Q & A with Mirza Waheed
The Book of Gold Leaves
Mirza Waheed Penguin India
Two young lovers, Kashmir and political strife — Mirza Waheed’s second novel has all the makings of a typical Hindi movie. Still, it rises above clichés and presents a turbulent saga of love, bringing out both the beauty and the ‘darkness’ of ’90s Kashmir. The story of Roohi, a Sunni girl who “looks like lightning” and Faiz, a papier mâché artist from a Shia family, plays out against the backdrop of rebellion in the war-stricken area, providing moments of both romance and tension. For those who swoon at the very idea of love, The Book of Gold Leaves is a pleasing pick. A tip — don’t skip the touching end note, “A Cover Story”, on how the book got its attractive cover.
How did the idea of Faiz and Roohi’s story come to you?
The central premise of this novel was born a few years ago, with the image of a girl who has grown up in the vicinity of a magnificent shrine. She has looked at it all her life and formed a close, intimate relationship with it. She has visions of a future and sets out to make them real. I stayed with this character, and the other main protagonist, the papier-mâché artist, for a few years before formally embarking on the novel. The idea of Roohi and Faiz’s story came from all the ‘difficult loves’ we have seen and read about over the centuries.
The story is set in 1990s Kashmir, but did you approach the setting differently since the book is a love story?
Yes. Apart from a detour into Pakistan, almost all the action in the novel takes place in the heart of the old city. Three families are at the core of the novel, so there is quite a bit of domesticity…the family kitchen, the living room, hallways, balconies and the world as contained in a mohalla.
How much of an impact do your personal experiences have on your writing?
Every writer draws from a lived experience. Snatches of memory mesh with what you invent as a novelist, vignettes from history walk in to play small and not-so-small parts, faces, sounds, words that you may have seen and heard many years ago spring on you, sometimes exactly the way you experienced them and, at other times, in new and re-imagined forms.
The story at the end of the book — of how the cover came to be — is beautiful.
My publishers thought it was a fascinating story and asked if I could write about it. I agreed because it encapsulates so much of my family history and the significance of art and crafts in the history of Kashmir. It also somehow points to the role of art in The Book of Gold Leaves.
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