An Interview with Aatish Taseeer ’03

October 19, 2018

Before arriving in Cole Assembly Room to deliver a speech, Aatish Taseer ’03 stopped by Alumni House to answer questions about his work as a journalist and an author of fiction and nonfiction.

Transcript of Interview with Aatish Taseer ’03

Schiller, the German Poet, he used to say: If you can help but not write, then don't write. Only those people who cannot help but be anything else, they should be writers.

I was in New York, trying to get a job and I applied and applied and applied. And by the end of the summer, finally, I became a reporter at Time magazine, which was really to say that I was a glorified fact checker. But it was very, very grand because Time magazine in those days was still this major event. When the magazine came out it was like the whole country's conversation was steered towards whatever was on the cover of Time.

And then the London bombings had happened in 2005, and I had been covering them for Time magazine. I wrote a cover story for a magazine called Prospect, on the London bombings. And at the same time I discovered my relationship with my estranged father in Pakistan. The two things kind of collided in my mind and I decided I wanted to do this journey. Basically, from Istanbul to Mecca and from Mecca to Pakistan. And it was a journey, in part, discovering my father, in part a journey through the Islamic World.

And it became the basis for my first book, Stranger to History. When I came back I sold the book on proposal, went back to India and spent 2 to 3 years writing it. And then published my first book in 2009.

So then the novels began to come. The smaller ones, and then The Way Things Were in 2014, which was a big novel. And now I've come to the point where I've sort of returned to non-fiction in a different way, and I'm going to have my first non-fiction book in 10 years come out. It's called, The Twice Born and it comes out in March. 

It's a very strange book. It's set in a temple town in India. Very remote setting. It uses a priesthood. The priesthood of the Brahmins as a prism to look at the conflict between tradition and modernity. So you have many of the things we discuss every day. The rise of populism, the rise of politics, of revivalism, of revenge, of all these huge antagonisms, which are as familiar now to us in America, as they are in India and parts of Turkey. A kind of movement that's sweeping the world. But rather than looking at it in a very broad sweeping way, we have this very narrow setting. It's almost like a kind of reduction in scale, in order to get at something bigger.