People have often asked me, “What made you start writing? Did you always want to write?”
I have to admit, I stumbled upon writing by accident. My husband, Noshir, and I had been invited for our honeymoon by Major Safdar Butt. He was in charge of the construction of the Karakarom Highway, that follows the old Silk Route from China to Eastern Europe. We stayed at an army camp at about 8000 feet built near a gorge. The gorge fell steeply to an expanse of white sandbanks and water where the hurtling river had been contained to form a sapphire lagoon a mile wide. The camp doctor and an engineer together with the major told us the story of a sixteen year old Punjabi girl who had been brought to the remote Himalayan range by an old Kohistani tribesman. They wondered why the young girl was with the old man and he told them that he was taking her across the Indus River to get married to a relative in his tribe. The girl seemed content. A month later they heard the girl had run away. The point in telling me the story was that the girl had survived in the mountains, where there is not a blade of grass or any foot-trails, for over two weeks. One morning they found her decapitated body on the opposite bank of the Indus.
A runaway bride is an intolerable insult in the tribal code of the ungoverned area that lies between Pakistan and Afghtanistan. The tribesmen were out hunting the girl and the punishment for running away was death. When I returned to Lahore I was haunted by the soaring ranges of the Karakarom, the turquoise Indus, and the girl’s story. At first I wrote an article for the Civil & Military Gazette, describing the breathtaking scenery that was imbued with an almost mystical quality.
But the girl continued to haunt me and I began to write a short story about the young life that had ended so tragically: I named her Zaitoon. As I wrote I began to wonder who her parents were and how she had met the old tribesman. In creating this background for Zaitoon I soon realized that the short story was turning into something much longer. I was a fastidious and exacting writer. I discovered the Roget’s Thesaurus and did not rest untill I found the words that exactly conveyed my intent. I experimented: creating flashbacks and removing them. I compressed 400 written pages into 30 pages, and dismayed by the result I recovered them. I cut my writer’s teeth on this effort. It became my first novel: The Bride. (The Pakistani Bride in USA)
My life as a businessman’s wife was one of tedium filled with coffee mornings and mindless socializing. Telling this girl’s story became my obsession and I discovered that the act of writing set my mind on fire. I enjoyed the creativity it unleashed within me. It was a source of almost sublime joy and I couldn’t bear to be away from it. Even when I was a dummy at a game of bridge, I would sneak off to write a few lines. Only my husband knew that I was writing. I was afraid that my friends would have jeered at me with remarks like, ‘What will Bapsi write?– probably a romance!’