GUEST BLOG: Q&A With Memoir Author Dr. Azimuddin
Today he’s a medical doctor with a passion for surgery. But as a young boy, Khawaja Azimuddin spent two years in a civilian prisoner-of-war and refugee camp with his family, in the wake of the devastating Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.
Born in Dacca, East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), Dr. Azimuddin was the youngest of three children in a warm and loving family. With his mother working as a teacher and his father managing a jute mill, the family enjoyed a solid middle-class life. But when Bangladesh sought its independence from Pakistan in 1971, the Azimuddin family – and 93,000 other Pakistani civilians – suddenly found themselves prisoners of war.
Young Khawaja was just eight years old when his family was uprooted from their home in Dacca, and transported 1,200 miles away to a refugee/prisoner-of-war camp in neighboring India. Conditions in the camp were harsh, and amenities were few. Yet somehow the family not only survived the two-year ordeal but, amazingly, managed to keep their spirits high.
Dr. Azimuddin is now a gastro-intestinal surgeon in Houston, Texas, specializing in minimally-invasive and robotic surgery for colon cancer. And nearly 50 years after his childhood ordeal, Dr. Azimuddin has published his memoir, “The Boy Refugee: A Memoir From a Long-Forgotten War.” His goal, in part: to bring attention to the plight of refugees today.
Dr. Azimuddin kindly shared his memoir journey with us, from rough draft to finished product. I hope you’ll be inspired by both his personal journey and his memoir-writing advice!
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Q&A With Dr. Azimuddin:
Q: What was it that made you decide to share your story in a memoir? Did something specific happen that made you suddenly decide to start writing?
A: I had always thought it was a good story and worth writing about. Even as a teenager, I had written some notes with the help of my mother, and kept those with me all these years. A few years ago my son, who had heard about my story, started to write his bachelors’ thesis on the Bangladeshi genocide. This gave me further inspiration to finally write my story.
Q: It sounds like you describe some very difficult and painful times as a child. Did the process of telling the story as an adult give you any new insights into what happened, or help put any of it into a different perspective?
A: It certainly gave me some new perspectives. For example, I realized that this unfortunate event (the war) happened because one group of people was trying to enforce their views on the other group. Unfortunately, it was people from my country (Pakistan) who were the aggressors. When the Bengalis retaliated, my family was uprooted and we became refugees. What the Bengalis did was in retaliation for all the atrocities committed by people from my own side. So how could I blame the Bengalis for what they did to my family?
Q: What is it you hope that readers will learn or take away from your book, or perhaps just understand better?
A: There were three parties to this war: the Pakistanis, the Bengalis, and the Indians. We were among the Pakistanis, and fought the war against the combined forces of India and Bangladesh.
Once the war was lost, the Bengalis came after us. And it was the Indians that saved us from the wrath of the Bengalis. Life is strange and by a strange twist of fate, our sworn enemy, the Indians, saved our lives. So never give up hope; you may get support from where you had least expected it.
Q: What was your writing process? Did you write every day, or only in odd moments? Did you use an editor, or run drafts by a writers’ group? What did you find most helpful to you in completing the book?
A: I wrote almost every day. At least, I thought about the book and the chapters every day. I would be going over it in my mind while driving the car or doing other chores. Then I would quickly write a memo to myself, and later put those notes in the appropriate chapter. I did use an English-language editor, as English is not my mother tongue. I also used a developmental editor.
Talking to people and interviewing them as background research for my book was the most helpful part. It gave me a view of events of the camp experience from other people’s perspectives. Also online research was very helpful. I got a lot of information about the events as they happened through the internet. It even helped me correct my sentences and improve my writing.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing the book, for you? What was the most gratifying?
A: The hardest part for me was finding a publisher. It took me a long time to search for publishers and query agents. I finally published my book through a hybrid publisher, which did not require submitting through an agent.
Most gratifying was actually talking to people who had lived through this same conflict, and visiting them to interview them about their own experiences. It was enjoyable to meet people who had been in the same camp with me, and learn additional details from them.
Q: What advice would you give to other would-be memoir writers? Do you have any suggestions or words of encouragement?
A: It’s a wonderful experience, and you would love it. It is a fulfilling and rewarding experience. I suggest that you almost daydream about your topic, and as thoughts come to your mind, just jot them down; otherwise, you will forget them.
Find Dr. Azimuddin’s memoir here via Amazon Associates link at Amazon.com! You can also listen to Dr. Azimuddin reading the first chapter in his own voice (embedded on the Amazon page).