Saturday, September 14, 2019

Interview with author SALMAN AZIZ by Dave Wolff

Interview with author SALMAN AZIZ

How early did you begin writing poems and short stories for publication in magazines and local newspapers in your home country of Bangladesh?
I can still remember the day I was invented by my home tutor. I was about seven years old then. I never knew that I could be a writer! All the support and help I got from him! There is a backstory of me for being a writer. When I was in class four, my school was going to publish an annual magazine. Our teachers asked us to submit any kind of writings like short stories, poems, rhymes, etc. My home tutor knew that I could write. But for being shy and having a lack of confidence all the time I skipped from participating in any functions or competitions. Then he forced me to submit a rhyme and it was selected. That was my turning point! Then I began to write many short stories, poems, and rhymes in my native language for magazines and local newspapers.

How difficult was it for you to be published in those days?
Honestly, it was very easy to publish in those days rather than it is nowadays! In those days people got respect for their true talent. But nowadays the true talents don't get any respect or recognition from people worldwide. The path is also full of difficulties for people to get the recognition they deserve. The media plays a vital role to introduce creative people not only locally but globally.
I have seen when young writers like me wanted to publish in newspapers and magazines! And the media always welcomed their creativity. Even at that time, you didn't need to have any kind of connection with editors or journalists. When you submitted to them, if the work was authentic, creative and raw they would publish it without any kind of demand. But nowadays, without any kind of connection, they won't publish it at all.
I have seen nepotism and cronyism in this area and have been a victim of it. When I published my first book "6th September: A Very Unknown Mysterious Story" worldwide in 2017 (my first English-written book), I asked many editors to feature it in their newspapers or magazines, but they refused. The story was based on the true story of a teenage boy who committed suicide. I requested it to them because I wanted to raise public awareness about teenage suicide through the newspapers. But most of the time they said I wasn’t famous enough to be featured. Not even when I released the official trailer of my horror short film "Lost in the Black Hole" in 2019, which is Bangladesh's first symbolic cult horror short film! Again I asked many editors and journalists to write about the film for its authenticity. The same thing happened! They said I wasn’t a famous artist nor did I belong to any well-known artist's family, from which my film was officially selected and appreciated by international film festivals.
I also have seen, if the same type of work or work with no creativity was done by someone they know, they got crazy to feature it which always shocked me. Some people may tell me it’s sour grapes, but I am straightforward.
There were so many times I was a victim of racism as an indie artist worldwide. I've faced and am still facing many difficulties for being a Muslim from Bangladesh which upset me. Many international newspapers and magazines rejected my creative works for those reasons. Even many production houses declined to work with me. But at the same time, my creativity and true words were welcomed by fans, and critics all over the world, which encouraged me to go forward.

In what local magazines were you being published when you started writing? Do you still have copies of those magazines today?
Most of the time I was published in the weekly Kushtia Batraa newspaper, Vorer Khobor (News Of The Dawn), Ajker Potrika (Today's News), and the half-yearly magazine Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (World Literature Center) of which I was an active member. I took part in several essay writing competitions, won many prizes and was featured in their magazines. My most notable winning competition was the essay writing olympiad in Kushtia Zila.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any copies. And I feel regret for it. But I still have some prizes including books and medals. Most of them were lost only for my negligence. In that time, our country had no digital means to archive. For this reason, many artists lost their early work.
Being a writer is so unfortunate for me! My parents have never supported me. Even my home tutor's support was not enough. So tell me, how far can a caged bird fly? I was young when I began. I didn’t have much knowledge about how to save my work for the future! I just miss those times and the support which I got from my teachers, friends and other people.
If I had full support I could be a well-known writer today! But it couldn't happen. After passing my 9th class, I hardly wrote for newspapers and magazines due to giving full concentration on my studies. It created a huge gap between me and the world of literature. In 2014, I came back by writing blogs in English. Mostly I wrote about social injustices.

