Little Atoms 564 - Fatima Bhutto's The Runaways
Ever wondered what it's like to be lost in the African gender forest is amazing sound to explore untouched. Caves and understand how intensely nature impacts our human experience. Something has changed inside. You the BBC podcast. A brand new podcast telling stories of human experience is incredible blue water with the wonders of the natural. On a cast apple podcasts school wherever you get your podcasts. This is little atoms radio show about ideas and coacher with me now Denny. This week Fatima beaten latest novel, the runaways. Bhutto was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She owes to grow up in Syria and Pakistan. She's the author four previous books. Most recently the highly acclaimed the shadow of the cresent moon, which was long listed in two thousand fourteen for the Baileys women's prize for fiction and Fatima's latest book, the runaways we're going to talk about today festival on a little atoms. Thank you for having me. Can you tell me how you would describe the runaways first of all it's a book about radicalism, but more specifically it's a book about what the west doesn't understand about radicalism and the radicalized, and I know it's a heavy subject. But it's to me the runaways is not just about the terror of our times. But also, the joys and the exiled as and and the sorrows to young people in what they go through growing up basically with universal. Yeah. I think it's a bit of generation growing up in the shadow of the war on terror a generation that really hasn't known any other way that is constantly surveilled and constantly. -cluded and constantly forced to prove their credentials for belonging. So the book has three main protagonists there's lots of other characters which does also talk about three main protagonists. So before we go through those characters intern. Tell me why you chose to tell it from that multiple character perspective will it it began actually with Monty and sunny it began with the idea of these two young men thrown together in circumstances that they could no longer influence or control. And around them grew the rest of the cost. Guests Leyla who was very ghostly figure Anita rose and her story, including Osama her elderly Marxist neighbor. So they they kind of snuck up on me. Actually, I'm so Anita roses is the first person. I want to talk about tell us something about her. Who is she Anita rose is a young girl who lives in much colony in Karachi, which is one of the largest slums, and she's an incredibly bright. Right girl who wants to do something with her life to wants to be stronger who wants to be seen and who wants to be free and that much economy. Tell us something about the area of Karachi. Once he like, what garage is an interesting place because it's a city that absorbs everyone on that has the capacity for everyone. But that doesn't mean that it treats everyone fairly or humanely so much a colony is kind of informal settlement and a lot of ways because a lot of the homes have grown up haphazardly. There's a lot of fishermen who live in much colony a lot of people working ordinary jobs Potanin Cindy's Mohajer, different ethnicities. And I think that's where you go. If you want to see Karachi, you don't go to the part of Karachi that shopping malls or McDonald's that could look like anywhere else on earth. You go to see people who live in communities that look after them and care for them. As we go into these characters. We'll talk about the. The individual cases of how they become radicalized in the book and Anita rises mothers. And so she works tell us what she does. She works for a a rich family. Well, she's a maliciously, which means it. She's a massage woman and she gets cold round to the houses of these rich women to massage they're tired bodies. And she travels by herself. She carries a little sack of oils, you know, a mustard oil almond oil and to sometimes has to take her to children with her because she has nowhere else to leave them if she's working and Anita sections include not only her mother, but her brother, and how the two of them respond in different ways to having to sit in the courtyards of these grand homes that they're not allowed to enter an brother. Indeed, he becomes as he becomes sort of difficult air of someone who is from the slums but wants to get on. And he becomes sort of a fixer and works for groups of shady people doing we don't really know what? Doesn't it? As I think, the Ezra Anita rose respond very differently. I think as res- reaction in a way is almost more understandable as raw hates the exclusion, and as in profoundly insulted and wounded by the fact that he has to sit on a bench by the gate, but it's not welcomed into these homes is not spoken to by the people who own these homes on it produces a particular kind of anger, and contempt and him. So this family the works for the live in this area. Clifton which is where when we finally Demonte later on is where he comes from as well. And indeed this is where you live tell us about this area. One is like well Clifton is an old neighborhood in Karachi. It's quite close to the Arabian Sea. And unlike the rest of the city, which is quite crowded and quite cramped cliffs in his wide avenues and banyan trees, and it's a legacy really of the Raj. When the British were in India, which Karachi was a part of at that time, they divided the. Into black towns and white towns. The white towns where the administrators of the Raj lived with