In conversation with Safi Ullah Shahwani

In the later part of the last decade, Daastan has brought forward the brightest of country’s literary pool. Among these emerging authors is Safi Ullah Shehwani. “An Innocent Dream Bleeds” is Safi Ullah’s fictional debut. It highlights the horror of honour killings in Pakistan. Let’s hear more about Safi Ullah and his journey in his own words.

Meet Safi Ullah Shehwani

My name is Safi Ullah Shahwani. I come from a very humble background. Although, only a literate person from a madrassa who could barely read and write, my father strived hard to educate us all, specifically our sisters. During the course of my own studies, I have been no stranger to hardships. Furthermore, I was forced to work to support my studies part-time. In addition, I also have experience as an English Language Teacher at English Coaching Centres, a proofreader with a local English Daily, and sub-editor with Balochistan Times.

Safi Ullah

In 2012, I was introduced to the field of reporting as a journalist and worked for Daily Messenger Karachi as Junior Reporter for six months. Later, I joined Daily Times Pakistan as Balochistan Correspondent. I also appeared in Central Superior Services (CSS) examinations but was not lucky enough to pass the exam. However, I never lost heart and appeared in provincial competitive examinations. This led to my selection as a Deputy District Population Welfare Officer B-17 in March 2015. 

Safi Ullah has a masters degree in Political Sciences. He is currently working in Baluchistan as District Officer Lasbela. 

Safi Ullah gets candid about his writing journey 

As I mentioned earlier , I worked with different newspapers. During this time, I had come across many true stories. After I got married with Maria Ahmed who is MS in English Literature, I shared the idea of writing a short story. She encouraged me to write and provided me with some guidelines. I began writing off and on. But it took me more than a year to complete my manuscript given my busy schedule. Many a times, I thought about quitting the idea of completing the story. However, my wife kept on encouraging me to complete it. 

Can you share with us the significance of your book’s title? 

I chose the title, “An Innocent Dream Bleeds” because every teenager has some innocent dreams about a married life and a loving partner. However, they are never aware of the dynamics of society or how their dreams would be treated by their own immediate relations. More often than not, these dreams are brutally suffocated or left bleeding at the cost of the dreamers’ life. 

Safi Ullah

Unfortunately the horror of honour killings is prevalent in Pakistan. How do you think as a nation we can start to fight such a social evil? 

The horror of so-called ‘honour killing’ is no doubt prevalent in Pakistan because of a culture of prevailing gender based violence. It is internalized in our society not only by men but also by women. We as a nation can fight this menace by changing the perspectives towards the fixed gender roles.

“We need to tell our men that it is very human if a girl desires to choose her life partner. There is no dishonour in this for anyone. We need to educate our children that women are not a commodity, not a slave to do chores, not an object. She is a human with flesh, blood and emotions.”

Having said this, I would also suggest that the state must ensure no impunity of any sort. “If we stop human killing, we stop honour killing. If we discourage impunity, we discourage honour killing.” Education can play a key role in this regard. Furthermore, we need to redefine our priorities as a nation. To create a secure society that is safe for men, women and children to breathe freely and to dream freely, we need to revisit the idea of security from a multi-dimensional perspective. Our priority must be to invest in those areas which reduce, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, a situation of war of all against all and survival of fittest.

What’s the main character Zeenat like? 

Zeenat symbolizes a girl who is a dreamer. Her dreams are as innocent as that of any teenage girl. However, the innocence of her dreams is translated and seen as an unpardonable crime by a very conservative society. There are many factors that account for her brutal death at the hand of her own immediate relations. To mention a few, weak structure of governance on the part of state, culture of impunity, a flawed political system and a deliberately nourished tribal system sustained for political ends. No girl can be ever secured under such circumstances and no girl can dream freely.

“The fear of a brutal death always hangs on the heads of girls who dare to defy the entrenched misogynist customs and traditions.”

Zeenat dies every day in Balochistan and her dreams bleed continually.

What does your writing process look like? 

As it was my first experience of writing a short story/novella, I had no idea if it could ever get published. However, with the passage of time whenever I would sit to write, many characters, names and ideas would descend. And eventually, I would keep developing the story. Today I feel, I could even expand this story to around hundred more pages. However as a first experience, I thought it expedient to conclude publish it as a short contemporary fiction.

We all know there is no honour in honour killings. So what would you like to say to the people who commit crimes against women in the name of honour or share such poisonous notions? 

Being violent against women is a dishonour of grave kind. There is indeed no honour in it. However, such gender based violence of extreme kind takes place against women due to patriarchy. It is perpetuates by deeply internalised notion of considering women inferior. I would like to ask every educated man to be an advocate of human rights.

To those who commit crimes against women, I would say that women are as much humans as men. If you can’t kill yourself for a dream, never be violent against women. Learn to give concessions and never expect women to act like angels.

“They are humans; they have emotions. They have as much right to life as you. They can make mistakes. They can be wrong at times.”

What are your future plans? How soon can we expect another book coming from you? 

In future I may come up with a book that may be a reflection on the way our administrative set ups work. For now, the title I have in my mind is, the ‘Babo’s Empire’. It may get refined when I start shaping characters in my imagination. The character of Babo dominates the entire administrative machinery and hampers the service delivery.

Safi Ullah shares his reading preferences

Usually, I read novels, autobiographies and books on politics and psychology. I have read Elif Shafak, Arunduthi Roey, Khalid Hussaini, Nelson Mandela, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, and Maulana Shibli Nomani. Moreover, I also enjoy books on Muslim and Western political philosophy. Among them are reconstruction of religious thought by Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

In the end, Safi Ullah advised the newbie writers that in order to be successful, they must trust themselves and write as much as they can on daily basis. People like Safi Ullah are an inspiration and hope for a better Pakistan. Stay tuned for upcoming author interviews and their inspirational stories. You can order An Innocent Dream Bleeds at Qissa here. 

Noor Hashmi
Noor Hashmi is a student of literature at Numl University. She is an aspiring poetess. She runs a blog by the name of “Diaries of Huda” sharing her journey through poetry. In her free time, she loves to paint and bake.

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  1. Congratulations to author for the successful publication of his first Novella. I must say the title of the book is so beautiful and the actual thought behind this novella is just amazing. We as a society need to be vocal about the issues that unfortunately have become the part of “us” and we can not detach these honour killings, forced marriages, oppression against the weaker from our identity as a nation. We really need privileged people like author to bring such issues to the attention of the people. However, author’s words that really intrigued me are “They are humans; they have emotions. They have as much right to life as you. They can make mistakes. They can be wrong at times”, it’s so disturbing knowing that we need to even tell people that women are as human as men are! How women can be respected in a society where they are considered as less than humans all because of the cruel patriarchy that regards them inferior to men.


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