Young Novelist Of Kashmir

Interviewed by Fahad Shah

On June 9, this year a local newspaper here came up with a story “Palhallan teenage girl turns novelist”. The girl is from Palhallan, Pattan— 17 miles from Srinagar. Sixteen year old Ruqaiya Shabir Tantray is a Kashmiri, now settled in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She published her first novel  “Magical Moonbeams” in May this year. The novel is published by “Arqam Afaq” publishers Lahore. The novel attracted a good readership from teenagers mostly. Born on July 17, 1994 at Palhallan, Pattan, Ruqayia relocated in Pakistani city Rawalpindi at the age of four to live with her father, Shabir Ahmed Tantray. Her father crossed the Line of Control (LoC) first in 1988 for arms training. He returned back to the Valley after two years, and was an active militant commander till mid 90’s. He later, again crossed over the Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) and settled in Rawalpindi, where he is now running a successful business venture. Ruqayia and her mother Jameela shifted to Pakistan in 1998 on an Indian passport to live with Shabir. Both the parents of Ruqaiya are postgraduates from Kashmir University. Her father has done Masters in Electronics and her mother is a postgraduate in Botany.

In this interview with Fahad Shah, she talks about her life, career, writing habits, her debut novel and her future plans.

Fahad

                    When did you first start writing?

Ruqaiya

        This question takes me a long time ago, a time when I didn’t have the slightest notion that I ever could write! It all started in one class. We used to have creative composition as a part of our syllabus. I remember it was my first term in Siddeeq Public School. I still hadn’t settled in the class completely when we were given a task to write a paragraph about ‘I like/ I dislike’. We wrote it there in the class after my dear teacher, Ma’am Shaffaq explained how we had to write it and what points we should include. When she returned my notebook, she had decorated the whole page with stickers and she made the whole class clap for me. Actually, my creative writing was different and better than the others. That was the first time I had written something of my own.

Then in sixth class, my English teacher, Ma’am Rubina who had a speciality in hunting the talents of her students told me once that she thought she would read my books some day. That was the time when I realized that I really had something valuable, I could write! That became one of the most beautiful memories of life.

Fahad

                    Were you sure then that you wanted to be a writer?

Ruqaiya

       In my early childhood, I hadn’t the slightest idea or wish to become a writer. Like other children, I wanted to be a doctor or a scientist but the option of a writer really never crossed my mind. We had an additional semester in sixth class in which our main focus was creative writing. I got so much appreciation from every one that by the end of that semester, I said to my teacher that my ambition was to become a writer. This was strengthened by Madam Imrana’s words who said to me after reading my poem that I was a writer.

Fahad

                     What is your age?

Ruqaiya

        I was born on 17th July, 1994. I just turned seventeen. I completed my first novel at the age of 15 and got it published in May 2011 by the age of sixteen.

Fahad

                     What did you first write?

Ruqaiya

        As I mentioned earlier, we used to have creative compositions. I wrote paragraphs, stories and then I also wrote poems. My teachers knew about my creative skills but I emerged as a poetess among the students at the end of tenth class when I submitted an application for the farewell party which was in the form of a poem.

Fahad

                      Are there devices one can use in improving one’s technique?

Ruqaiya

       Writing to me is an art, a mesmerising, captivating magic where you are supposed to be the magician and this particular magician has a great deal of responsibility over his shoulders. For any one who wants to write, I believe the first step is to understand this responsibility which weighs over you as soon as you pick up the pen and the paper to write because you are not just writing; you are influencing lives by your words. Not only should the reader enjoy your writing but he should also get something out of it, other wise I believe it is useless.

It is said that ‘We read a lot to write a little’ this statement happens to be quite true so anyone who wants to write should read a lot.

Along with that a writer should keep his eyes and ears open always, even for small things because from small things come great ideas and from great ideas arise great people.

Fahad

                         Did you have much encouragement in those early days, and if so, by whom?

Ruqaiya

        I have been quite lucky in this regard. My writings have been always appreciated by my teachers and my friends. My younger siblings have always enjoyed my self made stories more than the usual fairy tales and they have never stopped asking for more. My poetry has been admired by many and for that I am very thankful to my teachers and my friends. Without their help, I would have never even realized that I had something in me, something worthy and something precious.

