May 24, 2020
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Ali Sethi

The son of Pakistani journos Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin on his novel The Wish Maker

Ali Sethi
Ali Sethi

A coming-of-age tale set in a turbulent Pakistan. Is that an accurate description?

Call it a coming-of-age tale that grows into a family saga.

Zaki, the narrator, lives in a family of out-spoken women. Was it tough to get under the skin of your female characters?

I get in touch with my feminine side when I flesh out women characters. It’s interesting.

Zaki’s mother is a rebel and edits a magazine. Shades of your mother there?

My mother was mostly missing in my early childhood. My father was busy writing intelligent editorials, my mother was running the newspaper. My paternal grandmother took care of me.

Pakistan is as much a character in your novel as the people in it.

The socio-political reality is in constant flux. For a writer, there’s an embarrassment of riches in this chaos. I’ve spent a week in India. When I get home, much will have changed.

Your novel paints a picture of a society with rigid class divides.

Some echoes of feudalism still live on. In pockets where the state has not provided education and healthcare, regressive forces take over. But there is hope of rescue.

References to Bollywood haunt your novel.

A young generation is hooked to Bollywood.

Do they see India as a hostile ‘other’?

The youngsters who went to a public or private school have one image; the ones who attended a madrassa have another.

Is writing fiction an escape from reality?

It lets you step out of yourself. It’s a pleasant illusion of flight. You are never really free of yourself, are you?

Your favourite writers?

Faiz, Ghalib, Tolstoy, Arundhati Roy.

Roy’s fiction or non-fiction?

Both. To quote her, the two are like jam and jelly. Both can achieve great results.

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