Download, share or listen online to an excerpt from Andy Paula’s short story, Anjum.
Download, share or listen online to Mamun Adil read briefly from his story, That 70s Babe, published in Love Across Borders.
‘One Stupid Comment’ was a series of firsts for me. My first published work of fiction. My first attempt at dystopian romance. My first collaborative project. My first collaborative project with a Pakistani author. Any guesses why this story is so close to my heart?
When Saba suggested that we do a post-apocalyptic story, I was both excited and apprehensive. I had never handled the genre before. In fact, I hadn’t even read enough post-apocalyptic stuff to be writing anything at all. But Saba made it so much easier—she inaugurated the story and I just followed the cues. Writing fantasy fiction turned out to be more fun that I had imagined. There is nothing to limit you, no facts to hold you down and no logical reasoning to curb your creativity—it is almost like flying like a free bird.
We played it like a badminton match—writing a few hundred words each at a time, which left immense scope for twists, turns and surprises. Also, when you have a co-author as creative and talented as Saba, there is no dearth of inspiration and ideas.
My favorite aspect of the story is the way it seamlessly connects the past with the future, while the two protagonists grapple with realities of the present day. Our protagonists, both young people, represent the progressive youth of India and Pakistan who are willing to look beyond the boundary wall and extend a friendly hand to the neighbor. Readers might also enjoy the symbolism that has been used at different stages of the story to lend it a deeper meaning.
Working with a Pakistani didn’t feel a wee bit different from working with an Indian. Rather, our working relationship was steeped in comfort, trust, understanding and an open exchange of ideas—just the way it should be. I am extremely proud to be a part of an initiative that stands for peace and strives to bridge barriers using art and literature as a binding medium. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ may be an old, tired cliché, but is befitting nevertheless.
Shuchi Singh Kalra, India
One word capable of invoking so much inside me and my compatriots. Every time a soldier on the LoC dies—we hate Pakistan. Every time they ban our film—we pity Pakistan. Every time one of their artistes moves us with his/her creativity—we wish he had chosen India to live in. Every time their politician says rot about us—we curse him. Most of us can attribute these feelings to everything we have heard the news presenters say or have read in our newspapers.
So, in a nutshell, it’s a bitter-sweet relationship jo nibhaya bhi na jaaye or nibhaaye bina raha bhi na jaaye (can’t live with ’em, can’t live without them!).
I have had a different relationship with them. I have a strong opinion on everything that is political in nature but somewhere I had this crazy urge to see someone who lives in Pakistan from close. In my head I always wondered, how a normal person lives there? As in do they also wear nightsuits while sleeping? Do they eat out in restaurants and look at each other as to how much they should tip? Do they watch movies like we do in multiplexes and buy a bucket of popcorn in the interval? Do they walk on a busy street against the traffic or with it? Do they have bad hair days? Do they also crib about Monday blues? Yeah I know it sounds utterly obnoxious but I am like this for most of my fascinations (I have just two more—Celebrities and Times Square).
I guess if I had studied somewhere abroad, all these seemingly stupid enchantments would have been satisfied long ago. That didn’t happen and I built imaginary walls in my head which had its own notions of them being inaccessible and almost—aliens.
My first published work gave me a lot of things. But I never imagined it would give me a gateway to personal relationships with Pakistanis. My publisher is one and every time she called (although she lives in Canada), I would get butterflies in my stomach that I am about to hear a—”Hi Parul”—from a Pakistani. That definitely confirmed one thing—they address me like any other person from any other nationality would! Then came into existence a closed group on Facebook where all the authors were added. I could see a lot of names there which had Karachi/Islamabad/Lahore written underneath them. That was just too much excitement. And then came the real surprise! I got a ‘friend request’ from one of them. The world called Pakistan opened up in front of me. In pictures I saw, they have the same beds or sofas or parks or streets like I have in Delhi. And then I kept adding all the authors who kept sending requests. And now, I post a picture—they can see it. They write a status on their day-to-day life—I can read it! How cool is that?
The story that I have written for the Love Across Borders Anthology is really the culmination of my interactions this past year and a tribute to knowing the human side of Pakistan, who, I am now sure, aren’t two-headed monsters.
My maternal grandmother’s family used to live in Lahore but she never really talked about her life there; so growing up, my idea of Pakistan was what I read in the newspapers or saw on TV. Then I went to live abroad and for the first time met Pakistani families. Surprise! Surprise! They were just like us. We looked so much alike that non South Asians couldn’t even tell us apart. We spoke the same language. We enjoyed the same food. We saw the same Bollywood pot-boilers, listened to the same music. We had the same family values and shared similar dreams for the future of our children. Yes, we did not share a religion but that didn’t matter. It did not even come up once among us. We did talk of the differences in our cultures and there were some heated discussions but it remained right there and did not lead to bad feelings and broken relationships. We ate together and our children played together.