their sort of leafy, bungalows and wide avenues. And the black towns were where the natives lived and those are completely different instructor in space in freedom in light. And unfortunately, Karachi remains as I think many subcontinental cities do laid out along those lines till today. Now, you obviously spend a lot of your life in exile in in different countries. But in the times when you are in Karachi. You've experienced this. As these people that come into the house and work in in the way, the need to raise his family does. Well, I was very lucky growing up in Karachi because of my father who was a politician. He was a member of parliament before he was killed. And he took me my grandmother took me, and I traveled a lot with my family into not just parts of the country that I really wouldn't have seen otherwise, but was went to people's homes and was welcomed into people's homes and stayed in people's homes, and it it gave me this incredible exposure, and it created in me, a constant feeling of being unsettled in my own environment. Because I knew how well how unfair it was. So next door to his house is lives. This old man Osama who I was a little bit mysterious in a bit of a bit of a sort of Schoten, and she gradually gets to know him because mother is constantly asking to go and borrow things. We've inverted commas. From Somma for the household, and he gradually introduces to rose to both poetry. Oh, do poetry and Marxism. He seems to be a man he was someone of some important at some point in the past. And I wanted to talk about Osama because I thought I will you're an activist. And you know, he seems the couch the press most represents your own politics. But I'd also say perhaps your father is well, I could see of other and Osama would that be accurate? I think this dreams of Osama or the dreams that I remember being passed down from my father, my father belong to this generation of Pakistanis that experience something beautiful something hopeful and the possibility of what was to come was exciting. It's a very different generation than my own which has grown up in the shadow of dictatorships and corruption and war. And and so a some has that idealism, and I think Anita rose an easy rose spoke about her brother earlier, she does. Begin with that idealism. I think a sense that the world can hold these many different cities in one that you might move between them, and that you might be given permission to break out every once in a while, but Osama the point we meet them in the story. He's I mean, that's all in the past. He sees himself. Guesses something as a failure. I think he's a bit of a broken, man. I think he's a broken, man. He's alone. He's been left alone. You don't really ever know why his family has left him. But you see that it's a sorrow that sort of trails behind him. And he doesn't have a nostalgia. For his better times. We have a brief moment in the book where he takes Anita to the Press Club, the Karachi Press Club because they've got no electricity, and he knows this is a place he can go and have a Cup of tea, and they can watch TV and everybody knows him and everybody knows him and everybody respects him. And Anita wonder why hasn't he brought me here before? And I think there's something profoundly decent about Osama. And that's why doesn't. He doesn't live on old glories because I think he believes in the future he believes that there can be more and more hope and more beauty to come. Can you tell us some interest as an aside about failures fans already power that he infuses any to he's not someone I've come across before. Fez, Emmett fezzes is an incredible by his sunny poets, and he he was very political poet as well. And he wrote a poem called Hyundai which means we will see I'd it's an anthem of resistance, and he wrote it at really the height of general Zale hawks dictatorship in Pakistan, and they'll hawk was a CIA backed dictator. He brutalized the country. You know, he he instituted things like amputation as punishment for theft. And so for phase two, right? I'm taking it was about the fall of dictator and about really the nightmare that he must face eventually when the people rise up is not just. An act of rebellion. But it's it's really a it's something so much more profound. You know, there's another great story from Pakistan. There was a singer Kotik Bob Arnot who sang home. They can gain Lahore at the height of the depression to a crowd of a massive crowd of people, and was forever banned from appearing on television was forever banned from giving concerts, but that's the sort of legacy. We have of poets in places like by Kasan, they're not just a romantic dreamers. They're really fighters to. So we need to becomes radicalized in the book. We won't talk about where that goes. But I wanted to talk about that method of her radicalization, which is, you know, through first of all disenchantment, seeing her mother's humiliation this which family, and then, you know, the Marxism. So she basically takes what perhaps now would be a an old fashioned path to radicalism, which is out of leftism. Yes, why think we've had such a suffocation? In terms of the discussion on radicalism, this sort of awful industry in the west that has swept in untold us that radicalism is about religion. As about one religion on. It's about these people from this place, and this what they look like. And of course, that's not only utterly false, but is dangerously misleading. And you're right radicalism. At some point