Interview With Dr Firdous Azmat Siddiqui, Author Of “Zindaa.n” (The Prison) 


Dr Firdous Azmat is an Associate Professor of Gender studies in Jamia Millia University, New Delhi, India, and the author of the novel “Zindaa.n.”

Eurasia Review: Please introduce yourself to Eurasia Review readers. 

My name is  Firdous Azmat Siddiqui, I am an academic and have been teaching Gender Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university in India’s capital New Delhi. My areas of specialization include issues pertaining to minorities in India, Demographic Politics, Muslim Women’s issues and Gender Rights and Law in India. I also have a keen interest in Indian literature, especially Urdu fiction, that eventually turned me into a fiction writer. Frankly speaking, even I don’t know where this literary journey will take me, but I am enjoying it at the moment as it gives me a sense of contentment.

Eurasia Review: You’ve described yourself as an academic. How do you keep up that constant teaching-learning balance and writing fiction at the same time? 

Dr. Firdous Azmat Siddiqui (photo supplied)

I have been a regular reader of classic novels, to the extent that I often start laughing, sobbing and crying while reading the stories. Honestly speaking I am a really intense and emotional reader, who always finds herself connected to her fiction characters, just opposite to fiction, an academician is not expected to be an emotional reader or writer, he or she should be very rational. Thus it is only your teaching-learning process that makes you perfect to make a balance between these two diverse fields. I have always tried to keep my emotions and imagination away while writing on serious academic issues. However, while writing fiction I can very soon be lost in my imaginary world of supernatural stories, folk stories and paranoia issues.    

Eurasia Review: Dr Firdous, please tell us very about your recent novel? How do you think it relates to other, current, pandemic literature? And what is its central message?

This is my second novel, I have named it as ‘Zindaa.n’, that means prison in the Urdu language, the title is self explanatory and signifies the life in a prison that reflects life during the pandemic lockdowns. It is divided into nine chapters. I have tried to make it an interesting story of two middle class Muslim families, one of whom is located in a remote village – a small village mostly dominated by Muslims of peasantry class — the second family is of Sakeena and Sayeed Suhrawardy, migrants from Allahabad located in ‘Bagh-e Behisht’ an imaginary colony of Jamia Nagar in Delhi, the national capital of India, a dream land of educated Muslims from across the country. 

The novel Zindaa.n becomes very important in context of Pandemic Literature, as there is no evidence in human history when the entire world was locked down at the same time for months. In that context a lot of research studies have been conducted which indicate that the lockdown has resulted in the marginalization of women in more ways and that led to increasing cases of violence against women. In contrast to that assumption, ‘Zindaa.n’ gives a new hope to feminist thought and theory that the lockdown has filled the gap between men and women and labour segregation of gender since men started realising the importance of domestic chores, which till now were considered the sole responsibility of women. Zindaa.n opens a fantastic world of Sakeena’s family while she is taking part in political debates, discussing all contemporary problems and issues faced by minorities and other marginalised sections — while Sayeed seems more concerned towards the household chores.

The story is written in simple Urdu, which is an important contribution of this novel to provide a social space to Urdu Literature in people’s language rather than a classical Persianised loaded vocabulary. Zindaa.n has a long discussion on the life of rural and urban India, and I have tried to portray a very lively and true picture of rural India.

Eurasia Review: Where do you find your creative energy and stamina since you are a working academic? 

It would be a lie if I say I don’t get tired. It feels taxing at times to be on a routine, but I always self counsel and motivate myself for some worthy contribution as an academic and as a writer. Also I believe one gives his/her best in adverse times, only as I could do it when there was negativity all around. 

Eurasia Review: How is this novel different from your last published work of fiction?

Of course it is different from my earlier works, because each day I find myself as a new and completely evolved person and that reflects in my writing too. It is a contribution towards the pandemic literature, while my other works have different themes.

Eurasia Review: Since you have been teaching gender studies for many years now. How do you connect your fiction work with your teaching subject, or does it?

Yes, I have been in teaching and researching for over two decades. I feel very strongly that teaching gender studies has changed my entire personality and perception of looking at the society and social norms. So when you are in creative writing that certainly will affect your writing style from being gender neutral to being gender conscious and even contributing to literature from the feminist perspective. So far literature has been viewed either from the male gaze or from gender neutral writing, however now the entire field of creative writing has been transformed completely by women writers so it becomes very important to contemplate from a perspective of either Women in Literature (WIL) or Women and Literature (WAL).

Eurasia Review: It is very difficult to write and work and manage a family, who do you give credit to for your ability to do such multitasking? 

My husband, my son and brothers and especially my mother-in-law, who always inspires me for good work.  

Eurasia Review: Who do you think is the potential audience of your novel Zindaa.n (prision) since it is in Urdu? Are there enough Urdu readers in your country and how are you reaching your readers?

Urdu has been my mother tongue; it has been for me a language which taught me to love people and to connect with other Hindi Speakers. In fact Hindi and Urdu both are co-sisters and no one can separate them. So I try to balance my writing by writing in both the languages, neither my Urdu is chaste nor my Hindi is Sanskritized Hindi, that’s how I developed my skill to write in Hindustani, rather than in Hindi or Urdu.  

Eurasia Review: What does a typical work week look like for you? Do you work with a team or individually? 

The typical work week for me is juggling between my academic classes as well as my research work. I always try to take out time from my professional work schedule for my passion that is, fiction writing.

Eurasia Review: As a novelist and a perfectionist who constantly revises, how do you ensure that you still make progress?

I think making progress is a process and we slowly achieve that. My way is to seek guidance from friends and experts. Of course there are people who helped in this entire process. I would like to give full credit to Prof. Khalid Jawed, a noted Urdu expert and academic who read my draft twice before sending it in for final printing. I am also so indebted both to Rahman Abbas and Dr. Naseeb Khan for their precious suggestions too.

Eurasia Review: What do you think will be the role of the pandemic literature in the future? 

I think it will be immense and central. Pandemic literature role will be realized in coming few decades just like people who are still writing on two world wars and in an Indian context fiction writers have heavily borrowed their plots from partition.

Eurasia Review: Have you made any big mistakes in your writing career? What could you have done to avoid those pitfalls? 

Yes, I did and I still keep committing mistakes as there is no final word in research or writing. However, I keep improving in my current writings and that is the fruit of earlier mistakes.   

Eurasia Review: Finally can you give any other advice to aspiring authors?

Imagination and self acceptance is the key. Whatever you are perceiving or observing, think and rethink about it, imagine its various dynamics and start writing and rewriting. The more your imagination powers, the better you will be able to put it on paper. 

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