ULM: What led you both into doing this book together?
Ravin: The first time I met Hassan it was obvious he possessed a writer’s craft. He spoke in parables and was always attentive to the possibilities for extrapolation of the tales spinning in his head. Although it took many months to conceive of a project that made sense from an individual and joint standpoint, we technically began tiptoeing around the idea of a collaborative project over “instructional sessions” on the eighteenth-century Punjabi tragic romance Heer Ranjha, by Waris Shah. More accurately, Hassan would sit me down like a pupil and read aloud portions of the extensive work for my cultural and literary edification. At some point we branched outward and inward, from legend to our own realities and to discussions about how to find natural points of connection between our separate lives and our writings. The project matured into an imperative of the inevitable.
Miraj: Imagine meeting a foreigner in an activity that you consider central to your own culture and the foreigner surprises you with her visiting card printed in your native language. Such was the strength of Judith’s cultural self. Our first meetings were more of myself talking and herself listening. Before she departed Pakistan, we made a checklist of where our interests intersected (and this was without the idea of publication). As we moved to our respective different worlds, we wrote to each other about incidents, happenings…. These were more like telephonic conversations in print. This is how the book began to emerge.
ULM: Judith, how would you describe the effect that your work had in writing Beyond Our Degrees of Separation?
Ravin: My work in Pakistan was on a separate track from writing, yet through writing I was able to process the dizziness of a fully charged public engagement schedule. Whereas public diplomacy focuses my attention outward, writing provides time for intimate assimilation of the newness of circumstances. Fortunately, the vastness of cultural diversity in Pakistan made for a satisfactory playmate to my innate curiosity.
ULM: Muhammad Hassan Miraj, how would you describe your talent as an author and how your experience in the Pakistan Army effected your writing for this book?
Miraj: I must admit that I am not an author. I shall, however, lay claim on the craft of story-telling, and it is very deep-seated. While telling stories is almost unanimously popular in all cultures, it had a special significance while I was growing up. I grew up in a joint family system and in a mobile-TV-Internet free age. So you could either tell stories or listen. Day-to-day life revolved around stories and even parables, instructions, injunctions, and implications…. All of it either originated in or was communicated through stories.
The military, on the other hand, was a larger world, yet very intimate. My postings and assignments took me all over the country (and abroad as well) and afforded me the opportunity to connect to some very fascinating sub-cultures, so my writings or stories are also deeply influenced by my years in the military.
ULM: Is this the first book project that both of you have done together? Will there be more projects in the future as co-authors?
Ravin: Yes, this is our first project of collaboration. I am sure Hassan has mapped out the next ten projects we could work on as co-authors, but I move more methodically in the space of creative endeavors until I have an undeniable whole of an idea laid out before me. Hassan and I admire each other’s strengths in writing, and we manage to bring out the best in our respective styles.
Miraj: Judith is around seventy percent correct. Yes, this is our first project together, and no, it’s not just ten. I intend to write more stories together. Judith’s attention to detail and commitment to the whole procedure is definitely worth the deliberation.
ULM: Judith, what was it like being a co-author for this book?
Ravin: I had to be more patient than I would if I were working on a book by myself. I also had to be more deliberative in seeking the connectors between us. As a co-author of a joint work, you must sacrifice independence in favor of the richness of interdependence.
ULM: Muhammad Hassan Miraj, how would you describe working as a co-author?
Miraj: I had been writing in English, but with Judith it was very illustrative. There were things that I wanted to say, but my diction was largely styled for different readership. Judith was very helpful in preserving the impression while working on expression.
ULM: Muhammad Hassan Miraj, you mentioned having spent almost a year in the U.S. Why not a year? What did you do while there?
Miraj: It was an International Military Exchange and Training Program, lasting for almost nine months. The training was about military procedures. Growing up in Pakistan, there is an awful lot that you hear about America and the Americans, so alongside military training (which was not much), I wanted to have an understanding of American culture. I travelled and interacted, and learned my basic lessons on “otherness.”
ULM: Judith, what was it like working as an editor, translator, and as a journalist?
Ravin: I worked non-stop. There was no freelance job I would refuse because I knew my current projects always had a finite end point. The world of words in which I lived for many years continues to serve me well. Once, at the midpoint of a book translation I felt as if adrift at sea. I had lost sight of the horizon: the book’s final pages. I could neither slip back to the safety of a shoreline I could no longer see, nor move forward with certainty toward an end that was equally invisible. So I continued paddling with faith through a sea of words, toward an endpoint I only imagined. That is what juggling those jobs was like for me.
ULM: Muhammad Hassan Miraj, using only three words, how would you describe Beyond Our Degrees of Separation?
Miraj: “stories we lived”
ULM: Whose decision was it to become co-authors? How did you two come to start this project?
Ravin: It may have been Hassan who first articulated the idea aloud, but there had been an undercurrent of inevitability from the outset. I wanted the merge of narratives to feel natural to the reader. It took many months until we reached a mutually acceptable approach.
Miraj: Judith is a very different kind of person (well, all of us are). There is a rather rare sense of localized globalization that enriches her expression. You can talk about Africa for hours with her and know that she knows a great deal about the place, but when you are done talking the “global talk” she transforms into an elder sitting under one of the few trees in a Burkinabe village, talking about life. I think, for a person like me – who cannot, in his limited knowledge and sense of the world, travel much – the ideal arrangement to learn was to work together. So here is the book.
ULM: What did you both want readers to take from reading your nonfiction book?
Ravin: The beauty of discovery, the expansive effect travel has on the soul, an immediacy of communion with the inglorious.
Miraj:I would say, the urge to understand human emotions and to value the significant insignificances.
ULM: Was it hard to put this book together?
Ravin: I invested four years in the making of this book. Keeping a pace with myself was the hardest.
Miraj: It was definitely. We had to struggle with minimum of three time-zones at best and, at worst, four.
ULM: What advice would you both give to writers everywhere?
Ravin: I am not a writer by default. I write to process the excess of life and ideas that populate my head. I encourage writers to accept the uniqueness of their voice and to find someone who is both supportive and critical of their work to help them develop in the genre/s of their choice.
Miraj: Write, for the world is fast running out on dreamers.
ULM: Where can readers find you both online? Where can readers purchase Beyond Our Degrees of Separation?
For more information on authors Judith Ravin and Muhammad Hassan Miraj, visit:
Beyond Our Degrees of Separation is available in paperback, Kindle, and ePub versions in the United States through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Inkwater Press, and other online distributors. Lahore-based Sang-e-Meel Publications will release in fall 2017 a Pakistani edition for distribution to bookstores in Pakistan.