E-publisher Naheed Hassan tells how a collection of stories by Indian and Pakistani authors focuses on connections between people of the divided nations
Political borders remind one of something Ramakrishna Paramahansa said. “God laughs on two occasions,” he is said to have told his disciples — and one of these is when two brothers pull a string across a plot of land, claiming ownership of one side each! The lines drawn on paper maps seem sometimes so much at odds with common sense as to be comic, but when, as in the case of India and Pakistan, they blight the daily lives and loves of ordinary human beings who were never consulted when they were being drawn, there is not much to laugh at. Yet life has a way of going on. And it goes on, not only in shades of desolate grey, hate-filled black and violent red, but in hopeful yellow, romantic rose, humorous white, springtime green and a whole spectrum of hues that refuse to be confined by hardline ideologies. Indireads, a Toronto-based e-publishing house started in early 2012, is tapping this spectrum through its latest online publication, “Love Across Borders”.
A peace initiative, the anthology contains stories that concentrate on the relationships and similarities between people living in India and Pakistan. By writing stories about ordinary folks, targeted at ordinary readers, the individuals behind “Love Across Borders” hope to give a fresh perspective to the conundrum of India and Pakistan — twins separated at birth, so to speak, and still paying for it. The creative mindspace has so far been dominated by an intense chronicling of loss, separation, war and suffering, feels Indireads founder Naheed Hassan. While not denying this tragic fallout of history but by offering narratives that look at the lives of citizens today, focusing on what makes them all human despite the differences of nationality, Naheed and her team remind us of two verities often ignored in warscapes around the world: that a changed reality is sourced in a change of hearts, and that the power of art can be leveraged to catalyse such transformation.
The stories in the e-book are all new, unpublished works, says Naheed. “They have been contributed for free by authors who felt drawn to this particular project and are passionate about effecting change through their writing.”
On how these authors were selected, she says, “The overriding criterion for us was to find stories that will resonate with a younger audience — in terms of author’s voice, writing style and content. This is intentional on two counts. Firstly, we strongly believe that the change in hearts and minds that is necessary for peace has the best probability of starting within the relatively younger generation. Through this collection, we wanted to ensure that generation is being spoken to by writers from the relatively younger lot, rather than preached to by their elders — we already have a lot of that. Secondly, the focus of the anthology is on connections between the common people across both sides of the border, and we felt that writers who are still making their mark would be better placed to empathise, and tell these stories, in a relatively easy language.”
Indireads’ first set of books — “30 original novellas by approximately 25 young writers from across the subcontinent” — was released in June this year. “Our initial offering is romance,” says Naheed, “but we will soon be adding other genres such as crime, mystery, thriller and paranormal.”
It is tough enough to write a good story. But when there is an underlying aim, howsoever noble, doing a quality job becomes that much tougher. Were the authors given any guidelines? “The only guideline given to the authors 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 they are placed in, but we encouraged stories about how the human spirit overcomes all obstacles to connect,” says the publisher. “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.”
In countries like India and Pakistan, publishing an e-book has its advantages, emphasising that readers are free from borders. “Indireads is an e-books online publisher focused on the South Asian market, both at home and abroad,” says Naheed. “Our focus is bringing South Asian literature to wider audiences, and that is where the inspiration for this initiative came from — the ability for the digital platform to transcend borders. We also feel that the younger generation today is much more comfortable with digital media and e-books, and we strongly feel that it is the newer generations that need to be reached with messages of hope and connection. Finally, social media and marketing today is able to have a much wider impact and outreach than the traditional marketing through bookstores and distribution channels. With the possibility of viral sharing and viewing, the sky becomes the limit — which for an initiative like this is exactly what is required, today and going forward.”
Not every reader has access to a personal computer and the internet in India and Pakistan. But Indireads has not planned to print it as a conventional book as of now, says Naheed, adding, “If the response is good, we can consider it for next year.”
Speaking of printed books, ours is a region notorious for burning and banning books. Did she ever feel a need to take precautions, or to be ‘politically correct’ in selecting stories, given the climate of strident Right wing mischief mongering that so often disrupts cultural discourse, creative freedom and efforts at reconciliation between the two nations? “No, we did not. Authors were free to choose stories that they wanted to tell, as long as their stories were compelling and about the present rather than the past. Other than that, they were not given any precautions or guidance. In our estimation it is at times like this, with all the jingoism around us that we need to tell and spread the narratives about human connections even more forcefully.”
“Love Across Borders” is available on the internet as a free ebook from August 14 /15