Writing Inspiration From the Amazing Writer Tazeen Hasan
by Zhou Huiwei
Recently, I had an opportunity to communicate with Tazeen Hasan, a blogger who was born in Pakistan and writes for many online and print news outlets. She regularly contributes hard news, investigative pieces, and editorials on a wide range of topics including history, geopolitics, entertainment, etc. As a multilingual speaker, Tazeen not only fluently uses English and Urdu but also understands some Arabic, Punjabi and Hindi, which provides much convenience to her traveling and work in the Middle East, Western Europe, South Asia, Africa and North America. Tazeen has posted many thoughtful writings related to her multicultural background. Currently, she is studying Journalism at Harvard University Extension School.
Here is the Q & A conversation with her:
Z H: Where are you from? What is your native language?
I am from Pakistan but my language is not called Pakistani, it is called Urdu and Urdu itself is actually a Turkish word which means army. Interestingly, it is a mixture of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit and a lot more languages because it was developed in the army camps where individuals from different parts of the world, mainly from Central Asia, Turkish steppe, Persia, and South Asia lived and fought together. I recently met a Nepali writer in Edmonton, and I was able to tell the meaning of his name and some other words in Nepali language because those words are part of Urdu too. We even have some words from Hebrew, as Hebrew is a Semitic language like Arabic, and it has a lot in common with Arabic.
Z H: If you need to write in a non-native language, that writing is bound to face code switching, or you face language barriers early in “non-native” writing. How do you deal with this problem?
Fortunately or unfortunately, Pakistan was a colony of Great Britain before 1947, along with other parts of South Asia. Even after the departure of colonial powers, we still use English as an official language, so I learned English from the age of three or four. Still, I feel more comfortable with Urdu, but I have written a lot in English. I read a lot of English. The only problem I feel is with grammar, especially preposition usage. Otherwise I can read, write, speak, and think in English very well.
Z H: Is there any conflict between your cultural background and Middle Eastern culture? How do you balance the issue of cultural conflicts based on the writing of readers in North America or the Middle East?
Certainly, there are a lot of differences between the Middle Eastern, South Asian and North American cultures. Even in different parts of the same region you will find cultural differences. We have borders with China and Afghanistan, but Pakistani culture is very different from these two countries. Even in Pakistan we have hundreds of different languages and cultures. But at the same time, I feel that globalization has brought us closer to each other and now it is not as difficult to understand each other. The rest are minor differences and showcases the beautiful diversity we all should celebrate and embrace. The vast majority of Pakistanis share the same faith as Middle Eastern Muslims, and we also have historical roots in the Indian subcontinent, so we share a lot with these two regions. We all grew up watching Hollywood and Bollywood. We all purchase Chinese goods. We all set foot for North America and Europe to make our lives better and to avoid the rampant corruption, undemocratic attitudes, and bad governance in our countries. So, I believe we have more similarities than differences.
Z H: News writing is not only demanding on the language level, but also has a certain standard of publication: in the selection, selection angle, the topic of any experience or suggestions.
What I believe you want to ask is how I select topics for news, right? I am lucky that I read a lot of international and national news outlets throughout the day. I have several areas of interest ranging from media, economics, geopolitics, literature and movie reviews, history, travel — more specifically, global immigration patterns — demographics, sociopolitical and cultural phenomena. Long story short, I have never been short of ideas. I do write news stories as well as features. But for newcomers in the field, I advise they must read the news outlet or magazine in which they wish to write. As one of my Harvard teachers used to say, “Make a wish list of newspapers in which you want to be published and read them daily.” It is important to understand the policy of the magazine. And if you have some specific reader in mind, you should know what they want to hear. This is the best way to develop news sense. It will also help a new journalist understand other technical issues specific to that publication. But remember, “read like a writer.”
Tazeen’s answers gave me some inspiration as an immigrant writer who lives in Canada. Since language is the carrier of culture, I have a better understanding of the cultures of Chinese speaking countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and China. Same as Tazeen, I prefer to use the advantage of my mother tongue to start my writing. Also, “mysterious oriental culture” could be a good starting point, but I prefer to focus more on popular things like food and religious culture, etc. Other than selecting and following a topic, standing by the reader’s side is another suggestion I have taken from Tazeen. In order to reach more readers, explaining the profound in simple terms and general aspects would be practical for blog beginners. Overall, using the built-in advantage of a multicultural background in my writing is what I have learned from her. And Tazeen’s answers have provided me a practical direction as an immigrant writer who had little confidence in professional writing before.