A UNIQUE new book is set to take South Asia by storm as it addresses burning issues such as love, death, rape and religion in the developing sub-continent.
Divided by partition, war and politics, but united by creativity and common humanity, Asian Voices has brought together 20 emerging writers from across the region to shine a light on their diverse societies.
In 37,000 words, across 260 pages, the contributors paint graphic pictures in poetry and prose of issues which divide and unite people in their respective countries of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The book is divided into 10 sections: Darkness, Light, Love, Loss, Heaven, Hell, Life, Death, War and Peace.
And it is within these sections that the diverse Asian Voices can be heard.
With an infant mortality rate of 4.4% in India and 6.1% in Pakistan (the UK rate is 0.28%) and an adult death rate of 31% and 21% respectively (UK rate 10.3%) – an even higher rate in war-torn Afghanistan – it is hardly surprising that the issue of death features strongly.
Mortality is dealt with sensitively by the Asian Voices writers in at least three sections of the book.
This extract on coping with grief by Lahore based writer Shahreen Iftikhar is an example:
“They say, there are five stages of grief;
I got stuck in denial, with no reasons to heal.
Is this what life is; scribbles on an empty sheet?
Making no sense, just filling the voids of our being?
I said to myself: ‘To Hell with all this grieving and the misery.
It’s time for me to let go of all the tragedies.’
All I had to do was believe.
That is all it took for me to heal.”
All countries in South Asia live under different degrees of social patriarchy and this is reflected in the treatment of women.
Rape is the third most common crime against women in India.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012. Out of these, 24,470 (98%) were committed by someone known to the victim. And many more rapes go unreported.
Similarly, physical abuse, house-arrest imprisonment and even bride-burning (now illegal) also go largely unreported.
One of the Asian Voices writers, Janvi from Jaipur has already made a name for herself in calling out for social reform.
This extract speaks volumes:
And then one day we decide to raise our voice
But again, this society shut us by claiming it as useless noise.
The politicians and the media cry that they worship women and cow!
Is this a way of worshipping? But How?
As our wails grow louder and louder about the demons residing in our own town
They paint henna on our hands and send us off to an unknown place, looking like a clown.
Wondering that this was not the life that we were destined to live, we decide to put an end
And here you go, creating loads of new monsters and making it Trend.
We are sacrificing ourselves from centuries just so that you know
And here you go, treating us again like the trash that you throw.
We’ve had enough, being the sacrificed Goddess
Next time we’ll turn this country into a bloody mess.
Religion also resonates within the pages of the book.
India is home to at least nine recognised religions, and while Islam dominates in Pakistan, there are also significant minorities of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadi, and even more diversity in Afghanistan.
So the sections on Life, Heaven and Hell deal with each writer’s views of spirituality and faith.
This piece by 16-year-old Shaheeba from Sibsagar touches many pulses:
How could she survive further?
When her life resided in this heart rate.
Though not here, but in Heaven
They merged to a single soul
Whenever their love tale was evoked
It started raining
Dripping all with pure love.
This flooded the river of love
Which immersed both the fragments of the hamlet
With the virtue of love.
There was love everywhere
Flowing in the winds of hamlet
Residing in the lifeless soil
Felt in the arms of the mother
And in the oneness with God.
Some souls are united in Heaven.
Some stories are plenary despite being partial.
The one thing which binds all the writers together is the eternal subject of Love.
For centuries the Indian sub-continent has given birth to some of the world’s greatest love poets. And they continue to emerge as we enter 2019.
This poem by Agathaa Shelling of Ahmedabad, explores that deepest of all human emotions:
You’re the sanctified sacrament in the shrine of love. I’ll devour you and I’ll become pious forever.
Yes, I’m an atheist and there’s only one religion that I practise. That’s love. And there’s only one deity from whom I receive my hymn… it’s you.
And if this is not love. I don’t know what it is. A little bit of fall in your summer. A little bit of rains in your spring. Sunshine in your winters. And a chilly gust of wind in scorching heat.
“There was once a king of verses. Power were his words. Mightier than any sword. And then there was a queen of metaphors. Deep were her rhymes. Deeper than any ocean.
He weaved a tiara out of his words and she sharpened his sword out of hers.
And that’s how they announced their love, with poetry.”
Minnie Rai, a writer and 26-year-old refugee from Kabul, who now lives in London, sums up the ethos of Asian Voices: “We don’t become by knowing… we become by doing.
“It is in the present we live and share diversity from within outwards. Through love and death we learn the language of war within us that separates us from the truth that sits beside our heart. When we share that truth, we become one… Asian Voices,” she adds.
- Asian Voices will be published in both paperback and Kindle e-book in February.