Mahvesh Murad in a discussion with Shehryar Fazli, the author. PHOTO: AYESHA NAWAB
The trend of book launches is always a good excuse for literati to get-together. Attended by friends, the launch of Shehryar Fazli’s much anticipated debut novel, Invitation, was recently held on April 22 at Liberty Books store near the infamous BBQ Tonight in Clifton.
The evening started around half an hour late, courtesy of the infamous Karachiites. Before the welcome address, a moment of silence was observed for the legendary comedian Moin Akhtar who had passed away a few hours ago; a move well-received by the sombre audience.
The event was moderated by Mahvesh Murad, renowned host of the show 89 chapters on City FM 89. Mahvesh introduced Shehryar as a former classmate who always had “a book in him”. Shehryar, a Senior Analyst for the International Crisis Group, admitted that although Invitation is not an autobiographical account of his life, certain parts of the novel are a part of him. He spoke about Invitationas an attempt to identify with one’s true origins. Whether it is Shahbaz — the protagonist, or the ‘daunting’ city of Karachi,Invitation is all about coming to terms with citizenship or in the words of Shehryar, “The story of a failed quest”.
The excerpt generally seemed promising in terms of uncovering the true essence of human relations and how important they are when it comes to writing an effective story. Upon further conversation, the author reflected upon why the era of the 1970s had affected him so much. In the words of Shehryar himself; “I hope the book has at least captured the spirit of that time. I don’t think people are still over that era”.
Two questions repeatedly asked by both Mahvesh and the audience were regarding his prose, described by many as the ‘Karachi Noir’ and the use of sexuality and sensuality in the book. Shehryar reflected upon these aspects by claiming that the book does not paint a bleak picture of Karachi. Rather, it gives the readers an insight about ‘the Karachi’ they never really knew, but wish they could. Shehryar explained the use of sexuality by stating, “Sexuality cannot be avoided. Literature would otherwise have a lot of gaps. I am in the process of trying to fill those gaps.”
The discussion further proceeded to the sudden explosion of South Asian writers in the last decade. Shehryar responded favourably to the amount of competition and also discussed how bad times can actually produce good books. Mahvesh took the discussion to another direction by asking Shehryar whether Pakistani writers are only in the limelight because of the political turmoil the country is facing. The author responded by explaining that writing is not about seizing the moment.
The success of a good book is gauged by whether it would still be read with the same level of relevance even if Pakistan is not at the forefront.
He further added that books are all about different characters, stories and languages and it is important to always ensure that the human figure is at the centre. In his own book, Shehryar explained that he used Karachi and the movement from West to East as a background, but always remained true to the essence of the book: The characters and their underlying struggles.
After some probing from the moderator, there were many other questions asked regarding Shehryar’s inspiration for the book along for his choice of the title Invitation and the seemingly controversial front cover of a burlesque dancer’s torso. Shehryar spoke about his inspirational ‘story-telling’ family and also expressed his fascination with playwrights. The choice of the front cover had a lot to do with capturing the essence of a cabaret which was an essential component of the book. His rationale for the title Invitation was based on what the character of Shahbaz in the novel was initially presented with.
The evening ended with the author explaining the essential components of writing a valuable story and signing copies of his book. He claimed that reading closely, living and writing the text down set the ground work. “De-mystification,” he says, “comes much later”. Invitation promises an interesting read on an era forgotten; but still present. Shehryar is currently in the process of writing his second book. Although he refused to disclose anything, he did assure the audience that this time he would be taking on a much more contemporary approach.