By Gargi Vachaknavi

The Singapore Writers’ Festival stretched to ten busy days with events glittering on the literature of Asian diaspora. The opening was by a Booker winner from Jamaica,  Marlon JamesPico Iyer was another major highlight as were local Singapore legends like Edwin ThumbooIsa KamariSuchen Christine Lim and Meira Chand .

IMG_0692One of the attendees caught the excitement of the event. Upcoming writer Elaine Chiew, who just released her debut collection of short stories called The Heartsick Diaspora with Penguin, had a lot to say: “I caught Marlon James’ Festival Prologue and Roxanne Gay’s Lecture: ‘Understanding Identity Through Pop Culture’, and lots of programming in between, including catching the exhibition on Eurasian Singaporean writer Rex Shelley (which I loved, especially Brian Gothong Tan’s stunning multi-media display), ‘Literature and Pioneer Women’, ‘First Dates and So Many Feelings’, ‘What Being Brown In The World Means’, ‘Language and the Body’, ‘Writing in Dialect’, and ‘What’s the Most Versatile Singlish Word’.” Elaine Chiew has been attending the festival since 2016. This year she attended as an author and a panelist.

IMG_0480Aysha Baqir, writer and social activists explained: “This is my first time as a featured author in Singapore Writers Festival. My novel, Beyond the Fields, a fiction about a young village girl (in Pakistan) on a quest for justice, was published earlier this year by Marshall Cavendish. I have attended the last two Festivals and like the previous years I am delighted to listen to and meet the wide diversity of authors and panelists.  This year I am particularly enjoying the relevance of the sessions to current life events and issues — migration, special needs, mental health, and diversity.”

Kitaab also launched three books during this festival: a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal’s Masala Chai, a collection of poems and the Best Asian Short Stories (2019).

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Isa Kamari and Zafar Anjum launching Kiswah

Kiswah kicked off the start of the Kitaab launches with Isa Kamari explaining how he conceived the novel as a reaction to the needs of the times. Kamari said in answer to moderator Mitali Chakravarty’s query that he was getting the translations done to be read more widely. Earlier he had been translated even to Urdu by Kitaab. Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab, explained: “Isa’s Intercession was translated into Urdu — the first work of Singaporean and Malay fiction to be translated into Urdu. The plan is also to get it translated into Hindi and we are working on it.”

Thapliyal’s Masala Chai came next. Thapliyal was accompanied by Singapore writer Robert Yeo on stage. Yeo had mentored her collection. Moderated by Dr Pallavi Narayan, the poetry launch was vibrant and interesting.

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Singapore writer Robert Yeo, poet Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal and moderator Dr Pallavi Narayan

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.

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’.



IMG_0476Title
: The Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: Oneworld

Year of publication: 2018

Pages: 384

Price: S$22.40

Links: https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9781786075598

About: India’s explosive rise has driven inequality to new extremes, with millions trapped in slums as billionaires spend lavishly and dodge taxes. Controversial prime minister Narendra Modi promised ‘to break the grip’ of the Bollygarchs, but many tycoons continue to thrive amidst the scandals, exerting huge influence over business and politics. But who are these titans of politics and industry shaping India through this period of breakneck change? And what kind of superpower are they creating? A vivid portrait of a deeply divided nation, The Billionaire Raj makes clear that India’s destiny – prosperous democratic giant or corrupt authoritarian regime – is something that should concern us all.


IMG_0370Title: Indigo Girl

Author: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: GemmaMedia

Year of publication: 2019

Pages: 258

Price: US$14.95/ Rs 1,326.00

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata/dp/193684673X

https://www.amazon.in/Indigo-Girl-Suzanne-Kamata-ebook/dp/B07RV7PG7D/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Indigo+girl+by+Suzanne+Kamata&qid=1559100922&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 About: Fifteen-year-old Aiko Cassidy, a bicultural girl with cerebral palsy, grew up in Michigan with her single mother. For as long as she could remember, it was just the two of them. When a new stepfather and a baby half sister enter her life, she finds herself on the margins. Having recently come into contact with her biological father, she is invited to spend the summer with his indigo-growing family in a small Japanese farming village. Aiko thinks she just might fit in better in Japan. If nothing else, she figures the trip will inspire her manga story, Gadget Girl.

However, Aiko’s stay in Japan is not quite the easygoing vacation that she expected. Her grandmother is openly hostile toward her, and she soon learns of painful family secrets that have been buried for years. Even so, she takes pleasure in meeting new friends. She is drawn to Taiga, the figure skater who shows her the power of persistence against self-doubt. Sora is a fellow manga enthusiast who introduces Aiko to a wide circle of like-minded artists. And then there is Kotaro, a refugee from the recent devastating earthquake in northeastern Japan.

As she gets to know her biological father and the story of his break with her mother, Aiko begins to rethink the meaning of family and her own place in the world.