They say that love happens when we least expect it. Well, that is true of friendship too. It was on the 28th of March, 2010, that I first wrote to South African writer Zukiswa Wanner. I didn’t know anything about her except what the British Council had told me when they asked if I would ‘buddy’ her during the London Book Fair that April. They had ‘matched’ us together – according to our ‘literary accomplishments’. As it turned out, the match was a match of minds, and one which has turned into one of the most enriching friendships of my life.
We met first at Zukiswa’s hotel, and then she came home for a meal. I don’t remember what I had cooked or what we ate – but I do remember that we talked. And talked. And talked. And have been talking ever since. We talk books and children, men and marriage, love and life. We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, we’ve laughed and cried together, and picked each other up when we were down. She has become a part of the fabric of my life, my sister from across the seas.
And through the weave of our friendship runs a magic thread – our common passion for writing. Words are the music of our lives, and writing our joy, our salvation and yes, even our livelihood! It didn’t take us long to recognize this passion in each other, and very soon we both knew we wanted to work with each other. We liked the way the other spoke, we liked the way the other wrote, and most of all, we liked the way the other THOUGHT!
So began our discussions on creating a piece of work together. We talked about a novel – each writing separate bits to make up a whole; we talked about a collection of tales, some by Zukiswa, some by me, that we could weave into a collection – and then one day we had it! Why limit ourselves to us when the whole world lay out there, waiting to be included? And so we thought of an anthology of stories, written by writers across the world, selected and edited by us; a collection that would bring together our two continents of Africa and Asia, with their shared history and shared humanity. The theme – ‘outcast’– presented itself quite naturally to us: with apartheid in South Africa, and caste in India, and discrimination against women practised in both cultures.
And when we sent out the call for short stories, we were overwhelmed by the response. Clearly, the theme resonated with many – not just across Africa and Asia, but across the world. More than two hundred writers responded to our call from Hongkong and Singapore to India, Egypt and the USA. More than a hundred and fifty sent in their stories. Zukiswa and I spent several months reading and re-reading the stories and making our selection. Then came the sometimes tedious, but always fulfilling task of editing, of the stories flying back and forth between us and the writers for tweaks and cleaning up. And at long last, the manuscript was ready.
The twenty-one stories that we have chosen are the ones that touched us most. They deal with love and hope, despair and darkness, and despite the sombre theme, some of them even made us laugh.
Behind the Shadows –Contemporary Stories from Africa and Asia
Editors: Rohini Chowdhury and Zukiswa Wanner
Cover design: Vipasha Bansal, Vidisha Bansal
The title, Behind the Shadows, is from one of the short stories in the collection by writer Tasneem Basha. The collection also includes Penguin-shortlisted author Isabella Morris; Caine Prize-shortlisted writer Lauri Kubuitsile; renowned Singaporean Young Artist Award recipient, author and poet, Felix Cheong; and emerging Indian writers Rumjhum Biswas, Monideepa Sahu, and Sucharita Dutta-Asane.
~ Rohini Chowdhury