An Interview with Ejaz Ahamed Author of the book “Dancers in the Dark”

About the Author: Born in India, Ejaz Ahamed lived in the UAE until early adulthood before moving to Australia. His passion for exploring social injustices and racial inequalities influenced his writings. In the past, he wrote poems about life, the world and its complexities. This is his debut novel. After studying at The University of Melbourne, he spent many years travelling to broaden his views of the world.

About The Book: Extreme poverty wasn’t the only impediment in seven-year-old Kalki’s life. Her pitch-black dark skin exacerbated her plight, making her a centre of ridicule in her village. Believing he’s the cause of his sister’s affliction, Karthi joins Kalki’s side as they become consumed with ways to whiten her skin. But the determined siblings invite more trouble and lose their mother’s life savings. Their journey to retrieve the money brings together a mysterious ally, an exotic festival, a divine intervention and a con artist changing their destinies in ways no one could have predicted.

Interviewer: Congratulations on the success of “Dancers in the Dark.” Did you plan to write a book on this subject instantly? Or was it a thought-process of many years?

Ejaz Ahamed: Thank you so much. I always wanted to write a book that dealt with colourism and prejudice so the theme was always in my mind however I needed to find characters and stories through whom I could convey the message. The latter took many years to develop because I wanted the emotions to be a strong as possible conveyed by the characters so lots of redrafting over time.

Interviewer: Could you share the inspiration behind “Dancers in the Dark”? What sparked the idea for this particular book?

Ejaz Ahamed: Being a person of colour I have often felt a lot of the setbacks and discrimination on my own skin that the main characters have to battle in the book. Although the characters are fictional their stories and emotional journey are completely authentic. I wanted to convey the extreme pressure one can feel growing up in a society that places so much importance on being fair – whether it is deliberate or not. A society where it is so ingrained that the fairer your skin the better job, marriage and life prospects one can attain. 

Interviewer: The characters in “Dancers in the Dark” are unique and well-developed. How did you approach their creation, and what inspired their individual journeys within the story?

Ejaz Ahamed: Creating the characters in the book and their individual stories was so important to me because the last thing I wanted was just describing a chain of events linked to characters without explaining their motivations for their actions and thoughts. Even if there was a character in the book the reader disliked I wanted to explain why they behaved the way they did. Most of the characters experiences I have experienced in some way or have had someone close to me who has had to deal with those circumstances.

Interviewer: What are the main themes and messages you aimed to convey through “Dancers in the Dark”? Did you feel that the book provided enough space to express all your ideas, or will some aspects be explored in a sequel?

Ejaz Ahamed: The strongest message I wanted to send is we are all worthy exactly the way we are, no matter the colour of our skin. We are all good enough to be anyone we wish to become and gain the respect of others, but first we must accept and love ourselves just as we are.

Having said that there are other themes I definitely wish to explore in the future as I love exploring themes of injustice and inequality. At this stage I feel like the story has been told but I am still very attached to the main characters so they may reappear in the future.

Interviewer: “Dancers in the Dark” touches upon current events and societal issues, giving it a universal appeal. Do you agree with this assessment, and was it intentional on your part?

Ejaz Ahamed: I think colourism, prejudice and casteism are just as relevant today as they have ever been. All these themes have affected society for a very long time and are always relevant topics absolutely it was intentional on my part. I really wanted to express what I felt in such a way that even people who have never been to India would understand. That’s why I deliberately chose children as my main protagonists to show how susceptible even the minds of such innocent kids who are pure of heart are. I showed prejudice, colourism and humanitarian injustices carried out as seen through their eyes. I kept trying to put myself in the place of young children and how they would perceive these concepts to also show the reader that these issues have not been solved and are still happening right now.

Interviewer: Can you describe your writing process and how you approached structuring the story within “Dancers in the Dark”? Did you find yourself making frequent revisions along the way?

Ejaz Ahamed: Anytime I would think back to the times I had dealt with prejudice in my childhood and teen years that triggered a strong emotional response from me I would begin to write. Absolutely the book and many chapters in it went through revisions until I was satisfied that the emotions conveyed were in the rawest form I could deliver. For this reason, I wanted the language to be as descriptive and emotive as possible so that readers felt like they were a part of the story and were right there in the book with the characters in the situations that they faced.

Interviewer: How do you hope “Dancers in the Dark” will impact readers, and what do you want them to take away from the book? Were there any specific objectives you had in mind while writing it?

Ejaz Ahamed: Once readers finish the book, I am hoping they will reflect on their own life and can appreciate themselves a lot better exactly the way that they are. I also hope they will feel like they had spent time with characters that would stay with them long after they put the book down and reassess how they approach colourism and prejudice when they see it occurring in their own environments.

Interviewer: Are there any specific literary or artistic influences that can be observed in “Dancers in the Dark”? How did you maintain distinctiveness in your writing, even within the popular form of literary writing?

Ejaz Ahamed: Arundhati Roy author of God of Small Things and Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns, have been a huge source of inspiration for me in both the writing style and the emotive way the describe events, emotions and characters. Their works are magnificent and left me thinking about their words long after I finished reading their books. I wanted to write an emotive piece to challenge people to reflect on their own place in society and the way they interact with others. Everyone is on their own journey and we can’t judge others harshly as we don’t know what inner battles, they may be fighting despite appearing fine on the surface. The way I wanted to achieve this was to write very descriptively using very strong adjectives and creating dramatic visuals

Interviewer: Where do you see “Dancers in the Dark” fitting into the larger literary canon or genre? How does it stand out from other works in the same category?

Ejaz Ahamed: I am honestly just hoping it has a place in people’s minds and hearts and is not forgotten. I see it fitting in as a very emotional piece that hopefully made people stop and reassess how lucky they are in their own lives and to also be kinder to people dealing with prejudice.

Interviewer: Were there any challenges or obstacles you encountered while writing “Dancers in the Dark”? If so, how did you overcome them?

Ejaz Ahamed: The biggest challenge was expressing mature topics through the voices and eyes of children without making the stories in the book to simplistic. Most of the time the words flowed very well when I would sit down to write because this message has been sitting in me for such a long time just bursting to be told.

Interviewer: Out of curiosity, could you provide a brief glimpse into what readers can expect from the book that is to “Dancers in the Dark,” if you plan on writing any?

Ejaz Ahamed: I am currently working on a few plotlines I have very strong ideas for them.  I am usually inspired the most when something triggers an emotion that I feel I absolutely have to express and convey through characters that people will be able to relate to. But for now, I am just relishing listening to people’s feedback about the current novel and super grateful for the overwhelming support I have received from those who have already read Dancers in the dark.

Interviewer: Maintaining objectivity about each character in “Dancers in the Dark” is impressive. How did you ensure this objectivity while giving each character a unique voice and perspective?

Ejaz Ahamed: I developed an objective perspective towards life by paying attention to the emotional response of others to the world as they experience them. I am always fascinated by how people interact with the others and deal with the difficulties and momentous occasions life has to offer. By observing the interactions others have with their surroundings I was able to write about the intricacies of the emotional bonds that develop between the characters in the book. I enjoy taking a step back and looking at the interpersonal connections that exist between people.

Interviewer: Thank you for your time, and we wish you the best of luck with “Dancers in the Dark” and your future endeavors. May it surpass all records in royalty collection!Ejaz Ahamed: What a lovely thing to say! Thank you once again so much for your time it was a pleasure answering your questions.

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