Q & A with Sabah Carrim, author, ‘Humeirah’

Apart from visiting 3 of our libraries for book reading and meeting our members, Sabah took time out to talk about herself, her book and her take on publishing. Here are her responses to our questions:

1.     You are an Indian, brought up in Mauritius but now teaching in Malaysia. That’s interesting. Tell us more about yourself.

My mother is from Bangalore and she left India when she married my father who was based in Mauritius. I was therefore born in Mauritius and I left the place ten years ago and began living in Malaysia. At a very early stage, when I completed my studies in law, I was at a crossroad because I had to choose whether I would join legal practice or become a lecturer. I chose the latter because I believed that it would give me more time to do research and be more involved in what I liked doing best: writing. Being on my own has enabled me to open myself to other worlds and this, coupled with my study of oeuvres of literature and philosophy, have up to now rendered the experience immensely enjoyable.

 2.     What was the motivation behind your first book? How long did it take you to write it? Any sequel?

The principal motivation was to communicate those thoughts which I had when I was younger and which nobody was then open to paying any attention to. I was constantly questioning the values and norms set in my environment and most thought that such questioning was unnecessary. Although I read widely, I didn’t come across any specific book that I could relate to from start to finish that gave me the reassurance that it was alright to be this way. What I wanted was a book to push my thinking to a different level. It was only in my early twenties that I discovered the world of philosophy and began finding a few answer to my many questions. This made me want to write a novel that was simple enough to be placed in those bookstores and libraries that didn’t care about the section of philosophy. My desire ultimately, is to reach out to the Humeirahs of the world.

I started writing this book when I was 16 and at that time Humeirah was a simple story about a woman seeking liberation from a male-dominated chauvinistic society. I started rewriting the story about three years ago.

There won’t be a sequel to Humeirah. It is a complete work.

 3.     How “autobiographical” is the book in context?

 I think every maiden novel is somewhat, if not wholly, autobiographical. I would say that Humeirah—to a significant extent—is autobiographical. But I must also add that it is quite obvious to those who are close to me that many characters are purely imaginary.

 4.     What has been the reaction to the book from your loved ones to the public at large?

My parents and siblings have given me a lot of support and they are happy with the quality of the novel. After all this story reflects the literary culture and the values of life that they have inculcated in me. As for the public at large, I have had a very positive response from those who are philosophically inclined. I am also happy that my book has reached ladies as well as men from various age groups and walks of life. A few find it a difficult read and can’t relate to the protagonist but this is understandable because books can’t possibly be received with uniform reactions.

5.     How much of Humeirah would girls from the Cutchi Memon community identify with? 

Since I am Cutchi Memon and this story is an offshoot of my environment, then surely there must be other girls out there from the same society who would be able to relate to this novel.

 6.     Is your book an attempt to shed light on some of the ‘dogmas’ that are entrenched in the Cutchi Memon community and its culture that need a fresh new thinking?

I wouldn’t want to think that my book is wholly focused on that. The Cutchi Memon issue is just a sub-theme that I introduced in the novel since Humeirah had to have an identity. I would say that the story as a whole is an attempt to shed light on the dogmas that exist not just in the Cutchi Memon community but also beyond that.

 7.    As an author, at what point do you think it’s time to stop writing and get the book published?

This is a very difficult question. I don’t think it’s ever easy to stop writing. One always undergoes doubts about the quality of writing and one keeps mulling over the possibility of rewriting certain passages. I can only think of James Cameron’s statement when he said that “A work is never finished; it is abandoned.”

8.   Given that you teach philosophy, law & human rights, how much of the same is woven / interspersed in the book through some of the events / characters?

 I think that the very basis of the thoughts and ideas in the book is directly connected to the subjects I teach. My interdisciplinary approach to research signifies that when I pick a text in law or human rights, I don’t (and can’t) examine what I learn merely through one lens. The subjects inevitably fuse together and new amalgams of thoughts emerge as a result.

9.   Now that you have visited 3 JustBooks libraries and seen our offering, could you tell us your thoughts on books, reading and the future of both?

I was impressed by the range of books available in JustBooks and I am really happy to have been given the opportunity to have three book presentations on the premises. The idea behind the setting up of this system of renting-reading-returning books is remarkable. The concept motivates outlets to be updated with their collection of books and at the same time, through the policy that readers can go to any outlet in the country, request a book and have it delivered to them promptly, encourages the reader and reading.

For me, reading has been very beneficial and has aided me immensely in deepening my relationship with life and living. However, I don’t think that this activity must be imposed on anyone. Parents and educators should just look for the right means that suits the child’s learning method most and help the child develop these techniques further.

As to the future of books and reading, although we keep complaining that long ago people would read more than they do now, I am inclined to believe that this is merely an exaggeration. There will always be a hobby and passion called reading and it will always draw those who are cut out for it. I am reminded of a statement by James Joyce: “The genius by hook or by crook manages to untie himself from the ropes that hold him down.” I have learnt that no matter how much you suffocate any potential quality or characteristic in someone, it will inevitably find a way to emerge with its full-blown force.

10.   What are your views on self-publishing as recent trends in this regard seem to suggest and considering you have published Humeirah yourself.’

I want to single out two obstacles that self-published authors often face: Self-publishing has a bad name simply because anyone can publish anything—this comprises work that is replete with inept vocabulary, unedited typos, and even material that has not been properly referenced; secondly, self-publishing is not recommended because it is quite onerous for the author to ensure that his/her book has a wide reach considering the limited means of marketing at his/her disposal.

The question that follows this is simple:  How to circumvent these problems? First of all, I would advise the self-published author to make sure that he/she uses the services of a competent creative editor as well as a proof reader. Secondly, I would urge him/her to use social media networks in order to ensure a wider circulation of the book.

If the author thinks that he/she is ready to face the challenges of self-publishing—and note that the two aforementioned problems are not the only ones he/she will have to face—then I would not hesitate to say that self-publishing could be a viable option.

I want to highlight the fact that the outlook on self-publishing is slowly changing: The headlines of an article published in an edition of The Guardian on 2nd August 2012 read: “Four self-published authors on New York Times ebook bestseller list

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