Describe some of the times racism got in the way of your being published as a writer or recognized on a grander scale.
First I want to clarify that I never compare myself with others or think that I am the best! We all have imperfection. As a person, I am simple! In the writing or entertainment world, my goal is not to rule! I am only here to get love from the people and give them the motivation or influence to do good things in this world.
For the first time, I became a victim of racism when I begin to write blogs in English. Once I published a blog about women empowerment, rape, and prostitution all over the world, I was told to stop writing about the world because I don't belong to the international platform! They also told me I was a bad writer and did worse things rather than encouraging me.
I even got a death threat from ISIS and compared with Taslima Nasreen! Things became worse when I was continuously attacked by those harsh words. After this, I had to delete the blog. I was in trauma and suffered from depression. I am still suffering from mental health issues a lot due to those things.
I stopped writing for a long time, then I slowly began to write again. When I released my first silent short film "Bloody Dark Dream" in 2014 I had to use my nickname Akash at that time, because if I used my full name people won't accept me for being Muslim! At first, they thought I was Hindu or Christian from the USA or India! But when they got to know I was from Bangladesh and Muslim I again became a victim. A group of people bullied and trolled me online. I still can't recover those horrible experiences. I thought I would be welcomed cordially worldwide but I got little acceptance. I also noticed I couldn’t interact with them in any world issues; I was attacked by their harsh words. Very few people took my side.
From childhood, I always thought English speaking foreign people were good with noble virtues, ideal and nice to people. But after those experiences my thoughts were completely changed. All foreign people were not good even though they lived in well-developed big countries. Some were good, some were bad and some were mixed! Sometimes I think, why me? Did I make a mistake to dream about being to be welcomed worldwide? Lots of questions spun in my head. I was brutally judged when I tried to become an international author and actor. The path is not so easy for me! What other people suffer in this writing or entertainment world, I suffer more.

Do you think news coverage of world affairs has something to do with the intolerance you endured as a writer and filmmaker?
When I step into the international entertainment world, I face a lot. Suppose, any native English speaking person is publishing a book and at the same time I am publishing a book. Who will get the priority in news media? Of course the English speaking person! At present, 90% of the international news and media are corrupted. They only prefer to showcase their things! 5% are showing only true things after neutral analysis. And the other 5% are mixed. That 90% of media has already manipulated all the people. What the media shows people blindly believe without knowing the truth. News media has the power to spin truth as falsehood and falsehood as truth.
International news media will publish what Kim Kardashian does on her vacation. They won't publish a Muslim girl is brutally raped and killed. Or if a Muslim guy is assaulted, beaten or robbed. They will publish if the Muslim extremist kills people. I don't mean all news media does the same. Honest news media will always tell true news. I respect all religions because we are human and my top priority is humanity.
In 2016, a bakery named Holey Artisan in Bangladesh was taken hostage by Islamic extremists. Many foreigners and people from Bangladesh were killed by those extremists. But international news media hardly mentioned them and blamed all Bengalis. In that time, in the eyes of others Bengalis are dirt and prostitutes ready to sell themselves to tourists, etc. Not only me, but other artists also got the same labels.
Nowadays news media is becoming so commercial. To sell their news, they are ready to spread anything rather than truth most of the time. They kind of set a brand value of their news. They will publish who wears what on the red carpet but they hardly will publish if any powerful person or government person kills any homeless person by accident. And people like me, if we dare to tell the truth or clarify those incidents, that will be our mistake. We’ll be bullied online. I always tell people that truth is shaded by the cover of lies. I want to advise people that without knowing the full story, they should not judge anyone. Because people are trying to manipulate and dominate others! If they want to explore the truth they must have a neutral mind. Without this neutrality, people can't reach the truth. I believe neutrality, honesty, and truthfulness should be the main characteristics of news media. If they don't have any of those, then their news is full of lies.

Despite those experiences, were there times people from other countries appreciated your work?
When I was regularly getting harsh comments, I almost lost hope I would be accepted. But one day I got a message: "Akash, your work is so unique and the presentation is brilliant..." Those words made me cry. I was so happy on that day, I can't tell about those feelings! Then day by day, all my works were appreciated by the people. Many celebrities liked my work. People loved my quotes and are still loving those. They said those words inspired them so much. When I search myself on the internet, I find my works get many wonderful remarks! What I am today is only for their love and support. If a single person in this world loves and supports me that is enough for me to stay alive as an artist.

