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The Writing Space of Nafisa Haji, Author of The Writing on my Forehead

I recently reviewed Nafisa Haji’s The Writing on my Forehead (click for my review).  Haji was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share with us a sneak peek into her writing space and writing life.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Cultivating a space for my writing was the first step on the journey to take myself seriously as a writer—something I had to do before anyone else could. 

Buying a desk that would be mine alone, not something I shared with my partner or anyone else, was important.  I remember brushing aside feelings of guilt at the expense.  It was the intention, the promise that I was making to myself, that was the real point of that investment.

Part of being a writer is reaping the fruit of what comes from having been a reader.  When I sit to write at my desk, behind me are shelves lined with the books not aesthetically worthy of display in the living room— the paperback classics and pulp fiction that I devoured as a teenager, the assigned college reading that left a mark, as well as some books I’ve never read but have kept, the ones that survive the purging I indulge in when I’m in procrastination mode, or when the shelves look like they can no longer hold their burden of past indulgences and good intentions for the future. 

The walls in the current incarnation of my space are a copper color—“pennies from heaven” was the name on the paint chip, a lovely fragment of poetry and music that caught my eye and inner ear and made me think of the people whose job it is to give tempting, marketable names to the stuff we brush on our walls as the background of our indoor lives.

Always at hand are baby name books, my favorite a book of multicultural names that is well-worn from handling.  Also, a couple of dictionaries, a thesaurus, several books of quotations, and a stack of nonfiction related to historical events that may have touched the lives of the people currently living in my head.  

There’s a window, but the blinds rarely go up, the slats slanted to let in light, but not enough to see out.  

The point of this room, whose only other use is for my daily meditation, is to go within, to get away from the distraction of the view outside.

My laptop and what I type into it are sacred, never subject to the social viruses that get passed around on the Internet.  I have to leave the room to connect to the web of the wider world, to check email and verify facts.

In the drawers at my side are files of stuff that I keep for no good reason—one, especially treasured, filled with rejection letters, painful to read when received, that I have learned to savor as gifts over time.

This is my space—one I am grateful to have had the time to occupy, glad for what has come out of it in the past, and eager to discover what grows here in the future.  

Thanks, Nafisa, for sharing your sacred space with us.

The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji

Nafisa Haji‘s The Writing on my Forehead transports readers into another culture and the struggles that members find themselves in as the world around them evolves, causing clashes between modernity and the past.  Told from the point of view of Saira, readers are taken on a very personal journey into the past, uncovering the deep secrets of Saira’s grandmother and grandfather as well as her own parents.  The dynamic between Saira and her sister is only partially shown, with the point of view of Ameena silent.  From fate to choices, each character must follow their path to the end — no matter what it holds for them.

“I close my eyes and imagine the touch of my mother’s hand on my forehead, smoothing away the residue of childhood nightmares.  Her finger moves across my forehead, tracing letters and words of prayer that I never understood, never wanted to understand, her mouth whispering in nearly silent accompaniment.  Now, waking from the nightmare that has become routine — bathed in sweat, breathing hard, resigned to the sleeplessness that will follow — I remember her soothing touch and appreciate it with an intensity that I never felt when she was alive.”  (Page 1)

Saira grows into an independent woman who is running from her culture and tradition to find herself grasping for it in the darkest moments of her life.  As an American with a strong Pakistani-Indian heritage and a mother reminiscent of Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, it is no wonder that she rebels against tradition and culture to become a traveling journalist.

“I shudder, now, to think of how my mother, trying hard and failing to be subtle, got the word of my availability — accompanied, I learned later, by a full-size, glossy headshot — out on the proverbial ‘street’ where desi families gathered and speculated, assessed and collated young people into the ‘happily ever after’ that getting married was supposed to promise.”  (Page 191)

Haji’s prose is eloquent and engages not only the readers’ sensibilities and emotions, but their inquisitive nature as family secrets are unraveled.  Saira is a complex character who searches for a center, an axis on which she can revolve and become grounded.  While she is connected to family, like Mohsin and Big Nanima, throughout her life because they are in effect the outsiders of a culture she rejects, she continues to struggle with her other relations — her sister, Ameena, her mother and her father — because they represent to her a culture she finds limiting.  The Writing on my Forehead provides a variety of topics for discussion from political imperialism and its consequences to the tension between the modern world and tradition and the modern dilemmas facing adolescents striking out on their own to the loss of family — making this an excellent book club selection that will inspire debate and introspection.

About the Author: (From her Website; Photo Credit: Robert Stewart)

Nafisa Haji was born and mostly raised in Los Angeles—mostly, because there were years also spent in Chicago, Karachi, Manila, and London. Her family migrated from Bombay to Karachi in 1947 during Partition, when the Indian Subcontinent was divided into two states.  Nafisa studied American history at the University of California at Berkeley, taught elementary school in downtown Los Angeles for seven years in a bilingual Spanish program (she speaks Spanish fluently), and earned a doctorate in education from the University of California at Los Angeles.   She started writing short stories at first, which then developed into an idea for a novel. She now lives in northern California with her husband and son and is currently working on her second novel. Nafisa maintains close ties in Pakistan, traveling there regularly to visit family.

This is my 2nd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Challenge.

This is my 14th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in the rest of The Writing on my Forehead blog tour, please check out TLC Book Tours.