Review by Namrata, Interview by Samannaz Rohaminesh
Fiction rooted on reality impacts us greatly, in ways more significant than we can ever imagine. Read our review of Nadya A.R.'s Invisible Ties. We also got to chat with Nadya on her inspired story, future projects, and things in-between.
Invisible Ties by Nadya A.R. is the story of Noor, a young and confused woman, who is unsure about her life decisions and continues to be haunted by a tormented childhood, during the course of which she was neglected by her socialite parents.
Bringing together her different experiences of being a woman, born and brought up in a South Asian country, growing up to be a psychotherapist, and travelling across the world to understand how myopic society’s views are towards women and their social roles, author Nadya A.R. weaves an intricate web of emotions and relationships mired with dreams and nightmares, and fears and strength.
“Pain has no boundaries and suffering has no borders.” – Noor Kamal
The protagonist Noor gets married to Meekal due to parental pressure after a family tragedy. She moves to Singapore, half-hoping that it turns out to be a happy marriage. Unfortunately, her husband has also entered into this marriage more as a convenient arrangement, where he needs a caretaker for his ailing mother. He has a lover Jyoti whom he wants to get married to, but cannot because of his mother’s stern stand against it.
When someone is in such a catch-22 situation, there are only two choices left – either you make it work, or you walk out of it. What is interesting is to observe what Noor does in such a situation, and how she reaches a conclusion to it. Taking a reader through Karachi, Lahore, Singapore, Malacca (Malaysia) and London, the book creates an artistic imagery of breathtaking surroundings, interwoven with tradition and culture. It is one of those rare reads where even the location has a role to play in the narrative, making it all the more interesting.
Apart from Noor and Meekal, the book explores quite a lot of secondary characters exceptionally well. Meekal’s mother Aunty Bano, Noor’s parents, and many other such characters have very important roles to play in the narrative, which are short yet crucial, and the author has done complete justice in exploring their nuances in the story.
The story is layered beautifully with numerous metaphors used in the narrative, making it an engaging and enthralling read. It is interesting to note how the character of Noor grows onto you. Her transformation from being a confused young girl, to a young woman who is confident about what she wants from life is interesting to witness. I really enjoyed being a part of her journey, especially the part where her character learns through mistakes. I have always enjoyed reading about imperfect characters, because that is what we all are. No one is perfect and reading about perfection actually makes me feel inadequate about myself. On the contrary, this book is a celebration of our shortcomings, as if the book is telling the reader that it’s okay to be flawed and to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to surrender to your follies and give up. It is the story of her journey to find love, courage, and most importantly, a journey where she learns how to love and believe in her own self before everything else.
In hindsight, it is the story of every woman in society, because under the guise of the various roles we play, we are never taught to love ourselves, understand our needs and wants, and listen to our heart. We are always taught to keep ourselves after everyone else, and that is what shatters our self confidence unimaginably.
The book depicts how life is all about second chances. It shows how sometimes life gives you a second chance, and sometimes you give life a second chance. Having grown up in India, the relatability quotient for me was extremely high, for both the story and the character of Noor. Marriages in South Asian countries continue to be more of a societal need rather than an individual’s desire or want. And it is this need which creates a lot of chaos later on in life.
With a language that is akin to poetry, the author has managed to deliver a spell-binding novel filled with dreams and hope, and liberally sprinkled with huge doses about the strength of willpower, determination and belief. The writing is fluid and elegant, and never seems forced in its aim of creating an impact on the reader.
Invisible Ties is a melting pot of culture and tradition, which talks about the ties which bind us. Man is a social animal and is defined by the relationships he is bound to. This book explores the manner in which sometimes we try to define those relationships, forgetting that it is we who are defined by them always. I would recommend this book to everyone as it is not just a book. It is an emotion which can only be experienced.
1. How does your story as writer begin? How much do you think your native country Pakistan has influenced your writing style and narrative?
I think my story as a writer began when I started writing my diary. It was a place where I could just vent out. I think I was probably in my teens or maybe earlier than that. In this diary I remember writing down all my fears and feelings which I couldn't really disclose to anybody else.
Pakistan is my native country and there is a lot that I identify with. That is perhaps the reason why I feel more about the South Asian diaspora and all the issues which women in South Asia face. So in a lot of ways, I have tried addressing those issues in my writing. They are a very integral part of my narrative, inspired by my own journey of a South Asian woman trying to cope with different things in my life at different junctures because that's your culture and that is where you come from.
So in a lot of ways that is me but then also I am in the process of becoming because there are so many things and other cultures that I have been exposed to. I sort of gain inspiration from them and I think they amalgamate into what I become. So in those ways my writing style does reflect me as a South Asian Woman Writer and that's what I am. When I am writing I have to be very congruent to who I am and who I sort of identify with.
2. How much does the book ‘Invisible Ties’ relate to your own background?
This is the most common question that I have been plagued with since I have written the book as everyone wants to know how much of Noor's story is my story. My answer is always the same - There are always bits and pieces of our individual and unique stories in someway or the other in our characters or narratives which we weave. We may not be doing it consciously but it happens in a very subconscious way.
