A writer, reborn Asma Nabeel

  • 05 Oct - 11 Oct, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

It was perhaps the hottest week in Karachi, way before rain spells could cool the weather, when Asma and I met at Esquires. She sat across me with a resting sphinx-like smile on her face, cradling her cup of brew as we ease into the conversation about readers and writers. Our meeting comes roughly a week after the launch of her’s and Beo Zafar’s poetry book, Beydari – featuring poetic verses from Beo’s very own poetry collection titled, ‘A Dreamer Awakes’, that are given another life in Asma’s beautiful Urdu translations.

My interviewee’s portfolio is extraordinary – she is the creative genius behind successful dramas including Khaani, Khuda Mera Bhi Hai and the film, Maan Jao Naa. Yet, she maintains she is only human, an ordinary woman who sometimes helms in the sparks of creativity which convulse her mind. “I would like to introduce myself as a writer who doesn’t read,” Asma voices, a quality she admits she isn’t too proud of.

Rewinding back just a few years from now, Asma’s life was demarcated by a fateful incident which brought a seismic shift to her life. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in its fourth stage, just five years back. Let me tell you a little about what that old Asma was like when she got the devastating news,” she smiles pensively as she continues, “I was in advertising at that time, something I was doing for about 17 years. A normal human being, good with work, very ambitious but always cranky, and I think a little thankless too, the way most of us usually are, regardless of how much we make out of our lives.” She narrates this throwback with carefully chosen words, punctuated with pauses. “One day, all the normalcy in my life was snatched away as I struggled with chemo. It was a big shocker for my family and for myself – it is unbelievable how I have managed to cruise through it and still talk about it right now.” As I watched Asma recollect her thoughts, I could feel a sheen of gratitude peeking through her words. “Yes, I am filled with overwhelming gratitude. The Asma you are talking to right now is very loving, more empathetic and brimming with gratitude. This is my second chance at life; and it came with a gift of writing.” How did this trajectory find Asma in her “second chance at life”?

“After the treatment, I felt I needed some time with myself and that’s when I started writing one-liners. I roamed around for a few days with that one-liner but I wasn’t able to write more. One day I ran into a Sana Shahnawaz a new producer at that time. Khuda Mera Bhi Hai was our first project. It was a very difficult story but when it started, I enjoyed it. A lot of people say that writing a script for 26 episodes, it’s not an easy thing but I enjoy it, I really enjoy it. So, I thought I should keep doing that and it kept going on because Khuda Mera Bhi Hai was very well received.” Do you think Khuda Mera Bhi Hai gave you that confidence you needed to make this work? “Absolutely,” she affirms.

I wondered idly that for somebody who was writing short stories for a while, writing a 26 episode script must be a huge jump and she agrees. “But this jump was unexpected, it transitioned very soon. When I started writing the first drama I barely faced any fears of it working out with the audience. And then I wrote the episodes I felt like it’s a fun thing to do so I should carry on with it.” Did she expect the level of appreciation she amassed from the audience? “No, I didn’t. Because when I entered this field of writing people normally used to tell me that you need a lot of time and that why are you changing your profession at the peak of your career and that writers don’t get fame that fast,” she relays. “But I wasn’t doing it for fame,” she concludes with a smile.

As we chat at length about her works and what inspired her, our conversation steers inevitably towards her latest creative trajectory – Beydari. “When I started writing dramas I had the urge that I should publish a book. A voice inside of me dictated that I should write something but then there was a lot of demotivation around me about Urdu poetry and how their remains very little audience to it.” Asma shares that an urge to pen something unfurled in her, once again, but this time because she realised her mother was secretly a writer too.

“As I grew older, I got to know that my mother is a writer but she had never even shown her writings to us. She kept her writings locked away somewhere. As you get older you understand your mother better as a woman, so it’s not a mother-daughter relationship, it’s like a woman to woman relationship because you also have sacrificed as a woman and then you understand what all your mother has been through as a woman,” my interviewee dispels. “It so happened that I bumped into Beo in London last year in September and I found an English poetry book on her table, titled; ‘A Dreamer Awakes’. I was very fascinated by the title.” Asma recounts that Beo had nonchalantly stated her desire for someone to translate her poetic verses into Urdu. “I found Beo’s book to be so captivating and it deeply touched me. Unwittingly, her desire of getting these verses translated to her mother language came back to me and I called up Beo immediately, to request her permission to do so,” Asma narrates, her voices hitting an excited note. “And she agreed!” she grins, “One night I sent her the translation of one of her poems and she called me back crying. I feared that I might’ve offended her but it was the opposite; she was all praises for my attempt at the translation. With that phonecall, I knew Beo had given me the go ahead to continue with the rest of the translation, which you know as Beydari now,” she smiles. •