Hello everyone! It’s been a year since we launched South Asia Speaks, the literary mentorship for early career writers. When we put out a call for applications in 2020 we didn’t anticipate the enormous level of interest. We were twenty mentors and we received more than 500 applications from seven countries. Thanks to the generosity of the mentors who agreed to take on more than one fellow, we were able to offer 33 people a place on our program. One year later we are delighted to say that 27 have made it to the end.
Our fellows have achieved this in a pandemic while managing their health, caring for loved ones, and working gruelling hours at full time jobs. They have published books and won prizes. We are so proud of them.
Although we have come to the end of our program we will continue to remain in touch with our fellows and watch their progress. We wish them all the luck and success.
Here’s what Ajay Patri had to say about his year as a South Asia Speaks fellow under the guidance of novelist Madhuri Vijay:
“My past year as a South Asia Speaks Fellow has been the most wonderful experience of my writing life. As a young writer, there are few things better than receiving constructive feedback from a published author but what made this program even more rewarding was the opportunity to collaborate with my mentor over a sustained period of time. I saw my manuscript develop over the course of the year and Madhuri Vijay, my mentor, was there every step of the way. She patiently read draft after draft, gently questioned the motivations of my characters, pointed out writing tics I wasn't even aware of, and encouraged me in those moments, common to all writers, when my confidence wavered. I'm a better and more empathetic writer than I was a year ago and I couldn't have asked for more when I signed up for this program."
And here’s Waseem Rashid:
"Thanks to South Asia Speaks, this past year I had the honour of working with the novelist Karan Mahajan on a collection of stories set in Kashmir. Karan read my work closely, offered carefully considered feedback, and helped elevate my writing to a new level. He constantly pushed me to be my best. He was also quite generous with his praise — something I would draw confidence from whenever the going got tough. Honestly, South Asia Speaks has been the best thing to have happened to my writing so far. I hope to pay forward what the program has done for me soon one day."
Thank you Ajay and Waseem! To hear more from our fellows go here.
To celebrate our fellows, we invited someone who knows a thing or two about being successful in a creative field to a year-end Convocation Q&A: filmaker Mira Nair. This year Mira celebrates the 20th and 30th anniversary of her landmark works Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala respectively. During an event that lasted well over an hour, Mira spoke about the early challenges she faced, the importance of resilience, and the necessity of finding joy outside work. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to her, and couldn’t imagine a better note on which to end our inaugural program.
And now here’s a look at what some of our fellows have been up to recently:
Chandrima’s mentor is Aruni Kashyap.
Ajay Patri's short story, A Need for Shelter, was nominated for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2021 and published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 14. Ajay has been long-listed for the 2022 Toto Awards for Creative Writing in English.
Ajay’s mentor is Madhuri Vijay.
Pallavi Narayan’s co-edited anthology Singapore at Home: Life across Lines was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival 2021. Her monograph Pamuk’s Istanbul: The Self and the City will be published by Routledge in April 2022. Pallavi’s mentor is Mira Kamdar.
For The Third Eye Disha Mullick collaborated with Kavita Bundelkhandi, the editor of Khabar Lahariya, to interrogate the idea of life and death in rural North India during the pandemic. (Image above courtesy The Third Eye, artwork by @thebigfatbao).
“Mahesh, the driver on duty at the electricity department, was dispatched, while the rest of his department mourned, to be part of a baraat, since whatever happens, marriages will continue in Coronakaal, darubaazi will continue, you have to mark your presence, you have to stay part of the community. Else who will cremate you when you go? No one wants to die alone in a hospital. So ritual is important, social capital is important, maintaining networks is important. If the path to protection from a new virus (which adds to all the other ways we may or may not die) is isolation, then forget it, we choose community. There are things that make life less tolerable than a fever.”
Disha’s mentor is Fatima Bhutto.
Samia Mehraj co-authored a paper for Kohl, a Journal for Body and Gender research. The Ghosts That Haunt Us: (Anti)Colonial Residues and Feminist Solidarity in Everyday Archives make a case for sustained engagement with archiving, cross-reading, and co-writing as a means of critical thinking and forging reflexive solidarity.
