Shakoor Rather, a Kashmiri journalist working with one of the biggest news agencies in India, is already in limelight because of his debut novel. The 32-year-old author is getting praises from everywhere for his book that was released last week and it is already selling like hot cakes on e-commerce websites like Flipkart and Amazon.
In an exclusive interview with Precious Kashmir correspondent Zehra Shafi, the journalist-turned-author talked about what it’s like debuting a novel amid so much uncertainty in the world.
1. Tell me something about yourself and your debut novel?
Shakoor: I am currently working as a Deputy News Editor at Press Trust of India (PTI), New Delhi. I have worked as a journalist for 10 years. During my career, I have been deputed to cover assignments from several countries, including the US, Germany, and China. I have reported from many international conferences like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meet in China in 2016, the 70th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Maldives in 2017, and the United Nations climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain in 2019. I have been a fellow with the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW), Germany, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Sweden, and the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) among many other institutes.
‘Life in the Clock Tower Valley’ is a requiem for our past that we hold closest to our heart and long for. It is about nostalgia, love, and loss. Delicate and sensitive, the novel travels between Kashmir’s pristine past, its grievous present, and always uncertain future, providing an insider’s view of everyday life and emotions in the conflict-ridden valley. The issues are depicted through symbolism, wit, and humor.
2. Many books have been written about Kashmir Conflict and “Life In The Clock Tower Valley” also revolves around the same. Tell your audience how is it going to be a different read for them?
Shakoor: Many past books have put a spotlight on the conflict in Kashmir, ‘Life in the Clock Tower Valley’ takes a different approach by depicting the life that we all live amidst this conflict. It highlights the uncertainty in our lives. The book also underscores the fascinating historical and political information about Kashmir as well as environmental issues that are seldom talked about.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Shakoor: I can’t recall a particular moment when this realization dawned upon me. But since my childhood days, I was surrounded by stories and legends. My grandfather was an avid reader. He would often read out Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Alama Iqbal to the children in the house. While growing up, I was also exposed to the works of celebrated writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk, and George Orwell early on. Over the years, I developed a flair for writing and by the time I entered the university, I was already writing columns in newspapers, highlighting social and political issues in society. It felt natural to be in a journalism school and aspire to someday write like the best minds in the field. After that, I never looked back.
4.How long did it take you to write a book?
Shakoor: It took me two years to write the first draft and then another year to fix the nuts and bolts of the manuscript. After that, the pandemic happened and it took over two years to get published.
5. You love traveling. Does it help you in becoming a better writer?
Shakoor: Travelling can inspire you to create fascinating characters that readers can relate to, as we meet strangers and visit new places which bring in fresh perspectives on life. Travelling also makes you value the things in your surroundings that you take for granted otherwise. Travelling also helps me unwind and sometimes to clear the mental fog which can easily cloud your thinking while living in a metropolis like Delhi.
6. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Shakoor: When I am not writing, I am mostly reading books – fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I also share my experiences with aspiring writers and journalism students on different platforms.
7. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Shakoor: As a child, I was very curious and inquisitive about things. All I wanted was to become someone with the know-how of all things tangent and in tangent, simple and complex.
8. What was the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
Shakoor: There were a lot of takeaways from my experience of writing this book. Sometimes you are inspired by the courage of your own characters, and when you are faced with a situation in life, you think about how would that character act or behave at that moment. We also get attached to certain characters who are sometimes inspired by real people, and as a writer, you have to learn to detach yourself from them, so that there is no bias towards any single character.
9. Your favourite books and favourite authors?
Shakoor: I love books written by Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov and Dostoevsky. However, while writing this book I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, who also inspired me a lot.
10. Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers? If so, what are they?
Shakoor: I would advise aspiring writers to read a wide variety of books by authors both regional and international before they take a plunge into writing. And when they do that, they should not take shortcuts. They must develop their own style of writing to stand out in the crowd, and chose different stories to tell. That freshness is very important to make a mark of your own in the writing business. Another thing that I would suggest is to keep the market viability of your manuscript into consideration.