Chatting With Faiqa Mansab

At Trippin Traveller, we like to think that we are not just about promoting ethical travel. Our aim is to seek experiences that can broaden your understanding of the world. Reading Faiqa Mansab’s This House Of Clay And Water was one such experience, tracing the forbidden love between a married woman and a transgender. When we reached out to Faiqa, she was more than generous with her time – giving us words to cherish.

This House Of Clay And Water is a moving love story. Nida and Bhanggi must be one of the most unconventional characters in love you might ever come across in fiction. How did you decide to write about giving a voice to those like Bhanggi?

Thank you, that’s an amazing compliment. However, I didn’t give the choice to Bhanggi, no one can, I just stressed that transgenders like every other human being have choices and a right to them. In patriarchal societies, the rights only belong to men. All non-male people are somehow desire-less, choice-less, voice-less….just less in every way. This story is highlighting this very fact. No one can take away our rights to choice, or give it to us. Any one of us. We were all born with free will.

Society frowns upon the kind of love that Bhanggi and Nida have. What Nida beautifully describes as “A coming together, a communion, of two tortured, lonely souls.” Why do you think society is critical of such love? Is it more true of say, Asian societies?

It’s true of patriarchal societies. Right now, the US leads the patriarchal world with a president beating his chest every five seconds and entering into pissing contests with world leaders, media, and anyone he might find a threat.

Any kind of love is a threat

Love is a symbol of forging new bonds. Change incites fear in people. Difference evokes fear. Love is one of those things societies want to sanction and control. Love is synonymous with sex. Nothing puts more fear in the hearts of men than the sexuality of women. If it is controlled, it’s harmless. If it isn’t, it’s a danger to the very existence of civilization. Unsanctioned love, unsanctioned dress codes, unsanctioned speech, is loss of control and who always fancies themselves in control? Men.
Even when they make movies like the Planet of the Apes, no one thinks of making Caesar a female gorilla. They don’t think that the war of the world is ever going to be between women. It’s always men.
Don’t get me started on Wonder Woman. Just another version of sanctioned sexuality and, therefore, power.

Let’s talk about friendship as well. Nida and Sasha share a fragile bond. What, in your opinion, is the role of friendship in today’s world dominated by social media likes and comments? What is real friendship?

For me, it’s always been loyalty. Nida was a better friend to Sasha than she was to Nida. Sasha keeps betraying Nida till the very end. She was just using her. It was the kind of friendship I have often seen amongst women. There are very few friendships between women which are true and loyal. I’ve written about such friendships in my Zeenat Mahal novels.

It’s a precious commodity, friendship, but without loyalty, there is no ‘ship’ of any kind

What drove you to writing? How long did it take for you to complete this novel?

I don’t think anything drives me to writing, it’s more like things keep coming in the way and I have to stop writing to deal with, you know, life. It’s quite annoying at times.

Two years of writing the first draft, and then editing. I enjoy editing.

When I edit, I build and break and throw things out, and I make changes from words to sentences to paragraphs to chapters till the whole structure is everything that I could possibly make it into, with abilities that are solely mine, with the raw ingredients I had hatched in my mind and put on paper. I write and re-write, till I cannot change or tweak a single word.

This House Of Clay And Water is set in Lahore – the mosque is almost one of the main characters in the book

This House Of Clay And Water is set in Lahore – the mosque is almost one of the main characters in the book

One of the underlying themes of the novel is of child abuse as well. That scene in the book of Sasha’s daughter almost made me cry. What’s the first book that made you cry? And why?

That chapter was very hard to write. Thank you for saying that. It was heart-wrenching for me and I’m glad to hear that I didn’t fail to translate that onto the page.

I have read so many books that have made me cry and laugh but very few have made me do that simultaneously. I remember only those books now. When I’m laughing with tears running down my eyes because it’s so poignant and human! I want to be able to evoke that in my readers one day. Anton Chekhov does that. Bohumil Hrabal does that. They are truly great writers.

Part of the reason we travel is that we look to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Have you gone outside your comfort zone? How? What has it taught you?

Traveling isn’t really going out of my comfort zone for me. Traveling is my comfort zone.

I love being on the move, being a person in transit, being on a journey, and even if I reach a destination, I know in my heart it’s not permanent, this isn’t where I’ll be permanently, that’s where I thrive, where I stretch and grow. I’ve lived in Australia, many different cities in Pakistan, and England and I’ve traveled to Europe and those are the bits of my life that are most exciting, and formative for me.

 Faiqa, we are self-confessed bookaholics, and we are curious to know if you read while on the road. Do you read on the Kindle?

I read on my iPhone. Mostly fantasy. I love fantasy, especially Patricia A McKillip. I also love Elizabeth Kostova. Her new book just came out and I am so excited. Everything else I read in print. Not that I don’t read McKillip in print. I’ve read her books multiple times. I think it’s high time I should buy a Kindle.

Who are your favorite authors? Anyone from India on that list?

R.K. Narayan, Arundhati Roy are my absolute favorites.

I really enjoyed Meena Menon’s Reporting Pakistan. It was wonderful. I also enjoyed reading Sheela Reddy’s Mr and Mrs Jinnah. Excellent book, made me fall in love with them both.

I adore Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom.

I also read Sadia Dehelvi’s books because she writes on subjects close to my heart. Pankaj Mishra is another favorite.

I also read writers who aren’t Indian. Bohumil Harabal, Milan Kundera, Helen DeWitt, Elif Shafak, Rafia Zakaria, Mohsin Hamid, Soniah Kamal. Old masters like Turgenev, Stendhal, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Doestovsky. It’s a very long list.

Which place would you return to, of all the places you visited? Is there a favorite place you have that you have never been to?

I would go back to Paris and Rome again and again. They are magical cities. Paris is both old and young, chic and bohemian. Rome is breathing history, myth, beauty. It’s so ancient, it seems to be hanging together by the sheer will of tourists.

I haven’t yet been to Spain. I’d love to visit Granada and Seville. In fact, I’d love to be able to live there for a year or so.

“Rome is breathing history, myth, beauty.

Is there another book to follow This House Of Clay And Water?

I am currently working on that. I hope there will always be a book to follow the one that I publish.

I couldn’t resist adding this. Any message for your Indian fans?

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for accepting a piece of my heart into yours, because that’s exactly what you’ve done. This book is a bit of my heart and my soul, and every reader who has written to me, found me on Twitter, Instagram, Dacebook, and email and shared their thoughts with me. You have validated all my hard work.

Wow. We read this and then we sat for a while and thought about all the words here on this page.  Take your time to savor them. And take your time to read.

You can buy Faiqa’s House Of Clay And Water online on Amazon

Find our more about Faiqa on her website: