Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Ramadan two-thirds gone…

It’s so weird to have something so consume your daily attention and be so completely oblivious to the world at large.

Here I am, in the midst of preparations, this year it’s our turn to host Eid and the logistics of doing that are tough to say the least!

But one day at a time, I’ve been cooking, baking and freezing, getting ready for the big day, reading Quran, pondering, praying and watching the moon shrink as it has already waxed and is now on its waning period before it disappears altogether a few nights before it will be reborn as the new moon, and a new month Shawwal, the first of which is Eid ul Fitr.

One of the things that invariably happens is that I tend to read a lot during Ramadan. One of the reasons for that is that I’m kind of the ‘book aunty’. I do give books as Eid gifts and some of my nieces and nephews even seem to appreciate my picks for them.

I’ve very careful in choosing books. I choose the ones I think the child in question would appreciate, and not necessarily what I would appreciate.

But also, I have to make sure the book doesn’t contain anything too controversial.

Not so easy now that the kids are all getting older.

So I bought some copies of John Green’s books: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Finished the first one, tried to read the second, and omigosh, couldn’t get through it.

A dear friend had talked about his tendency to employ the ‘manic pixie girl’ and I get it now.

Basically the manic pixie appears in both books. For some reason a male author thinks that portraying a girl as manic, and sexy hot, is empowering???

Not sure what’s going on there.

Not sure why the books are even that popular. I suspect it’s because he shows a lot of respect to teens. The teens in his books are bookish and smart, kind of, I guess.

And yet Looking for Alaska is full of sex, alcohol, smoking and drugs. There’s even a bj in there.

Now the thing is if the narrative actually deals with such material in a responsible way, rather than just for the sake of titillation then I actually don’t have that much of a problem with it.

These are realities that teens are facing. As an author, you can’t shy away from it. Your writing has to reflect reality, it’s as simple as that.

And the ultimate point of LFA is kind of good.

So I was torn as to whether or not to give it to the teens I was thinking of giving it to. Speaking to the parents though, I realized that nope. It wasn’t appropriate.

On another note, I finished reading a book by a promising new Muslim author named Ausma Zehanat Khan (no relation). It’s called The Unquiet Dead, and is a mystery set in–get this!–the Scarborough Bluffs.

And it’s good, but oh why oh why can’t these authors get their facts straight???

She has lilies blooming in the fall!!!!!!

Everyone knows that lilies bloom in high summer! In fact my lilies are currently in the process of blooming or are already in full bloom. By the fall they’ll be nothing but greenery!

Don’t these authors realize that such a slip up detail will take the reader completely out of the story???

Oh, and there’s a character in the book that is SUCH  a floozy that it’s over the top, and jarring.

It just breaks your heart.

It’s a book that could have been incredible!

And in fact it’s still quite readable and has moments that are brilliant…if only…

Oh well, I guess my rant is over.

It’s still a good enough book that I will most assuredly give it to some nephew or niece one day. I did really like it, and it’s clean enough.

I’m glad my nephews and nieces don’t read this blog! Hee hee.

 

 

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra

I finished reading this little gem of a book a little while ago, and some of the themes are still reverberating within me.

It’s about 9/11 from the perspective of a boy named Jake who lives in Florida.

His best friend is Sam.

And I thought the story evoked a lot of nuances between the two characters.

The thing is, I always cringe when I think of books about 9/11.

Somehow it still feels so raw.

When I read a book I don’t want to be reminded of something so horrific.

But this book was a good read.

I’m planning on including on my Muslim Children’s Booklist as an excellent title that explores the ramifications of 9/11.

At first it kind of jarred me that it was written from a mainstream point of view. But I’m starting to believe that this kind of perspective is a lot easier on the eye, when reading.

A Muslim perspective of the events always seems to come across as so defensive. Which is understandable, and yet off-putting.

Definitely check it out!

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One week down in Ramadan…

Subhan Allah how quickly the time flies when you’re not eating, you’re not drinking and you’re not having much fun, and yet you’re sublimely immersed in the calm and the peace that is Ramadan.