Samia’s mentor is Mirza Waheed.
Nusrat F Jafri worked as the Director of Photography for the six part documentary series “She Builds.” It will air on National Geographic in January 2022. Shot across India, the series documents the journey of highly accomplished women entrepreneurs. While shooting in Delhi, Nusrat met her mentor, Aanchal Malhotra. She says: “From Google Meet to a cafe! I got the lovely opportunity to meet my wonderful mentor in person! Thank you so much for the enriching and fun conversation Aanchal, there’s always so much to learn from you!”
Mohit Manohar’s peer-reviewed research article, “A Victory Tower Built by a Slave: The Chand Minar at Daulatabad in Deccan India” appeared in Muqarnas, the journal of Islamic art and architecture. The article is the first detailed study of the Chand Minar (1446), which was built by an African slave named Parvez bin Qaranful. In 2022, Mohit will give a lecture on Muhammad bin Tughluq at the Bangalore International Center. He aims to complete his Ph.D. in art history in the spring.
Mohit’s mentor is Mahesh Rao.
C G Salamander’s graphic novel Maithili and the Minotaur featuring illustrations by Rajiv Eipe was published by Penguin Random House in October. The book chronicles the adventures of a ten year old girl, who after being cast out of her village, makes friends with monsters. Novelist and South Asia Speaks mentor Prayaag Akbar writes: “Amid the marvellous monsters and flights of fancy we find a tender story of friendship and strength. A world imagined and rendered beautifully.” Here is an excerpt. Salamander was awarded an Art’s Practice Grant from the India Foundation for the Arts earlier this month.
His mentor is Altaf Tyrewala.
“The pandemic has churned a deep discomfort, a restlessness to escape the claustrophobia and uncertainty of our own lives. Nature peeping through a window, in the front or backyard in a world recalibrated by grief is an accessible distraction. The same tree outside that stood as a timeless monument, alive, but part of the flat landscape, turned into something with inflections of life - leaves changing, dropping, glossy new ones growing again, ants hiding in its wounds, gum seeping out from its scars, its regular rendezvous with a boisterous barbet in the late afternoons, small bats flitting around it in the moonlit after hours. Our familiar surroundings are now the faraway escapes.” Rest here.
Elizabeth’s mentor is Sonia Faleiro.
And Monika Mondal has won the Thomson Foundation's Young Journalist (environment) Award 2021! Monika’s story about the human cost of India’s sugar production, was chosen out of some 300 stories covering climate change and biodiversity, spanning 55 countries and four continents. It was selected by the judges for “delivering on everything you want from a groundbreaking, fresh and memorable piece of environmental journalism.”
“From a hand pump inside her house, she fills a glass with a yellow liquid that looks like beer. It’s contaminated groundwater, the only source of drinking water for many residents who can’t afford a steady supply of bottled water. The government built a water-purifying facility a few years ago, which has since deteriorated and never been repaired. The Third Pole ran lab tests on the water that Kusum, her family and many others consume. Two samples were collected: one from her home, and one from a similar hand pump in a nearby house. Coliform bacteria, which can indicate the presence of pathogens, was found in the drinking water, along with levels of inorganic salts such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, nitrates and others, reaching 1,190 mg/l.
You can read the rest of Monika’s award-winning investigation here.
Monika’s mentor is Fatima Bhutto.
Congratulations to all our fellows on their many achievements this year!
And now here are three things we’re looking forward to in 2022:
Zeyad Masroor Khan’s memoir of growing up in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, forthcoming from Harper Collins India. “It’s the story of every Muslim ghetto in India,” Zeyad says. His mentor is Isaac Chotiner.
Working closely with A Suitable Agency to help introduce our writers to the world of publishing.
And our fantastic new “Masterclass” series which will feature mentors in conversation with some of the most exciting voices of our time. The series launches early next year with Isaac Chotiner in the interviewer’s seat. More on that soon.
That’s it for now. From everyone at South Asia Speaks thank you for your support and encouragement. See you next year.
South Asia Speaks
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