In my story, 'Invisible Ties' the protagonist Noor is somebody who migrates from Pakistan to Singapore. So in way that is a reflection what I have been through and what my personal journey has been like where I migrated to Singapore but much later in life. Noor is a young girl and my journey was a lot more later on after I was married and I had kids. But it is that journey of my migration where I feel deeply about the feelings for love, loss and longing for your home country and also the sense that you can never change your birth culture. Your birth culture is something you are born with but then you can always adopt other cultures and learn good things from everyone. So that is a part of my narrative.
Also, in the novel Invisible Ties Noor learns how to be a psychotherapist because I am practicing psychotherapist. I have worked a lot with women and a lot of women in abusive relationships who come for marital therapy and in that sense I think this was something that came easy to me. The issues that I faced as a psychotherapist and could identify with. But in no means is Invisible Ties my story because its a very different kind of journey. The girl is much younger and the issues are of course very different from what I faced in my life and yet very similar also. It is quite a paradoxical thing.
3. Why did you decide to write this story? What sparked the urge to share it? How much research did you put in the book (since it involves psychotherapy and history)?
I think any story that you pick up as a writer to write a book on, you have to feel very strongly and passionately about it. And for me, I am a person who gives more than 100% to whatever that I take up otherwise I don't really take it up. I forget the balance and that is something am constantly juggling with. To find a balance because I have this streak in me where I overdo things about which I feel passionately about be it issues or otherwise. I will give it all my very best to it all.
So when I decided to write this story I was working on my thesis which was related to childhood attachments and how they are so important. So it has a little bit of John Bowlby's attachment theory which I was working on something which is called as a 'secured base'. What defines a secured base? How much is childhood security important for your later on relationships in life and suddenly I had this idea of a protagonist who has had an highly insecure childhood and how much it would mean when she grows up. How much would all of that influence her later on in life and would she have issues and would she be constantly grappling with it throughout her life? And so, that was what actually sparked the urge to write this story and of course different themes came up in my mind. Like migration which I feel very strongly about, also culture - how culture is so integral and binds us to an extent. And yet we should not remain bound by it, like the shackles that dictate every single thing. Because culture is every evolving, ever changing and its so important to be flexible as human beings. We need to see the beauty of this culture and not become something which is toxic for us because that is extremely important. Our family ties are extremely important, especially in the South Asian culture.
And the research of course, because I am very particular about it. I had chosen this theme of South Asia, carefully choosing Malacca and the time span which is actually the post- colonial where Malacca and Singapore were British colonies at one point of time, along with India and Pakistan. I tied it all to different themes and looked at the unique history of all those places. So that was the common thread binding them all, running through the whole story like the Mughal theme, the Kohinoor theme where Noor's name is Noor yet she is like Kohinoor - doomed. She is going to different places and still is confused about where she belongs. Working on all these themes meant they had to be carefully researched. The history of each and every place that I have mentioned in the story has been researched in libraries and records so that even though it is fiction yet it is sort of based on facts in a way. It has to be authentic so that it feels authentic to the readers. All this research does get taxing but it is equally important because it is a very crucial for the integral theme of the story Invisible Ties.
4. Was the book initially written in a language other than English? If so, how challenging is it to express yourself in English vs. Urdu? Also, would it make a great difference if the book was written in English (or Urdu if originally written in English)?
The book was always written in English and I think its my spoken language. I have studied in an English medium school, we used to talk in English at home and then I migrated abroad, continuing my further education in English. So I think is English majorly. I cannot even imagine writing the same story in Urdu. I wouldn't be able to translate it. I think it makes a lot of difference though I do read Urdu poetry. My father is an Urdu poet and I love his poetry which we listen to quite often. So that is something that comes naturally to him.
And I think writing is something that should flow naturally to you. So for me I would not be comfortable as it wouldn't flow naturally for me. I don't think I would be able to do justice to it. But there are some works I have read in Urdu like Meer taki Meer, ghazals, Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, stories by Saadat Hasan Manto in Urdu which I have read and have loved them. And I think somewhere or the other, some of the meaning does get lost in translation. So I cannot imagine Invisible Ties being written by me in Urdu so I would need the help of a translator for this, somebody who is comfortable doing this as it is not my domain of expertise.
5. How was the book received internationally?
I think the book was always intended for an international audience. I mean anyone could simply pick up this book and read. I think it has been received very well and I have given this book to a lot of people from friends to family. All the readers have identified with the themes, have reviewed it and loved it. Especially women have been able to identify with this book a lot. There are times when I had conversations with them where they have told me how they have been able to identify with Noor, with migration and how they also struggle to find a place in this world which has become multi-cultural. So I think the book has been received well and has also been nominated for WOW awards. Its been picked up in different markets. Currently it is selling in Singapore and there has also been interest from other markets for it. It's even got more scope by word of mouth, by reviews to go across more than what it has because it was always intended for international audience. I personally also feel literature is meant to transgress boundaries and borders. Because it has a universal message. My book has an universal message, of love of those ties which are invisible but they are the biggest ties that I can think of is makes us a human. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter whether you are a Pakistani or an Indian or an English or whatever it is just that we do so many things that tie us.