The first few days are not easy, but even now, when Ramadan is falling during the longest days of the year, and we fast for about eighteen hours straight, the body adjusts.

That’s what people don’t realize.

The body adjusts.

Like when my body adjusts to wearing the hijab, and even though yeah, at times in early summer I can be really hot with it on, the body gets used to it, it changes its thermostat setting and everything becomes bearable.

We seem to be living at a time of impatience.

Where everyone expects the world to accommodate each and every one of their whims instead of people developing the intestinal fortitude to tough out inconvenience, to tough out hardship and not always take the easy way out.

What happened to developing discipline?

Don’t they realize that if it were easy everyone would be doing it?

But I am so fortunate because Ramadan has fallen in the summertime and during the summer time my schedule gets free. I am basically not busy until things start up again on September 8th insha Allah, where my residency as Artist in Library at Downsview Public Library begins again.

I have adjusted my schedule so that we get up around 4 am to have suhoor, the pre-dawn meal before we fast, and then I stay up till about 7 am and I write, and alhamdu lillah, I’ve been able to finish a project that’s been haunting me for years.

So now comes the discipline of polishing, which really isn’t that hard.

And soon insha Allah, I’ll be able to send it off and see if it will get published.

There’s something really beautiful about being up so early in the morning.

Praying Fajr with my husband and son, and then tidying up the kitchen so it’s clean for the day! (Another benefit of Ramadan.) And then taking out the computer and getting to work while the house is blissfully silent and the eastern horizon is slowly growing light, first with that bluish hue, and then with tinges of pink and orange until the final climax of golden orange light that doesn’t reach you down at ground level because there are too many trees and buildings in the way, but definitely hits the top branches. And the birds are singing their hearts out, and there’s just the coolest freshest breeze coming in through the open dining room window.

And there’s something to be said for just getting to it.

I won’t deny that I always sort of dread Ramadan coming. A month of fasting and losing sleep and all the Eid preparations, and stuff, it definitely isn’t easy.

But…once it’s actually underway…it’s a whole different story.

There are so many little moments, rewards that you just wouldn’t notice otherwise because you’re too busy eating and drinking and getting on with stuff.

It’s amazing how much TIME you have when  you’re not stuffing your face!

Time to just observe and to soak in the here and the now, and notice the little beauties like the coming of dawn.

And you know that the hardship will be over all too soon.

And I remember what my mother in law said, that I probably already mentioned in my last post, that she wishes all year could be Ramadan, and there’s truth in that.

People don’t know what they’re missing!

Subhan Allah.

Life is good, and Ramadan is achingly beautiful.

A time of blessings.

A recharge.

A spiritual renewal.

Peace.

 

 

It’s weird what happens when you start getting successful.

Within the Muslim community I’ve had lots of people come up to me and tell me how they want to get published.

I’ve had a relative blatantly ask me for one of my editor’s names and phone number because his daughter had written something ‘brilliant’ and he wanted her to get published too.

I’ve had people, again blatantly, ask for my agent’s name and phone number.

And for the most part these are people who have no real love of literature.

I think they just assume, “Hey she did it. So can I.” And so instead of supporting me as a Muslim author and storyteller, they decide they want to throw their hat in the ring.

Well, all power to them.

One thing I realized a long time ago is that we need more Muslim authors! And competition is healthy. It keeps you on your toes. It pushes you to write better because hey, you’re not the only fish in the sea!

Back in November when I went to the NCTE convention I was interviewed by an organization that promotes literacy called Colorin Colorado.

Do enough videos and a funny thing happens, you actually start getting comfortable in front of the camera.

Here’s the link to see the interviews. They edited them so well so that they’re like playlists of shorter pieces!

http://www.colorincolorado.org/read/meet/khan/

And it really feels like they’re starting to notice me. Like I’m an entity within my own right.

And then on last Sunday, I spent the day at Sakinah TV, a fledgling Muslim satellite TV station, telling folktales and stories. When I have links I’ll post them insha Allah.

