Smitten by the writer’s bug? Then tune into this exclusive chat with author Reham Khan who talks about her own journey as an author, the different formats available for publishing and how difficult it is to write an autobiography. Her book, an eye-opener to the secrets of Pakistani society, spills the beans on her hi-profile marriage and divorce to cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.. All this and more, in conversation with Namrata Kohli
How difficult is it to write an autobiography? You wrote an autobiographical account and lifted the lid on your marriage to Imran Khan. While crisis always makes a good story look great, as a chronicler of your own life how hard was it to press the rewind button or was it catharsis.
It was extremely difficult and painful experience. It was tough for me to sit down and edit it and part of the reason why it took so long for the book to come out was, because I would write something and I didn’t want to read it back again.
But luckily, I am blessed with two abilities. I have been gifted with a very sharp photographic memory but I have also got another gift that I can lock away experiences like a filing cabinet. So, you throw me a name and I will think about that name but I won’t necessarily clutter my mind on a daily basis with that person or that incident. On prodding, I can open that filing cabinet and recall that episode. This is very helpful when you have had painful experiences in life and want to lock them away and move on.
To write the book, it was very important for me to be brutally honest. But it wasn’t cathartic at all and I don’t ever want to look at this wretched book. I felt that I had to put it out there, I had to do it for others even though it was not a pleasant experience for me. Some of those bits are disturbing but you have to confront the ugliness, the sadness in your life .. bottling up those things and not discussing them or bringing them out means that other people will never find out. I feel millions of women must have gone through at least one experience that I have gone through, may be not as high profile as mine. People connect with the book, because they think you can survive and that there is life after that. Surprisingly in Corona times, my book is doing extremely well.
The Coronavirus period is being touted as the golden period for literature. There has been a rapid rise in submissions from would-be authors? What kind of writing do you think will come out of it?
The writing will be emotive and insightful. Corona times are scary times, and people are thinking about death, ailments, lost opportunities- ‘I wish I had done that’, about parents whom they can’t visit anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a kind of literature with a lot of ranting in it and a lot of depressive stuff. Many will be writing a diary and saying things they can’t normally express through their personality.
What was your primary motivation to write a book and what according to you, should be the right reasons to write a book?
People who have followed my journey as a domestic violence victim of a cousin, marriage and my struggle as a single mum making a career in Media have always encouraged me to share my story with the world. The events of 2014 and 2015 added more twists and turns to my story. I wanted to tell people like myself who (for no fault of their own) end up in dreadful situations how to recognise the signs and above all not to give up hope.
I feel anyone and everyone should write. We all have a story to share particularly women. I knew that my story would be an eye-opener as it tells you the secrets of Pakistani society.
Recently, some publishers have released digital-first editions. Due to shutdown of bookstores and supply chain disruption, there is rise in newer formats. Are e-books and audio books here to stay?
E-books are hugely helpful if you don’t want to carry something heavy. Let’s say, if you are on a flight, and instead of carrying three books it’s better to have a screen facility to read on because it’s much lighter that way. But much of the time we are working and we want to just close our eyes and not be exposed to blue light all the time. Also, there is something very soothing about listening to audiobooks. When I was small, I remember listening to those Disney cassettes as it helps with not only pronunciation of a foreign language but also expression of the writer. I love the idea of audio books because it helps you in multitasking… one can listen when driving or ironing – any menial task which is time consuming and yet doesn’t require so much concentration. Audiobooks are not just here to stay but only going to get bigger, not just in Corona times but also long term.
Many of us have all grown up to mother and grandmother narrating us tales. Aren’t audiobooks more like ‘grand mom meets technology’ and most relevant in the South Asian context?
I grew up with a mother and an army of women who told beautiful stories. From legends to Greek mythology- you name it and my mother had a story ready. I think the art of storytelling is very soothing but it’s very important to have a good quality read of the book. Like let’s say if its David Attenborough or Amitabh Bachchan’s voice, you would want to listen to anything. In the subcontinent we can exploit the new emerging formats, as many of our younger generation are not reading books these days. Instead they are prefer the short video clip culture, tik tok – so audio books can certainly revive the overall interest in books.