Aysha Baqir in conversation with Koi Kye Lee

Aysha Baqir [Photo]
Aysha Baqir
Aysha Baqir, is an author with  mission, vision and commitment. A development consultant in Singapore, she was born and raised in Pakistan. She has recently launched her powerful, debut novel titled Beyond the Fields. Growing up in Pakistan, it was not a norm for parents to send their daughters to colleges abroad. But for Aysha, things were different as her parents agreed when she won a scholarship to pursue her studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her university experience sparked her passion for development and Aysha chose to return to Pakistan where she discovered that girls and women in villages needed access to economic resources before they could voice their demands for social justice.

She founded Kaarvan Crafts Foundation in 1998, shortly after completing her MBA. A pioneering economic development not-for-profit organisation, Kaarvan Crafts Foundation, is focused on poverty alleviation through the provision of business development and market-focused trainings for girls and women. Aysha headed the foundation until 2013 when she relocated to Singapore. She is a member of the Singapore Writers Group since August 2013 and is currently working on her second novel.

Kye Lee: Your debut novel, Beyond the Fields, is hauntingly beautiful. How did the idea come about for this book? What moved your muse? Had you ever written before? Did any writers, films or art have anything to do with it?

IMG_0480Aysha: Beyond the Fields is the story about a young village girl called Zara. Zara is carefree – she has dreams, she wants to study, and wants to become someone important. She loves kairis (raw mangoes); so, she disobeys her mother and steals into the orchard. And then on one ordinary day, Zara’s twin sister, Tara, the one she is closest to in the whole wide world, is kidnapped from the fields while they are playing a game of hide and seek and raped.

Having worked in the villages of Punjab in Pakistan for over fifteen years, I wanted to show the plight of village girls and women. Thousands of girls and women are assaulted each year and the abuse continues without any substantial family, community, or legal support. And, just not in Pakistan, but across cultures and continents.

I deliberately set the story under Zia-ul-Haq’s regime.  I was twelve years old when my mother dragged me to a march called by WAF or Women’s Action Forum. Being an introverted teenager who studied in American School, I didn’t want to go. But my mother insisted saying it was important for me to see what was happening in our country.

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Reviewed by Koi Kye Lee

Pakistan Independence Day Special

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Title: Beyond the Fields

Author: Aysha Baqir

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish (2019)

Beyond the Fields is an impressive and poignant debut novel from the Pakistani writer, Aysha Baqir, who also founded the Kaarvans Crafts Foundation to provide business development and market-focused training for women in her country.

Baqir centres her narrative around grief and family bond and then expands into a macrocosm of larger issues. The story starts with a young teenage girl’s harrowing life changing journey from a remote village in Punjab to the big city of Lahore. It was Zara’a first trip out of her remote village in Bahawalpur, a district in Southern Punjab. She has a mission to complete — she needs to rescue her twin. Born to a poor, landless farmer, Zara was inseparable from her twin sister, Tara, and their elder brother Omer.

Growing up in a village, Zara and Tara are already at a disadvantage in life. Living in an agrarian society, where acres of land are controlled by big land owners, the girls are not allowed to go to school unlike their brother Omer. They are also not allowed to pursue dreams which will give them independence as their fate is determined by their parents, especially their father, whom they refer to as ‘Abba’.

Rare studio photograph of Mahatma Gandhi taken in London England UK at the request of Lord Irwin 1931
Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi opposed the Partition that came as an edging of  India’s Independence movement. In 1947, he told Rajendra Prasad,”, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Rajendra Prasad went on to become the first President of India and the pacifist father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot by Nathuram Godse, the fanatic Hindu nationalist. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, gave in to the Partition as he saw it as a necessary step to accommodate the growing divisions with Jinnah, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the Muslim League.

Urdu with the Nastaliq script was adopted as the national language of Pakistan and Hindi written the Devanagari script became the national language of India.

Hindi and Urdu both started as dialects of Hindustani. Both the dialects continued to diverge both linguistically, politically and culturally. Hindi drew words from Sanskrit, and Urdu from Arabic, Persian and Chagatai, an extinct Turkic language. Culturally, Urdu was associated with Muslims and Hindi with Hindus.

By Mitali Chakravarty

Three Idiots, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and  Crazy Rich Asians have made history in cinema and they started out as mere books, Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Ahmad and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

Bhagat was cited by The New York Times as “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” and was also included in the Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Ahmad’s book made it big not just in its own rights, climbing up to #4 on the The New York Times Bestseller list and winning multiple awards and accolades, the film catapulted his book as one that addressed humanitarian concerns and won the German film award for peace and at least five more international awards. Kwan also made it to the Times list of the hundred most influential people and was named as “five writers to watch” on the ‘Hollywood’s Most Powerful Authors’ in The Hollywood Reporter. Their cinematic launches helped them make it huge!

But did you ever wonder how their books made it to the big screen? How did they sell their film rights? And as an author, what all should you be looking out for when you sell your book’s film rights?

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Siddharth Jain

Today, we meet the man who can help authors evade controversies and make it from books to movies… He is the man who has made it a business to help writers sell their books to film-makers. Meet Siddharth Jain, the founder of The Story Ink (TSI), India’s first story company for premium content for screen. It is also “India’s No.1 Book to Screen Adaptation Company” and has sold the adaptation rights of almost 70 books to Producers/Studios in India. It is now expanding its footprint by solving the story problem for Indian regional language content producers and international producers, who are searching for local stories for global audiences.

TSI was founded in April 2018 by Jain who had earlier worked for India’s largest OTT (over the top) — Hotstar.com (now acquired by Disney from Fox), iRock Films, Adlabs Films (Reliance Entertainment), Hyperion Studio — Los Angeles and Baazee.com (Ebay India). In a recent  interview with scroll.in , Jain said that five years from now he sees himself “reading a book a day” and curating great stories for films.  In this exclusive interview, he explains how books are made into films… through options agreements.

