Some
Muslims were afraid or racial riots while others were worried about their
daughters. They thought they could not get suitable Muslim boys for their
girls. But I resented my family joining my brother, so I stayed behind. But
then I became home-less in my own home. I felt isolated and lonely and alone.
After a long time I decided to visit Pakistan to attend a poetry festival and
visit my family. Unfortunately everything had changed. My parents had passed
away. My relationship with my brothers and sisters had lost all spontaneity
and I did not feel at home in their home. So I could stay with them for only a
couple of days and then came back.
Sohail: When did you realize that nature
had given you a special creative gift and you could become a successful writer
and an artist?
Nida: As a child
I was not aware of that natural gift but my father had a good taste of
literature and he used to recite couplets of famous Urdu poets. Because of
that literary atmosphere I had developed a taste in poetry. During my student
life I used to write poems in the classical tradition of Dagh Dehelvi. Female
students used to like my romantic poetry to such an extent that they used
those lyrics in their love letters.
And then I faced
a tragedy, a romantic tragedy. I started liking a girl in my class. She used
to sit at 45 angles in my class and I could only see her back from her short
blouse. I was so fascinated by her that even that footpath looked wonderful on
which she stepped on. I enjoyed looking at her from a distance. Those days I
did not have the courage to go and share with her my feelings. And then one
day I read a notice on the notice board then she was killed in an accident.
She was riding a bike near the temple and got crushed by a truck. After
reading that news a wave went through my heart, it was a wave of sadness and
depression and confusion. When I looked at the classical Urdu poetry, I could
not find a couplet to express my feelings. That day I realized that I have to
create my own poetry to share my own unique experiences. I used to wonder why
I was so intensely affected by the news, as I hardly knew her. But I felt a
special connection with her, even thought I did not talk to her.
After some time,
I was walking close to the temple and I heard someone reciting a religious
song in which Radha after separating from Krishna looks at the tree and
complains that how could he stand still while she was devastated by the
separation from her beloved. That day I realized how I felt connected with the
trees. That experience was a turning point in my life. I realized that every
pain and every experience had to be expressed in a unique way. At that time I
rebelled from the highway of tradition and started walking on the trail of my
heart. I left the classical style and started sharing my own observations and
experiences and developed my own style in poetry.
Sohail: How old were you then?
Nida: I was in the college doing my B.A. I
must me eighteen or nineteen.
Sohail: Alongside creating poetry you have
also been writing prose and screenplays for television and film. What do you
think is the difference between serious and popular literature?
Nida: We have inherited many traditions of
literature. In that tradition there is a folk tradition and also a religious
tradition. We have inherited Kabir’s poetry and verses of Quran and mythology
of Ramayan. It is amazing to see the broad canvas of Quran. It deals from day
to day problems of married life to the dilemmas of war. Great literature used
to be for intellectuals as well as for common people. Kabir’s poetry is
enjoyed by university professors as well as by the farmers. It is unfortunate
that art and literature lost touch with the common people and became the
domain of the elite. When that happened fiction writers lost their readership.
In Urdu literature writers like Baidi and Ismat Chughtai had more readers than
writers like Anwar Sajjad. In Indian tradition Kabir had a great tradition. He
used to say “I write what I see and experience and not what I read as I am an
was influenced by Kabir and because of that folk
tradition, he won the Nobel Prize of literature. But it is unfortunate that
critics did not appreciate Kabir in his life. He was ignored for more than two
centuries. Many critics have been misleading the readers.
is unfortunate that it did not get the folk tradition and became urbanized too
soon. Our Urdu poets are too attached to classical tradition and are nervous
to use new words and idioms. Before creating a new expression they read the
collections of poetry of Dagh. It is unfortunate that critics are arguing with
other critics. Creative people have been ignored and overlooked in serious
Sohail: As a writer and an artist you have a
relationship with both: written words and moving images. What do you see is
the difference. Some poets and fiction writers do not respect screen play
Nida: The world of books is very different
than the world of films. Both writers move in different worlds. It is not
necessary that a good novelist would also be a good screen play writer. Many
successful novels did not become successful films because the story was not
successfully transformed to the screen. Paraim Chand’s famous novel The
Chess Players did not become a popular film. One of the issues was
historical authenticity. Some characters in history become myths and if they
are presented with historical authenticity they lose its appeal as common
people are more interested and fascinated by myths than realities.
important factor is camera. When a written story is presented by the camera, a
number of other factors start playing a role. The use of the camera, the
distance, the close up, the background, the lighting, the editing, all become
important in the film that are not important in a book. So the grammar of the
film story is very different than the grammar of the written novel.