was not identified with religion. It was identified with leftist politics, or radical Marxist politics. And I think ultimately anytime we talk about radicalism. We'll have to talk about things like pain like suffering like poverty, like inequality. And that's what I wanted to do with a lot of the characters in the book to show that what brings them to this. This terrifying point actually could happen to anyone almost Patmore wanna move onto the next to Monte that was the one that most closely resembles your own background, tell us where he comes from Monte is the only son of this very wealthy property developer and he lives in Karachi. Thirty in the white tower. Not the black town as the Raj called it. But I think we could probably still use those words and his family summers in London. They've got a flat near Harrods, and he really has a life of almost no needs. He has everything he wants and Monty meets a woman could Layla and his last year of high school at the American school in Karachi and falls dangerously in stupidly in love with her. You would to that school as well me what the American school in Karachi Islam tried to change the name of the school for the book. I switch the words around because it's it's not exactly the school. But yes, I did go to the American school, which was a wonderful place to learn was a great place to be a students because we were allowed a lot of questioning we were allowed to kind of almost independence that you know. I don't see a lot of young people having at school. But at the same time, it was a very elite school, you're surrounded by incredibly high walls. You've got all this. Space, and there's only three hundred of you and it had different phases. I guess so when I started at school there, it was this sheltered little bubble. But again, we were allowed to ask these questions we were allowed to sort of think beyond our borders. And by the time, I graduated in two thousand of the world had started to change terrorism. Had started to show itself. They're already air strikes against of HANA San under Bill Clinton's government, and then it became a really strange place. Then it became a weird place because it was sort of protecting you from your own country, the whole concept of of of American takes on a different tenant to the vast majority of the Pakistani population. I guess the idea that you know, the great Satan. Yeah. And not only that. But I think that the people who are willing to come and teach in a place like Karachi, which was then beginning to become dangerous. We're not really people who knew very much about it. And so we had professors who spoke about the country they were in our country in this. Parroting ways. I mean and the mistake was there because they'd sort of raised us to be a brutal confrontation. So we did we would say how can you say that that's completely racist and offensive, but it it did become a a strange and unusual place to be especially at that time. I'm not exactly what Lola does combat over with the professors. Exactly. So Leyla the American school. When I said, it used to have this really odd rule where they had one third Pakistan sonny's one third Americans in the one third international, and then towards the end they had to change it because we'll there were no more internationals or or Americans. So Leyla comes in really under this new opening for students, and Layla isn't impressed by the walls. And Layla isn't impressed by this kind of I don't know foreign view of her own country. And she she does ask a lot of uncomfortable questions and for someone like Monty who really never has asked those questions. She's fascinating. Now, we can't really talk too much about lately. Because she is central to the to the plot of the novel. But at the same time, she does I wanted to hash she becomes a symbol. Really? You know, you use to to show the idea of how Monte basically becomes radicalized because he sort of suggested to it by by Layla, and that sort of takes on. I think a sort of biggest symbolism in the story. Yeah. I think what we also miss when we talk about radicalism in the west is we miss in fact, how incredibly modern the recruitment. Is it doesn't say oh, leave your lives in England and in Paris and common Sydney cave. It actually has a very modern argument, which is seductive, which is come and being a place. That's anti-national. It's anti-national because we have no borders. So you have free movement within this community within this sort of kingdom or caliphate. And not only do you have mobility and access and belonging, but you also have power and that power means the conversation is held on your terms. The language is yours the forces. Who has the authority is yours and Layla certainly a part of that. And I think that's what draws a lot of young people or what drew a lot of young people to these places. It feels counter intuitive to a lot of us. I think to ask why would someone leave a home in Alabama or in Portsmouth and go out to moso? And I think it's because of those seductive qualities you mention Alabama. I wanted to talk about Monty's mother starts to also in a gentle way become radicalized, and she becomes obsessed with this TV terrible TV evangelist who always soliciting money from his people. And this is you know, he's a Islamic evangelists. Yes. But exactly like one of these terribles or the southern Baptist guys. We imagine when we think of it. So the TV if Angela so is that is that something happened. Yes. I mean, that's almost a