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Literary Therapy

When I was in bed alone after an uneventful August day back in 2002 (I remember because I recently got my heart broken), it wasn't apparent to me back then that I was having a moment which quite possibly changed my life. It was the day that my life as I knew it, no longer hanged in the balance. If I had a roving reporter following me around chronicling my life, he would have said, "This is history right here".

I was not alone after all, I was accompanied by the brilliance of Bret Easton Ellis. His novel, 'Less Than Zero' was a fast paced page turner with authentic juvenile connotation I could deeply relate to. It painted adolescent alienation with such genuine sincerity, I breezed past from page to page, clinging to his every word with the regular goosebumps in between. The realistic dialogues between the characters reminded me of those I typically have with my closest friends, displaying guarded vulnerability without revealing too much, afraid of being ridiculed for my honest emotions, overly aware that it might open up a Pandora's box. Although it was unrefined and scatterbrain in terms of story telling, the novel spoke to me like no one ever could. It made me wish I could sit down with Bret Easton Ellis and have a conversation with him over coffee. To say the book changed my life would be an understatement. It did more than that.

The skill and artistry with which writers have the ability to convey their message in three sentences while normal folks would have taken three pages to do so drew me into the world of literature. The allure of sculpting imagery with vocabulary, breathing life into ideas with verbs and adjectives seemed something I could picture myself doing in the future.

Growing up in a Muslim household, I wasn't exposed to transgressive ideas (a running theme in novels from my favorite authors). Although my folks were more liberal compared to my friends' folks, straight laced good moral values always remained paramount. As I grew older, I slowly realized the importance of transgression in creativity.

Inception of books are brought about by ideas conjured up from the mind of the writer. Subjects such as race and religion are recipes for apprehension. Race and religion are viewed as taboo subjects which could create massive uproar if dealt with irresponsibly. Thus, acceptance for books pertaining to these subject matters struggles under such conditions.

Salman Rushdie's controversial novel 'The Satanic Verses' represents the archetype of such literary works, exposing how words could be dangerous if considered offensive by believers of certain religions. In his novel, Rushdie made sacrilegious accusations about the Qur'an, asserting that it was written by the Devil. The message delivered angered Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran to the point where he issued a fatwa (decree), calling for Muslims to assassinate Rushdie and anyone connected to the book's publishing. And since books and words have no boundaries by virtue of translation, it caused death to innocent people in the form of Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese translator of the book who was stabbed to death, collateral damage of the fatwa issued. Lenin once said that ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Instead of putting his fingers to his lips, Rushdie continued to put them to work on his typewriter, using words to express himself.

Writers form cohesive sentences with different intentions in mind. Some write with the belief that ingrained cultural, lifestyle or personal references have the ability to be transferred to the masses without any artificial packaging. They use brilliant metaphors and allusions to speak to their readers. As a Muslim, I try to draw inspiration from fellow Muslim writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Khaled Hosseini. They often use their experience growing up in a Muslim family in their novels, juxtaposing Muslim upbringing with western cultures and ideas. It crosses boundaries as Muslims living in unfamiliar parts of the world can relate to them as it often dwells on long running misunderstandings between the eastern and western ways of life.

In his collection of essays, Pamuk frequently infused his own experience growing up with a Muslim family, reminiscing about his childhood fondly in a coming of age sort of way. Pamuk was also the first Muslim writer to publicly disapprove of the fatwa doled out on Rushdie and his publishers. In Hosseini's bestselling novel 'The Kite Runner', he drew inspiration from a childhood experience when he met up with Afghanistan's Hazara people and of them, Hossein Khan taught him how to read and write when he was in 3rd grade. Their brief encounter closely mirrors the relationship of Amir and Hassan in 'The Kite Runner'. In Pamuk and Hosseini's cases, their memories, like words in private diaries, are just bodies without any motion if they are kept in the dark. Once shared, however, they transcend anything else in existence, affecting millions of lives around the world in the process.

"Wild is the wind", Nina Simone whimpered in one of her classics. And words, like wild wind, can be tamed. When done so correctly, it could blow away all your doubts and sorrow with consummate ease, evaporating them away as you watch them dissipate into the atmosphere, gradually losing form and eventually disappearing into nothingness, allowing us to acquire new perspectives — better perspectives — with the ability to sweep you off your feet to somewhere you can call your own.

The beauty of words is that they are the essence from which the expression of human mind and heart is derived, fulfilling a need that no other form of art can. Read, write and set your soul alight.

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Copyright © © 2012 Ab Syahid All Rights Reserved

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