Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'd like to thank...

You know how when you open the first few pages of a novel, the author has dedicated it neatly and tidily to one person, maybe two? Well, my list of dedicatees is fast growing, almost into its own novel.

I used to joke that I'd dedicate the book to myself for all my hard work. But my sisters and a couple of close girlfriends read my (shitty) first draft and loved it, alluding to scenes and characters over the years, which was so encouraging. So they were on the list. Then my husband went and acted supportive when I said I was quitting my job and writing for a year, never complaining about the loss of his dining room, which got plastered with my notes, outlines, and pictures, nor about having to eat Subway or Chipotle's for dinner, even though technically I'd been home all day. So he made it onto the list too. Since I arrived in Karachi for my reserach, half of Pakistan is involved in the effort.

An elderly man who is convinced I'm writing a history of the Parsis (I'm not, but who isn't confused about what I'm doing?), emailed me an article that was gave me great background info. My seventeen year old, very distant cousin was forced to explain the dating rituals of his generation to me, blushing like mad, since:
a) as I was later told, I'm an "auntie" in his eyes
b) his mum and aunt were in the kitchen putting away the lunch stuff
c) his two great-aunts were dozing on the sofa beside him.

Last weekend we went to the beach for a picnic, and when someone noticed I was writing down the very colourful language that was being emitted, everyone jumped in and helped me fill a whole page full of profanity so strong I was too embarrassed to write down the English translations.

But here's the best example of how this really is a collaborative effort, a group novel: back in September, my uncle came to Vancouver thinking he was visiting his parents and sisters. I, too, was visiting from California and when I found a real live Pakistani at my disposal, I consistently kidnapped him and took him to Starbucks, begging him to explain all things Karachi to me because back then I hadn't planned on visiting myself. He had been helping me over email for months, keeping careful track of the commission I would soon owe him, and he was familiar with the gist of the novel. It was at the Starbucks on 3rd and Lonsdale that he suggested I base my character's family business in Bolton Market.

When I arrived in Karachi, BM was on the top of my list of places to see, since my main character goes to work there everyday. But when I arrived, what to do, Uncle worked all day at another end of town. One weekend at a wedding, my uncle approached me, with a familiar face in tow (said familiar face will, upon special request, be called Pesi). Phi, said Uncle, I'd like you to meet Pesi, his father's is the office at Bolton Market I'd mentioned to you. I'd met Pesi the weekend before, at one of my cousin's parties, and we had instantly bonded over our mutual Canadian-ness and our mutual tendancy towards BS-ing. Just like that, poor Pesi was now trapped, lured into my web of using-people-for-my-own-selfish-gains.

Last night, while I dined (a business dinner, I like to call it, since I was furiously making notes the whole while), I texted my cousin to arrange a visit to BM wtih Pesi. Which he promptly did as I chowed down on mutton zafrani and gulabjamun (all in the name of research).

This morning, my poor cousin, who had been on the phone till 10:30 the night before on my behalf, drove me at 9 am to one of the most congested parts of Karach, an area he himself had never been, nor had most Karachiites who weren't traders or wholsalers of some sort. After some initial Parsi-pana (my father had visited this very office long ago, and our grandmothers, Pesi's and mine, had been great friends) Pesi and his dad were gracious, going about their business in their tiny office as I made notes and took pictures of things like the tiling on the floor and the old leather bound record books high up on the shelves and the arrangement of their desks. Pesi had told me in the office about the surrounding areas and when my eyes lit up, he accompanied us on an impromptu walk: we explored Bottle (pronounced Bot-uhl) Gully and Paper Gully, where I juggled note taking with stepping over pools of freshly spat paan and ogling empty bottles of Marmite, Absolut Vodka, perfume, and, my favourite sight of all, bottles filled with bottle caps

Finally, my poor cousin took me to Frere Hall, my favourite building in all of Karachi, where I'd been trying all of the week before to see the Sadequain (famous Pakistani painter) mural that was on the ceiling of its main hall. Now my cousin is not the arty type, but he took me nonetheless. He even got into it, saying, wow Phi, I didn't know this was here. He lasted a whole four minutes before pulling out his Blackberry. On the ground floor, we visited the Frere Hall library, which wasn't exactly open to the public, but I got us in with my stellar Urdu...or maybe because they wanted me to stop speaking Urdu. My cuz made a video for me of the history of the hall, which was hand written on three pieces of chart paper (it took all my willpower not to pull out my red pen and correct the horrific grammar), while I looked around at the musty old books wondering if this room would make it into my novel.

Back at home, my aunt had lunch waiting for me, which was great, because we all know writers are too lost in their own world to bother with such plebeian things like cooking.

Since this is my blog and not the sophisticated novel-to-be, I can say: I love you all, you wonderful Karachiites.