This is an interview with Shazaf Fatima Haider. --- Debutant novelist, Shazaf Fatima Haider's book, How it Happened is a refreshing take on arranged vs love marriage in Pakistani society.
a) A lot has been written about wedding and its sub-plots. Did you fear that your work might be lost in all the clutter? I was writing for myself at the time, so the ‘clutter’ was not a problem. When I decided to get it published, I looked around for books that wrote about the process of getting married, and whatever I came across was morose and morbid. The ‘raped into matrimony’ or ‘she was a child-bride’, themes abounded. Many people around me talked about the shortcomings of arbitrarily arranging a match based on a few standard externalities, but no one seemed to be writing about it. The focus of my book is different from other books I came across.
b) Was choosing a humorous tone for the book deliberate considering weddings whip up frenzy of emotions? The humor came naturally. I was going through the whole drawing-room process (boy meets the girl and her family) at the time I wrote the book. I was completely sick of the process and I had reached a stage where I was too tired to be angry. When anger dissolves, humour takes its place. Humour helps us minimize and put into place what anger distorts and magnifies. Humour was a fortunate reflex, yes.
c) The Shia-Sunni is the dominant theme of the book. Did you expect trouble with the moral policing? If you think about it, the Shia-Sunni aspect is a pretext for getting the ball in motion. I didn’t want to talk about different sects, I wanted to talk about common humanity – the unity of being a person with feelings and emotions. The only ‘match’ that needs to be made is between similar personalities with similar world views. Since that was my focus, I didn’t expect trouble. And I didn’t get any.
d) The book, refreshingly, doesn't touch on terrorism, Taliban and the politics. Would your future work too steer clear from the stereotypes associated with Pakistan? You know, I might just tackle the stereotypes to explore them. But my second book is also completely free of politics.
e) The book has been labelled as 'another Pride & Prejudice'. Do you agree? How flattering! Well, I can see how the Austen references I’ve put in can remind one of Pride & Prejudice. But there’s no Mr. Darcy – Omer (the boy whom Zeba gets married to) isn’t a central character. Neither is Zeba, a Elizabeth Bennet. I was more interested in Dadi and Saleha and what motivates people to put their loved ones through the rigmarole of what can be a very embarrassing and often demeaning process.
f) Do you think a glossary was necessary in the book? Many non-Muslims might have trouble in understanding the specific terms like Majlis and Istikhara.
I think the people of the sub-continent would understand easily; but yes, there are some terms that could escape those with a limited knowledge of Islam and Muslim cultural life. However, the plot, characters and themes are still apparent even without knowledge of what these terms mean. Moreover, an astute reader can guess what’s happening because while there is no glossary definition, there is plenty of description to allow the reader to orient himself with the situation.
g) The subplots of the book can be adapted for the big screen. Have you received any offers? Not yet. Karan Johar, if you’re reading this: call me! Box The story unfolds through the eyes and ears of Saleha Bandian, younger sibling of Haroon and Zeba whose marriages throw the Bandian household in a tizzy. The conflicting views on marriage – Haroon and Zeba's Dadi dismisses the love aspect, while her grandchildren want to marry for love and shared interests – elicits chuckles from the readers and a sense of deja vu!