You Can't Go Home Again: Sarvat Hasin chronicles urban reality in Karachi

Sarvat Hasin chronicles urban reality in Karachi through tales of a few youngsters

author_img Simar Bhasin Published :  16th March 2018 05:24 PM   |   Published :   |  16th March 2018 05:24 PM
Sarvat Hasin

Sarvat Hasin

The concept of home and what constitutes it, is at the heart of Sarvat Hasin’s new book. The story revolves around a group of youngsters from Karachi and their journeys — emotional and physical — as they grow up. Speaking about You Can’t Go Home Again, a collection of interlinked short stories, the 26-year-old author says, “I knew I wanted  to write about a specific moment in time: Karachi in the mid-2000s, and what being a teenager felt like then.” The writer, whose earlier work, This Wide Night, was longlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian Literature, chats with Indulge about playing with form and structure, the idea of home and the use of the supernatural in her narratives. 

Was it a conscious decision to structure the book like linked short stories, going backwards and forwards in time, instead of chronologically in a linear format?

There is a sense of playfulness and discovery that this format allows for that I don’t really get in novels. There is a certain discipline, at least for me, that a novel demands. With this book, I had the opportunity to chase my impulses a bit more without the worry of disrupting a central narrative. 

What was the thought behind the title? Does the idea of home act as a metaphor throughout the work? 

Home as a physical place is a complicated thing in this book. There is a literary tradition of writing about South Asian people and how they move through the world: I wanted to focus in on these particular people and their sets of circumstances. 
If home is a person, not a place, what does it mean to leave that person? What does it mean to be apart from your family when they can be in your ear every morning and evening? I wanted to capture the idea of home in flux. 

Would you say, the supernatural elements, the djinn and the black magic references, are an objective correlative for the inner emotional journeys of your characters? 

The elements were less meant as manifestations of the character’s journeys, and more as obstacles in them. What is interesting to me is not just the superstitions themselves, but the way people react to them and engage with them. These characters believe they have buried the beliefs of the older generation, but it is not so simple. The complicated nature of that detangling is what interests me — how fears can linger even after you think you have outgrown them. 

Did you draw on people you knew for characters like Shireen, Naila and Karim? 

The characters became clearer to me out of the situations they were in: I’m not sure Karim would have been shaped quite the way he came out if he hadn’t been on the journey that the titular story 
takes him on, and same for the other characters. I learned their rhythms as I wrote them, as they interacted with the world. 

Do you feel like Karachi became a sort of an absent-present character in the book? 

Karachi is more a touchstone than a character. It’s where the story starts, the thing all these characters have in common. There are various moving parts in the narrative, and this is the one they each keep circling. 

Are there authors you look to for inspiration, or whom you admire? Did any of them shape your own writing style?

Probably the writers I drew from the most in the conception of this book were Junot Diaz and Helen Oyeyemi, whose short stories are exceptional. I also love the way Eimear McBride and Meena Kandasamy write, with immediacy and intimacy. 

What are you working on next? Will we see you attempt to play with the form and content in any of your upcoming works? 

I’m working on more fiction, a little non-fiction and poetry. Novels are long, which I had forgotten since the first time I wrote one. I am learning again, how strange it can be to hold one in your head and make sense of it as you try to transcribe it to paper. 

Hamish Hamilton (Penguin), `499.

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