H M Naqvi eyes debut novel success

Image caption,
HM Naqvi has already had a short story adapted for the stage

Pakistani author HM Naqvi's debut novel Home Boy - about the life of Muslims in New York after 9/11 - is shortlisted for the inaugural DSC Prize of $50,000 (£32,000) for South Asia Literature.

Other writers shortlisted include Amit Chaudhuri and Neel Mukherjee. The winner will be announced at the Jaipur literature festival in January.

Naqvi spent parts of his childhood in Algeria and the US. His first schooling was in Islamabad and later he attended the same New York school as Catcher in the Rye novelist J D Salinger.

He began writing in early childhood and says he cannot remember a time when he didn't write.

After graduating in the US, he worked for close to a decade in the financial services industry but quit in 2003 to pursue a novel and an MFA in creative writing at Boston University.

He is a recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and was recently selected for the International Writers' Program in Iowa, a residency that has hosted Orhan Pamuk and Anita Desai in years past. He currently lives in Karachi.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for the DSC Prize?

It feels wonderful - I have been writing since the age of five and will continue to do so until I die. Although it's lovely to be acknowledged, I write because it allays my anxiety. I write 300 words of prose a day so I can contend with myself. I guess my reasons for writing are very personal.

Home Boy is your debut novel - tell us a bit about the story?

It's based around three Pakistanis from different regions of the country. It's set post 9/11 because I wanted to write about the changes in the US after the attack on the twin towers. The events take you from Karachi to New York. It's a coming of age story of a young male trying to blend into a new and different world - a world removed from his life in Karachi. So it deals with grave issues yet there are comedic elements to it. The idea was to fuse different genres and styles so there's Punjabi, there's Yiddish, Spanish and even Urdu in the texture of the language.

Is your own personality reflected in this novel?

I think all novels, especially debut novels, are autobiographical. I was in America in the wake of the tragedy. It was an unsettled time. And as a writer, one writes to make sense of one's self and the world. But Home Boy is not a memoir. It is fiction, a permutation of reality. If I am compelled to assign a percentage to the autobiographical component of Home Boy, it would be 14%.

I like to think the three main characters are facets of my persona. At the same time, they are amalgams of people I know, people I care about. I could conceivably introduce you to AC [character in Homeboy], who in the flesh is also larger than life.

Do you aspire to having your book made into a film like Slumdog Millionaire (based on Vikas Swarup's book Q&A)?

One of my short stories was adapted for the stage not long ago and it was wonderful to see my work in the hands of someone else. So it would be great to see Homeboy adapted for the big screen in Bollywood, Hollywood or Lollywood, as it would be a different incarnation of my work.

How hard is it for South Asian writers to be accepted on a global platform?

I think Asian writers have been making their mark since Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth and the early wave of Indian fiction. Pakistani writing is also very exciting and it seems as if we've just appeared on the scene.

But both the Indian and Pakistani tradition of writing in English dates back 150 years and both countries are heir to people like Din Muhammad, from Bihar, who was one of the first three Indian writers in English and there are many more who've left their legacy.

And what plans do you have for other books?

I'm currently working on a novel which is a big, bawdy epic spanning the 20th Century, set in Karachi. It deals with metaphysics, history and a hermaphrodite.

HM Naqvi was talking to BBC Asian Network reporter Shabnam Mahmood.

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