As I have mentioned in my book as well - Suffering and pain has no borders and no boundaries because people can immediately identify with it. Someone has lost a dear one, they will connect with that feeling.
6. Do you consider yourself a global citizen? If so, how do you define ‘home’ as someone that identifies as such?
Absolutely I consider myself as a global citizen. I am between places like I am between Pakistan and Singapore. Pakistan because of my parents and Singapore because it is home in some ways. Pakistan is my birth country, my birth culture where I grew up, so it is so important. But at the same time I am travelling quite a bit. Like to Dubai where my son lives, America where my daughter is studying apart from Pakistan and Singapore. So I do feel like wherever I will go, I treat it like home because it has got, things that I learnt which were so important for my growth. And in someways that is so beautiful, because when you actually go to these places again you treat it like home. It becomes your home. And so you don't feel alienated, you don't feel this is not me. And yet like I said when you leave your birth country the longing is there. It will always stay because it is so ingrained in you and it is so much a part of you. There is no such hindrance in accepting your nationality. I say proudly I am a Pakistani and travel around the world. There is a primary identity and then there is a secondary identity which reflects your evolution and growth. And I think all of us are in some ways global citizens because the world has become so small. We have learnt so many things about different cultures and people across the world, the world has shrunk in so many ways and it is so incredible.
7. Which novelists do you admire most?
Novelists that I admire the most is going to be very tough to choose from but I think will mention a few like I like Aravind Adiga, loved his book The White Tiger. Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss. Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things . Paulo Coelho' s The Alchemist is my all time favourite. Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. Love Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so yes classics will include Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, it touched me in so many ways. I just love her style of writing. Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
So these are some of the novelists whose work I really admire and I have re-read a lot of work that I read and love. Khalil Gibran I have read so many times. I keep going back to my favourite literature and books all the time.
8. What books are must-reads?
I think for the must reads I will go with the classics: Pride and Prejudice - loved it. Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Little Women by Loiusa M Alcott. Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte - The Bronte Sisters I really like.
So these are the classics. In the recent ones, one of the book which I call a must read is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Some of the names I have already mentioned in the previous answer, Aravinda Adiga's The White Tiger, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. Khalil Gibran's The Prophet and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.
9. What advice would you give to the emerging novelists, especially women from underrepresented countries?
The advice I would like to give to emerging novelists, especially women from underrepresented countries is to write. I think everybody should write not only women. I believe everybody has a story to tell. Like I said before when you feel strongly about things from underrepresented countries say from this part of the world or wherever women don't have a voice the story becomes much stronger. Because it is felt and it is felt from a very deep place. The sense of injustice, of being a minority, of not having a voice - when it becomes a voice it is much more stronger voice than before. It is clang, it is a noise which is deafening for it comes from somewhere deep within from a place where you feel about things deeply. Every time I say this - more than the technique it is the passion that makes a story. And the passion comes from somewhere which triggers you in a way that you know this is the story and this is the story which I have to tell. And no matter whatever may happen this story becomes more important than anything else and that is the beauty of that story. Because its just so powerful.
When you feel is so powerfully within you, there is no way that it will not resonate with the readers. It will influence the people who are reading it. Because they know this writer knows what the writer is saying. Readers are very clever. The writer s being congruent. And half of the game is being that, congruent. Because technique is something you can always learn but once you have the passion that passion will fuel everything else. And everything else will fall into place. Women are battling with so many issues, they have to balance everything. They have so much pressure. I can feel it because this is one of the issues I identify with. Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter but who am I ? So that am I is a bit difficult in the South Asian perspective as it comes under lot of pressure from societal constraints. Everything else is pushed beneath. It is so difficult to find who you really are in this culture which has all the stereotypes and for a woman to carve an individual identity for herself is not easy. It is becoming easier than what it was before, but it is still not easy. Because I keep on hearing from educated women and they also keep coming up with issues you cannot even dream of. Because here they are exposed to a much more vast world view with view points which are different and yet they are coming from that place which is so primitive in that sense. So that hypocrisy is quite sad. And that hypocrisy is also in some ways moves you. It will make you write a narrative that is true which will of course move people across the world.
So my advice would be to just write, do not fear rejection or anything. Do not worry about publishing too much. Because you all have a very powerful story inside. Be true to your story. Be authentic and congruent to your story.
10. What are some future projects of yours that we can look forward to and support?
Please support me, I need all the support of my readers. The project I am working now on is a novel and its tentatively called The Sanctuary. Its an adventure novel and again it is set across the globe. As a story it has more adventure and has more scope for me to actually dabble with more characters , with a different style of challenging narrative. So in this way even though people have said that Invisible Ties is complex but to me that one is much simpler because the characters are quite a handful. But these the one that I am working on right now is going to have different characters and its going to be on a vast and a more broader canvas than Invisible Ties. Its more like an adventure thriller . So please support The Sanctuary and I am hoping to finish it soon. I hope to take lesser time to write this one than I took to write Invisible Ties. Thank you very much!
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Nadya A.R.'s Invisible Ties can be purchased here.