by Maniza Naqvi
The photographer, the journalist, and the novelist: wrapped in each other’s facts, cloaked in another reality, set out to worship a city mapped in news and fiction. A peacock sways across the tiled floor brushing its iridescent tail upon black and white marble elongated squares. We slip off our shoes, the floor cool against our restless soles, bare. An unguent. A devotee presses a rose petal on the forehead of a deity’s image. The photographer refrains from taking a shot though the angle is good. Here, photographs are forbidden. But the novelist free to capture images, no matter what, imagines many more. For example, of the journalist, thinking a headline, of just facts “Three people in search of gods in hiding, who whisper: seek us and we will appear.” But knowing, that facts don’t make for good copy or sell papers, the journalist would instead spin a tale: A novelist, shot, by a bearded man, inside a mandir, on M.A. Jinnah Road.”
Bear with me, I have a story to tell, something to sort through, a record to set straight and perhaps a score or two to settle too. So, I’ll begin somewhere in the middle and work to a beginning.
I was contacted by a journalist in March 2008 when I was visiting Karachi. She wanted to interview me for my novel, A Matter of Detail. When we met, I listened with growing guilt and self doubt as she lectured me for a good half hour on how my novel should be written. Then she questioned my right to write such a novel since I no longer lived in Karachi. This done, she told me she was very interested in my novel’s focus on the Bene Israel of Karachi. She told me that she had not known before she read my novel, that there had been a Jewish community in Karachi. My book was her first inclination of this and her first introduction to the Bene Israel community in Karachi. She explained that the interview was for the Friday Times as would be the photographs she wanted to take of me. I told her that, beyond the research that I had carried out, my book is wholly imagined. It is an imagined possibility. My efforts were to create a sensation of sweetness, an essential sweetness in a cultural milieu—symbolized perhaps by the sugar that my character Hajrabai stirs into my character Razzak’s ovaltine in the novel.