My historical novella, currently called MEHRUNISSA, will be serialized in the Sri Lankan weekly The Sunday Observer from next week. This is the story of the eponymous Anglo-Muslim girl, caught on the cusp of major changes at the turn of the century. The Raj is in full swing in Lahore, WW I is on the horizon, the Khilafat abolished, nationalism is newly awakened and along with it all rage personal trials and vendettas against a matriarch, who will never accept Mehrunissa as her blood. Mehru is a ‘new woman’ and she isn’t going to take it lying down, even if it means a marriage of vengeance to a decidedly handsome man. But Mehru cannot afford to have a susceptible heart. Her goal is revenge and if Jamal is in the line of fire, so be it…
Read the introduction of Mehrunissa in The Sunday Observer SL here
A huge thank you to Bravebird Publications for featuring my novellas Haveli and The Contract. Bravebird publications is interested in strong yet feminine women and Chandni a.k.a C., and Shahira are just that kinda gals! Find the feature here
About Bravebird Publishing:
Bravebird is a boutique publishing company interested in women’s fiction. They’re interested in stories of women with courage and strength. They provide author services including cover design, copy editing, story editing and more. www.bravebirdpublishing.com
Magical Realism and the post-colonial literary tradition seem to be inextricably inter-twined; and hurray for that! Unsettled is a fascinating read that inscribes a world full of magic, magical creatures and of course the most magical of all things: love.
The plot seems to be simple enough and then Neelima Vinod, the writer of Unsettled, skillfully reveals a story spanning centuries, a long forgotten Royal Court and a contemporary couple seeking marriage counseling. Their journey is complex and wrought with fear and doubt, but then which journey of the heart isn’t? The pursuit of love is a dangerous gamble. The Yakshi, though the antagonist, a restless ghost still looking for lost love, wreaking vengeance, is somehow the most memorable character. The love of a mother and how it can even transcend boundaries of time and death is heart-wrenchingly portrayed here. It was the story of the poet and the Yakshi that holds the reader’s attention. The parts of the story concerning the modern era and the couple seeking therapy was less well-defined I felt.
However, this is a wonderful addition to the oeuvre of South Asian writing.
From the supernatural, to the contemporary Indian ethnic prejudices, to true love; it is a journey that has the reader entranced till the very last page. Wonderful lyrical prose, characters that leave an imprint on your heart and mind and the weaving of an extraordinary tale are the hallmarks of Neelima’s work. The novella takes the reader on a trip to the mysterious and ancient heart of India that has fascinated the world from time immemorial. One can almost feel the presence of the Kamasutra in the erotically charged poetic rendition of this dark and passionate romance.
Neelima Vinod is definitely a name to watch.
As we approach the beginning of the new school year, No Dead White Men welcomes into its fold a new MFA cohort. Today, we have great news from one of our upcoming MFAs, Faiqa Mansab. She tells NDWM:
“I have recently been published under the pseudonym Zeenat Mahal by Indireads, an e-publishing venture that has taken on new writers from South Asia. Indireads itself is new, and is run by Naheed Hassan, a Harvard graduate who wanted to read South Asian romance, chick-lit, mystery and other genres. Two of my romance novellas, Haveli and The Contract, were published this May and can be found on the Indireads website.
When I started writing romance, many of my Western friends and colleagues asked me, so how is South Asian romance different? My initial responses involved the usual themes: big families, their everyday involvement in all things, arranged marriages, class and ethnic differences. However, after having published two novellas and having had them reviewed, I’ve begun to understand that there are many more dissimilarities that I hadn’t considered before.
The world is interested in South Asian culture and our stories. Yay, for that. However, social taboos and how they’re handled in our part of the world differs immensely from the West. Sometimes there can be huge gaps in understanding. What is perceived as virtue may not be regarded as such in the West, rather as a handicap or as primitive. Modesty, for example, is considered a virtue in both men and women in Islam. In many parts of South Asia, in fact. I don’t just mean not showing skin, but also for instance wearing loose maternity clothes that hide the ‘bump’, rather than showing it off as the ‘essential accessory’. It doesn’t mean that we’re ashamed, it just means we’re unalike.
Honor is tied with behaviour. The opinion of the community matters because we’re still bound as communities in Chawls, and mohallas, ethnic groups, and sub-cultures. Like the ancient Greeks, we have strict laws of hospitality, breaking them would be unthinkable. Beggars, eunuchs, street children are so much part of our consciousness, it may appear that we write about them unconsciously, perhaps even jadedly. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re indifferent to their plight. It demonstrates how disparate our worlds are actually. Ours is a developing world, still struggling with post-colonialism and partitions. It’s a world where little girls get shot in the head because they want proper schooling. It’s a world where criminals often go scot-free because they know a general or two. It’s a world where half the women don’t even report sexual assault. Rape is a four letter word that somehow brings shame not to the perpetrator, but the victim. Even though we condemn the rapist and sympathise with the victim, it’s still something we’re learning to address in a healthy way.
