My Literary Top 10:
10 questions for
What is the best short story you’ve ever read?
What book would you add to the national curriculum?
Gorky's The Mother.
Name a book that you’d blush to be seen reading in public
There isn't one.
What is the best ‘film of the book’ that you have seen?
Most are disappointments.
Name a book that grabbed you as a child?
As a young boy I was brought over to Bradford aged around 9-10 without my mother or father. I could not understand why I had to leave my mother behind.
My grandfather, who brought me here, worked in a mill and I too did stints in the mills and factories of Bradford and learnt that the only way of getting anywhere was fighting back. Reading books like Tressel’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, Gorky’sThe Mother, and Wright’s Native Son, left in me a desire to tell the tales of our times.
Could you describe your writing style?
That of someone self-taught, a bit rough and raw, but bursting with life.
What is your latest novel, While There is Light, about?
This novel is about Saleem, a young man sent to England as a child. He resents his mother for sending him to this country, an England which he was led to believe was a land paved with gold.What he finds is the run down ghetto of Bradford, he is subject to racist violence in school and on the streets. He is brutalised by the police and criminalised by the judiciary. He starts organising to defend his community's basic human rights. Along with another Asian youth, he is arrested and charged with terrorism. It is also about intense love, a love for a mother from who Saleem was snatched away and a dark time in the history of Pakistan with the dictatorship of General Zia and the Americans busy funding right wing Islamic groups.
What does the title mean?
It comes from Mian Mohammad’s poem Saif al Maluk, written at the turn of the last century - the story of a youthful prince who falls in love with a fairy and leaves all his material wealth. The poet was saying: do what you have to do whilst you still have the energy of youth, for when old age comes, you will be fearful of each step.
How did the novel evolve?
For twenty years I have been trying to finish this book. It was inspired by the courageous people of Bradford, who defended me and my 11 comrades, when we were arrested for terrorist activities in 1981.
Language and the preservation of Pothowari is a major theme in the novel, tell us about this…
Our language is varyingly called Pothowari, Pahari, Mirpuri and Punjabi. It’s a language embroidered with emotions. With around 700,000 speakers, Pothowari is the second biggest language in the UK after English. It is the biggest minority language in Yorkshire. All languages bring something unique to this world. Though I write primarily in English, when I want to have a real good swearing session, I just have to do it in my own language, or when I shed tears or laugh – though of course I can do both in English, they just don’t taste the same.