Interviews

“I just wish to study at different universities around the world until I hit forty or fifty. A guy can dream, can’t he?” – Naveed Sheharyar Khan

Naveed Sheharyar Khan, winner of Daastan’s 3rd Season of “The Stories Untold” talks to MOIWrites in this exclusive interview.

1. Tell us about yourself?

I am studying Accounting and Finance at a leading business school of Karachi. However, unlike a majority of peers, I enjoy reading, writing and poetry more than the matters of compound interest and time value of money. They say that we all have a purpose to fulfill in this world. If that is the truth, then my life purpose has to do something with writing!

2. Since when are you writing?

I started writing almost three years ago when a friend of mine, literally, coerced me to write my first article. The article was not as good, obviously, but I craved more of the euphoria that followed.

3. How was it to be the winner of the Stories Untold Season 3 by Daastan?

It was surprising, to be honest. Several of the contestants were much more accomplished writers than I could ever hope to be, which is why I did not have much expectation to win it. I am proud of what I have achieved.

4. What was the name of your winning story and what was it about? 

The title of my short story was “True Justice”. The plot involved a young Threader, who was seeking justice (read: revenge) for the extinction of his race. The story is centered on the difference between justice and revenge, and how love makes its way into the equation.

5. Do you plan before you write or do you write by following the concept of “going with the flow”?

Stephen King has always been an advocate of going with flow. Considering the things that he has accomplished, it is only natural for lowly mortals like me to follow his advice, no?

6. Do you think writing is a skill that one learns or is an in born talent? 

I honestly do not know. All I know is that I had to spend long nights learning the rules of grammar before I could ever hope to improve even an aspect of my works. Talent might have a role, but I do not think we can get anywhere without a good work ethic, sleepless nights and disrupted daily routines.

7. If you were to give aspiring writers five writing tips, what will they be?

Honestly, I am an aspiring write myself, and I do not see myself fitting to instruct others in the art I know very little of. However, if there is one thing that I have learned, it is that you need to let your imagination run wild.

8. Who are the authors from Pakistan and from abroad are among your favorite? 

Saadat Hassan Manto, definitely! He might have written in Urdu, but there is no writer who has had a deeper impact on me than Manto. Other than that, I love how Elif Shafak sees the world and writes about it. And who could forget J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”?

9. What are your plans?

I hope I knew, honestly. For now, I just wish to study at different universities around the world until I hit forty or fifty. A guy can dream, can’t he?

10. Your message for the youth of Pakistan?

I mean, a twenty-one-year-old advising the youth of a country would seem pretty bizarre, right? However, if you were to ask me one thing that I have learned from my twenty-one-years on Mother Earth, I would say that it could be: “Only a handful of people are going to, truly, believe in us in our entire lifetimes. We need to hold them close; but most importantly, we need to believe in ourselves, regardless of everything. No one will do it for us!”

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Interviews

“Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts”: Mahnoor Naseer – Editor-in-Chief, Daastan.

Mahnoor Naseer is a Citizen Historian at The 1947 Partition Archive. An electrical engineer by academic qualification but with literature filled in her heart, she talks to MOIWrites in this exclusive interview about her life and career, passion and plans.

1. Tell us about yourself?

So, as you know already, my name is Mahnoor, it is from a Persian-Arabic origin which means Moonlight. As beautiful as it sounds to many, my name is not unique at all, but I personally believe that it is not the name that makes a person unique but the characteristics they possess. Therefore, I find myself inimitable in my compassion of doing every single thing in life as if it matters the most.

I come from a middle-class family and was brought up in the shelter of unconditional love of my hardworking parents, for whom self-respect was more important than money. My parents are a real-life example of the ideology that what you cannot achieve for yourself, provide it to others. They have given me more than anything that I ever asked for. All that they lacked in their lives, they have given it to me.

Professionally, I am an Electrical Engineer and serving as a research intern in Military College of Signals, Rawalpindi. Besides that, I am also the Editor-in-Chief, Daastan and a Citizen Historian with “The 1947 Partition Archive”. I very recently started working on a collaborated project of UNDP and SIL as a research writer and transcriptionist.

Apart from these boring details that build me up, I am an avid reader and an aspiring writer. At times, I even play with colors and try my hand at painting. I enjoy sketching. I also collect stamps, coins, and naturally, bookmarks. I would also define myself as a foodie who loves testing out new cuisines. So far, nothing has won me over like Chinese food.

I am rather a “pick-and-choose” kind of a person when it comes to making acquaintances or befriending people. One of my strongest policies is being straightforward to the point that sometimes, I feel I will end up hurting someone but I try to be as careful as possible.

