International book championing South Asian women and girls launches in Birmingham
A brand-new book featuring a collection of writings by women and girls in Bangladesh, Pakistan and the UK, has been launched in Birmingham.
Unveiled at a special event at Midlands Arts Centre hosted by writer and author Kavita Bhanot, ‘My City, My Home‘ – published in English, Urdu and Bangla – is a ground-breaking publication featuring 184 poems, short-stories and other prose from writers, and those new to writing, reflecting on the identity and the role of women in 21st century society.
The book was made possible through a specially commissioned, international writing competition launched by Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage in September 2020, a year which marked the company’s 30th anniversary.
Birmingham-based Sampad, one of the UK’s leading arts development agencies, worked alongside Project Associates in Pakistan and Bangladesh connecting online with diverse groups of women and girls in their countries and supporting them through workshops to participate.
As the world is reeling under the impact of a pandemic, the new book illuminates the possibilities of uniting women across nations to express poignantly that they do have the power of words that can make a difference in our societies, now and in the future.
Piali Ray OBE, Artistic Director at Sampad said “The theme ‘My City, My Home’ has strong personal resonance with me in the same way that it connected with many women who responded to our call for this writing competition.
“It was greatly rewarding to receive 280 entries from the many unheard voices of women who shared their emotions, ambitions, joys, dreams, disappointments, resentment and pain. Their words resonate with each other towards a place of strength, identity and belonging. We connect in their personal journeys and treasured memories and it is a delight to be able to share them.”
Out of the 184 entries selected by judges, three overall winners were chosen for their particular writing skills and themes and are featured in the book each representing their own location:
- In the English language, Ilika Chakravarty Mandal from Birmingham in the UK was selected for her work ‘Yellow Sweater’.
- In the Bangla language, Shahana Yasmin from Dhaka in Bangladesh was selected for her work ‘Ek kichhui korena meyer golpo’.
- In the Urdu language, Nadia Umer from Lahore in Pakistan was selected for her work ‘Shehar Kay Dil’.
Commenting on her work, Bangladesh winner Shahana Yasmin said: “In Dhaka, the city I live in, you can see mothers of school children waiting outside the school for 5 to 6 hours every day.
“This city does not have any public toilets for women. These mothers cannot go to the toilet for a long time and develop urinary diseases. Their husbands don’t find them attractive so they have relationships with other women.
“I wanted to write about the plight of these mothers. ‘My City, My Home’ inspired me to write this.”
Birmingham’s Ilika Chakravarty Mandal, the overall winner from the UK, said: “Having moved across cities and continents through study, marriage, work and motherhood, I have often questioned myself: What is home? Where is home? ‘My City, My Home’ was a topic to which my persona instantly connected.
“So much so, that I picked up my pen after almost thirty years to use the dying art of letter writing in a personal note for my ageing mum, who now seemed even more geographically distanced in a post-COVID world. To see my story published and shared is simply fabulous and I am inspired to try writing more regularly.”
‘My City, My Home’ is part of Transforming Narratives, a groundbreaking project that supports creative and cultural practitioners and organisations in Birmingham to engage in exchange with artists and organisations in cities in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The project has been made possible in partnership with Sampad, the British Council, Arts Council England, Transforming Narratives and Birmingham City Council.
Sophina Jagot, Project Director Transforming Narratives commented: “Transforming Narratives offers a range of platforms for new artistic voices, exchanging narratives around contemporary lived experience across Birmingham (UK), Pakistan and Bangladesh and My City, My Home certainly delivers on that ambition.
“We are delighted to be working with Sampad to share the words of women across these three countries, in some instances sharing their words for the first time, and to feel a connection with all their experiences and ambitions.”
Amongst those attending the launch were: Piali Ray OBE (Artistic Director, Sampad), Nushin Hussain (Project Coordinator,Transforming Narratives), Dawn Carr (Health and Well-Being Officer & SIMRA at Legacy West Midlands), Sarah Kennedy (Senior Relationship Manager, Arts Council England), Deborah Kermode (CEO/Artistic Director, Midlands Arts Centre).