Fahad

                        Do you like anything you wrote long ago as well as what you write now?

Ruqaiya

       As one grows up, a lot of changes in the thought can be clearly seen. When I see my old work now, small stories or poems, I feel at places that I should have changed these things and used better words here but at some places, my thoughts and the ideas behind those small sentences amaze me and I really think for a while that how could I have written such a lovely thing at such a small age. Small philosophies of mine are especially very interesting to read and it feels as if I have plunged into the river of past from where many a times I emerge out with a bright new idea.

Fahad

                              Do you read a great deal?

Ruqaiya

        Yeah, I read a lot, newspapers, columns, poetry, reviews, novels, biographies and every thing that I can get my hands on. Reading is much more than a pastime to me; it is a vital part of my life. I can’t even enjoy my holidays without books.

My parents used to buy books for me instead of toys and they taught me to play with books so well that it is now difficult for me to part my friends even for a day. My day is only complete when I read something.

Fahad

                              What writers have influenced you the most?

Ruqaiya

         I admire the work of Roald Dahl, J.R.R.Tolkien and J.K.Rowling in fiction. In non fiction, I love reading Charles Dickens who happens to be an all time favourite. I also like reading Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Dan Brown, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Arundhati Roy and many many other writers.

Fahad

                              What are some of your writing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a computer?

Ruqaiya

        I prefer to write without anyone in the room because I get disturbed usually especially when I am working on stories. As far as poetry is concerned, I can write it anywhere; even I remember I wrote a poem in the examination hall on my Biology paper which my Biology teacher liked immensely.   Initially, I only enjoyed writing with my pen but now I have developed an affection with my PC and it is a great help with my writing and stuff.

Fahad

                               Did you a learn style?

Ruqaiya

        I think that style is something that is inside you, your very own personal thing like signature, like finger prints. When you present your idea in your own way, it becomes your style. It is not a thing to be learned rather I should say it is a thing to be discovered within you. It is a part of the personality of every individual who has the gift of creativity in him or her. You can learn a language, improve vocabulary, try different sentence structures and ideas of presenting the same thing but in the end the way you express anything becomes your style.

Fahad

                               When the idea of writing a book did came?

Ruqaiya

       Well, I wanted to write a book from early childhood. I started writing one in fifth class but left it incomplete, started another in seventh class but left that incomplete as well. [still have the manuscripts of those] I wrote the first chapter of this novel  at the start of ninth class and I just left that too but my younger sister got hold of that chapter and she wanted to read more. So, by the end of tenth class, on her great demand I used to write half a chapter daily. She was a great reader and to her, I was extremely evil as I deliberately ended each chapter in such a way that she just had to wait desperately for the next one!

Fahad

                                   How much time it took you to write this book?

Ruqaiya

        I finished writing the book in about a month, used to write for six hours daily. Then I started editing it where my dear friend Aymen Ahmed proved to be a great help. She used to indicate the boring, slow or useless parts. It was real fun and real hard work, though I admit, editing the whole thing was a far bigger and more difficult challenge. Usually, I used to stay all night long, typing, using the dictionary, erasing, changing and retyping the words and sentences. There were many nights when I used to sleep after offering Fajar and my mother wasn’t very happy about it but that was the only reason I finished the editing work in three and a half months. Then I handed it to my teachers, Sir Shahid and Madam Rubina for the rectification of grammatical errors. After that, my father took it to the publisher where it stayed for more than eight months and finally came out in May 2011.

Fahad

                                     Do you think criticism helps?

Ruqaiya

        Criticism is a part of everything you come up with, I mean every thing has to face criticism somewhere. I will not hide from you the fact that I enjoy reading criticism though I must say I didn’t even have to face 2% of it. Actually, people do not realize how much they tell us about their own selves through their criticism. Unfortunately, every one in our society considers himself or herself worthy of criticising others and that many a times leads to such a criticism which makes the one being criticised laugh out loud. We could become better people if we knew our limits and our places in the world of criticism.

