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Exploration of Family, Migration and Connection | By Sibia Akhtar


Cover of Hashim & Family orange background with collage of images arranged in the shape of the map of Bangladesh

Ananna’s Young Women’s Group

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.

Reviews


An Observer Best Book of 2020

‘A story of quiet striving and determination, of love and friendship’ Guardian

It is New Year’s Eve, 1960. Hashim has left behind his homeland and his bride, Munira, to seek his fortune in England. His cousin and only friend, Rofikul, introduces Hashim to life in Manchester – including Rofikul’s girlfriend, Helen. When Munira arrives, the group must learn what it is to be a family.

Over the next twenty years, they make their way in the new country – putting down roots and building a home. But when war breaks out in East Pakistan, the struggle for liberation and the emergence of Bangladesh raises questions about identity, belonging and loyalty.

Hashim & Family is a story of family ties, of migration and of a connection to home, and is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

Publisher: John Murray Press 
ISBN: 9781473665255 
Number of pages: 400 
Weight: 280 g 
Dimensions: 196 x 128 x 30 mm

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.

Shahnaz Ahsan reads to the audience excerpts from her novel.

Photograph of Shanaz Hussain speaking on Zoom
Shahnaz Ahsan

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.

Some of the participants at the Zoom event

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 . 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/

Source: The article was first published in The Race Archive Website here . The organisation that runs this website is called Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust which was established in 2001. The organisation archives the life stories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in Manchester, by running oral history projects, hosting events and exhibitions, and working with schools, for past, present and future generations. 

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