In the West, people are very aware of their rights. In South Asia, rights are relative. It’s something others ‘give’ us. This is a delicate issue with as many heads as a Hydra. There’s the gender politics, of course but there’s also the rich/poor and literate/illiterate divide. The former in both categories are more aware of their rights and their civil duties. The latter fighting for survival, think human rights is just a fancy phrase NGOs use.
One of my novellas has marital rape as part of the plot-line. I wanted to highlight marital abuse and show that women could still have a healthy relationship. I focused on the heroine’s response to the abuse and how she copes with it. I felt that it wasn’t the hero’s battle but hers, so how he responded to the revelation wasn’t important. It was how he responded to her that mattered. His only reaction to her had to be of love and desire, because I was trying to prove the point that other men can still find a rape victim, a divorced woman, the mother of another man’s child, attractive and desirable. Acceptance of rape victims in society by men is not as hard in the West, as it is in our society.
Western readers may not understand certain cultural constraints. In fact they might even be misunderstood for something else entirely. South Asian men differ from their Western counterparts. For one, I think they’re far more sensitive than the average Western male, thanks to the close matriarchal relationship they benefit from. Also, South Asian men will not address sexual assault on their wives and sisters without the burden of shame because they share the pain and horror of it with them. Their honor is tied to their women, and again that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when those same men will kill those women because they choose to fall in love. There are other considerations. I write romances for heterosexual women in mind . For a lesbian reader, my heroes would probably be harsh and cruel because I portray them according to the demands of the genre, so they’re very confident alphas. Janice Radway, details the demands of the genre rather well in her book, Reading the Romance.
Today, writers are aware of many demands like safe sex. There are no longer sex-scenes without the mention of condoms. In fact, Susan Elizabeth Phillips usually has a line or two thrown in about safe sex for good measure just before the hero is about to seduce the heroine. It’s the hero who usually takes responsibility for that and is her mouthpiece.
As a South Asian romance writer, religion, social mores, tradition and culture are a huge part of my stories and I try to integrate these with the modern world that has ended up having a very Westernised sensibility. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. However, I’m a writer trying to make a niche for my unique perspective. I have no desire to lose my pluralistic, hybrid point of view, to a Westernised cookie-cut vision, and that means that sometimes there’ll be things I write that the Western reader will not understand. Pre-marital sex is still an issue in South Asia, perhaps not in metropolitan cities, but largely it is taboo. Will I handle it the same way a Western romance writer does? Of course not. Difference is good. Different is interesting.
As Chinua Achebe has so wisely and eloquently said, “Let every people bring their gifts to the great festival of the world’s cultural harvest and mankind will be the richer for the variety and distinctiveness of the offerings.”
The title of Haveli comes from my ancestral home, my grandfather’s haveli, which still stands in Mian Mir, near Upper Mall, in Lahore and though it’s no longer the way it used to be when we lived there, it’s still a poignant reminder of those halcyon childhood days. Bi Amma is inspired by my fabulous autocratic grandmother.
The story of Bi Amma and her granddaughter, the last reminders of a by-gone age, germinated in part when I visited Bahawalpur two years ago. Bahawalpur is also a Nawab State which ceded to Pakistan in 1957. The last Nawab of Bahawlpur, Sir Sadiq, is still revered in the area. People are loyal to his memory though he’s been dead for nearly two decades. I visited the palaces and was fascinated by the craftsmanship in architecture, masonry and design. There is so much beauty that is still evident in the landmarks of the city. I patterned the fictional Jalalabad on Bahawalpur, which rests at the lip of Cholistan. The grandeur of the desert, the music and poetry of the place and its people was just so enchanting that I felt compelled to write a story around this little-known bit of history and culture of Pakistan.
Indireads, the brand new South Asian e-publishing venture that features South Asian writers is featuring one of my novellas, HAVELI today and tomorrow. Indireads is breaking many barriers and many misconceived notions about South Asian writers and writing. You’ll see romance, chick-lit, paranormal, murder, mystery and historicals. Haveli, is set in the historical and very happening era of 1970s in Pakistan. Although, the princely state the story unfolds in is fictional, it is based on Bahawalpur. Bahawalpur was one of the most powerful and rich states of Indo-Pak sub-continent. One of the four wives of the Nawab, Sir Muhammed Sadiq Khan Abbasi V was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth of England.