Friday, December 27, 2013


We’re told there’s an order to things. Horse then cart. Write, then publish. Later, readings, then hobnobbing with other famous writers.

My life was happening completely out of order. I was writing a book, then I met a writer who soon became famous as her debut novel won prize after prize (Nayomi Munaweera's Island of a Thousand Mirrors, coming to America in 2014), then I began editing my book, then I started doing readings thanks to said famous writer, and then I tried publishing my book.

 The cart and horse were not just out of order, they were in different zip codes and I lost track of who was supposed to be where, myself included. After a few months, I decided to put things on hold at the publishing end (because spending day after day sending your novel out to agents is like spending day after day holding your eyelids open and sprinkling chili powder into them) and focus on a new writing project.

I became comfortable with the idea that my first novel would be practice, would likely never be published and that was okay (full disclosure: when I say ‘became comfortable’ I mean to the extent that you become comfortable with a Bengal tiger sitting on your coffee table while you try to watch TV- you try to look over it but you can never not see it).

But then things started happening.

You should know, at this juncture, that there is a battle in my mind over telling you this. In one corner, the superstitious Parsi aunty in me warns, "Tobah tobah, Phi, you shouldn’t say good things aloud before they happen or else najar laagsay and they won’t happen!" 

They're always watching me, these Parsi women who live in my head

In the other corner is the optimistic Canadian in me saying, why not celebrate small victories, eh?So strong is this superstition, there’s even an English equivalent: don’t count your chickens. Oh heck, the Canadian wins.

Here’s what happened.

A few months ago, I decided to go to Karachi but I was apprehensive: last time I went, I had a novel in hand, a lengthy list of specific questions to ask specific people. This time, I had no novel, only a vague idea of meeting people, learning through their stories the history of Karachi, of Karachi Parsis, which one simply cannot research at the libraries of California. Yet the evil garden snake who lives in my mind hissed incessantly: Isssss this trip simply an elaborate (and expensive) avoidance tactic, Phiroozeh? Oughtn’t you instead be writing novel number two? It’s fiction, dear girl, you're suppossssssed to make things up. What’s all this nonsense about hearing people’s stories anyway? You’re not a biographer. 

A few weeks ago, a new writing project came to me, and a cliché I always rolled my eyes at played out before me: I became possessed by the idea and have furiously working on it ever since. The garden snake was at the ready: is it really a good time to go to Karachi now, Phiroozzzzeh? Shouldn’t you just focus on this story and see what comes of it?

I had to admit, the little critter was getting to me and I began to ponder what the cancellation policy on my ticket might be.

Proud mamma must pull out the wallet photo at every opportunity
A few days ago, a friend mentioned that when I attend the Karachi Literature Festival, there will be Indian publishers there and I should tell them about my book. Book? What book? Oh yeah, I have a book. I wrote a book. I edited and edited (and edited) and polished and perfected a book.

Yesterday, I received an email from Muneeza Shamsie, a huge Pakistani literary icon. I actually thought I was still asleep and dreaming (never check your email before your morning tea). She is also the mother of Kamila Shamsie, my all-time favorite writer. The way Rohinton Mistry changed my world by showing me Parsis in novels, Kamila changed my world by showing me Karachi in novels. Turns out, I had been e-introduced to Muneeza by a dear, dear friend because of my upcoming trip. I now have plans to meet said literary giant in Karachi next month.


And so I find myself at this place of out-of-orderness. I have a completed manuscript in hand, a second one begun, countless readings under my belt, including some I've hosted, fifteen rejections the first manuscript from US agents and now, the scent of possibilities blowing from the east.

It begs the question, are you a writer because you’re published or are you a writer because you write (all day, every day, day after day)?

All I know is I've lost sight of the cart and the horse and I feel liberated. I can have a complete novel whose status is pending, and still work on the second one (by all accounts that’s exactly what you must do after completing the first one). I can go to Karachi with no specific agenda, relinquish my obsessive need for control, for clarity, and let life lead for a while. I can meet Muneeza Shamsie, revolutionary for her empowerment of Pakistani writers writing in English because I AM a Pakistani writer writing in English. I can attend the KLF and see what happens (ie. see what happens when I stalk those Indian publishers and turn on the charm). I’m not counting my chickens (oh come on, this blog post turned into a zoo long ago, what’s one more animal), I’m just … watching the coop from a safe distance, making sure they mother hens are keeping them warm.

It’s a fine balance between doing what you can for your book and then letting it go and letting whatever you want to call it-nature/the universe/life- take its course.  

I learned long ago (and like most lessons learned, promptly forgot): you can make all the plans you want, put your horses and carts in whichever order you deem fit, but life will still do what it wants in the order it wants.

Because life is in charge of this zoo.

                                   illustration of zoo and animals in a beautiful nature - stock vector