On Saturday 7 August, Ananna’s Young Women’s group were joined by Shahnaz Ahsan, the author of Hashim & Family, to discuss her latest book for South Asian Heritage Month. The event, Exploration of Family, Migration and Connection, was hosted by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre.
In preparation for this event, Sibia Akhtar worked with the Ananna’s young women’s group and spoke with them about the book, but also discussed more broadly the themes relating to identity, heritage and belonging.
First in highlighting questions about identity, Sibia asked the young women ‘How would you describe your identity?’ This in itself required a fair bit of unpacking – firstly, what does identity mean? After which, conversation started to flow, and the group became more comfortable in sharing their stories about the multiple layers to their identity.
One of the members of the group mentioned how migration to Britain helped her to realise how there are so many branches to identity, especially with regard to cultures and religions, and it is these social factors that make us all unique. As well as this, another group member discussed that having these conversations is important especially with educating the younger generations who may not know about the many cultures that exist.
After these conversations, the group spoke quite generally about the book, Hashim &Family. The question which was posed to them was: Why is it important to have stories like these available for the wider public to read? Typically, these stories are often quite limited in their exposure. Often, children who are of the global majority may hear the stories from their parents or grandparents about their migration to Britain and the struggles they may have faced building family and wealth in a country that was foreign to them.but the stories may not reach a wider audience. Therefore, the book not only preserves these stories but retells them through the means of historic fiction, making these stories more accessible to the wider public.
These discussions then led to the young women formulating the questions which they wanted to ask Ahsan on the day of the event.
On Saturday, Shahnaz Ahsan read to the audience a few excerpts from her novel. After the first reading, the Ananna young women were invited to ask Shahnaz some of their questions. These included: Where did you get the information on immigrants in the UK? What made you think of publishing a book on identity as there are not many like this? How would you suggest someone who wants to write and publish a book and the steps to achieve this goal?
Ahsan answered these questions brilliantly and inspired everyone with her answers before starting on her next reading of the book. The audience on the call were also given the opportunity to ask Ahsan some questions about her book before Ahsan shared a final reading and concluded the session.
Finally, the feedback from the young women’s group was overwhelmingly positive. One member highlighted:
‘This event and workshop have given me the opportunity to explore my identity and truly consider how it affects me day to day. Not only does the book mention about a family leaving their home country but also how much the family had changed small things about themselves overtime in order to be accepted in a different country. This taught me a valuable lesson which is no matter what happens or what challenge you may face always be yourself and everything will be fine!’
“This event and workshop have given me the opportunity to explore my identity and truly consider how it affects me day to day. Not only does the book mention about a family leaving their home country but also how much the family had changed small things about themselves overtime in order to be accepted in a different country. This taught me a valuable lesson which is no matter what happens or what challenge you may face always be yourself and everything will be fine!’
Some key takeaways from this event highlighted the significance of storytelling and although Hashim & Family is told through a fictional lens, the events themselves are very much real and form a part of collecting stories which are quite hidden from mainstream narratives. More importantly, Ahsan sheds light on why we should try to be as authentic as possible within the realm of historic fiction, so that we do not lose the histories, people and emotions which are drawn on. Therefore, these stories hold great value as part of not losing one’s connection to the past.
It was a pleasure to work with Ananna, the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre and Shahnaz Ahsan in delivering this workshop as part of South Asian Heritage Month. To get your copy of Hashim & Family, visit: https://www.mirrormewrite.com/