Sohail: Indian Film Director Satay ji Raey
was ignored during his life. But when we received an Oscar award a few days
before his death, he became an overnight celebrity. Why do you think was that?
Nida: Asians still suffer from colonial
hangover. We do not recognize our Eastern writers and artists until they are
recognized by the West. The third rate writers of English are more recognized
than the first rate writers of our native languages. One such example is
Taslima Nasrin. She became famous all over the world by writing an ordinary
journalistic novel Lajja. As compared to Lajja, Bedi’s novel
Ik Chadar Maili Si, Abdullah Hussain’s novel Udaas Naslein and
Qurat-ul-Ain Haider’s novel Aag Ka Darya are of higher literary value.
Taslima’s popularity is connected with marketing. The issue is more economic
and political than artistic and literary. These days the artist has to fight
his war at many fronts. He has to protect his work from the media as media
tends to pollute the innocence of art and literature. It is hard for writers
and artists to remain authentic and candid while dealing with sound bites and
advertisement of the media.
Sohail: You are a popular artist and writer
and you deal with media all the times. How has your popularity affected your
Nida: In one of his interviews Garcia Marquez
shared that he has been feeling an inhibition in his creative flow after he
received the Nobel Prize. His spontaneity has been affected. I believe an
artist and a writer takes a long time to develop his image. After developing
the image it is even harder to maintain that image. An artist is always
growing and when you are growing, you are losing something while you are
gaining something. Creative process disconnects you from others and makes you
a little alone and lonely. An artist has to keep on reviewing his work and
Sohail: What do you think of the suffering
that artists have to face all their lives?
Nida: I believe that creative people are born
three times in their lifetime: the first time from their mother’s womb, the
second time from the society’s womb and the third time from their own womb.
Some people go to their graves the same way they were born from their mother’s
womb. They never discover themselves. Discovering oneself and giving birth to
oneself is a complex and mysterious process. That is why poets, mystics and
prophets spend a lot of time by themselves to get in touch with their inner
self, their creative self. That is why Mohammad used to go to the cave to
spend time with himself, before Quran was revealed to him. That was part of
his creative journey and in that journey normal logic does not work as
creativity has its own logic. Creative people have to discover their unique
lifestyle and logic.
We have no choice
of the family, religion, language, community and culture we are born in. But
when we study other languages, religions and cultures, they help us in
delivering ourselves from our own community. To know thyself is the
cornerstone of the creative journey.
An artist tries
to transform an abstract into a concrete and presents it to others. To do that
he has to work hard and experience life. It requires more than reading books.
Sohail: What are your views about the
frustrations artists feel in their life?
Nida: I believe frustrations are of two
types: a negative and a positive. The negative frustration turns into anger,
resentment and bitterness, while the positive frustration acts as a source of
inspiration and helps the artist to travel from the unknown to the known. An
artist is like a child, full of wonder and searching. For a child’s eye all
views remain fresh and new. They do not get jaded. When Tagore was asked in
his old age “Do you have any more to write?” he responded, “In this universe
from dust particles to stars there are far more undiscovered than discovered.
So we have to keep on learning and growing and creating”.
For an artist
involvement is important. You cannot be inspired if you are not involved. When
I am involved in a woman’s smile, it inspires me to create poems. When we are
involved with the beauty of words we play with them and create poetry. It is
the involvement that creates lullabies and bedtime stories. Many times I am
touched by something and I feed my mind’s computer with those feelings and
thoughts and ideas and wait for the moments of inspiration. And when I am
inspired even after days or weeks, I can create the whole poem in a few
minutes. As I mentioned earlier I believe the creative process is quite
fascinating and mysterious.
Sohail: Thank you for sharing your thoughts
Nida: I enjoyed talking to you. I have been
reading your poems and stories in Indian magazines. You are creatively very
active and that is a great thing.
Special thanks to
for transcribing the interview and offering