An insight on how to tell a story that has already been told
On the second day of the highly anticipated Dhaka Lit Fest this year, a panel discussion on Nadeem Zaman’s debut novel In the Time of the Others was held. Present at the panel were the author himself, with Rifat Munim, the literary editor of Dhaka Tribune, acting as moderator.
The discussion was largely based on the writing process, as well as the purpose the author had in mind for the novel. In the Time of the Others is a work of fiction set in the Liberation War period. Nadeem Zaman explained how much research had gone into the preparation of the book, being inspired by many stories that he had heard growing up about a time that he had never experienced himself. He felt a need to give life to these stories, while also exploring the different dimensions that must exist, but are rarely addressed.
Rifat expressed an observation which suggested that the author removed sentimentality from the story. To this, Nadeem explained: “As a writer, I would fail remarkably if I told my readers what to think and how to feel.”
Nadeem also talked about portraying the characters in a way that would allow him to pay respects, without having to paint anyone as a hero. He also included his thoughts behind taking historically true events and fictionizing them, saying that he imagined conversations that, perhaps, never happened.
Delving a little more into the writing process that Nadeem follows, Rifat poised the question on how to distinguish the line between history and fiction when writing about monumental historical events. “I’m honest and faithful to the history,” Nadeem replied, “but this is not a history lesson. The story I’m telling has to take precedence.”
Rifat also briefly discussed his thoughts on Days and Nights in the City, a compilation of short stories by Nadeem. He opined that all the stories stand on their own, but still connect thematically.
Nadeem mentioned his second novel being in the works, one that is also based on the history of Dhaka, which he said he’s incredibly fascinated by.
At the end of the session, Rifat asked Nadeem what his advice would be for aspiring fiction writers. “Read,” Nadeem says, “Read all the time, read everything -- that’s how we learn. Next, let go of all the excuses that keep you from writing, and just write.”