Feryal Ali Gauhar Explores the Insanity of Humanity

November 29, 2010
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No Space for Further Burials cover
No Space for Further Burials
by Feryal Ali Guhar

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview
with Feryal Ali Gauhar,
Author of No Space for Further Burials

 

 

By Diane Slocum
December 2010

 

In Feryal Ali Gauhar’s novel, No Space for Further Burials, an American serviceman in Afghanistan is captured and held in an asylum with its native inmates and the couple who run it in the absence of the medical staff. As they all struggle to survive the chaos brought on by war and the horrors of their own lives, their stories demonstrate that insanity is not confined to the asylum.

“The compulsion to write No Space for Further Burials came from a deep sense of anger and loss . . .”
—
GAUHAR:

AUTHORLINK: No Space for Further Burials started out as a film script. What prompted you to write it and then why did you turn it into a novel?

GAUHAR: I am trained as a film maker and have produced at least 40 documentaries and several feature films to date. My concerns have always been with the issue of marginalization, whether that is predicated on gender, ethnicity, race, class or mental and physical ability or disability. I think visually, and love the language of cinema, especially its sculptural quality. If I had the means to produce this as a film, I would have.

The compulsion to write No Space for Further Burials came from a deep sense of anger and loss – we, in South Asia, in the larger developing, de-colonized world, have suffered and are still suffering all kinds of violations against the human condition. I only write when I cannot bear to absorb the constant abuse and relentless suffering anymore. Writing is a balm which soothes that anguish.

“There was a specific moment when I felt I had to write the book, otherwise I would have imploded.”
—GAUHAR:

 

 

 

There was a specific moment when I felt I had to write the book, otherwise I would have imploded. The footage showing the discovery of Saddam Hussein, a despot created and supported by the United States and other western powers, and then destroyed by the same masters, was very disturbing. It was the image of this half-crazed man, once so powerful and drunk on unbridled power, crawling out of a hole in the ground, a virtual tomb for the half-dead that disturbed me. When the camera panned to the environs of his hide-out bunker, I saw the empty wrappers of Mars bars and other confectionary, and I just felt sickened at the irony of crass consumerism littering this man’s last refuge – the utter ordinariness of what he chose to subsist on, the utter waste of so many lives at his hands, in particular the million plus Iraqi’s and Iranians killed in the ten-year war with Iran, using weapons which had been provided by the great western powers which were now intent on destroying their own Frankenstein Monster. I was compelled to write the other story, the one that few have known, and which was based on real events which took place outside Kabul.

AUTHORLINK: As a writer, what are the biggest differences between creating a screen play and a novel?

GAUHAR: The language of cinema allows for many omissions on the page – as a film maker and cinematographer who also edits my own footage and writes my own scripts, I feel that screenplays have a sense of movement, time and space which transform into textural content. The cinema has the manifold advantages of sensory layering which can only be created through one medium when one is writing: that of words. Writing a novel or a short story is a much harder craft, but making a film is a much more exhausting and exhaustive one. In Pakistan where there are so few film makers working on issues which are not conventional or mainstream, I think I owe it to myself and my audience to come up with another film.

“The book wrote itself, I was just the instrument.”
—GAUHAR:

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: How did you put yourself into the mind of the narrator – a male, American soldier?

GAUHAR: I do not have a writer’s process, and just slipped into the person as easily as I slip into a character that I play on the stage. The book wrote itself, I was just the instrument. The character was real, and he lived in my mind and body and did not need to be imagined.

AUTHORLINK: Your characters have harrowing back stories. What did you do to research the conditions they lived through? How do your characters develop?

GAUHAR: I have worked very closely with the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, and got to know many women who had lived through similar experiences. I also employ a family of Afghan refugees to look after my rescued animals who are housed in my home in Lahore. I came to know what it means to be exiled from your home, only to return to see that home destroyed. I did not give much thought to my characters. They just took on lives of their own as the story progressed.

“There was never a point when I did not know how to continue – I never stopped writing . . .”
—GAUHAR:

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: How did you determine how the story would end? Did you plan the unfolding of events from the start?

GAUHAR: I don’t have the skill to write a story which does not have a structure. I write only when the story has written itself in my head. There was never a point when I did not know how to continue – I never stopped writing, and did not revise, which is why the book was written in three weeks

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on now?

GAUHAR: A film script based loosely on the novel – it is a promise I made to myself and to my team that I would return to film making. The working title of the screenplay is “Four Rooms to Heaven”. It is based on the stories of the young children who had been abducted by the Taliban and indoctrinated to serve as suicide bombers, recovered by the Pakistani military during operations in the tribal areas. During one of these operations, the Pak Army raided a compound where the Taliban had housed these children, in four rooms, the walls painted with scenes of what Heaven is described as in the Qur’an.

About Feryal Ali Gauhar:

Feryal Ali Gauhar studied political economy at McGill University in Montreal. She has been imprisoned in Pakistan for her pro-democracy activism. She currently lives in Lahore. Her first novel was The Scent of Wet Earth in August.

Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

 

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This post was written by Diane Slocum