Book Talk: Tribal areas come alive in 80-year-old's debut

Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:42am EDT
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By Tony Tharakan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - It took more than three decades for Pakistan's Jamil Ahmad to get published. The first draft of his musings on life in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan was written in the 1970s -- and then forgotten.

In "The Wandering Falcon," published earlier this year in India and due out in the United States next month, Ahmad gives readers a rare insight into a highly traditional, honor-bound culture in the region long before the Taliban arrived, relying on what he observed as a member of Pakistan's civil service serving in Balochistan and other provinces.

Tor Baz is the central character of Ahmad's book and he forms a tenuous link between the nomadic tribes, their code of honor and the harsh, desolate landscape that surrounds them.

Ahmad, 80, who is now retired and lives in Islamabad, told Reuters in an email interview that the two decades he spent among the tribes were perhaps the most fulfilling of his career.

Q: It is rare to see an author make his debut in his 80s. Tell us more about how this book came about?

A: "How the book came to be written is in some ways a story by itself. In 1970, I was posted to Swat, which turned out to be a light charge. I decided to while away my spare time by writing. My wife suggested that instead of diverting myself by writing bad poetry, I should focus on writing about the tribal areas, where we had spent more than a decade of our lives. I agreed.

"She faithfully typed the pieces that I wrote on an old manual typewriter. I would occasionally tinker with the rough draft as some thoughts struck me. However, by and large, the document hibernated for about thirty years."

Q: How much of "The Wandering Falcon" is inspired by real life?   Continued...