2. You are the Co-Founder of The Ancient Souls. What are The Ancient Souls about?

In August 2016, along with a group of friends from abroad, I decided to do something different, something that would be outside the limits of the mainstream. To set up the platform that not only promotes written works but literature as a whole.

Presently, many people have restricted the definition of literature to possessing good writing skills and having read the well-known books. The concept we wanted to nurture through our platform was rather broad: “Anything that involves words, art, and the true colors of humanity is to be known as literature” — not talking of the genres or the major forms here but sticking to the basic definition of it.

Therefore, we had three sub-goals; to protect the said definition of literature, to promote peace through literature by dissolving all the human barriers, and to innovate. The three sub-goals combined to serve one major goal that was to create a platform to empower aspiring writers, photographers, and artists across the globe.

Currently, we are operating as a community of around 15,000+ members across the world. We also published our first annual anthology in 2017, which secured the honor to be Daastan’s very first international publication.

3. As the Editor-in-Chief at Daastan, what are your prime responsibilities?

Besides editing, I have to review all submissions in the light of Daastan’s set policies. I have to coordinate with my sub-editors in assigning them tasks, reviewing those tasks once completed, have the final drafts ready and pass them on to our website management team.

Overall, I have to ensure that the team stays as hospitable and encouraging towards the authors as possible; because it is the budding talent that we mostly deal with, and that they do not overstep any of the company’s predefined policies.

4. Which authors from Pakistan and abroad are your favorite?

Talking of the international authors J.K. Rowling will always be at the top of my list for obvious reasons. I really enjoy reading Sylvia Plath, Khaled Hosseini, Stephen King, Elif Shafek, Sydney Sheldon, Sarah J Mass, Sabah Tahir, Nicholas Sparks, and the list goes on.

The Pakistani authors that I really like are Abdullah Hussain, Hashim Nadeem, Omar Shahid Hamid, and Nimrah Ahmed. I know people have different views about Nimrah’s writing style but I love her scenic portrayals and the choice of words. Here, I have mentioned the authors from modern literature only because those from previous generations, as far as I have read them, were all maestros in my view, like Manto, Patras Bukhari, Bano Qudsia, Ashfaq Ahmed and many others, and I am yet to discover that era of literature in a broader way.

5. Which are your favorite novels?

Okay, I will not mention Harry Potter here because that is like blood to my body. I love “The Kite Runner”, not just for the sake of the book, but also because of all the book-based movies that I have watched,” The Kite Runner” seemed to be the best one of them. Even Harry Potter movies did not approach me on that level of perfection.

So, reading a book and loving it, and then watching a movie based on it and loving it the same way, has an impact on the way my imaginations works after I finish reading it. You know, I just wish we opened a book and all characters danced in front of us. It is a childish thought, but I am a firm believer in miracles! My other favorites include; “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, “Rose Madder” by Stephen King, “The Throne of Glass Series” by Sarah J. Mass, “Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafek, and “Amar Bail” by Nemrah Ahmed.

6. You have been responsible for editing manuscript entries in Daastan’s Stories Untold competition. How has the experience been for you?

Season 2 of the Stories Untold was the point where I officially stepped into this literary world as an Editor. Roller Coaster is the best word to describe my journey during those days. My main role was that of a project manager. However, later I became an Editor, a job I had never thought of being capable to do. On a minor level, I was already doing it at TAS, but this was different as at Daastan, here I had  to mentor  the aspiring authors.

In my life, my biggest advantage has always been my perseverance. When I decide to do something, I do it. There is no turning back or quitting, I never quit unless something is hurting my self-respect.

So, when Daastan offered me to be an Editor, I said okay, I can try it but expect errors because I am new to this, and the errors did occur, I have learned a lot from them and still am learning. To my surprise, everything worked out well. Three of the four people that I mentored during that season made it to the top six, and the fourth one is an exceptional author, Muhammad Omar Iftikhar, who keeps on exploring various genres, he is also the winner of NaNoWriMo 2017. I am lucky to have been associated with such remarkable talent as Bhaskar Paul, Neeraj Brahmankar, and Abhirun Das.

Here, I would like to thank Aimen Siddiqui, Director Content, Daastan, I have learned a lot from her. I would like to thank Sidra Amin, Co-founder, Daastan, for my professional training. Syed Ommer Amer, Founder, Daastan, is also a great mentor and I am blessed to have these people in my life.

7. When editing manuscripts, what key problems did you realize the aspiring writers were facing?

Talking of the writers from Pakistan, here I will start counting the issues from the root to stem level i.e. from what is wrong within to what is wrong on the outside.

The first and foremost problem is writing for the sake of becoming famous or earning money. I personally believe that one should write because they love it not because they want to earn through it. That “Greater the reward, the best the input” philosophy does not apply here. It is a different world with unpredictable possibilities. Therefore, restricting yourself to a monetary reward is not a good idea.

