Flavors of fiction

“It is a collective document of our stories,” said Sana Munir when she was asked to introduce the book, The Stained-Glass Window: Stories of the Pandemic from Pakistan.

Sana has co-edited this book with Taha Kehar. When giving an introduction about the book, Taha Kehar said, “This anthology transforms our curiosity into a creative impulse. It is about experiences but fictionalized experiences.” Sana and Taha were speaking at their book’s launch held during the second day of the Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) 2020. Wajiha Hyder was the moderator of this session. She is also one of the contributors to this book.

The pandemic, Covid-19, and the lockdown took a toll on all of us. The sudden confinement compelled people to accept the new normal as they began studying and working from home. The simple tasks of having a cup of tea at the roadside dhabba seemed to be a daunting affair. The lockdown was a moment for introspection and the analysis of the self. What better way to do so than to write your emotions. This was the idea behind the book, The Stained-Glass Window: Stories of the Pandemic from Pakistan. It is published by Liberty Books.

When Wajiha asked the editors about the backstory of the anthology, Taha said that it was during an Instagram conversation that the idea came about. He said the plan was to have a book comprising many stories on how the pandemic had affected people. Sana said that in a few days several writers were contacted who could write stories for this anthology. “We were able to take this idea forward that made it more meaningful for us.”

In response to Wajiha’s question, if fiction is a form of catharsis, Sana said that it was a confusing time when they began looking for contributors. “No one had any sound advice to give. Not even the scientists, the doctors, or the countries that had gone through it (Covid-19)” She rightfully mentioned that during those days of the lockdown people needed to share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings. This book helped writers’ thoughts to be read by the world. Taha said, “Fiction is an escape for so many people. But the prompt we gave to writers was not to tell a story about escape but of an experience. It was a form of catharsis that helped them talk about something they were going through.”

When Wajiha asked the editors about the backstory of the anthology, Taha said that it was during an Instagram conversation that the idea came about. He said the plan was to have a book comprising many stories on how the pandemic had affected people. Sana said that in a few days several writers were contacted who could write stories for this anthology. ‘We were able to take this idea forward that made it more meaningful for us’

Wajiha asked Taha and Sana about the concept of the book’s title. Sana said that the image of the stained-glass window made her realize that every part of it has a different shape and personality, just like the various stories of the anthology. “When you sit back and look at the picture, the painting (of the stained-glass window) with a wholesome view, it all comes together.” Taha said that when we come across an anthology, the title story is the best story you have. “We had great stories and we did not want to pick one.” He said that he and Sana kept wondering what should be the book’s title. “For Sana, a stained-glass window means an image and for me, it’s an experience of sitting in a room and trying to look outside through this stained-glass window.

Wajiha shared that she was inspired by the diversity of writers. “There are themes of loneliness, despair, hopeless, at one side, and joy, humor, and splendor on the other. The stories portray the point of view of characters with different genders and ages, all focusing on human dilemma”. Upon asking whether this was part of the plan or did it just happen, Taha said that the diversity aspect was intentional and gave writers the space to explore the theme. “We ended up producing work from new and old authors who were experiencing a spectrum of emotions.”

Sana, while talking about the various moods of the book said that it was anticipated but many stories came as a surprise. “We were dealing with flash fiction and short form fiction. It was glorious to see the diverse stories we were receiving.” Taha and Sana turned the tables and asked Wajiha about her experience of writing the story for this anthology. Wajiha said, “It was my bread moment during the pandemic. As many people made the bread for the first time during the quarantine, I made a short story that was followed by the feeling of joy and relief. I do not do fiction but I felt wonderful once I had produced the short story.”

The writer is an independent researcher, author and columnist. He can be reached at omariftikhar@hotmail.com and Tweets at @omariftikhar

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