A Riehlife Conversation: Ernest Dempsey, author of THE BITING AGE, Part I
"Essentially, I am living in Pakistan only physically." This is one of the interesting revelations from the conversation Ernest Dempsey (Karim Khan of Pakistan, author of the new collection of satirical stories, "The Biting Age") and I share today and tomorrow on Riehlife. Part I takes in the territory of humor in the family and media and how these worked to stimulate the imagination of a budding writer. --JGR
JGR: Ernest, what have been the strongest influences on your humor?
Dempsey: Two factors most influenced me. First, growing up [in Pakistan] under the influence of my maternal family which indeed had a very keen sense of humor, and secondly, watching English sitcoms on TV and then recreating them with added imagination with my brother Shais.
JGR: As you know, I'm very interested in cultures and cross-cultural communication and connections. Could you speak to the influence of Western culture and media on forming your sensibilities? I know from comments you've made as we've corresponded that Western TV was an influence on you, for instance, and that on About.com, you've become an expert on Western Classical Literature. How do you integrate your Pakistani culture with these influences?
Dempsey: Back in the 80’s when my brother and Shais were growing up together as school kids, there was only one nationwide TV channel which ran shows like Knight Rider, Dempsey and Makepeace, and Airwolf. These shows had a magnetic attraction for us kids.
But not all kids, I think, experienced the same degree of influence. Shais and I were self-contained kids given to the company of each other and to TV shows. We felt a particular, deeper connection with these western TV shows. Most other kids in our school soon forgot about the excitement but we were given to discussing and imaginatively recreating the episodes of our cherished shows beyond exhaustion.
I started to write at 12 under this influence. Years later, this same enthusiasm would drive me to develop literary themes, especially when I studied the English novel and other forms of literature during and after my graduation.
I never consciously tried to integrate these themes with Pakistani culture or society. Somehow, on a sub-conscious level, I knew that these two were not related. But I didn’t ever think of attempting because I have always been in that inertia of individual creativity and mode of expression that would carry me away from making conscious attempts of juxtaposing two cultural or societal worlds. Essentially, I am living in Pakistan only physically.
JGR: Tell us about your pen name. How and when did you choose it? What does it mean to you?
Dempsey: Many people have grown curious about my pen name Ernest Dempsey. The name Dempsey comes from the British police drama Dempsey and Makepeace that Shais and I enjoyed between 1986-87. I doted on that show. And I considered myself Dempsey.
Years later it occurred to me to start publishing under it after I found Ernest to go with it. This name came from Samuel Butler’s classic English novel The Way of All Flesh in which the protagonist Ernest Pontifex refuses to accept the hypocritical values of his family and society.
JGR: Does using a Western name get around stereotypes that might hinder your ability to get your words and your work out?
Dempsey: I never thought along the lines of making it easier for me get my name into Western media by adopting a western name. Pure personal inspiration underlies my pen name.
However, you may be right about my budding success and its possible dependence on my western name, though I can’t be very sure about it.
JGR: Where are some places on-line we can learn more about you and your work?
Dempsey: In addition to World Audience and Amazon, you can check out my homepage. I have published Work at:
JGR: Thanks, that will give the folks a little homework to do before they come back tomorrow for the second part of our conversation tomorrow.
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