Interview: Sarfraz Manzoor
“The terror attacks pushed my Muslim identity to the foreground”
- Sarfraz Manzoor
Sarfraz Manzoor was born in Pakistan and grew up in Britain. After graduating from the University of Manchester, he joined a master’s programme in film production. He then went on to become a producer and reporter on Channel 4 News where he got the opportunity to interview celebs like Peter Gabriel and Woody Allen. Later, he was appointed commissioning editor at Channel 4.
Through his work, Sarfraz Manzoor has constantly tried to create new narratives and challenge stereotypical images of British Asians. His many scripts for television include the documentary The Great British Asian Invasion (2004), about diversity in the Asian community, which featured Hanif Kureishi, Art Malik and Meera Syal, among others. Also, he wrote and presented the much acclaimed television documentary Luton Actually (2005), about his family and his own experiences of growing up in Luton, his home town.
Manzoor continues to appear on television, works extensively for Radio 4 – he produced a radio documentary on the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah – and also participates in radio and festival discussions on literature and the arts. He presently lives in London where he works as a journalist for The Guardian, has contributed to publications such as Esquire, The New Statesman, and Index on Censorship and maintains a thought-provoking blog about topical issues on his website.
This summer, Manzoor published his first book, a lively, incisive memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock ‘n Roll, about the conflicts of childhood and adolescence, his passion for Bruce Springsteen’s music and the hopes and aspirations that his hard-working parents had for him. The book is also a tribute to his father who died suddenly in 1995 and did not live to see Sarfraz’s success.
Q: How did your memoir evolve, and how did your family respond to it?
A: The memoir evolved over the four years I worked on it, and each time I returned to the text I tried to reach deeper into myself to extract memories and sensations and also to work harder to understand the interior lives of the other characters in the book. I wanted to make the book utterly honest and capture both the good and less good about growing up as a second generation Asian in this country. My family are generally happy with the end result.
Q: Your father made great sacrifices to send you to an all-white school. Do you think you did get a better education? Or did you encounter a greater sense of alienation because you were ‘different’?
A: I benefited hugely from going to a mostly white school as it forced me to learn how to interact with the white majority rather than retreat into a familiar subculture.
Q: Your father’s sudden death seems to have been a defining moment in your life and later, the bombings of 9/11 and particularly 7/7. How did these events shape you?
A: The death of a parent is inevitably a catastrophic event. In my case losing my father forced me to appreciate how much I owed him and how much I was like him. The terror attacks forced me to understand what it means to be a Muslim and it pushed my Muslim identity to the foreground.
Q: I was particularly interested in your portrayal of films, music and popular culture which helped you cope with unresolved emotions. How did the music of Springsteen influence you?
A: Springsteen’s music influenced me in many ways: the lyrics articulated my own dreams and aspirations and they inspired me to reach further than I might otherwise have done in my life. I truly believe that were it not for the music of Bruce Springsteen, I would not have the life I currently enjoy.
Q: What drew you to journalism and broadcasting?
A: I was always interested in politics and current affairs, and so it’s not hugely surprising that I aspired to work in journalism; the more surprising aspect is that I achieved my aspiration.
Q: You did a profile of Jinnah for radio this summer. What was your approach?
A: I have been to Pakistan a number of times during the past few years. My approach in the Jinnah documentary was to try and imagine how Jinnah might feel about modern Pakistan. I wanted to understand his vision for Pakistan and to ask how closely this vision mirrors the reality.
Q:What next? Are you working on another book or film?
A: My book is being published in the United States next spring, so I am looking forward to seeing how it is received there. Presently, I am busy with my print journalism and radio broadcasting and musing on a second book. I am considering undertaking a work of fiction, but it’s still very early days.
Related article from the December 2007 issue.
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