Award-winning Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam spoke about the political dimensions of his writing during a Master’s Tea given to about 30 attendees in Trumbull College on Tuesday.
Aslam, who came to campus this week to receive the Windham Campbell Award in fiction for his 2013 book “The Blind Man’s Garden,” used the opportunity to address the manner in which he formulates his works, as well as discuss the political and emotional influences in his four books. Although the writer focuses specifically on fiction, he said his works draw heavily from geopolitical events, and he aims to rectify through writing the evils he perceives in the world.
“My work is my way of saying to the wicked and unjust: You think you got away with it? In the book you will be put on trial and I will judge you,” said Aslam, who has lived in the United Kingdom since the age of 14.
Aslam, who considers himself to be the “least imaginative person in the world,” said much of his writing is informed by the tragedies that he sees in the news, adding that such programs are the most devastating yet at the same time the most inspiring TV content. Literature provides the perfect platform to express the wildest passions and most burning hatred governing human lives, Aslam said.
“Some things which may make mountains crumble, paper can hold up,” he said.
While this endeavour does torment him, giving him “nightmares” before and after writing, Aslam said he believes that commenting on the world that surrounds him is an obligation, “a debt which [he] must pay.” The novelist said that having been given the privilege of existence — which he called “the most beautiful phenomenon” — he has a duty to experience it and catalog his stories and memories in his work, however difficult that might be.
Audience members expressed admiration and marvel at Aslam’s lyrical style.
“He writes the most beautiful prose I have ever read about the experiences inside his world,” said Eli Westerman ’18, speaking in praise of Aslam’s ability to craft fiction from real political occurrences. Westerman added that listening to the Aslam’s speech helped him put the author’s “mystical” writing in perspective. Another attendee, Meiryum Ali ’16 echoed this sentiment, noting that while she usually doesn’t use the word ‘enchanting’ to describe anyone, she would use it for Aslam.
The aura that surrounds Aslam may be a product of his peculiar working habits; for instance, the novelist said he writes exclusively at night, waking up at 11 p.m. and working from then on.
“I used to live next to some very noisy people … so while they were being noisy [during the day] I would sleep with earplugs in,” Aslam said, adding that the silence and absence of distractions working past dusk affords him are “very rich.” Yet writing for hours on end can take its toll, he said, as the lack of feedback that an author receives can be disconcerting. Ordinary employees will receive criticism or praise at their workplace on a regular basis, which is often not the case for writers, he said. Because of the solitary nature of his writing, Aslam said he frequently finds himself questioning his own existence. As a result, whenever he attends public events such as the master’s tea, he is often taken aback by having readers speak to him about his work.
“I ask myself, ‘How do you know I exist? How do you know about this character?’” Aslam said.
Ultimately, though, he finds the work of a writer to be “reassuring:” when faced with a situation which he can do little to change, Aslam said he always has the option of writing about it.
The Windham Campbell prizes are awarded annually by Beinecke Library and include a $150,000 grant for each recipient.