 

Kitaab: What do you mean by an options agreement?

The acclaimed book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin propounded that peace could be had through education. That was published in 2007, remained on the New York Times best seller list for four years, won the Kiriyama Prize, given for creating better understanding among people and nations, and then the book was drowned in a flood of controversy.

Perhaps Mortenson’s  is  a voice that can be used to showcase what this new library is doing in Darra Adam Khel, a small town near Peshawar that makes its living by trading and making weapons in Pakistan.

The Darra Adam Khel Library houses 2500 books and was built only last year.  Says the founder of the library , Shahnawaz Zeb : “Times are changing and we should change too…We need to take the guns away from our younger generation and arm them with books instead.”

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I

MV Red Fin was a very small ship. She was also a very old ship. As soon as the wave swell hit medium, she would start to make ungodly sounds — as if she were breaking. More often than not she had taken her crew to the brink of disaster. She was a problem child, but that’s what made her so special. Like any difficult ship, she was very close to her crew’s hearts. The crew took pleasure in the feeling of being the only ones who could resist her every whim… who could understand her mind. It was an unwilling compromise. They tried to keep her happy; she tried to keep them safe. The crew comprised of twenty men with Captain Mohandass in command.

Captain Mohandass was quite different from Mohan the man. Behind a façade of a long, magnificent, philosopher-like, snow white beard lay a supremely bigoted mind. He had never liked visiting Pakistan and was rather unshakable in his ‘hindutvavadi’ (Hindu supremist) beliefs. But he tried to contain his resentment…to keep his nerves calm. However, as time passed that day, Mohan was starting to get grouchy. ‘They better not harm my ship or my crew.’ Mohan thought, ‘Or ill teach them a lesson.’ The last thing he wanted was ‘an incident’. Not at this port. Not in the ‘enemy territory’. All operations had to be meticulously executed. It was his responsibility to ensure that.

in the time of others

From Chapter 17

The soldiers formed a firing squad on Shaukat’s order, waited for the officer to be clear of the scene as they had been ordered, and emptied their rifles into the prisoners.

 ‘Sir? Wasn’t this night a complete waste?’

 Shahbaz had been watching the soldiers dump the bodies into the river. The ones from inside were brought out and also thrown in.

‘Fifteen Muktis a waste?’ Shahbaz said. ‘Nights like this are what we need.’

‘I understand, sir, but – ’

‘You want to keep telling what’s better and what’s not?’ Shahbaz’s head turned slowly.

‘No sir, of course not.’

‘Did you know that in a nuclear holocaust the only living survivors would be cockroaches?’

‘I didn’t know this, sir.’

‘It’s true. The determined, nasty little bastards will survive it all. That’s what these Muktis are. That’s what their race is. They’re nasty little bastards, meant to be crushed, but you can’t get rid of them if you think they’ll just go away, disappear, die on their own. The only good thing is that these Bengalis are flesh and blood humans, and those we can get rid of.’

Shaukat allowed the convoluted analogy to sink in. Offered a cigarette, he accepted it with a quick glance at Shahbaz. Shahbaz’s attention was still pinned on the soldiers’ activities. Shaukat lit his cigarette and felt the wave of the momentary release wash over him.

Qandeel Baloch

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.

Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.

Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

 

Excerpt

The video from Murree has been viewed thousands of times. By the end of the year, the words ‘How I’m looking?’ would be the first phrase mentioned in an article about ‘10 notable quotes that defined Pakistan’s entertainment scene in 2015’. Qandeel would be called an ‘insta-celeb’. People are turning to Facebook and Twitter to find the ‘How I’m looking’ girl and they want more and more of her videos. They like to laugh at her.

Mec says he has never seen anything like it in all the years he has been in the industry. He would think about that video when she was no longer around and would wonder what people had seen in it. He would remember that Afghan woman who had been on the cover of a magazine in America and then became famous all over the world. ‘It was her eyes,’ he would say. That was it. ‘That’s what got everyone. Show people something different. They don’t want to see the same old stuff.’

Qandeel disagrees with him on how her career can progress. He takes her to every single event, books her for any show he can and introduces her to everyone they meet. Sometimes she complains that all of it is a waste of time. People take photos with her at these events, but she isn’t getting paid for that. She doesn’t just want to make friends—she is looking for connections.

She stumbles across the Facebook profile of a man in Karachi, Mansoor, who had been a model when she was just a girl in Shah Sadar Din. His Facebook feed is full of photographs taken at dinners and parties with girls Qandeel has seen on TV. She recognizes some of the names from his friends’ list. He seems to have the connections she needs. She sends him a friend request. He is used to these requests from strangers, usually women, who hope that he knows all the right people and will be able to help them break into the fashion industry. In fact, it happens so often that he now has a policy of asking any girl who sends him a friend request on Facebook for her phone number to confirm whether she is indeed an aspiring model or an actress, and not some man who is trying to fool him. The ones who willingly give their phone numbers are legitimate. Qandeel sends him her phone number.

‘Hi must talk to you,’ he texts Qandeel. ‘Call now.’

She is travelling. She is unable to speak with him then. ‘Let me come too then I talk.’ He notes that her English is not very good. ‘Take care.’

They continue to exchange messages and soon she is affectionately calling him ‘baby’ and ‘jaan’. When she tells him she is back in Karachi and feeling lonely, they meet for the first time and he takes her to a friend’s house so she can have some company. She messages him on WhatsApp late at night and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ He is usually fast asleep. She likes Dubsmash, an app that lets users lip sync phrases or songs, and sees that the video from Murree has also become popular there. She sees actresses and singers mimic her words in videos that they post to their social media feeds.