DAWN Books & Authors Interview

(Picture by Amby Sidd, 2007)


What are you reading these days?
How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen. It’s a great read in which Wheen rips apart the concept of ‘post-modernism’ and the ‘New Age’ nonsense has ended up facilitating and glorifying irrationalism in the media, politics and society in general.

Also, Patricia Crone’s Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam. Crone is a well-known scholar and historian who specialises in Islamic history. I’ve found this book of hers to be one of the most convincing in the field of revisionism — a scholarly pursuit in which historians separate and differentiate tradition from history and myth from fact. Crone raises some very interesting questions about the Islamic traditionalists’ narratives about Makkah’s economic and social status on the eve of the arrival of Islam, and how most Islamic historians have continued to remain frozen and dependent on unsubstantiated claims about the faith and its past made by ancient Muslim jurists to weave what we are told is ‘Islamic history’.

Which books are on your bedside table?
South Asia: A Historical Narrative by Aradhana Parmar and Muhammed Yunus; Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East by David Hirst, an excellent history of the Lebanese Civil War; Stanly Kubrick: A Biography  by Vincent LoBrutto and Altaf Hussain’s autobiography, My Life’s Journey.

Which titles are on your bucket list of books?
Don’t have a bucket list yet, and if I do then so far it only has my favourite Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Mohammad Rafi albums on it. I’d rather be listening to music during the end of my days.

What is the one work/author you feel everyone must read?
I can tell you what all Pakistanis must read: The Murder of History by K.K. Aziz. Writings by Dr Mubarak Ali are pretty essential too. One feels intellectually liberated when told by respected and well-informed historians that much of what was taught to one as history and ‘Pakistan Studies’ at school was nothing more than a malicious bunch of half-truths and ideologically-charged distortions.

What are you planning to re-read?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have already read it twice. I also want to revisit a lot of old Ibne Safi novels for nostalgia’s sake. What else? Yes, God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam by Martin Hinds and Patricia Crone. It’s a fascinating study of politics during the early days of Islam but requires multiple readings.

What is the one book you read because you thought it would make you appear smarter?
Oh, the usual culprits. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Ulysses by James Joyce, etc.

I did try to read them, but just couldn’t get through. But I did finally manage to finish The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Don’t ask me how, but I did. And don’t ask me anything about it either.

What is the one book you started reading but could not finish?
War & Peace, of course. Also Bahishti Zewar by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi which was kind of disappointing.

I thought I’ll have a ball reading this classic piece of nitty-gritty misogyny.

What is your favourite childhood book or story?
Oh, that’s simple: Alice in Wonderland. The old Shaikh Chilli stories as well, especially the one with the donkey.

Taken from DAWN Books & Authors section (20 Aug. 2011)

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