Did you ever consider writing fiction or making a movie about your blog experiences, so that people would understand how intense and negative it was?
All my work is based on real-life experiences. My films and photo shoots are especially symbolic, dark, bold and difficult to understand. I always try to represent my work artistically. If the people deeply analyze my work they can understand what it’s trying to say. Besides making independent art films, I want to make a feature film based on my life. Because there are many untold stories buried inside me! In these twenty-five years, I went through many horrible situations not a single person knows. I also want to make social awareness films on prostitution, rape, racism, child abuse and sex trafficking. You know, those things are ruining people's lives and spreading like an epidemic in this world. About my writing, I always love to explore. I have a great desire to write books in different genres. But most of the time I want to write about social awareness.

What other stories based on your real life experiences do you have in mind to write? Do you think people outside your country are ready to read them?
I have faced good and bad experiences that a boy or girl should not experience. If I remain alive I will probably write about what I have gone through in my life. It may be in a fictional or nonfictional way. A true reader doesn't seek who has written the book! Before reading the book they don't want to know, which country the writer belongs or which religion does the writer perform, what is the mother language of the writer or what race the writer is!
I am tri-linguistic. Few people know my ancestors are from India. After British rule, they settled in West Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. I can speak in my mother tongue Bengali, Hindi, and English. When I read any book in English or Bengali or translated from Hindi, I don't see the writer's bio first. If the content is good I read the book. I do the same with music, movies, TV shows, etc. I always try to write in English because English is the language anyone can use all over the world and it paves the way to communicate. If the reader is going through the same situations, of course, they will read my stories. Readers always want to feel the circumstances, the characters, the moments, etc through reading.
I know people from outside my country who don't have much knowledge about our culture and customs. But I have seen the eagerness in them! They want to know about those things. I also want to tell that people's tastes are not the same. Some like romance, some like horror, some like thrillers, some like sci-fi, etc. If my book is in a specific genre then they will read it.
My previous talks might hurt many people. But my intention is not to hurt or disrespect! I just show what painful situations those were! If any person put him/herself in my situation then he/she can feel how much bitter they were!
I always welcome people from different races, religions, and languages. We are human and humanity should be our religion. If we went color blind and mute, then would be no differences among us. I know those wishes are like a sandcastle! But hate and discrimination won't bring peace. I want to see drastic changes in the international entertainment world where artists from different parts of this world get the chance to explore and show their art. 

Are you in touch with anyone from the U.S. who would be interested in helping distribute and promote your work?
I have communicated with many distributors in the past. But I am not able to afford them. I know it is their profession to promote and distribute an artist's work to big houses. And I know how much it is needed for the artist to promote! Whatever I am today was only for the kind support of people worldwide. I am grateful to them. Many independent promoters have promoted my work for free on their media. I am thankful their kindness and support. I have a friend from the U.S.A. who always supports my work and loves to share my work with the people. I have other good friends from different parts of the world who help me a lot. I always try to communicate with others, especially people from the U.S. Some show interest and some don’t!

Who is your friend from the U.S. who supports and shares your writing? Do you have contacts in South American, European and Asian countries who support your work?
My bestie's name is Crisis Mattie. He is the most amazing person I have ever met in my life, though we only talk online! But it is like we’ve known each other for ages. Distance won't reflect any bad things if there is honesty and trust. And my other friends' names I prefer not to mention. I have plenty of friends all over the world, but due to lack of time, we can't talk that much.

