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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tête-à-Tête With Naheed Hassan Of Indireads

Can Fiction Fix Conflicts?

Really? What do you think? Can fiction be the tool that ends conflicts, whatever size they may be - conflicts between two people, or conflicts between two families, or a conflict between two nations?

Well, Naheed Hassan seems to think so. She is the publisher of an online publishing company called Indireads that has recently compiled an anthology of stories by Indian and Pakistani writers, those which focus on present day Indians and Pakistanis and instances of building connections and relationships between them. 

Suprose interviewed Naheed Hassan recently and she has graciously shared her thoughts with us. Suprose readers can download this book, Love Across Borders, as well. Please leave your questions for Naheed in the comments section below, and she will answer them for you.

Why did you decide to do this Anthology? 

Let me give you the rationale for it, as well as the inspiration. The rationale is that most narratives about Indo-Pak relations today seem to revolve around the partition and subsequent wars between the two countries; these stories primarily deal with loss, displacement and anger. While such narratives are historically important, the pain associated with them holds the two nations back.

The motivation for this came from my conversations with one of the writers whose books we have published as Indireads. As a South Asia focused publisher, we work with contributors from both sides of the border. One of my Indian authors commented one day about how surprised she was about the ease at which she interacted with Pakistanis, and how she had never thought she would have Pakistanis on her Facebook friends list. That got me thinking about how for many people across the sub-continent ‘the other’ is still a mystery. I wanted to remove that mystery and show people on both sides of the border that all said and done, there are ordinary people – with emotions, fears, hopes and real lives – on both sides of the border.

Why do you think that a book of fiction, and especially an anthology, which is really hard to market will help change the way Pakistan and India feel about each other?

I think we are realistic that Love Across Borders is one initiative, amongst many, that will be needed to help bring about the kind of change that we envision. Governments, business, policymakers and even militaries will need to engage with each other, talk and find mutual meeting points. What we did strongly feel though was that even with all of that, real peace can happen only when people across both side of the border begin to view each other as human beings – with emotions, pains, hopes and joy. Love across Borders is an attempt to highlight that humanity that exists on both sides of the border. These stories of connection, relationship and even love will hopefully give people on both sides of the border a glimpse of what exists on the other side, and hopefully remove some of the mistrust.

Can fiction really help change perceptions?

We chose the medium of story and fiction because, we feel that sometimes, issues as politically-charged, political and personal can be better addressed through an impersonal fictional account, even if based on true facts. A philosophical, preacher-like approach towards peace just leads young people away, which is an opportunity lost, so we decided to implement a much more subtle approach. With fiction you sometimes get the benefit of distance – and you can say things that would be difficult to express otherwise. The objective with this collection is not to deny long-established facts, but highlight the many positive stories that surround us every day.

What do you hope your anthology will achieve?

The objective is not to deny historical facts but showcase ordinary lives – full of joy, hope, love and emotions – that exist on both of sides of the border. If we can begin to see each other – across the divide - as fully functioning human beings rather than stereotypical caricatures, we may stand a better chance of beginning to understand each other.

How did you go about choosing the stories that went into this anthology?

The only guiding factor for choosing the stories that went into the anthology was that we wanted stories of hope and connection, and wanted to steer away from stories of partition, loss and separation. That said, these stories are not blind to the environment of mistrust between the two countries that they are placed in, but we encouraged stories about how the human spirit overcomes all obstacles to connect. Our stories also focus on the fact that at a very real, human level, we are all the same – in fact, we are very similar because of our shared culture and heritage.

Can you quote a couple of memorable lines from this anthology that stand out in your mind.

Yamini Vasudevan’s Seendipity is about a chance connection between two young people on a flight:

He regarded me with a steady gaze, and said, “Well, I am originally from
Pakistan—on top of being Muslim—so if you want to bring the knives out
now would be a good time.” We looked at each other for a couple of
seconds, and then burst out laughing.

Anjum by Andy Paula is a heartwarming story of conections between two newly married young women whose marriages have brought them to Bombay. One has come from Nagpur while the other has been brought across from Lahore.

I don’t see her for the next few days and decide to be more friendly when
I see her next. Which is why I venture out and say hello the next time I see
her opening her door. She is wearing a pretty rose-pink salwar-kameez.
“That’s lovely,” I find myself saying, “where did you get it from?”
She looks down and touches her top. “Yeh Lahore se hai. Aap ko aisa joda
I nod and then it hits me. Wait a minute, did she say Lahore? My head
starts spinning. She’s a Pakistani? I conceal my surprise. Ganesha, was it not
bad enough that you got me married in Bombay. But to give me Pakistani
neighbours is more than I can tolerate. I have nothing against any individual
but all those terrifying stories about the bloodshed and the gore. What were
they doing in India, I mean, was it easy for them to be here? I can’t believe
it, a Paki in my building…on my floor.

So how can a reader get a copy of this anthology?

Readers can get a copy of the anthology by going to www.loveacrossborders.org or to the Indireads website www.Indireads.com

So this book is a free download, how do you hope to make money from this, or do you? 

We are not looking to make money from this. This is a civic and literary initiative by Indireads

Tell us more about Indireads? Who are you targeting and what kinds of authors are you hoping to publish?

Indireads – the publishing venture that I started more than a year back -aims to revolutionize the popular fiction genre in South Asia. As a channel for South Asian writers to engage readers at home and abroad, we showcase vibrant narratives that describe the lives, constraints, hopes and aspirations of modern South Asian men and women and capture the ethos and essence of South Asia. Our focus is completely on contemporary writings; we want to revive an interest in reading and writing in South Asia, and believe that can happen with engaging, easy and captivating new fiction, written by younger, newer voices. 

Indireads’ books are written and customized for delivery in electronic format, and are published online on our website www.indireads.com. Given that our books are published as e-books, this means that new South Asian writers now have access to a global audience, including the South Asian diaspora worldwide. Check us out at www.Indireads.com

What makes a good author for Indireads?

Indireads is looking for writers from South Asia who have an engaging writing style, and a good story to tell. I have a strong editorial team that can guide authors, so it is a great opportunity for a new writer who has done the necessary homework. A vast majority of the authors that we have on board right now are first-time writers who relish the opportunity to write for a global audience.

We are especially looking to engage with college students and encourage them to write. We are also very interested in reaching out to second and third generation youth and have them write stories about their lives and their views and put these books in front of an audience comprised of their peers.

How many books has Indireads published so far, how many more in the works?

Indireads has published 30 books so far, with another 25 in various stages of the editing and publishing process. Our initial offering is romance, but we will soon be adding other genres such as crime, mystery, thriller and paranormal. I am excited by the very strong stories that we have in the pipeline.

You can download the full anthology here.