Second, is overconfidence. It prevents them to absorb criticism down their skin. Therefore, talking of my experience here, I did come across some new writers who were not able to accept any kind of criticism on their manuscripts just because some XYZ friend said they have written a masterpiece. I would like to tell those friends that you are not doing justice with your comrade; you are rather becoming a core reason for their downfall when they step into the real world.

Thirdly, coming to the stem level now. There are good writers who open-heatedly accept criticism but lack professional guidance. Most of the publishing companies have proficient degree holders in literature from foreign universities who lack the sense of commitment to educating. In that case, where should a writer with a brilliant story idea but weak language and grammar skills go? Because, you know, the parameter set here to judge a story is not the story idea, it is rather the language skills.

In a society where to be able to speak English is considered as a massive feat, people who go abroad for studies return to Pakistan and look down upon the locals who have yet to develop their English communication skills. Why cannot they return to Pakistan and educate those who aspire to become better?

It is my request to everyone, especially the literary squad, that instead of demotivating the local talent by pointing their language mistakes, try to figure out how this issue can be resolved. In addition, in the quest to do so, even if a manuscript with a great storyline but with a few errors goes in the market from your hand, never hesitate. This is the same ideology that we are working with at Daastan and The Ancient Souls. A lot of criticism does come our way, but that is okay when the authors are satisfied. We are trying to educate them as best as we can and will continue to do so.

8. As an editor and a mentor, what message will you give to aspiring writers enabling them to become better writers?

Read books, lots of them. Reading is the fuel to a writer’s mind; it will keep your imaginations in constant motion and will let you create brilliant stories. In addition, it will help you improve your language, familiarize you with new words, help understand the tenses and narrative styles in a better way.

Also, make it your habit to learn one new word from the dictionary per day with its meaning in your native language. Install Merriam Webster Dictionary on your smartphone and learn new words on the go.

Make yourself comfortable at rough writing. Do not get into the formalities of editing right at the time when you start writing. First, write what you want and do not let the thought of making mistakes hinder your flow. Once you are done writing, read the whole thing at least 10 times — trust me the new aspects that you will come across are limitless, and after finalizing it from your end, ask at least three people to proofread it for you. For the most productive reviews, look for people outside of your friend circle.

Last and most importantly, open your doors to criticism, be it good or bad, no matter what people throw at you make yourself habitual of grasping something fruitful out of it.

9. Your message to the youth of Pakistan?

Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts, never look down upon anyone, never allow anyone to crush your self-respect, make empathy your greatest tool to deal with any challenge that life puts ahead, don’t promise someone something you cannot do for them, grab the opportunity when it knocks your door — don’t ever think of any job as little no matter how higher a qualification you have achieved. Never stop thinking, creating and trying.

Never quit, remember if you did, 20 years from now, when you will see a friend who despite of failing a hundred times didn’t give up and achieved something big out of sheer hard work, you will hate yourself the most. Quitting in my view is shameful. So, never do anything this shameful in life that in your future it makes you hate yourself, see you are not aware of the day you wake up and all this guilt from the wrong things you have done in your previous life will clasp your throat to suffocate you in all the unwanted ways.

Do what you love, don’t compromise your ambitions, and if you are not able to achieve one thing set a new goal for yourself. Explore, the universe has a lot to offer, you never know which string is bound to be your way towards success.

Interviews

Sidra Amin: “When you love what you’re doing, you never really get tired!”

Sidra Amin, Co-founder, Peshawar Book Club and Overseer, Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF) – Pakistan, talks about her career, passion and various literary activities she happily indulges into in this exclusive interview with MOIWrites

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1. Tell us about yourself?

It is very hard to talk about yourself when it is not being done in metaphors and there’s a word limit. I am just a 22-year-old, trying to impact everyone’s perception of planet earth and earthlings by focusing on empathy and kindness. I talk a lot, and I am very loud when I know I am making sense. I usually smile a lot, and it is not on purpose.

Currently, I am leading Young Women Writers’ Forum, Pakistan which is working to empower women writers in Pakistan. I am also a co-founder at Daastan, an award-winning literary platform working towards promoting and publishing literature. I co-founded Peshawar Bookclub and Words & Metaphors, KP’s first spoken word platform. This seems like a lot of responsibility, however, when you love what you’re doing, you never really get tired. I write and read most of the time. It is what keeps me happy. As a person, I am always cheerful, and always laughing. God is kind to me. Also, I am a healthy food enthusiast but I end up eating cakes and chocolates whenever I am sad.

