Resilient, Beautiful Butterflies

In literature and in life, the themes I connect to most strongly—perhaps because they echo the story of my life—are those of discovery and freedom, leading inevitably to disconnection, displacement and eventually to new beginnings. The themes are a familiar literary backdrop, revisited again and again in love stories, novels and movies.

Why are these commonly recurring themes? And what makes them so powerful? The answer lies, I believe, in the trajectory of life. We are perpetually pitched into the unfamiliar, jolted out of our comfort zones and asked to move, with times that are a-changing. And no matter how much we kick or scream or resist, willingly, or unwillingly, we are continually poised on the brink of letting go of something old to find something new. And so, when we read about it, we relate to the fear and sympathize with the unfairness, and inevitability of it all.

Our newest release, Butterfly Season, launched this month, touches on these themes in the life of a thirty-something Pakistani woman Rumi, who is blithely and unsuspectingly on vacation in London for the first time in ten years. The spirited side of her, squashed by family and cultural dictates, wakes up and causes Rumi to act on impulse, to let go and to fall in love—until reality catches up with her in the form of her moralistic sister, who brings her face to face with the far-reaching consequences of her actions.

What strikes me, ironically enough, is that, although Rumi believes herself to be an emancipated modern woman, how hemmed in and closely scrutinized her life actually is. Although she is independent, employed at an unconventional job and is able to invite her friends over for breakout evenings on her rooftop, beyond these small incursions, Rumi is not really free to venture out and discover what she wants in life. It is her vacation that grants her the freedom to discover, to explore and to experience the heady power of being attractive to an attractive man.

It is telling that for so many of us, the process of going away may be the only means of coming alive and coming home to oneself. For so many South Asian women the disconnect has been linked to marriage—the end of the old and the beginning of a new life. More and more young women however, are able to choose other paths. To begin offbeat careers, to work or study away from home, to travel, to break boundaries, forge new paths, to explore and discover and find ourselves, as individuals, unconnected to family, tradition, or relationships.

Ultimately however, like Rumi, each of us is challenged to choose between old and new, and at that precise moment of choice and courage, we are rebirthed—free of our cocoons, to venture forth into a new life.

Here is to all of us—beautiful, resilient butterflies.


Only in the unfamiliar are we able to distance ourselves to recognize who we have become, and what we really wanted to be.


She Reads, South Asia

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!


Romance, South Asian Ishtyle

I don’t think I will ever forget watching movies as a child and seeing the hero and the heroine disappear behind a tree or under an umbrella. As a child I always wondered what they were doing under there, and the focus on the bee pollinating the rose that inevitably followed never really helped me.

Till recently, the umbrella principle largely held for us as a society. We asked Choli ke Peeche Kiya Hai? and got the disingenuous Choli Mein Dil Hai Mera as the disappointing answer. However, it seems we as a society have finally arrived at the point that we can be trusted with more daring—and factual—answers.

We see love scenes being written in great detail in books, not just couples going to bed and waking up bathed in an after-sex pre-glow. Movies are featuring one-night stands and bedroom scenes and even some TV shows are adding in some mirch and masala close-ups.

rsaishtyleSo does this advance the cause of romance in our part of the world? I don’t know. It is a breath of fresh air to see sexuality up close and not left in the realm of ‘those books’ and ‘art’ movies. And yet, sometimes it feels like a collective loss of innocence on our part. Does the longing of the couple for their wedding night lose its charm if they are already co-habiting? Can clumsy embraces and stolen kisses be more titillating than overt sexual encounters?

I feel that in all mediums—books, television and films—the characters and the stories should drive the romance and intimacy. It would probably be unrealistic to expect a modern urban couple to simper and act coy. It is, however, equally off-putting to see a woman with strong values suddenly jumping into bed because a sex scene is the demand of the hour.

Romance comes in all packages, shy and sweet, bold and explorative and sizzling hot. It is up to the storyteller to take the reader by the hand and make her experience the romance, so that in each form, it is the natural conclusion, neither forced nor ridiculous. That, to me, is the true essence of romance.


Built-in Conflicts of a South Asian Romance

In the midst of editing novellas for Indireads, it occurred to me that one of the biggest differences between South Asian romances and Western romances is the conflict a writer must create in order to add spice to a story.

Western romances are often built up around external conflicts, like ex-girlfriends (or exes in general), step-children, distance, work, or misconceptions. There are standard romance stories where the hero thinks the worst of the heroine when the novel starts off, only to fall in love as he gets to know her; once they’re past this first stage, there’s usually an ex lurking the background, ready to make mischief. There are, no doubt, many exceptions to this broad generalization (have at it!), and top romance novelists continue to prove their talent by coming up with new scenarios for their unique characters.

I think, however, that South Asia has a HUGE advantage over the West when it comes to obstacles that our storybook heroes must overcome. Romantic conflicts are built into our lives.

Let’s start with the very first obstacle in many of our societies—where, oh where, do our protagonists meet? Just getting them alone in a room together is potentially a series of hurdles and undercover maneuvers.  Then, there’s the problem of them continuing to meet—our authors have to be extremely inventive (and sometimes, coincidences just have to take over) in order to circumvent public taboos on dating (which reminds me of a particularly nasty anchor on a Pakistani TV channel who made it her mission to expose young couples hanging out in public parks. Thankfully, after immense public pressure, she scrapped that mission).

There are extended families to be worried about, meddling mothers-in-law, jealous sisters-in-law (referring to the spouse’s sister, or nand and sali), pesky neighbors and righteous religious figures. Our issues span a vast range of possible sources of conflict, including cross-community relationships, sex outside of marriage, single women living alone, relationships without parental consent, forced marriages, ‘green card or no green card’—which has its own dilemmas—and the expectations of an entire nation on how a relationship should be conducted.

We have all the ingredients available for epic love stories. Now all we need is our own Shaikh Peer to hit the jackpot!

Journal News & Events

South Asia’s Summer of Love

summerofloveYou’ve all read and watched the love stories of the west: from Mills&Boons’ romances to Pretty Woman, romance is saturated with rich, debonair men falling for feisty women.

Day by day, however, South Asian culture and lifestyles have permeated the western world. From daily yoga sessions to a new breed of musicals, the subcontinent has already left its mark.

And opened a door for Indireads.

Indireads provides a platform for lovers everywhere to commune with, partake of and enjoy storytellers from the Subcontinent. This isn’t simply a matter of switching Nick and Diana for Nikhil and Daniya. Indireads has big ambitions and formulaic literature is not a part of that.

South Asia combined constitutes a sixth of the world’s population, and we know the world is curious. So we’ve built an impressive community of authors, and we’re bringing South Asia to you.

Our Summer of Love is just beginning. With thirty romantic novellas in our bookstore, Indireads has a wide selection of books for all ages, for women, for young girls, and even a couple for men. The books are affordable and easily read on a variety of devices.

On June 12, 2013, we’ll be announcing a series of promotions for our new readers. This will be your best chance to scoop up your favorite books and start a new collection of your favorite authors. Leave your reviews, rate the books, come back and try another.  Let us know what kind of stories you’re looking for, what you think of our heroes and heroines, and at the end of the day, subscribe to our newsletter so that you can keep up with our regular offers.

If you know nothing about your neighboring countries, about the cultures and traditions of South Asia, you’ll be richer for the experience.

See you on the 12th!