Ham-`asr Urdu Afsana: Bilal Minto in Conversation With Bilal Tanweer
The first event of the Halqa-e-Danish Ham-`asr Urdū Afsānā series took place on September 26, 2019. The series is being organized by the Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literature to celebrate contemporary Urdu short-story writers, and will continue throughout the fall semester. The guest for the first session was Bilal Hassan Minto, a Lahore-based lawyer, film-maker, and short-story writer. Minto has worked on four art house films — World Ka Centre, Javaid Shampoo, Kāli Shalwār, and Safar— and has published a short story collection titled Model Town (2015) . The discussion focused primarily on this collection comprising of stories set in the titular town in Lahore, where the author grew up.
Bilal Tanweer, the co-director of the Gurmani Center, asked Minto a number of questions regarding his literary influences, writing process, and artistic choices. Commenting on his choice of narrator, the author said that using a child narrator for most of his stories allowed him to deal with the harsh realities of life in a light hearted way, while also questioning them. The author also discussed the politics of language in storytelling and what writing in the “language one dreams in”, Urdu in his case, means to him. He then talked about the secret pleasure he takes in creating digressions in his stories and how he ensures that they do not ultimately distract from the story. “There is a direction and method to them,” he said. The author also expressed his preference for writing simply and avoiding the use of complex symbolism. “It may have been necessary during a dictatorship,” he said “but turning to symbolism for the sake of it implies that you don’t have a story to tell”. He advised the aspiring writers in the audience to make a habit of writing at a set time, on a daily basis. “If you can’t think of anything to write start translating,” he said “but keep that connection between the mind and the page going.”
He also talked about the various film projects he has undertaken over the years and possible future ventures into the audio visual medium. The two hour session was punctuated by the author’s reading of excerpts from his short stories “failure”, “doctor walter” and “kīra”. After the last of these excerpts had been read, the floor was opened for questions to the students attending the talk. Tea was also served later, and the audience had a chance to get their copies of Model Town signed by the author.