Farzana Moon interview, with Kathleen Dennehy
This may sound like a trick question, based on how transparent the play appears, but what inspired you to write this play?
Nine Eleven was a horrific experience for me as it was for everyone else. I was teaching in school and when we were advised to turn on the TV, the students’ eyes were glued to the screen. I had never experienced pin-drop silence in school ever before as the scene of horror unfolded before our eyes on the screen. Next day or day after (can’t recall) when I went back to school, the secretary Amy Eimer hugged me saying (since I am from Pakistan): if anyone said anything bad to you or insulted you I would be personally offended. I would never forget that tender moment of love and compassion, we had tears in our eyes, were speechless. Though no one treated me in anyway objectionable and everyone at school was kind and considerate. To get this horror out of my system I decided to expose the zealots turned terrorists in a play. A sort of catharsis.
Where were you teaching? Were you teaching in the United States at the time?
Yes, US. It was North High School, now Springfield High since both north and south schools are merged into one. It is in Springfield OH where I live. Students/seniors.
I admire how clearly you depict the history of Afghanistan’s invasions by other cultures and armies- centuries of tragic drama. Is that why you chose Afghanistan as a setting?
Afghanistan, ravaged since centuries by wars, tyrannies and oppression as I have studied in history compelled me to this sad conclusion that this would be perfect place for Osama to conceal himself after his heinous crime. Yet, through this play I wanted to explore the heart of Afghanistan and to voice the plight of its people, hoping that it would incite empathy for the Afghanis. Simultaneously, exposing the distorted version of Islam as envisioned by Taliban.
Who is the character of Sameera based on? Is she a compilation character or did you do research into Osama’s wives?
Sameera’s character is purely fictional, though through extensive research I have entered the mindset of Osama’s wives.
It’s fascinating that his family and cook and Niazi do not share Osama’s interpretations of using Islam and the Quran to justify violence. You’ve created (in my mind) an allegory or a dramatic religious debate that illuminates how many Islamists truly believe. It must be quite frustrating/ frightening to be a person of Islamic faith and be painted with the same brush as radicals and terrorists who re-interpret the Prophet’s words to justify violence and terror. Can you expound on this?
Inside the fabric of Islam so many lies have been told by so many, so often and with such great conviction throughout the centuries that they sound like a jingle of truth. Hoping that by ripping open this age-old fabric of lies, if enough of us strove toward revealing truth from underneath, the rust of lies would be dissolved from the vessel of Islam and it could be polished with the gold of truth.
I love the line- People love to buy what they can’t afford. Perfect description of consumer/credit card culture even though he’s not directly speaking about Americans. Or is he?
Osama, though self-righteous and hate-intoxicated is very much interested in the culture of the West, especially in the money-making machine of consumer orientated societies. Yet east is no different than the west in this respect and he is talking generally to all, since we all live in the great bubble of universal mind.
I also love the Afghani perspective on the American bombing raids. It’s heartbreaking to picture innocent people being brutally punished for the crimes of another–and I feel it’s a perfect circle of how more terrorists are created. Is this your intention?
Wars do implant bullets of hatred into the hearts of the populace, in my estimation. Especially, when the general populace is not guilty of the crimes perpetrated by aliens who have usurped the rights and lands of the citizens by the sheer power of their wealth and violence. Since I write about the Moghuls and Babur the king of Kabul who became the first Moghul emperor of India, I have grown familiar with Afghanistan through his journals and through the journals of the court historians of the emperors in succession. In Babur’s time, women went riding. There was music and dancing. Great palaces and gardens in Kabul. Herat, the pearl city of art and literature. Samarkand the turquoise city of artisans and scientists—Ulugh Beg’s observatory of fixed stars, just to name a few of the flourishing centers of interest in Afghanistan. My intention is to wind the clock of peace while exposing the self-styled Muslims who have made a home in Afghanistan and hell for the Afghanis, guided by the teachings of Abu-al-Wahab and becoming the mentor-leaders of young boys, training them as suicide-bombers.
