Most writers often look at journalism condescendingly as a lesser calling, but not Humra Quraishi. The rigour and research that goes into her non-fiction writing help her relax with fiction. She tells DNA about being an emotional writer, and how she finds India a good place to practice the art of non-fiction.
You have been writing both fiction and non- fiction. Is it tougher to write an engaging work of non-fiction than fiction?
Yes. For me, writing fiction is easier and it also helps in settling that restlessness. Also, while writing fiction, you can let your thoughts flow in a carefree way, without any hindrances, and no formalities or rigidities come into play. Writing non-fiction is definitely tougher, for facts, actual events, and realities have to be bared. A lot of research has to be conducted, the backgrounders have to be thoroughly checked and re-checked before you actually take off.
What are the specific challenges while writing political non-fiction (based on your experience writing Kashmir: The Untold Story?
I faced several challenges. The foremost was to get to the ground realities, see and sense the plight of the average Kashmiri living in the Valley. Though I am not from the Valley, I’d been covering the developments in the Valley for over two decades. Therefore, I do connect with that region and with the Kashmiris. They are extremely emotional and warm people. Since I bond with the emotional, there was that instant connection. And this grew as I went around talking and interacting with the average apolitical person. Traveling to the rural locales of the Valley was again tough but I had to as the focus was on the rural locales and the people there surviving against all possible odds. Traveling in and around the Valley wasn’t easy as there were constant security checks, sudden crackdowns, curfews and un-nerving scenes of brutal human rights violations. I have witnessed security forces unleashing sheer brutality even on young teenagers walking down the roads. And the more I saw these barbaric and horrifying acts of the security forces, the more my determination grew—to report and write what I had witnessed. As a journalist, it is my job to bare the truth against all possible challenges.
Do you think India is a good place to practise the art of non-fiction?
Yes, for there is so much happening. Churning is on. Changes are taking place in every possible sphere, be it politics or social scenario or in the everyday living patterns.
Who’s your favourite writer? And why?
Khushwant Singh, because his style is uncomplicated and simple. I do know him well and love his stark portrayals. He is an emotional man and as I have said earlier, I bond with the emotional, so I do bond with him.
Who or what are your other inspirations?
I feel you cannot write without getting actually hit by the prevailing ground realities or sensing and experiencing emotional pain. That pain has to provoke you enough to write. I have been experiencing these for far too long and they do come out in my writings.
What advice would you give a new writer?
Move out of your air-conditioned den; walk around and talk to the commoner. Yes, walk and don’t run or drive along, for the minute you start walking, you will see a story lurking in every little lane.You just have to be there. Be sensitive enough to grasp what’s going on and connect with the commoner.
What has changed for you since your first book was published?
Nothing really has changed, except that I have got more addicted to writing and with that, perhaps lonelier. One of the offshoots of writing is that you tend to move away from people. You can’t write with people hovering around you.
What are you working on now?
Journalism is my profession, so that is ongoing. Rest, I don’t really plan much. I simply go floating along with destined turns, for at end of the day, we humans are rather hapless. Planning has the tendency of going haywire in front of destined turns.