I have great memories of Delhi…in spirit I am sitting in Delhi, says Pakistani author
Jamil Ahmad's book, The Wandering Falcon, is a narrative about the lives of tribal people along the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, but an equally compelling story is about the book itself.
The book that has won critical acclaim worldwide was written decades ago and in its author's words “hibernated for 40 years.”
On Wednesday the book was presented the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize at the British Council Theatre here. The author, a Pakistani national unable to receive the award in person, kept the audience engrossed through a web chat, insisting that he is “spiritually in Delhi” and regaled them with his recollections about the book, his days as a Delhi boy and life as a political agent in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
During a conversation with Nilanjana Roy, literary critic and journalist, Mr. Ahmad spoke of the book and his decision to tell the stories of the people he met and the lives they lived. He recalled how after reading his poetry, his wife asked him to instead focus on the tribal areas and write about what he knew.
“I started writing the book in 1971, it was completed by 1973 and then it hibernated for 40 years,” said Mr. Ahmad via web chat. He admitted to have made some “futile attempts” at getting the book published, but did not agree to the demands of the publishers, which eventually led to the book being locked away for four decades.
The book was published by Hamish Hamilton — an imprint of Penguin earlier this year.
Referring to his interaction with the tribals, which became the genesis for the book, he recalled he was posted in Quetta in 1959 where he first came into contact with them and was fascinated by their lives and their stories.
His book, he said, contained “personal sights, sounds, actual faces and conversations.” Asked whether he empathised with the people he interacted with, Mr. Ahmad said the places he was deputed at, were not the easiest in terms of living and people “either loved it or hated it.”
Born in Jalandhar in 1933, the former civil servant from Pakistan, Mr. Ahmad gave away the prize money of Rs. 1 lakh to St. Columba's School, where he was enrolled from 1941 to 1944. “I have great memories of the school [St. Columba's]. I have great memories of Delhi… in spirit I am sitting in Delhi,” he said.
Reminiscing about the city that has changed from his adolescent days, he said: “The landmarks must have all changed…there must be houses on both sides of the ridge and the water of the Jamuna [Yamuna] must be polluted.”
The prize is set up in memory of writer and editor Shakti Bhatt. A shortlist of six books was announced ahead of the prize ceremony. The shortlist included The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed, The Truth About Me by A. Revathi, Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka, A Free Man by Aman Sethi and R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal.
The winner was chosen by a jury comprising graphic novelist and illustrator Sarnath Bannerjee, writer and blogger Jai Arjun Singh, and novelist Palash Krishna Mehrotra.