They want to include children’s programming. They’d brought in a group of kids for me to tell to, and I did, but by the end of it the producer said we could even just do the stories with me telling them to the camera, and I thought, yeah, I could do that!

I started getting comfortable with just talking into the camera when I did my book talk/tutorials for my youtube channel.

It’s so weird to think of myself becoming okay in front of a camera. I’ve always been shy of watching myself on screen.

Oh! In the days of those Michael Coren shows where I used to be a guest!Yikes! Couldn’t stand watching myself. Cringed every time.

Now, not so much.

Allahu alim.

I realized it’s been fifteen days since my last blog post and I’ll try not to let that happen again although sometimes I wonder if anyone actually does read these ramblings of mine.

Been super super busy! With all sorts of things.

Oh, and another curious thing happened and it seems to be happening more and more. When I go to certain family functions, people are starting to introduce me as an author. Like first they’ll tell people my name, “Oh this is Rukhsana, she’s …’s wife/daughter in law, etc., and then they’ll add, ‘She’s a children’s author…” And other nice things along with that.

It’s kind of nice.

But what’s not so nice is that as I wrap up revisions on this current project, I’m getting really really scared that it might get rejected.

I’ve been second-guessing my skills for the longest while. What with all the rejections I’ve been receiving, and now with this project, it’s  a sequel for Wanting Mor, and there are parts that I like so much I keep re-reading them just for the fun of it.

That’s a good sign, right?

But I don’t know any more.

Oh well, I’m just scared it’ll get rejected too, and so it’s like I’ve been dragging my heels on finishing it. But finish it I will, insha Allah.

I was hoping to be done before Ramadan, but nope, got sidetracked with a bunch of other stuff.

And here now I come to Ramadan, and the summer solstice, the longest day of the year is a few days away, so yeah the fasts are basically as long and as difficult as they’re ever going to be, and for the next three years they’ll be this way. Not easy.

I couldn’t help dreading the fasting, and yet last night, at twilight, which heralded the beginning of the month because the night comes before the day, such a feeling of peace descended on my heart, as it always does in Ramadan. Peace and joy. And even though, yeah, it’ll be hard, there’s a part of me that welcomes it.

My mother in law said it well this morning. She said how much she loves Ramadan, and wishes it would last all year.

I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I wish it would last all year, but yes, I do love Ramadan.

With all its hardships, I still love it.

It is a blessed month!

And I hope to recharge and reboot and reconnect with family insha Allah.

So Ramadan Kareem everyone, whether or not you celebrate it.

May it be a month of peace and steadfastness for all of you.

 

 

 

A few days to decompress…

And alhamdu lillah it feels so good!

Getting up at a reasonable time (around 9 am) not having to rush to shower and have breakfast, even pottering around a bit before having breakfast and starting the day’s writing.

It’s been so tricky working on this project. I’ve had to stop and start so many times, and each time I come back to the project I have to reacquaint myself with it to get back into the flow.

That’s the problem with doing a lot of presentations.

They’re incredibly tiring!

But alhamdu lillah, I’m not complaining. Not at all!

I’m so fortunate that I even have this problem at a time when many authors are struggling to make a living.

The Writer’s Union of Canada even did a survey and it seems that authors’ incomes have fallen in the last fifteen years so that most authors are living under the poverty line.

Alhamdu lillah, I’m doing just fine!!!!

But the cool thing is coming back to the project and getting kind of impressed with some of the scenes, and coming at it so fresh, it doesn’t even feel as though I wrote them.

I really hope I can finish this project soon, even within the next few weeks before Ramadan.

I have so many projects I want to write and with the Artist in Library residency starting again this fall at Downsview Public Library, I’m thinking I won’t have much time this fall to write, so this summer is it.

I even put in my garden.

There is such a satisfying feeling once the flowers  you’ve purchased are safely in the flower beds, all tucked in with a good dose of fertilizer and mulch.

I kind of feel like I’m getting my own fertilizer and mulch in terms of my creative process.

Feel ready to grow, and blossom and bloom over the summer insha Allah! I can only hope!

Like, don’t lose control of your temper! Even when a student does something silly!

