My journey to appreciating South Asian writing was a rather circuitous one.
While growing up I read widely and eclectically, which is another way of saying that I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on. At that time, familiarity with the classics was considered essential for the well-read person, so my father enthusiastically supported my love of reading by buying me the unabridged works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, to name a few. The longer it had been since the author had died, the better.
By the time I went off to college, I considered myself quite well-read. Unfortunately, my knowledge of South Asian literature was next to nothing. This is something that I have tried to remedy as I have grown older and wiser, at least in terms of fiction from the sub-continent written in English. From Vikram Seth to Arundhati Roy, from Salman Rushdie to Mohsin Hamid to the wonderful Chitra Divakaruni and Kiran Desai, I discovered and fell in love with the writers and their craft. And then I branched beyond the award winners and discovered delightfully evocative fiction written by the likes of Anuja Chauhan, Advaita Kala and Rupa Gulab, who have become some of my favorite South Asian popular women writers.
As I started discussing my reading likes and dislikes with friends, I was surprised at how common my journey had been. Most of my friends had read the classics, but many of them had never even heard of enormously evocative writers like Indu Sundaresan or Anjana Appachana.
A few years ago, when I started on the Indireads journey, I was equally surprised to see how many in my reading circles had favorite Western romance writers—Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Sophie Kinsella and Judith McNaught et al, but when it came to South Asian romance, most of my women reader friends were just not interested. Slowly I came to realize that, by design, accident or choice, we know very little about the amazing writing talent that lives and thrives within our own region. It is hard to be an author anywhere in the world, but to be an author in South Asia, and that too a writer of ‘women’s fiction’, can be quite a challenge.
SheReads South Asia was conceived as an initiative to allow ourselves to be inspired by these writers and to celebrate their words. Motivated by 2014 being celebrated as the Year of Reading Women and building on the success of the #ReadWomen2014 campaign, SheReads South Asia will reach out to women readers, encouraging them to support, discover and engage with our very own South Asian women writers and their works.
Through SheReads, Sabahat and I hope to make the journey of discovery easier for many readers.
Over the years, I have also been drawn towards spirituality, and there, the masters point out how the discovery of oneself is a long, winding road. Maybe the path to discovering yourself, your roots and your stories, was never meant to be straight either. The journey may be long and circuitous but we hope SheReads South Asia will take out at least a few bends on the road, allowing you and us to get ‘home’ faster. May the journey begin!