real character. The the TV evangelist who wants his mother becomes enthralled by it does happen. And I think you know, I think there is a there was a divide generation Louis when we talk about people who who full very quickly and very deeply into a religious sway, which is almost cult. Like, I think an elder generation like Monty's mother is lonely and wants answers for a world that they don't have answers to and dealer. These evangelists who come by. And we'll we'll give them advice in return for cash, and you know, events, you know, that they want to be hosted in. I think that's an older generation whereas Monty's generation or Sunny's or any of their generation. It comes with this millennial aspect of fame. You know of being religious for an audience of followers for being followed for your beliefs being liked for your beliefs going viral. And I think they both exists, and it's really interesting. In a place like San at least, how each them gathers followers each of those two different methods, gather, followers, and Monte he's in the same way as any two rows. He's sort of disenchanted with the facile trappings of Madonna too. But obviously coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. Yes, exactly. I think Monty someone who wants for nothing, and who has imported food for dinner if you feels like it who does all his shopping abroad. I think Monty understands that this something profoundly emptying that. What is purpose and all that he doesn't know. And I think I think to Monte's credit he wants to find out. He just takes the wrong path. Ever wondered what it's like to be lost in the African John. The forest is amazed sound to explore untouched. Caves and understand how intensely nature impacts our human experience. Something has changed inside the BBC of podcast, a brand new podcast telling stories of human experiences. Incredible Lou water with the wonders of the natural. On a cast apple podcasts school wherever you get your podcasts. You're listening to little atoms. I'm nailed any today to Fatima Bhutto took it about her latest novel, the runaways sunny final protagonist, he's grown up in the UK. I'm sort of secondary Shen immigrant his father came over from India. And we'll talk about his father in a moment. Some his path. I think one we're more familiar with in the U K because basically ripped from the headlines something we could say in prosper, first of all. So he grows up in Portsmouth as as a second generation emigrant. And I was really struck by how well described towns police if I grew up in in less, which is town of similar similar size. Also has a massive diaspora from the continent. And tell me wanna know how you researched sights sounds smells of of. Well, sunny was sunny, ease really my favorite character. And I spent the most time building sunny and thinking about sunny and being anxious about and four sunny and so-, Portsmouth. I had had so many different layers of the research to Portsmouth. I had the kind of finding out and reading and watching videos, and then I had a strange detour. I learn all the slang from Fort Smith and all of it in the book, and then took all of our because I thought no come on. You can't Congo too far and learning about the neighborhoods and trying to understand what happens in the local paper and trying to follow the football team. I did all of that. But I think really what's what under the most about sunny which made everything else a natural understood his slowness and his his feeling that he didn't belong anywhere and actually not really knowing where he wanted to belong either Suman his father. Has taken this typical Kover from India, and you know, taking a brave move of leaving everything knows and come into a cold distant hostile island and start in a life, which is an incredibly brave thing to do. But at this point he again is looking back on his life with disappointment think. Yes, I think Sulaiman Jim you'll sonny's father really breaks his life to migrate England on his generation that comes over young and able to do anything and willing to do anything. And he does it because he magin that there's a great future that awaits him here. But in the end, it's a shock the experience of being migrant the experience of being displaced and the knowledge that the place who imagined with all these riches, and all this possibility is nobody open to you. You'll kept outside it and a matter. How hard you try to learn the right way to be the right to talk the right ways to fit in. They still don't let you in any think he's disappointed but in his disappointment. He just tries harder. And that something was embarrassing for his son that something is on is is a little mortified by. Because he doesn't understand why his father left a place where he actually could have been something for Portsmouth swim. His cousin is the person radicalize him. And and this is this is sort of patent that we say often in the UK, tell us sort of tactics that somebody else would use to against jeez. Somebody likes me. I think I think sunny is glamour by those all his elder cousin who who goes away mysteriously and he claims to have gone to a refugee camp, but nobody actions in the evidence that he was in a refugee camp, nobody really has any evidence. What all's did when he was away. But he comes back really confident and really assured, and he knows this new language and these new phrases borrowed from a religion that he claims now to represent and he starts to indoctrinate sunny. He starts to tell