Author Muhammad Ali Bandial has lived an interesting and colorful life which led him to write his first novel this year. ‘I dream of rain was published by Liberty Books and is a rich story of family and hurt and navigating the intersection of the two. Friday Times decided to ask a few questions so we could get to know him better, and he gladly agreed. So there you have it, seven questions to Muhammad Ali Bandial.
1. Who is your inspiration as an author?
Inspiration is like a wave breaking on a shore, in the sense that the only constant is that they are constantly changing. Growing up reading books, I’ve been a keen observer of authors’ particular writing styles and proven methods. Think of it as the seams that hold a piece of fabric together. Once you get used to a certain author’s favorite tropes, you can see the pattern in which the story has been strung together and from there it’s very difficult for me to continue reading the same author unless that he cannot surprise me. This is the same principle on which I try to write myself.
If I had to choose one author that I liked to read growing up, it would definitely be Louis La’mour. I loved his stripped-down style of writing about rugged, tough-skinned cowboys and the way he portrayed the terrain and customs of the time. Some other authors I admire are Elmore Leonard, Charles Bukowski, Jonathan Tropper, Larry McMurtry, and James Michener.
2. If you had to choose one book to read for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
It’s difficult. As a reader, I have always found comfort and refuge in the worlds created by the author. So, for me, books that have a lot of character and story depth and encompass worlds that can be inhabited by the reader over and over again, each time with new and fresh meanings, are what I’m interested in. I know for a fact that I will change my mind as soon as I think about it, but for now, the book that I think I can read again and again is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s equal parts crime thriller as well as a deeply philosophical treatise on life and redemption and the book’s setting, based in India, is pretty familiar too.
3. Favorite movie?
I think by now you must have realized that I absolutely cannot give a definitive answer on most things because I think there is so much that still needs to be discovered. There are so many beautiful works that to decide categorically would be to shut out the possibility of being amazed, which I don’t want to do. I always seek to broaden my knowledge, diversify my palette and enrich my experience. That said, a few movies I can watch over and over again are The Shawshank Redemption, Seven, Tamasha and When Harry met Sally.
4. Favorite Memory?
I had to think long and hard about this. Again, maybe because it’s something relatively more recent and also very personal to me, but right now my favorite memory is seeing the paperback copy of my first novel. It’s a little hard to put into words, but when you find something deep inside you that makes you give up on a cushy and prestigious career and swim against everyone’s received ideas and opinion, you know you’re here for the long haul. And it was like that for me. I gave up a decade-long career in public service and went against almost everyone because I couldn’t ignore my passion for writing stories. I realized that many years later, I didn’t want to one day look in the mirror at the wrinkled face of an accusing-eyed elder, blaming myself for being too cowardly to follow his dreams. So I wrote. From my heart. And to see the universe return that faith to him, and to hold my book in his hands, was something else.
5. Biggest challenge as a writer?
I think it was Ernest Hemingway who once said, “There is nothing to write. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter and bleed. I live by this rule. The key is to be vulnerable and completely honest with yourself and not try to pretend to be something you’re not. But at the same time, you also have to make sure that you don’t put too much of yourself into the book because if you as the writer know the whole backstory as well as the future arcs of your characters, your readers don’t and therefore you need to write in a way that allows them to follow the flow of the story and come to their own conclusions without coloring the landscape with your biases. In common writing parlance, it is the ‘show don’t tell’ to reign. It’s a constant tightrope that every writer must navigate. Being a reader myself, I know when a writer comes across as being too preachy and opinionated and that can turn the reader off instantly. So, I try and hope not to fall into the same habit.
6. What are your most and least favorite literary trends?
I don’t know if you can call it a trend, but I’ve always found the representation of Asian stereotypes and the simplified version of ourselves in Western narratives very off-putting. Using westernized substitutes for our articles of use, I think, is a great disservice to our representation in literature and something that I hope we can get out of very soon. Growing up, I remember fantasizing about cowboys and Indians and thinking that only those who wore hats and rode horses deserved to be called heroes. It wasn’t until much later that I learned to appreciate the heroes and noble figures of our own local culture and that was because there were no examples in English literature to look up to. Unfortunately, the same trend persists in the visual realm as well. I hope that if more and more writers from our part of the world write about our culture and our peoples in a way that is easily digestible for a global audience, while still being true and authentic, maybe that will start to change for the best.
seven. If you could talk to any author anywhere in the world, who would it be and why?
I would love to talk to Charles Bukowski because I just think he would be great company. I like his dry, almost bitter but deep and very refreshing style of writing. He is brutally honest, self-deprecating and insightful. Add to that the fact that he also worked in the public sector and was disappointed in the monotony and narrow-minded approach which I also found irritating and I think I could learn a lot from him about how to channel and harness that fire and use it in my work.