"What I had wanted to do — because I still didn’t believe I could write a novel — was write three small novellas. And then, that would be my book. One of those novellas was what finally became Radiant Fugitives," began computer scientist-turned-author Nawaaz Ahmed. While it’s taken the author nearly a decade to see his dream come true, his pursuit has presented the world with an exploration of the nature of three generations of a Muslim-Indian family in Obama-era San Francisco, their life in the post-9/11 America, and much more. At the Indian launch of the book, organised by Starmark Kolkata, Nawaaz discussed the book and the journey he had to take to make it this way with writer Sharanya Manivannan.
A ‘novel’ attempt
While ten years may be a long time to persist with a creative process, Nawaaz was never short of motivation — and faith. “What gave me the faith in it [the book] was that I didn’t see anything else that was like it. There were so few Muslim writers. There were very few gay writers. There are very few books that tackle the intersection of faith and sexuality, and what I felt my life looked like. Over the years, of course, we’ve had more Muslim writers and gay writers come into the picture and I’m so glad for all of them,” he elaborated.
This book follows the worldview of Ishraaq, a newborn, as he observes the lives of three women in his family — mother Seema, aunt Tahara and grandmother Nafeesa. “Each of these women is so distinct. Seema is a liberal; Tahara is deeply conservative; and Nafeesa is facing a series of reckonings that we all go through,” shared Sharanya, about the narrative, before asking how Nawaaz managed to land on these characters to tell his story. “I woke up one morning with this image of three women in an apartment that looked very similar to mine; I was living in San Francisco at that time. I immediately wrote the opening line the same day but it wasn’t until two years later that I began to think of this as a novel,” he recounted.
Between life and death
The rest of the novel — including the decision to make the newborn the narrator — was like a puzzle. While Ishraaq’s role in the plot may seem to be a curious choice, it was with the desire to keep his own prejudices away from the women he is trying to portray, shared Nawaaz. “It seemed to me that at the moment of his birth, he would be very accepting,” he added.
From here on, Nawaaz seems to take the poetic-prose route to deliver ruminations on philosophies of life. And what’s philosophy without the questions on life and death. In this story, we begin with the juxtaposition of these moments — from the baby to be birthed to the woman waiting to die.
Nawaaz also revealed that it was important for him to acknowledge this in his own life, given that he was leaving behind a life in the world of computer science — one he had inhabited for over 20 years — for brand new territory. “It felt like computer science was not providing me what I felt I needed for my journey. I wanted to explore those issues in the book,” he shared.
As Sharanya pointed out, this is an ambitious book that navigates the tricky terrain of human choices and consequences but also religion, sexuality and politics. As a gay Muslim man who sometimes found the strictures in conflict with his reality, the process of putting life to paper had not been without challenges, it seems. “It took some courage to say I will go there. Now, I take courage from the fact that there are other writers exploring these topics. I’m not the first and I hope that there would be many more of us who would be able to talk about these things in their own ways,” he surmised.
The book is available on major e-commerce sites.