him that Britain is. A place for men like them. They're just wasted. Here. There's another place where men like them could be powerful and not only powerful where they could influence communities of men and sunny and his loneliness, and who is wanting believes those to be true. And he follows him. Actually, I was just in Lahore does on aside. And I did a reading for the runaways and somebody came up to me afterwards and said, but I did actually work at a refugee camp. Why did you make all and I said, no, no, no, he doesn't. That's the whole point of all is always is a charlatan all the someone who moves wherever the political wind blows. So if it suits him, he's a refugee worker it suits him. He's a radical. You never really quite know with him miles boilers. I. The other aspect of sunny is that he's confused by sexuality as well. And something that's not really talked about it. I think is obviously I can understand this sort of come rodri- of why young men would want to go away. Enjoy their brothers fight somewhere. But also this is how we're autism about as well. I think it's an incredibly difficult time to be anyone. I think it's an incredibly difficult time to be a man, especially in an environment where the rules have always been so rigid and so strict what does it mean to be a man with force in the world. What does it mean to be a man who can confront the environment around him and Sonny deeply struggles? With that. I think he I think the Homer eroticism really comes from his his wanting is wanting in a particular sense, his longing to be loved to be respected and to be a brotherhood of some kind and in as again, not to give to any spoilers away. But all. In a way makes him thinking might have that when he goes away. He makes them think that this is a band of men that know what it means to fight to struggle to be beat down. And yet they're still men the not diminished by it. I think that's really appealing to him at the same time as he grapples with the idea of his sexuality in what it might include. And what it might exclude. I mean right now as we speak in the U K of the country is convo st- with the story of Shamima Begum, the, you know, one of these so-called ISIS brides. You know, who's been to Iraq and seeing terrible things in some respects is pretty unrepentant of reasons why she was she men, but she's a British citizen. And now there is this sort of political argument about what to do with her. And obviously go about it's an entirely the wrong way. But I just wondered if you sort of thought about this idea of how how we deal with young people who have had this sort of level of radicalization. Yeah. I think I think she Meema begums case is really fascinating. And I think done Massana the the American woman who also ran away and now wants to return to macrolide interesting. She was asked in a interview, what would you say to Americans? What would you say to them? And she said I wish I could take it of the internet. I wish I could take it all off the internet and to me that was so fascinating. Because these and they are young women, and they are young men who were born in these countries. They were educated in these countries, they grew up in these countries. And I suspect that part of the reason they left because they felt there wasn't a future for them in their countries another they've made this grievous error in Sonoma begums case at least as far as we know so far she didn't kill anyone. She didn't hurt. Anyone wasn't a part of propaganda was Hooda with a was a part of propaganda. She was a part of inciting people to violence now that they've done this awful thing. All this aspersions are confirmed by the countries who've said well now, we don't want you back to say to Shamima big you go to Bangladesh a country. She's never even visited is really quite astounding. It's quite remarkable because it's Britain Bangladesh that has a responsibility in the trajectory of her life, and her radicalization, and you mentioned earlier in an interview, and these two real-life young women are obviously, you know, their radicalization has been through, you know, YouTube videos, Facebook pages and things and again, all young. People now are dealing with this legacy of how do you live online? You know, how'd you live? How'd you go for a job interview? When something you might have said in ten years ago, still online might KOMO pin. Whatever you for this group of people just happens to be Islamic radicalism. But this is somebody that everybody's dealing with. Also, the thing where all these different words collide is the the impulse for fame that this generation has it doesn't matter. Whether you're a busker in Covent Garden or your radical moso, you'll filming yourself. You're photographing yourself constantly because you want people to know your name now. Why is fame impulse that? We should be encouraging young people to seek out. I don't think it is. I think is incredibly dangerous, and I think what it does is. It destroys a young person's ability to explore the world to carefully seek out spaces and freedoms and interest. Because it it kind of removes that doesn't it removes your ability to make mistakes to be redeemed and to have fresh starts one more question for me. Okay. To read their annoys. If you would as I mentioned in the introduction, you spent a lot of your life exile. And you grow up in Beith ghanistan and Syria to places in reason history of become Voest by Islamic fundamentalism and destroyed and I wondered what