I wanted to bring this experience out in my writing. When we did not have all the media hype and nuances around us we could get past our negative affect and looked at each other as friends. There is a lot that divides us but there is so much more in common. I wanted to show the human side of our neighbor, far from the politics and warlike reports that we are wont to hear. An Independence Day should be about the people of that country, so should it be for both our countries. It should be about ‘US’.
Adiana Ray, India
Ansari Uncle, Shahana Aunty and Zehra lived in the same apartment building as ours. Downstairs, facing the open parking lot. Our apartment faced the vacant lot behind. We were from Kerala, a coastal state on the southernmost tip of India and they were from Karachi, Pakistan. We were foreigners together in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, where both my father as well as Ansari Uncle worked for a multi-national firm.
Zehra was a year elder to me. Five to my four. She was slim and had the loveliest, silkiest hair I had ever seen. She was soft-spoken and kind and really took care of her younger brother, Shoaib. Despite being elder to me, she would let me take the lead in our games, without the slightest protest. We went to different schools. But the afternoons were all about playing till we dropped—indoors, outdoors, pretty much everywhere. As we grew afternoons were also to exchange stories about teachers and our best friends in class and annoying boys.
There were no boundaries—neither touchable nor perceived. And being based so far away from the sub-continent, our young minds had been spared from being conditioned to grieve over past hurts and perceived slights. We were just friends with no other baggage.
The whole family would come over for Onam and Vishu and other Malayali festivals that my parents diligently celebrated. Eid would be all about the special delicacies Shahana aunty made. My mouth waters at the mere memory of it. And then in 1994, the call of the motherland became impossible to ignore and we decided to go back and settle down in India.
I was leaving behind the people I had known for the first ten years of my life. But I was excited to go back and with the undamped optimism of childhood, I believed I would still, somehow be in touch with Zehra and Shoaib and everyone else.
As I write this in 2013, I’m still looking for Zehra and her family. Even in the era of Facebook, where I have reconnected with friends from my school in Muscat, I’ve still not found Zehra. I wish I had more to key in while searching for her than just, ‘Zehra Ansari, Muscat/Pakistan’. I wonder if she remembers me, and whether she is single or married, in Pakistan or overseas.
Wherever she is, I hope that like me, she too still remembers me just as a neighbour and a friend, free from the restraints of invisible and tangible boundaries. The story that I have jointly written with Naheed Hassan, in this anthology, is dedicated to you, Zehra. It comes from the place that you and your family still hold in my mind. And it is written hoping that there will always be a generation of friends like us, to whom borders will mean nothing.
When Indireads asked me if I was interested in writing a short story for an anthology that focused on the India-Pakistan theme, I was more than happy to jump on board. I tried my hand at two or three different plots, but it was a romance that finally turned out to be the best fit.
Neha, an Indian, and Riyaz, a Pakistani, meet at Changi Airport in Singapore, while they are en route to Mumbai. Sparks fly (the good kind), and Riyaz insists they should forge ahead, but Neha is troubled by the rift that divides their countries. Later, Neha decides that matters of the heart cannot be impeded by lines on a map and tells Riyaz that she wants to meet him. However, their hopes of a happy reunion are thwarted when the Taj, where Riyaz is staying, is bombed in a terrorist attack. Whether their romance is burnt to cinders, or if they meet again is the crux of the plot.
The idea of getting the characters to meet at the airport of a country foreign to both appealed because Indians and Pakistanis are often a lot friendlier when they meet on grounds away from both homes. I wanted to stress the notion of how, when you strip away the burden of social restrictions, bonds can be forged a lot more easily. I wove in the Taj Hotel bombing (2008) to show that such attacks claim the lives of people—no matter which country’s passport they hold. Above all, I wanted to write a story that touched on differences, but in a way that sought to highlight that they are largely in our minds.
I hope you enjoy reading this story, and all others included in this anthology.
Download, share, or listen online to Shuchi Kalra and myself talk about writing ‘One Stupid Comment’ – one of the stories in the Love Across Borders anthology.
A brief excerpt from ‘Remnants of a Rainy Day’. This is a short story published in the ‘Love Across Borders’ anthology.
Romeo, in my short story, An Unlikely Romeo, is based on a young man I met in Vienna, while I was helping my husband, Saachi, film a documentary on human smuggling. The boy—he was little more—we met and interviewed over the space of several visits intrigued me. He had experienced so many horrors and so much rejection ever since he set out to cross continents that he had to cocktail nicotine, whisky and doda (poppy heads) to be able to sleep. Yet, he retained an innocent enthusiasm for life that was infectious—and touching. He stayed on in my head, long after the film was finished and released.
When I was asked to write a story for Indireads’ Love Across Borders anthology, the Vienna boy popped up in my head and refused to go away. I thought of his life and I thought I had to write about the futility of borders. People draw borders, but people cannot be confined within borders. Borders lose meaning when necessity and need draw people together.
My protagonists, Nafisa and Romeo, are underdogs, outcasts, rejects of their families, but they are determined to carry on. It no longer matters to them from across which border help and succor reach them. Survival is all. And in the game of survival, any hand that offers help is welcome.