The Tale’s Weaver, Nemat Sadat!

Nemat Sadat, having Afghan nationality, became the first one to come out as homosexual in Afghanistan openly. He is a non-native immigrant and lives in the United States and a practising Vegan. He has come a long way in his journey by weaving his thoughts into a successful novel – ‘The Carpet Weaver’. Not being disheartened by the number of rejections, his book was the most talked debut in India.

Have a look at why this novelist considers India to be his home with Team Storiyaan.

Interview

Questions and answers

Being born and raised in Afghanistan and living in California, what makes India home for you? Could you tell us about your journey?

I’m in San Diego at my mom’s house due to the pandemic. I was living in Washington, DC. When my book launched, I went back and forth from June of last year. I had to travel from India, back to Washington DC, six times. I thought about going and promoting the book on my own. Then, I would do a proper tour and get-go everywhere. I’ll go to all the metro cities, even go to some of the smallest cities. I was there from January 3 until March 3. Then, I had to get cut off because of the pandemic. I can be in my full element and be grateful for who I am. Now we have India, which is premier at the market, not just for literature, but mainly my genre. The district and the other things about India, there’s that image. There’s also the income inequality, poverty, and then the third story is, it’s a place of rejuvenation. It’s a place of a love story. Those are stories that they want to push. I think that for me, why I call it home is because I could be my full element there. How can you be so dismissive in this culture? It’s like we don’t want you to go out there even in the LGBTQ community and nowhere. But then I come to India, and I’m treated like shinier than a Bollywood star.

Talk to us about how accomplished do you feel with the book maintaining its position and numbers.

This was the most read about debut in the Indian press. It has got overwhelmingly favourable reviews. It’s now the best-seller. You need to sell 1000 copies before you become the best-seller. We were going to hit that by the first anniversary. But, because of COVID 19, they weren’t selling Amazon books. All the bookstores and airport stores were shut. But, we sold 7000 copies. That is still impressive for a debut novelist with an Indian book deal, and not a worldwide deal.

My publisher told me that they’re going for a reprint. There’s demand out. They’re going to print another 1000 copies. All of these books in India are sitting on a large stockpile of books. It’s worth putting some real estate investing in my book. So, that is fascinating. Still, I’m pitching to literary agents and publishers again in the US and UK.

Booker Prize-winning author Kiran Desai said in an interview, ‘If you're a novelist, it's an incredible thing to be an immigrant’. Do you agree with that? Reading writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, do you have a similar idea?

I do. The two authors, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai, have influenced my writing too by the way. One of the freelance editors I work with, read it. She felt that in terms of the scope in the setting of the carpet weaver, it is very reminiscent of Karen who understands the inheritance of loss. Loss is very overt. I’m over in that sense, the American dream. It’s just like we’re chasing this thing in the American dream is the biggest corruptor of consciousness. The whole world is bought into this idea but has that happened? So, this is the kind of thing that Karen decides. The book shows how I pulled the carpet weaver. People have said that you do it in a very subtle way where you don’t forcefully show. Karen decides as in books like the hollowness of the Cameroonian American doing away with the main character Kanishka. He has the same problem with his identity conflict. Being a gay man, ex Muslim in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it continues in the United States. Of course, he is not getting persecuted, but he is facing. His life doesn’t become that much better. He’s still a marginalised person. I think that this is supposed to be his promised land. It turned out not being. People have mentioned that it’s a very effective technique.

The language in ‘Carpet Weaver’ was rich yet simple. How did you slip into the language? Why did you set the narrative in the past?

There are moments when Kanishka is talking in erudite terms. Some of the characters even speak to him like you’re referring to the Oxford dictionary. At other times, he was wrong, unfiltered and just like a street boy. He doesn’t like straddling these different worlds. It is a clash of identities. You see Kanishka in moments where you see this highfalutin language. Then, it just comes down. The variations in between these kinds of sentences create poetry because it’s jarring. Also, it is glitter stimulated because it’s unexpected. I don’t like to write characters that are just flat. I want to make them multidimensional and complex. About the 1970s, it’s very important for me. That’s the Afghanistan I know, the golden age of this Paradise lost. I wanted to capture that. In this war narrative that people have created from Afghanistan after the attacks, are this good moral culture of extremism and violence of these uncivilized barbarities that happens in this country. This is a good 40 years of war and drought. You’ll see the juxtaposition of the snow-capped mountains, blue rivers, and Grecian green like rolling hills all next to each other. I wanted to rebrand Afghanistan in the eyes of people. I want to show you what that underground LGBTQ life would be like. I think that showing the religious persecution, the political sexual of Kanishka who is gay ex Muslim, and now.

How is your relationship with your sister as Kanishka’s sister in the Carpet Weaver inspired by her?

Her priorities now are her twin kids as an adult. Spiritually, I’m in a different place. My focus is on the arts. So, we are kind of distant in that sense. Of course, she’s always been supportive of me. When I came out to her, without even thinking she was like I accept you and I love you for your sexuality. I think we have brother and sister conflicts. As of childhood, we were best of friends. I would say we were closer because I was her role model. She’s also an artist because she helped in the book, The Carpet Weaver’s original version. When my publisher didn’t like the cover design of the book, my sister came to the rescue. She found some indigenous clothing, the colour of the fabrics and everything. So, she was like okay, give this to the graphic designer, tell the illustrator to fix it. She is a visual artist in the family. I’m literary. I’m very thankful that my sister did that for me.

Which Indian author's diction are you most fascinated with?

The ‘White Tiger’ by Arvinda Adiga was just another book about poverty and income inequality, the most over-saturated topics according to me. But, whatever critique I have of the author, there’s something about the narrative of The White Tiger. I just find it so funny, so sassy and witty. Comedy is a useful technique if you want to portray a serious political issue. He did it in a way like writing an epistolary novel; I think he wrote it to the president of China to explain the Indian society. I want to write a book and introduce Afghanistan in that way.

