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An anthology of collective emotions

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BOOK REVIEW

It certainly needs the courage to pen your feelings and emotions and share them with the world. It takes valor to edit such sentiments that are at times too personal to escape the limits of the heart. Pakistan’s seasoned writers, Taha Kehar and Sana Munir went through the same journey of experiencing diverging sentiments when they were editing the collection of stories titled, The Stained-Glass Window: Stories of the Pandemic from Pakistan. Liberty Publishing published the book and Liberty Books held the virtual book launch recently. Maheen Humayun, a writer, poet, and educator based in Karachi, and also a contributing writer to this anthology was the moderator.
The book comprises a plethora of such sentiments that the contributing writers experienced once they were forced to enter into isolation because of the lockdown. The stories, fictional in nature but real in appeal, unearth the thoughts, ideas, and attitudes the fictional characters experienced. This seems to be an extension of what the writers were undergoing while the challenge of living in isolation was enveloping over them.
During the launch, Sana Munir said, “Everyone may not find solace in books or by reading fiction. Many contributors to this anthology were readers but said yes to the offer and plunged into the process of writing a story for the anthology.” Taha said, “Storytelling over the years has been used to understand the world. While people say that they write fiction as an escape, I believe they write fiction to understand the world.” Maheen shared that many stories included in the anthology are experiential.
These stories share themes of grief, humor, mental health, wellness among others. She viewed that such stories will connect with readers across the world. Sana shared that putting the book together was a learning process. The most difficult part was perhaps to wait for the book’s launch. Taha was concerned if the authors would be able to put together all the emotions in the book. In the end, everything felt just right.
It is indeed an expansive change that the COVID-19 brought upon the world. It caused educational institutions and the corporate sector to restructure their rules of working. The work-from-home practice was implemented the moment the lockdowns were announced. With the social life coming to a standstill and an air of uncertainty enveloping our existence, writing our thoughts became the pastime and perhaps the only way to maintain sanity. This was also necessary as physical contact with friends, relatives, peers, and colleagues was at a bare minimum. Under such circumstances, communication through social media was the only way to connect.
The Stained-Glass Window shares with the world such stories and content that highlights the philosophies emerging in the mind of the contributing writers. The lockdown proved to be a period of introspection, reflection, self-analysis, and contemplation. The writers of The Stained-Glass Window went through the same phase of conscious thoughtfulness and conceived their respective stories.
The idea of working on such an insightful literary project came about during an Instagram session, as shared by Taha during a session held at the Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) in October 2020. The objective was to bring together on one platform the stories showing how the lockdown affected the human sentiments. It is indeed a meaningful project that is backed by the painstaking, conscientious, and meticulous editing and proofreading carried out by Taha and Sana.
The stories of The Stained-Glass Window relate the ordinary human. It shares the same feelings of fear, anxiety, doubt, confusion, and perhaps relief at some point, that the common man was feeling while living through the lockdown.
The title of the book itself is gripping and revealing in its regard. It is enthralling for it fuels curiosity as to what to expect from the stories comprising this anthology. It is revealing for one can imagine sitting in a room trying to explore the world outside through the stained-glass window. This was a situation in nearly all homes where people after being fed up with living in isolation wanted to look outside their windows.
Liberty Books has also been organizing online sessions and panel discussions revolving around the themes of stories mentioned in The Stained-Glass Window. The guests are prominent literati of Pakistan and contributors to the anthology. Such sessions do bring new light to the topics mentioned in the book. The contributor of The Stained-Glass Window includes Safinah Danish Elahi, Aamer Hussein, Navid Shahzad, Nirvaan Nadeem, Attiya Dawood, Maheen Humayun, Zofeen Ebrahim, Mehnaz Mir, Awais Khan, Farah Zia, Huma Sheikh, Sheeraz Dasti, Mehvash Amin, Aaisha Umt Ur Rashid, Rumana Hussain, Tamreez Inam, Wajiha Hyder, Nida Usman, Iffat Sayeed, Ilona Yusuf, Kulsoom Bano, Shahbano Alvi, Natasha Japanwala, and Nighat Dad.