It was a grade three class, and I was entertaining questions. It was stifling hot in the library! And I was tired and I was frazzled, many of the teachers had been totally rude, conducting animated conversations during my presentation but still…when a student does something dumb, just take a deep breath and politely explain that you’re looking for questions, not comments at this moment.

Thing was, I had been told to wrap things up. There was only time for two more questions. I’d already allowed the students to express the fact that many were from Pakistan like me, and many had relatives with the same names as the names in my books.

I had told them that’s very nice but I’m looking for questions.

So there was one little girl, so eagerly putting her hand up, looking like she had something so profound to say that she simply couldn’t contain herself, so I called upon her, and she says, “My aunt’s name is … too!”

And I blurted out, “I don’t care.” in a kind of frustrated and funny and ironic way.

I was looking for questions. And then immediately I realized what I’d said, and I added, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. That was completely inappropriate and I don’t mean it. I’m just looking for questions at this moment.”

A moment of weakness. A moment of exhaustion, but luckily, the little girl was completely unfazed.

I’m often blunt with kids, but hardly ever that rude.

No matter how blunt I get, the kids can always tell it’s nothing personal with me. And usually they even like it. They’re so used to the hedging speech of teachers, that a little bluntness can be refreshing!

I remember one time I was brainstorming a poem with some grade fours and fives and one kid had shouted a preposterous description and I just screwed up my face and said, “NO! That doesn’t make sense.” And moved on.

And the teacher had been totally surprised that the kid hadn’t been offended in the least.

Afterwards the little girl joined the queue and talked about how much she’d enjoyed the stories. No harm done, but darn it! I felt it!

And I remember dealing with some of the people I most admired when I was growing up and how often they snapped at me and I didn’t take it personally. In fact the more intelligent I considered them, the more often they snapped, or so it seemed. Not saying that I’m intelligent or anything, it was just an observation I recall.

In fact, afterwards I really chided myself for it. To put things in perspective I thought of how she was in grade three, that meant she was about eight years old, like my oldest granddaughter! No way would I have said such a thing to her!

All the way home I scolded myself for losing my patience.

And then it occurred to me that here I was really making a huge to-do about something that the little girl hadn’t even cared that much about, but I knew it was wrong. And it occurred to me that the more stringent you try to be, in terms of your ethics and moral, the more you beat yourself up when you slip up like this! And we’re all bound to slip up aren’t we?

And the next day, I was speaking to the junior students and many of the kids came up to me afterwards and used the same descriptor words for my presentation. They told me it was ‘inspiring’.  And one kid told me that I’d totally described his life.

And in the midst of all this, I remembered what my friend had told me about privilege and private schools.

Apparently the biggest advantage in going to private schools has little to do with the education you receive. But rather it’s about connections.

The fact is that kids in public schools have the same access to information that any other kids have access to, because of the library system. But where the kids in private schools are distinctly at an advantage is that their peers are the offspring of rich and influential people and being in such close proximity to such influential people they’re more likely to get good jobs and do well financially.

That’s the benefit. It goes back to ‘who you know’.

I found this fascinating!

So I asked my friend, “Then that means, that I’ve accomplished all the stuff I have, without having any connections at all!”

She said, “Yes!”

And I thought, “Wow!” That is actually pretty darn impressive!

And the fact that SO many authors are struggling to make ends meet and I’m doing very well in that regard, alhamdu lillah, is again, quite an accomplishment.

And somewhere along the line I came across the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I can’t remember who said it, but it’s a very good quote!

We all do way too much comparing, keeping up with the Joneses and stuff.

Alhamdu lillah, I really have nothing to complain about!

And yeah, I made a mistake with that poor little kid in grade three and I regret it, and insha Allah, I won’t do it again, but at least I didn’t scar her for life!

I can and will get past this, insha Allah!

And yeah, I’ll continue to hold myself to a high ethical and moral standard even though I won’t always meet them. But I will always try! Insha Allah.

And in terms of news: King for a Day has been chosen by the TD Summer Reads as one of the 20 best books of 2015.