What are your views when a well-versed author says something against the transgender community?

I’ve been following this story thread of JK Rowling. It’s very disappointing. The other day she retweeted something positive about Stephen King. But, when Stephen King wrote something about transgender rights, she deleted it and then unfollowed him from Twitter. So, she’s doubled down, and it’s disappointing. She has no idea about gender identity and sexual orientation, and she’s making all these irresponsible conversations. She says because she has faced domestic abuse, people don’t have the right to alter their sex. For the life of me, I don’t see a correlation between that.

Can you talk about your second Book?

So, my second book is called ‘Keeping up with the Hepburns’, set in the modern Trump era. It is set in Washington DC, but it also has scenes which are in India and the Netherlands. So, it’s about a young man who’s gay and an ex Muslim, but he’s a vegan warrior, a vigorous one. He meets his twin flame. When he’s trying to reconnect with his twin flame, he goes on to India to publish his book. It has been rejected 500 times in the US. His book is called ‘The Chronicles Of The Vegan Warrior’. Since the US and UK and the international community rejected it, he’s coming to India to push his homosexual agenda and make the whole country become gay vegan.

Talk to us about representation. What are your thoughts about Amy Tan, who has been heavily criticised for representation?

For Amy Tan, when she was pitching her first book ‘Joy Luck Club’, the publishing world said, “No, we’re going to pass on it.” The reason was that they didn’t believe that Americans will get excited to read a book by an Asian American author. Every book is published with the focal point of white readership. It’s generalising white people. It’s sad because America is a country with diverse perspectives. But, Amy Tan’s success paved the way for Asian American writers, so she’s a beating inspiration to strive for change.

Can you share with us on what made you decide to become an Ex-Muslim?

I had American-Muslim friends who come from liberal progressive backgrounds. They even had Graduate degrees from Berkeley and Harvard. But they had distanced themselves from me when I came to India. There have been ex-Muslims since the birth of Islam. People get attacked for this choice and brushed off as “oh you’re Islamophobic! Oh! You are criticising Islam and Sharia law”. No, we don’t care about beliefs. If those belief systems are telling the LGBTQ people they should be killed and women should be inferior to men, then no, we don’t believe in that. So, we have to lay objections on religion or ideology or theology. Whatever it is, we have to stand up for it. As ex-Muslim people, for example, we can transform the whole planet.  Could you imagine if there are LGBT rights and gay marriage in the Muslim world, how that’s going to change Muslim and western relations?  In India, women in Hijabs with their husbands buy my book. They even take selfies with me and buy these books for their daughters. Now, if I had told you that 20 years ago, you would have chuckled for sure. Muslims in India are open-minded, especially more than the Muslims in Iran or Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan.

Being a person who has faced exile and alienation, what are your views on Diasporic literature?

There was this one time when I was working on my second book with my freelance editor, and we got to discuss the idea for my third book. It turns out even that is about an immigrant! So, I think I’m part of the diasporic literature.

There was this one time when I was working on my second book with my freelance editor, and we got to discuss the idea for my third book. It turns out even that is about an immigrant! So, I think I’m part of the diasporic literature.

Sometimes books get banned if they hurt religious or cultural sentiments, where people should know that it’s about the character and not the author’s opinions. What are your thoughts on that?

I recently talked with an aspiring author in Delhi. She is writing a thriller. She told me that the book is Anti-Christ and is worried if the US will publish it since they have a vast Christian society. So, I asked her for a synopsis and what the book is about, what the characters are like. I told her that you tell me that your book is Anti-Christ, so you have an agenda. If you are going to write this book with an agenda, it won’t work. If you are writing a good story, then it does not matter. You have to write what you are passionate about. You don’t know your book’s journey. Just make sure you don’t follow the stereotypes and do justice to your characters. If you are telling the truth and honouring the culture, then you will get credits. We all get credits as well as criticisms. I told her there would be people, Christians who will not be happy with it. But your book has to be relevant, marketable and timely.

Recently, you had a contest where you asked people to write a book, and one lucky person would win a date with you, a full vegan day. Were there days when fans heckled you in India?

I receive fan mails from Indian readers every day. I have never experienced that. Instead, I have received a lot of love from fans who love my book. They might be from the LGBTQIA+ community, aspiring authors, or a non- believer in their religion. This is also a conversation that the book started in India. People believe that their voices aren’t heard and are getting drowned. Especially, LGBTQ people who are atheists feel like people of faith have marginalised them within the community. There has never been a proper depiction of them in Indian literature, and that is why they love this book. I had been in Ranchi, Jharkhand; which is a conservative, traditional place. I was a part of the panel there, and it was the first-ever LGBTQ panel. We got a standing ovation. They stood up for us. I get treated like a star in India. No, I’ve never experienced such a thing. I’ve only received immense love from fans.

Do you have any words of wisdom for all the aspiring authors out there?

Rejection is a blessing in disguise. Someone that I talked to once told me rejection is the best thing for aspiring writers. It tells you that your story is not ready. Aspiring authors are getting rejected all around the world. They are trying to get their stories out there, not just in the novel form but every medium. When you revisit your manuscript, you will find things that you can work on. It helps you build your craft and evolves your narrative voice. Always continue to add. You might believe that you know the art and technique, but you learn something new every time. You have to be a lifelong learner. Also, catch up with and read other literature. I hope my words can encourage aspiring writers.

Quick 5

1. Favourite vegan dish: Black Soul food

2. A memory you’ll never forget/ cherish forever: My 9-hour conversation with a young Dutchman.

3. Most inspiring words to you: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

4. Something you admire the most: My life as a novelist.

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