Then there's another side of religion, which deals with the fact that we are all going to die and people we love are going to die. That realization causes
an enormous crisis for most of us. Since we have evolved, human beings have always tried to address this crisis. Either we say, "don't worry something
better is waiting for you (after death)," or there's a saying of "don't get too attached to this life - it's transient."
There are many different strands to these spiritual traditions, but I think those traditions are valuable, not as dogma that "my religion is right
and yours is wrong," but as many different attempts to help people understand, explore, experience, transcend this crisis of being mortal, of being a human being.
I think organized religion is not the only way to address these things. People address this through art, by how they live their daily lives, through music,
by taking care of their children or their parents; by falling in love. That collective project is interesting to me and I think it's vital.
When you think about Pakistan and religion, my concern is this attempt by the state or various private actors to push the first type of religion - the
differentiating "us versus them" program of "I'm right and you're wrong, you're my group and he's not!" - which has many negative aspects that are often
talked about, such as terrorism, violence, and extremism.
It has another negative aspect in that it pushes religion down a path that damages the second side of religion - the spiritual side. I do feel that is
happening in Pakistan. This headlong rush in Pakistan has negative effects in that spirituality and decency have leached out of the culture due to the
distortion of religion.
I want to avoid saying that religion just has a political component. And for Pakistan, that it should be founded as a nation with a separate religion from
India, religion plays a deep, deep role.
But now it's possible to imagine a Pakistan, 60 years after independence, that is not so hung up on the political dimension of religion. A Pakistan that
allows religion to be at the mercy of its own people, and I don't know if it's happening, but I would like that to happen. There are some signs.
There seems to be a stark contrast in the depiction and perceptions between India and Pakistan. India, despite its own challenges, has bhangra,
Bollywood, biryani, outsourcing and tech support. Pakistan is colored by bleak and depressing descriptions and cannot seem to escape a conversation
without words like failed state, chaos, explosive or Taliban. You and a handful of writers have crossed the mainstream. Have you felt the burden of
representation and do you feel you have a role and responsibility to present a more nuanced side of Pakistan and 180 million Pakistanis?
It's something I try not to feel but probably do feel. I don't think anyone as a person can be representative of (a people.) I'm not a
representative of Pakistan; I'm just an example that Pakistanis are different from each other. I believe it in my fiction and I believe it personally. As
you said, there are so many misconceptions about Pakistan that it's easy to slip into the feeling that "I want to correct some of these misunderstandings,"
but also not be a propagandist that says that "Pakistan is fantastic and it's great!" There are very real troubling crises in Pakistan. But there's also a
vibrant and functioning society that is evolving and developing and changing in many ways.