Tell the readers about the movie you mentioned earlier, “Lost in the Black Hole”, the casting and filming process, and how well it was received.
In the angle people want to find the meaning, they will get answers. Because I have made it on a multidimensional perspective. The film is a silent, dark and symbolic cult horror short. People can guess how dark it is by watching the trailer! This type of short film was never made in my country. In this movie I play five metaphoric characters (the hope, the thorn, the truth, the nature and the spark) all alone. People can see those characters as some adjectives which don't have any existence in real life that they can only feel. I did the whole filming process including editing, background sound mixing, etc. Though at the last moment my mom produced the end of the film. It has taken 1.5 years to complete a four minute length short film. To play the three major characters (the thorn, the truth and the nature) I had to shave my head several times. You can't imagine, to shot a less than 30 second scene, I had to give an expression for more than two hours. For the make-up, it took more than an hour to get ready for the scene. Another interesting fact is, I was totally nude in this film. In the middle of filming I tried to stop, because my physical and mental health wasn't good. But my friend Crisis always encouraged me to complete it. The movie is not my movie; it is connected with everyone's emotions that remain in the dark. It is not a drama movie or a narrative movie that can be understood easily. It is based on emotions played by metaphoric characters with symbols. The film was officially selected by film festivals where jury teams appreciated my work. I couldn't reach the final round but the official selections were beyond my expectation. I am grateful because they understood the true meaning of the presentation.

What are the latest projects you have out or are preparing to release this year?
I haven't yet released "Lost in the Black Hole" world-wide. It has only taken part in some international festivals. So I am going to release the film this year. Besides this, I am writing a book called "Infamous Words of Akash" a totally nonfiction book or as people can call it a mixed book. I have put some poetry in it. In this book I used very raw and real topics about social and human issues. The book is now in the process of being written and 75% of it has been completed. I hope it will come out this year also. Other projects are blogs and articles about prostitution, rape, child abuse, sexual exploitation and sex tourism. Those blogs and articles might be too heavy for the hypocrites in this earth. Though people don't take my things very seriously and are totally shameless in this case. But small matters can change things drastically if taken properly.

Did you ever consider distributing your work independently, by starting your own distribution company? Would this be financially viable for you at this point?
I always think about it. But right now I am not able to. I can't tell about the future, because the future is unknown! If fate allows me, of course, I will open my own indie publishing house and welcome newcomers all over the world and support them.

How would you want to be remembered as an author and filmmaker should you eventually reach a wider audience? What kind of an impact do you want to make?
Honestly, will people remember me forever? Nowadays, people don't remember their nearest, dearest ones. For example; today's people have almost forgotten artists from the past. When they see their work uncertainly, then they try to remember them. Few will remember them every time. Some artists are remembered for their work, some are remembered for their personal lives, some are known for their lifestyles and some are remembered for other reasons! It is natural that when a new one comes the older are forgotten. I don't know how much I will be remembered for my work! But I always want to be remembered for my bold, true and honest talks. Because everything I tell, I tell in neutral mind. I want to remain alive through my artistic works in this world. But not as an author or actor or filmmaker! I want to be remembered as me! A person who is neutral, fearless, bold, honest, enigmatic, truthful and able to feel people's feelings.
In these days who doesn't want to get attention from mass audiences? All artists deserve to be respected. When a true artist produces, the pain he bears during the birth of his art, only he and people who love and respect the art can feel it. So, why shouldn't I deserve to reach a wider audience? My works are dark, raw, bold, enigmatic and real, and many people compare my work to negative energy without knowing its true meaning.
I don't know how much I can impact on people's minds! But as long as I breathe, I am determined to do something. I want to save innocence, true kindness and honesty. Because nowadays innocent, true kind and honest people are rare in this earth. And various circumstances have forced them to fade away. They are losing their true nature. I know that there is no tomorrow for me, and my life span is short, because I am not immortal. But in this battlefield, I want to create an army before leaving this earth, who are like me and will save and protect rare noble virtues. How much I can be successful, for now I can't tell. Because alone I can't totally remove the evil of this world. Bad things are mixed in human DNA and most of it is active. I always wish to be like Mother Teresa and Bayazid Bastami. Most of their work always influences me. My intentions are to motivate the people to do good work by true justice with honesty, kindness, peace, equality and humanity. And I want give them the eyes to see what is right and wrong by universal laws of justice.

-Dave Wolff

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