And it was just chosen by the South Asian Book Award committee as a 2015 SABA Commended title!!!

Woohoo, lots of accolades! Will have to add these honors to my book page for it!

Yeah, so basically that’s the things I’ve been learning over the last few weeks, as the school year’s been winding down.

I’m really looking forward to Ramadan.

And I’m looking forward to wrapping up some writing projects insha Allah.

 

It’s a really good idea to keep yourself open to all opportunities to promote  your work.

When I met Dennis Abrams at the Sharjah Reading Festival and he asked me to write a guest post in his online magazine and I agreed, I had no idea he had thousands of followers.

It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

So I wrote an article about international marketing and it seems to have done very well!

You can read it here: http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/05/a-canadian-authors-adventures-in-intl-book-marketing/

So basically, you can add the opportunity of writing that article to the myriad opportunities I’ve received when I’ve traveled!

It really does surprise me to find that authors are willing to shell out thousands to attend conferences on the other side of the world!!! I even advised a couple of authors I know not to do that, but they didn’t listen.

It’s a pretty expensive vacation if you ask me!

My goodness!

It’s a matter of slowly building up your brand and your reputation.

I like what Philip Seymour Hoffman said, keep working and make sure when you go before an audience, that they never forget you!

Or words to that effect.

Basically that’s what I try to do and so far it’s been working!

 

Quebec was lovely!

Montreal is a beautiful city!

I had never seen it in this light before!

Stayed at the Marriott in Westmount and it’s such a quaint little place! Loved the architecture.

Normally I don’t care for a lot of statues and stuff sticking out of the brickwork, but they do make it work!

And oh, the Quebecois can really make desserts!

Oh I had the most luscious treats! (And gained about five pounds yikes!!! And my rosacea!!! Ew!!! but oh they were yummy!)

Most everyone I met was warm and gracious!

Went to a school in Pointe Claire yesterday which is a very old English settlement that dates back to the 1700′s. It’s on the shores of Lake St. Louis, and very picturesque, particularly because it was a warm spring day!

We ate lunch on the shores of the lake and I talked to the teacher librarian Sandra Fisher.

The kids were wonderful! As usual.

One little girl came up to me after The Roses in My Carpets presentation and she had this very serious look on her face. She said, “I just loved your presentation. It was just so true.”

And as she stood there in front of me, tears came into her eyes and I told her, “Oh no. You’re going to make me cry!”

And she said again, “But it was so very true!”

And then later these two little boys came up to me and said how much they’d loved the presentation and then the one said, “I just feel like hugging you! You just look so very CUDDLY!” And the boy next to him nodded in agreement.

I just laughed! And I said, “Fine! I’ll hug you!” And so we did! Them doing most of the hugging (because in this day and age you have to be super careful!) and me just patting them on their backs! They were about nine years old.

It was just so funny! They felt like my grandkids for goodness sakes!

But it’s funny because it isn’t always positive.

In one of the schools I went to during the tour, there was a teacher who got quite upset when I talked about wanting to be white and how the kids I grew up with told me and my sisters that they were white because they were clean and we were brown because we were dirty.

The point of sharing this in the Roses in My Carpets presentation was to show the irony that my Afghan refugee foster child had blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles–the one thing that I could have used while I was growing up!

And in talking about all this stuff, the main point that comes through is how silly the whole skin color thing really is!

Believe me, the kids get that the fact that I can laugh at it now, means I have gotten over it!

But apparently this teacher was upset because I didn’t go into how I had overcome my feelings of being ‘dirty’. I just told the kids that I had overcome them and I had come to terms with being a brown Canadian.

And when I heard that, I just looked at the administrators blankly and said, “But that’s another presentation.”

In my A New Life/Coming to Canada presentation, I go into exactly how I overcame those feelings of being brown and dirty, but for the sake of the Roses in My Carpets presentation there isn’t time, I only needed to reference it.

Well, well, you can’t please them all.

When I stayed behind in the hopes of talking with her and gaining insight into her objections, she didn’t come to speak to me. And I thought well, you can’t please everyone, even though, yeah, deep in my heart, I DO want to please them all!