it's like to see from a distance places that you know, have happened. What was very very young when we left on Assan, but I did grow up in Syria. And I spent a lot of time in Damascus. And at the time that I was growing up, you know, Syria was a secular country. So when I was growing up in Syria. I didn't know I knew I was Muslim. But I didn't know if I was so near Shia, and I remember it wasn't until I went to buy his Sam that somebody asked me, I I didn't know how to answer actually had to go home and ask my father, but Syria wasn't a place that you felt you were under a sort of target. If you belong to one group or another religiously, obviously, it was different if if you hunt political leanings, but I went to school with Armenian Christians. A we had Hindus we had different kinds of Muslims, and it never would have occurred to me that Syria will places would be a kind of laboratory for Slavic fundamentalism that I never would have guessed. So it's it's heartbreaking and at the same time experiencing bags on where we've seen it grow. And we've seen it flare up is interesting because we've also seen it die down. And we've also seen people refuse to be. Afraid and defend version of their religion that they believe isn't represented. I'm so I have hope in by San which maybe ten years ago. I might have told you I didn't have that much think things are changing. I think I think this generation of Pakistan's young generation coming up on the stands that you could be many things at once and then a gauche eating that. And I think the doing it. Well, actually, I suppose points to end on. And so if I can get you to. So this is a section about a need to rose. And she's the young girl who lives in much colony on at this point in the story. She goes to a local school, and she's about well, I don't know actually how she young young girl at the state. So it's early in her story at night, Anita draped, her mother's heavy black charter over her shoulders crept out of the house and walked to the nearby hotel and sat on the corner of the walla's block listening to the way the actresses on TV spoke. She heard a talk show host interview one of the ladies from one of her favorite, cereals, it's such a blessing. You know, Sheila Cosmi said an English that sounded like velvet felt against the skin smooth and luxurious and unaffordable to be able to follow my dreams. And do what I love until Anita could stand it until is became lazy with sleep. She sat on the corner of the street, cockroaches scurrying in and out of the garbage tickling her feet and. Wrote down. All the words. The actress said in her shiny red notebook. She repeated her favorite lines to herself as she walked through the alleyways piled high with roading banana peel and mulch lit only by the milky white of the distant stars committing the words to memory before she went to sleep. What's the prostitutes daughter like you doing with a fancy notebook like this Meerut onto the neater rose at school? An ISA didn't answer her. She had learned a long time ago to ignore the girls who ended her Mira's mother was actually a prostitute Anita had seen her standing in the window of their home, wearing only chilly pressing her breasts against the metal bars and calling down to the men in rituals and scooters below. It was why Mira hated Anita. Why should teased her and bullied her because she knew his mother never sold her body. Even though the Joseph's were infinitely poorer than her mother with the chili standing at the window grilles. Leave it Anita said, she'd filled three pages or. Ready selecting only the most precious words she had even started watching the news, which she learns an entirely new vocabulary corruption fraud hypocrite fundamentalist Zionist she could not afford to lose the notebook now conspiracy. She had learnt that only yesterday me was eyes flickered without as a neat to refuse to relinquish the notebook and Anita so her panic in front of the other girls, if Anita defeated this one bully the rest would see Mira for what she truly was an empty threat. Diffused of all her power, Anita soit all that pride in exile. Eighty in the way mirrors is swelled and contracted. But before Anita understood that she would never have the chance to extract any kind of retribution. The game was already so skewed against her Mira sank, her ragged fingernails into the veins of nita's hands an ISA, try to release herself Mira's grip, but mirror only dug in harder onto her nails had left. Scratching of Demi Lunes burning into the back of his hand. But she had not let me rec- how much she had heard her Anita would not give those girls the pleasure of knowing how their cruelty had marked her. She walked back home from school with her head held high. As though she were carrying a book on the center of her crown as she walked stopping only to pet the stray dogs resting in the shade of the billowing. Bunion Tris Anita bit her lip to keep the tears from falling down her face. So I've been talking to Fatima Bhutto we've been talking about her latest novel in runaways, which is out now in the UK from penguin Fatima Sankey so much for coming in sharing. It thank you for having me on the podcast this episode of little atoms whose produced presented by me nail. Denny edited by sky Redmond and was first broadcast on measurements. One four point four. FM Latins is supported by eighty nine up and hosted by if you enjoyed the show, please subscribe raters tunes and even tell a friend. Thanks for listening.