2. How did the Peshawar Book Club come into existence?

We arranged a Bookay meet up in 2016, and a mutual friend told me he would like to do this more often. One month into it, and I found myself and Sameed, someone I was meeting for the first time, sitting among a book readers talking about “Forty Rules of Love”. This is how the book club came into existence. We did not have a plan, just an agenda of adding value to our meetups. Today, we have come a long way, my co-founders Sameed and Zarak have been the constant force behind the growth of this Book Club. We have arranged 22 book meetups since April 2016. We are just a bunch of people trying to bring some sane thoughts on the table over a cup of tea while the entire world is in chaos.

3. As Co-Founder of the Peshawar Book Club, what are your responsibilities?

My only responsibility is to talk and talk and talk. And trust me, the members hate me for this! I am usually moderating, and trying to get as many book readers on board. Peshawar Book Club is the chilliest place, my safe home, my escape from the everyday mundane routine.

4. You are also Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Daastan? Share your experience of working with this publishing platform?

I am no more the Editor-in-Chief at Daastan. Someone who is way better than me, my mentee Mahnoor Naseer, is now the Editor-in-Chief. I am Director Events now, focusing on managing activities on the ground. I joined Daastan when I was kick-starting my work with non-profit companies. And this was a step-up for me in every capacity, both personal and professional. I was 20, young, and just unaware of what was out there in the big bad world. Daastan was where I encountered things. Ommer, the founder grilled me by making me do things I did not have any experience of completing. He exposed me to work that has helped me learn more about myself. He put his vision and my ideas together to create Qissa– Pakistan’s first online self-publishing platform. My journey with Daastan has been nothing less than an adventure, nights of insomnia, and a lot of happy moments. Daastan gives me a reason to be happy every day.

5. Share your experience of working with Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF)- Pakistan?

Let’s accept it, in this society, a woman expressing her thoughts sounds like an oxymoron. When I joined Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF) back in 2014, it was just Young Women Writers’ Forum, Peshawar, a sister concern of Pak Women Writers’ forum. The aim of the forum was to empower women writers to voice their thoughts. A few months into joining the forum, I was selected as Press Secretary. We worked really hard, and in 2016, I was selected as Overseer to lead Peshawar, Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore chapters. That was a huge step for me. I was very young, and the presidents of all these chapters were way more experienced than me. YWWF, Pakistan is real work. We are a non-profit, so the work here is really hard. Our team comprises four cabinets, each consisting of different volunteers working day and night to make a positive difference in Pakistan. In my tenure in YWWF, we have arranged over 50 events on the ground all across Pakistan, including nationwide story writing competitions, international mentorship programs, and national and international mushairas. We have a huge network of women writers. And the forum is nothing less than a blessing for me because I can start all my initiatives here as all the four cabinets are extremely strong, and the writers in each cabinet are very passionate.

6. You were awarded the “Innovative Initiative” award at the Innovative Youth Awards 2017. Tell us about this achievement and for what project were you given this accolade for?

“Innovative Initiative” award was a surprise. I did not know I was nominated by my co-founder and my mentor Syed Ommer Amer. God is kind and always blesses us with the best. We need to keep moving forward.

7. Your future plans?

I do not plan my future. I have never done that. I just make impulsive decisions based on facts and figures and usually they fall in place. I do not say it is a good approach, but this is just how I am. I do not have any future plans for now. I am just going with the flow.

8. You earned a degree in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering from the University of Engineering And Technology, Peshawar but your heart is in writing and reading. How do you manage to work in these two distinct fields?

I did NOT want this question here! LOL I think when you know where your heart is, it is easy to work. Earning a degree in Mechatronics was a passion, and Alhamdulillah, I have been able to put that dream into reality. Writing and reading cannot parallel it as they are a part of me. There is no competition between the two even though at every stage of my life, I have been made to feel there is. Both are equally important. I love automation. I love working in the field. And if God wills, someday I might pursue a career there.

9. As Editor-in-Chief of Daastan, what do you think are your top 5 picks of short stories submitted by writers to the three editions of “Stories Untold” competition?

I will be very honest, I only read the stories of season 3. And I absolutely loved every one of them. We had over 50 stories, I believe. And so many of them had potential. If I had to pick 5, I would go with these:

1. Memoir of a Lost Odyssey by Bhaskar Paul
2. True Justice by Naveed Shehryar
3. The Mirror Trials by Rachel Kallembach
4. Kingdom of Derya: Aitmaad and the Clan of Seven by Muhammad Omar Iftikhar
5. The Mulberry Murders by Abhirun Das

10. Your message ton aspiring writers?

Two things keep me going in life.

1. Write every day. No matter how bad you write, do not stop writing, and never let anyone stop you from doing so. Writing every day only improves your skills, even if you are just writing about your daily experiences in your diary.
2. God and the universe always rewards you for your hard work. If not in the ways you want, then in ways you can never imagine. Keep working, keep taking baby steps, and see how good things will come your way.