It’s something I’m working on.

LOL.

Oh, so pathetic I know! But I can’t help it.

If she’d brought some legitimate points, I would have found a way to incorporate them into the presentation in order to deal with them, but I never got the chance, so I’ll just chalk it down to an isolated incident.

All in all the most common comment I got from the audiences I spoke to was: “I could have listened to you all day!”

These came from teachers and other students all through out the week!

And a seventeen year old big guy from Shawinigan school, after I’d done a combination of my Get the Bully Off Your Back presentation mixed in with aspects of Wanting Mor. He said, “It’s lunch time and I’m really hungry, but I could have listened to you for another hour!”

I’d say it was a very successful tour!!!

#TDBookWeek

 

Subhanallah! I survived.

I feel like a wrung out dish cloth, but I survived.

Having two major trips so close together was NOT a good idea!

It might seem really cool and fun, and it is, if they’re spaced way apart!

But having basically two days in between to recuperate…uh uh, not good.

Sharjah was amazing! I learned so very much!

Especially from this lady I met at a coffee shop.

Maybe I should explain how I approach opportunities.

When someone gets in touch with me, and I can accommodate them with an interview or meeting, then I tend to do so. I have found that you never know what can come out of such chance meetings!

It’s one of the ways that I’ve kept the momentum of my career going forward.

It’s often the case that you might be chasing after this or that group, but it’s some totally different group that acknowledges you and wants to work with you!

So this lady had contacted me, she’d come to the Expo centre in Sharjah looking for me because she lives in Dubai, had brought her kids and everything but I only had two small presentations at the Expo centre. One was a panel that was actually covered in the Gulf Today newspaper here: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/9e9bd70f-229b-40aa-ac53-461eaac89f6b.aspx#.VT8Zs_sSeUA.facebook

It was a very nice panel but a small audience of mostly intellectuals. The other was a presentation I did for some twelve year old girls at the booth of my publisher Kalimat.

So not surprisingly she couldn’t find me. So through Facebook she told me she wanted to meet me, I did have some time available so they picked me up at the hotel and we went for coffee.

We had a lovely conversation! Up till now I’d been rather disappointed by the limited vision of some of the people I’d met in Sharjah. It seemed that they were trying to blow their horn from a perspective of Arab nationalism and personally I could care less about any sort of nationalism. I’m not patriotic in that sense, not particularly proud of being any sort of ethnicity because I think that ethnicity is not where we get our goodness. I mean I’m not ashamed of being Pakistani, but I don’t see being Pakistani, or even Canadian for that matter as being any better or any worse than anyone else.

And I find all cultures interesting.

So sounding off about how great it is to be Arab…nope. Doesn’t really appeal to me.

But this lady was talking about encouraging Muslims to be better people, and yup, that does appeal to me. Because heaven knows, we have a long way to go as a community to be better people!!!

She comes from an artistic background and she said that she wanted to try her hand at writing, that she wanted to write for teens to show them that they should be better Muslims, and I blurted out, right then and there, a truth that I hadn’t realized that I had realized, (if that makes any sense at all). I told her, “No. You can’t write a story to encourage kids to be good. That’s propaganda. It has to be about the story!”

And then I explained to her that you need to just write, let the characters figure things out, do not impose upon them, or else the story will come out terribly contrived, which is the case for most Islamic and even multicultural fiction that’s out there!

And in telling her that, I also reminded myself of that. Because heaven knows we all need reminding from time to time.

When I was writing Wanting Mor, I had no agenda whatsoever. I just wanted to find out how this girl would survive this abandonment by her father. And that was precisely the right approach to take.

The people in Sharjah were so hospitable and nice! Oh my goodness!

And I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara McClintock and Tanya Landman! Two wonderful authors the first from the U.S. and the second from the U.K.

Would love to go back to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival!

 

 

Groggy old jet lag…

That fuzzy muzzy feeling when you’ve had enough sleep but you’re still woozy because of the time of day.

Hope it gets over soon.

Got back in from Sharjah yesterday afternoon and I’m still digesting the trip.