I also have the strange habit of dismissing certain things as nonsense which people term as criticism like some one says, ‘Your book was a waste of my time’ The thing is that if the critic had even hinted how or why in his criticism, I’d have given it a thought but since he or she hasn’t, it means that it came from someone who couldn’t get anything out of the 216 pages of my book. I always tell people to criticize to tell me how I can improve and that is a great help for me.

Fahad

                                      What are some of your personal quirks?

Ruqaiya

        I am a strange person, ‘different’ as my friends put it, a little crazy perhaps as some suggest but perfectly happy to be what I am. I have quite a lot of strange habits, the strangest is that even during July I sleep under a blanket. Every one else is being driven mad by the heat around here whereas I can’t fall asleep without a blanket!

Fahad

                                      What are you working on now?

Ruqaiya

        I have got a number of projects lined up, short stories, and poems and currently I am editing the manuscript of a younger friend.

Fahad

                                        Did being away from Kashmir help you or opposite?

Ruqaiya

       Everything has both positive and negative aspects. I believe being away from my place and my people has made me more independent, more responsible and given me more exposure. I have learned to make my place among new people and settle myself in different places quickly. Life has been a great teacher and I am happy to say that I have learnt much that I think wouldn’t  have been possible if I were in Kashmir. On the other hand, being away from family isn’t fun always, I have missed many joyous moments and celebrations but one can’t get everything and besides, my friends have been like a family to me. I still miss my grand mother and other members of my family a lot but now I am at peace as I know that at least I have done something to make them proud of me. The happiness that I see in my parent’s eyes and hear in their voices is the biggest reward I can ever get.

Fahad

                                       Do you want to return to Kashmir?

Ruqaiya

        Kashmir is my home land, it is the place where my forefathers lived, the place where my parents have spend glorious days [about which they talk quite often] and Kashmir has cradled me in her arms for the first four years of my life. It is my pride to belong to that beautiful land which has given rise to many great Sufis and poets of all ages. Besides that, I find my eyes and heart nourished there with the freshness and beauty of nature. No matter how long I spend in those beautiful pathways, mountains, trees and flowers, I want to return always, hungry for more.

To my valley, I will return but not now, not today. I will return when I find that I have become a source of pride for my dear home land, when I find that I have done something that would exalt the hills of my birth place to a level where I feel satisfied or at least happy and pleased with my efforts. Writing a novel isn’t enough. I owe my birthplace more and more will flow out of my pen, fiction, nonfiction, everything I can manage to produce, as long as I live. Besides that, for the time being, I want to concentrate on my studies which are very important to me and to my future.

Fahad

                                       What you feel about political situation of Kashmir?

Ruqaiya

        Well, I am a student and as a student I really stay away from politics, not because the future of my nation does not interest me but merely because I do not criticise where I have not done anything worthy myself. I am still young, still raw, inexperienced. I want to discover life more, study more, and learn more before I state my opinion about such a difficult thing as politics. Right now, I agree with Albert Einstein’s quote, ‘to me our equations are far more important, for politics is only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever.’ I have no power to change anything in politics yet so I choose to bestow my talents on something I can do in my humble capacity.

Fahad

                                        Which is your favourite book?

Ruqaiya

         As a Muslim, the Holy Quran holds utmost importance in my life. Not only is it my favourite book but it also is a guide to me at every step of life. After that, many people have inspired me. I can not call a single book my favourite every book has taught me a lot. Like I said before, I love Dickens’s works.  Few of my favourite books are The Da Vince Code, The Lost Symbol, Goodnight Mr. Tom, The God Of Small Things, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, The Jungle Book, The Little Princess, The         Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, Eragon, If Tomorrow Comes, Three Cups Of Tea, Gulliver Travels, The Scarlet Pimpernel and a lot more.

Fahad

                                            How much time do you schedule each day to write?

Ruqaiya

        It varies, I have half an hour fixed for writing nowadays but usually when an idea comes into my mind, I spend the next three to four hours writing it.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Ruqaiyas book is a little bit childish and amixture of all magic related stories,myth and legends in history

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