Thursday September 6, 2018   |   Najma Yusufi

“The more people stand against negative or oppressive traditions - the better” Najma Yusufi


Bookaholicanonymous is happy to present this conversation with Najma Yusufi, her debut novel ‘Begums of Peshawar’ is set in Peshawar around the Durranis, a Royal Afghan family.  


About Najma Yusufi: She is a film-maker and lecturer, and a descendant of the Afghan Durranis on her mother's side. After completing her BA from the London College of Fashion, she worked for a number of fashion houses before beginning her foray into writing after her mother's death in 2001, in an attempt to pay tribute to the Pathan women of Peshawar. She has also made films on the transgender community and the lawyers of Lucknow, India. She currently lives in Somerset with her partner and two daughters.

The interview:

Tell us a little about Afghan Durranis. What has been their legacy and history?

The Durrani dynasty was the last ruling family of Afghanistan. In its glory years Afghanistan was not only the Afghanistan we know today but encompassed many other countries too. 


You are a descendant of the Afghan Durranis on your mother's side. Did your legacy influence your life journey so far?

Yes. The influence that I have had is really the stories my mother told me and of course the memory of going to my Grandmother’s house in Peshawar and experiencing all that went with it. Sadly, my Grandmother passed away and in that a lot of the remaining family have splintered off to various corners of the world. My mother is buried in the family graveyard in Peshawar so I do go and visit her and some family members that still live there. 


Your book ‘Begums of Peshawar’ is a story based on the lives of an Afghan Durrani family, is it autobiographical?

It is semi fictional in order to make it more palatable to the masses. 


How did you build up your characters? Which character was born first so to say?

The first character that always was and is the strongest (in my mind) is Bibigul. The vision and voice that I wanted to portray through her was always very clear.


You have described in your book the Durrani girls' small rebellions against the forces that have long oppressed them like the bonds of tradition and the weight of an inherited name. Your take…did you face that in real life?

Absolutely, I remember when I was 26 the weight of expectation from members of my father’s side, to get married, was huge. I feel that those bonds of tradition are being readdressed nowadays; hopefully more and more. Of course again the aspect of shame and the family names is one I have never understood or subscribed too. The more people that stand against negative or oppressive traditions - the better. 


You have written about how difficult it is for girls from higher class to carry out chores unlike girls from normal backgrounds especially after marriage? Are you pointing out towards the patriarchy that exists in our part of the world? Which affects women similarly whether rich or poor, whether from higher caste or lower?

In terms of the book I point towards the characters (being from a family with servants doing all the chores like cooking) being unable to cook or clean well; simply because they have not learnt those things. Girls from families without cooks etc. of course are able to learn the tasks. Though I do think that boys and girls be it from family with or without servants need to know these tasks, not just for their own well-being but because the maid/servant system raises questions of bondage and fair work environments too. 


Now coming to Bano… the servant girl …yet a powerful character…she did not inherit a legacy so do you think it was easy for her to take decisions?

Yes absolutely but equally Bano was a brave girl and in a way broke her tradition of being from the lineage that served the Durranis. She questioned that tradition and broke it. 


Bano was also the other voice in the story giving a different outlook to the lives of the sisters’, cloistered existence. Did you deliberately create this character? What were you aiming to tell your readers?

Now that would be telling. But indeed Bano offers a bridge between the four sisters and the outsider’s perspective.  


All histories and lives of ruling families are similar don’t you think?

Not at all. If you look at the Shah of Iran, or the Russian Tzars, or the Hindu royals or the African royal, or even the current British royal family everyone has their own take and their own history.  


What are you writing now? When can we expect your next book?

The next book I have almost completed starts in Delhi and ends in London. It’s a modern day tale that is very relatable. I am also working on a script too. 


You are first and foremost a film maker….you have made films on the transgender community and the lawyers of Lucknow, India, tell us how did they come about? Why lawyers of Lucknow?

Well my father is originally from that region and I own a small bit of land there so go there a lot. One of my very good friends is a lawyer in that city and he told me of the difficulties that lawyers in India face. Certainly after the daughters of India doc I thought it would be an interesting story to tell. 


Are you still into fashion designing?

No, not at all. Thank God! 


Bookaholicanonymous wishes Najma Yusufi all the best for her future endeavors!

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