The best attitude to have in such a situation is a ‘just to go with the flow’ a ‘see what happens’ approach.

It really comes down to ‘insha Allah’. A phrase which both explains the Arab approach to life and frustrates the heck out of outsiders at the same time.

Insha Allah literally means ‘if God wills’.

Honestly, as a Muslim, for me to say I’m going to do anything in a definite way makes me shudder unless I say ‘insha Allah’. And I’ve taken to actually writing it as ‘if God wills’ in email correspondence.

Just chock it down to one of the little idiosyncrasies of dealing with Muslims, like how people learned how to say Gesundheit when they sneezed, even though I think Gesundheit is a LOT harder to say than insha Allah.

Knowing Arab culture the way I do I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew things would be a LOT more laid back than I’m used to, and that was definitely the case.

I was there for basically eight days, and according to the conference I was only required to do about four school visits and one panel discussion. That was it.

But that said, our panel did get some media coverage here: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/9e9bd70f-229b-40aa-ac53-461eaac89f6b.aspx#.VT8Zs_sSeUA.facebook

It could have been done in two days.

But alhamdu lillah, I spent a lot of time learning things anyway.

And this is what it comes down to. You might think the reason for a trip is to promote your book that has just come out in Arabic, and yet if you keep your eyes open and more importantly your mind open, you can come away with completely different lessons.

I sure did.

I think it came down to coming across a person who found it objectionable to write their name in Arabic.

It boggled my mind, but it also revealed a huge depth of hatred of a culture, that they wouldn’t even allow their name to appear in the Arabic language.

Wow.

Just wow.

It was depressing to think that such a level of hatred could really exist. And I thought there is SO much work to do.

And some people will never change.

Not unless they’re forced to change and the only way to force someone to change in that regard I think, has to do with money.

If their livelihood is at stake, people can suddenly become very accommodating!

If not downright tolerant!

And the other huge lesson I learned was that many Arab publishers were not particularly interested in my work even though I come from a Muslim background and we have a lot in common.

One person even told me that they’re more interested in getting international exposure for their local authors.

And I thought based on what?

I understand that all regional publishers are looking to get international exposure but don’t they get it that it goes both ways?

It basically told me that some publishers aren’t so much interested in good literature as they are interested in promoting a cultural identity.

But the problem is that only good literature will do that. Nobody cares if you’re Pakistani.

Or Indian.

Or Arab.

If you’re trying to beat a drum and say, “Look at me! Look at my culture!” Nobody is going to care!

Why should they?

It would be like trying to write a story about how great being Muslim is!

Baloney!

Of course I think it’s great, but I’m not going to write a story about that! It would be nothing but propaganda!

You’ve got to tell a good story!

Which comes down to another very interesting meeting I had with some very earnest women. They took me out for coffee and one of the ladies, a simply charming Muslim woman told me how it was her dream to write. She wanted to write stories about how Islam is the right choice…

And I just looked at her horrified and said, “But that’s propaganda!”

And right there, in that little coffee shop, I told them, “It’s got to be about the story!”

Chuck the propaganda, and just tell a good story.

Be honest.

Be true to the characters, and then, and only then, will people care.

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s a LOT of propaganda that gets published in the name of children’s literature. Western publishers do it all the time.

But is that literature?

Will it stand the test of time?

I highly doubt it.

I actually think it’s this very propaganda that has turned kids off reading so much.

I guess the whole situation can be seen as being very depressing, but I prefer to be optimistic.

Here I’d thought “I made it! Now the whole middle east will open up to my work, insha Allah.” Only to find, nope. They’re looking inward.

And I just had to nod to myself. Tell myself, “Right, then.” Roll up my sleeves and work all the harder.

I always felt that the people in the middle east would never take me seriously until I’d made it here in the west, and I guess I still have to make it more.

I’m starting to be recognized here in the west as a good author, not just a good Muslim author, or a good Pakistani Canadian author or a good children’s author. Just a good author. But it’ll still take some doing before they can see that, I guess.

 

 

Rukhsana Khan

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