When did you first realise you wanted to be a journalist?

After college I tried teaching and then advertising before I realised that mine had to be an unfettered path. I searched for a career that gave hope, passion, freedom and a tremendous sense of adventure, so journalism was my natural destination.

Recount an incident during your years as a journalist that has deeply impacted you.

There are many but when I was a crime reporter, I worked on an extensive story about families who had lost their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers to brutal state oppression and target killing. It taught me so much about the curse of fear, and changed my direction completely.

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‘I love spending mad evenings with friends and family. Mad is mandatory’  

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Playing mind games with myself, and sometimes with others, to create imagery I suppose. And I do that till a deadline whacks me out of it.

What is the inspiration behind your new book on the Historic Temples in Pakistan?

It has a single message — As long as Life is infinite, Faiths will remain indestructible — that was the idea, inspiration and the cause.

Where did you get your information for your book?

Some two years of research and travel. So, archaeology departments, British Museum, scholars, works of ancient archaeologists and travelers, the on-ground research such as visiting sites, measuring every crevice, recording details of architecture, tales of the locals, village elders, and priests.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love old Western and Eastern music, reading, travel, yoga, staring at the night sky or the television. Or spending mad evenings with friends and family. Mad is mandatory.

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‘Pakistanis are inherently tolerant, despite being deeply wounded in some pockets’

What impact do you hope your book will have in fostering a better relationship with India?

It isn’t a peace mission but a reaction to the half-truths about this country. The book showcases the massive gulf between the people of Pakistan and the perception of Pakistan. So as a humble attempt at documenting antiquity and its value for the populace regardless of faith, I hope it is seen as a window into an unseen or forgotten Pakistan, which is essentially pluralistic.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

I discovered my people and my country. Both are beautiful, all-embracing, inherently tolerant, despite being deeply wounded in some pockets.

How was it collaborating with Madiha Aijaz who did the photography for your book?

It was a wonderful experience; we were able to enhance and complement each other’s vision and had a lot of fun at the same time. Madiha captured a moment or a detail with equal passion and beauty.

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Do you have any suggestions to help aspiring writers? If so, what are they?

Hold on to idealism and the hunger for a cause. And please be a purist with language.

What do you think makes a good story?

The human condition. A story comes alive in the treatment of details, and the angle. Just don’t abuse it for ratings and sink to calamity porn.

As a woman, what challenges did you face whilst travelling around in Pakistan?

Our gender worked in our favour; we got access into areas where men were not permitted. Being a woman broke down many social boundaries.

Tell us about your roots and the influence they had on the theme of your book.

I dont know how to answer this. Most of my family is in India but that had nothing to do with my book. It is my work on socio-political issues that led to it.

On a lighter note, what is your favourite attire when you are writing?

Really not fussed. From a sari, pants to kaftaan, anything that helps meet a deadline comfortably.

What do you look for in your surroundings that gives you inspiration?

I try to look out for anomalies — social, individual, circumstantial — and also absorb a lot of what people I look up to say, be it a conversation or the written word.

Name a living Pakistani author who’s style you admire.

Mohammed Hanif. I love his journalism and his books. A truly original thinker.

Have you begun work on another book? If so, what is the theme?

Its research, features and columns at the moment. Something will eventually start to brew soon.

What is the image of Pakistan that you want the world to see through your book?

That nothing can wipe out history and thousands of years of pluralism embedded in us; and that there is harmony in the most unexpected of places. Pakistan’s real people are its best kept secret.

What is your favourite quote?

“What happens if you drop all the things that make you I?” — Graham Greene.

“The victor belongs to the spoils” — F.Scott Fitzgerald.

What advice would you like to give the youth of this nation who are so hungry for change?

Stay angry, aware, idealistic and reclaim your space. Don’t wait for promises to be fulfilled.

Good Times

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