I have a friend who took two tours as a medic in Afghanistan- he showed me a small crude hand loomed rug of the Twin Towers and people falling out of the sky. Which makes Osama’s rugs so much more potent. What inspired you to have him looming this rug?
I wanted Twin Towers to rise above the volcano of tragedy and destruction and live forever as the emblem of glorious living of which we only have a glimpse now and then through the windows of fairytales, so I thought about beautiful rugs woven in Afghanistan. Had no idea such a rug of Twin Towers really existed?
"Life is a choice, a struggle and a constant becoming." What a beautiful quote. I think I will make this a personal mantra. What does this sentence mean to you?
To me, choice is taught to me by the Sufis: cultivate so much love in your heart that there is no room left in there for anything else. Struggle is to keep doing good against all odds, and hopefully watching in awe its domino-effect till goodness is embraced by all globally. Constant becoming is always doing right without seeking reward or approval.
What is the significance of the herbs and the potions? Is it the ancient knowledge of the powers of plants and earth, which is being lost in our modern age? And isn’t it ironic that Osama doesn’t believe in the curatives of his culture or at least the region he is living in?
Knowledge of the herbs which is lost to us apparently now pulsates in the pills of modern medicine. Osama, however, believes in the culture of his own thinking where women possess no intellect, creativity or ingenuity.
I love the colorful and rich poetry in your writing regarding the recipes for dye colors and herbal potions. Are they authentic recipes or are you taking poetic license?
Very much authentic recipes for dye colors and herbal potions. Adeptly researched for their efficacy. Most of those borrowed from a book GOA by Kara Dalkey.
The play is almost Chekhovian or Beckettian in how the characters are diametrically opposed in belief and faith yet trapped together in this cave- is this an intention of yours or merely my interpretation?
Your interpretation is correct and my intention is to disseminate the height of absurdity and transform the conflicting emotions into a channel of sense and sensibility.
Did you create Osama’s maladies with poetic license or are they factual?
More like illusions since he has gone daft.
I love and admire the native intelligence of Amira and Sameera. Is this a commentary on the Taliban’s attempts to not allow females to be educated? They are so wise about the world and the sciences, despite how they are treated. Please expound.
Afghani women are known for their courage, intelligence and perseverance. Babur’s daughter Princess Gulbadan was a poetess and a historian. Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter was the disciple of a Sufi saint and well versed in Sufism. Malala the fourteen year old girl shot by Taliban recently for speaking against them has a namesake almost one century and thirty-two years ago working alongside men to tend the wounded during the Anglo-Afghan war and carried the flag of victory when the flag-bearer was killed by the British. True, this piece is a commentary on Taliban’s attempts to ban education, but they can’t prevail against such brave women for long, is my strong conviction.
It’s very sad to see Sameera lose her abilities and herbs. What is your intention behind this? The closer they get to the West, the more her medical abilities and science are disregarded?
It’s tragic of course to lose something one believes in, but that’s part of life, cyclical in nature. Paradoxically, a new beginning.
I enjoy the story telling at the end of the play. Do you see the story telling as a ‘bed-time’ ritual or do you perceive it as more of a mythic element?
Story telling is a medium for learning, without teaching or preaching. Most affective when there is a subtle moral which makes one think and inspire.
How did you become a playwright?
A mystery. In the middle of writing books about some of the Moghul emperors I would be inspired to write plays, would abandon the books, write a play hurriedly, then get back to the books. Joined ICWP a few years ago, went to several play retreats then this year (soon to be next year, so essentially past year) ended up in Stockholm. One hundred plays were selected out of seven hundred and eleven plays submitted for staged reading and Osama The Demented was one of them.
Who are playwrights you admire or find to be influential?
My favorite amongst many are, Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo, Edward Albee, John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. Ibsen number one on my chart!