Farhat Ishtiaq

“I have to fulfill the rights of the pen and give it its due respect”
  • 07 Dec - 13 Dec, 2019
  • Eman Saleem
  • Interview

In a largely oppressive culture where patriarchy begins at home, it takes a lot to find a feminist-raised-feminist. That’s what I thought of Farhat Ishtiaq. True to her art, she wishes to push the boundaries of what is accepted and what ‘looks’ good, to what television and book should evolve to. Ishtiaq, I figured, doesn’t see the audience and the art of book writing for what it is, but what it can be. Starting her journey from a mere competition in a monthly digest and making a career and more out of it, she penned complex characters, mimicking reality and understanding the human psyche of being flawed human beings.

What makes a good read? Is it empathy, romance, rebellion or simply storytelling skills?

As a writer, I think the most important element is the reader’s connection to the characters and emotions towards them. If they make that happen, whichever medium it may be, then genre becomes an afterthought. If the readers get involved with the characters, they can relate to them on a personal and intimate level.

How much of yourself; your moral, ideals and understanding of life goes into writing a novel?

My experiences, observations, feelings about certain issues and beliefs on the values that I am writing about are all very important. If I don’t, then my story will lack depth and the message in my story will lack in conviction and fail to engross my readers. A lot of me go into my stories, and that is not limited to the protagonists. I paint my antagonists in gray, not black, and I do find some of myself even in those negative characters.

How does one become a good storyteller? Is it something you are born with or can it be learnt?

I believe all art forms are a gift from God. I don’t think you can learn it; if you have a natural talent, you enhance, polish and work on it. Sometimes a writer’s block settles and it feels like you’ve written trash. Other times, it feels like I have the story mapped out in my head, but then I come at a roadblock. It’s a very natural process; you start to feel like there is something wrong here. Then you try other techniques, you start writing a different timeline or something else. Improvement comes from practice and that’s something you learn every day. Very similar to poets, writers also have epiphanies that shape stories.

When you see your stories turn into dramas, do you think they are done justice to?

Talking about my readers, they’ve never liked any adaptations. Translating a novel on a screen with a 100 per cent essence is impossible. The mediums are too different, the readers create a whole world in their minds and mimicking that up to their expectations is not possible. My current drama Ye Dil Mera was supposed to be a novel; 300 pages in I faced a writer’s block so I left it incomplete. In 2017, I intended to finish the novel alongside the drama adaptation but I am very scared of the comparison so I decided to leave the novel for later. I am writing the script for my novel adaptation for Jo Bache Hain Sang Samait Lo, but I’m feeling so pressured from the future rioting on social media.

Is there any novel that you do not wish to be made into a drama, to encapsulate its spirit within the book exclusively?

Dil Se Nikle Hain Jo Lafz, the soul of the novel is based on feelings and emotions. I don’t ever want to bring that to the screen. If I add the twists and turns that TV demands, the beauty of the story will be lost.

While writing your characters, do you get attached to them emotionally? Because we know your readers do.

I cannot explain how attached I get to my characters. I cry with them, it’s a natural process that drains me. While writing Udaari, I felt the pain of the child and the mother so greatly, that for three months after penning that script, I was not in a state to write anything. Even though these are purely figments of my imagination.

Have you ever wondered if a published novel could have an alternate ending?

I may not be rigid in other areas of my life but with my writing, I am stubborn. When a story comes to me, it always happens that the ending comes to me first and I stick with it regardless of what the public reaction may be.

You are famed for writing in the socio-culture genre and you enjoy a very broad readership, a larger chunk of which is the youth. Books have the power to shape minds. Does this feel like a responsibility?

God gave me this ability and I consider it a huge responsibility. I have to fulfill the rights of the pen and give it its due respect. I don’t want a wrong message to go across to the reader and I wish that whenever somebody finishes my book, they find a ray of hope that the world is not a completely dark place. Although, this comes across as a kitaabi baat, but my personal belief is good things come to good people. I don’t want to romanticise evil and negativity. We have to educate people, leave them with hope and also entertain them because you can’t be preachy all the time. A message needs to be tied along with these things.

Once a story is finished, how do you move on from it? Is it just a job or is there lingering feelings that you have to overcome?

It’s so far from a ‘job’; when I write, I don’t think about whether my readers are going to like it. At the time, I am writing for myself. When I review it, the editing process happens with a brutally-critical eye but the first time my story is inked, it’s my world, my characters and me. It’s a lonely process, there is pain and pleasure but I have to feel it.