Published in English, Urdu and Bangla, MY CITY, MY HOME is a ground-breaking publication featuring 184 poems, short stories and other prose from writers, and those new to writing, reflecting on the identity and the role of women in 21st-century society.
The book was made possible through a specially commissioned, international writing competition launched by Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage in September 2020, a year that marked the company’s 30th anniversary.
Birmingham-based Sampad, one of the UK’s leading arts development agencies, worked alongside Project Associates in Pakistan and Bangladesh connecting online with diverse groups of women and girls in their countries and supporting them through workshops to participate.
As the world is reeling under the impact of a pandemic ‘MY CITY, MY HOME’ illuminates the possibilities of uniting women across nations to express poignantly that they do have the power of words that can make a difference in our societies, now and in the future.
Piali Ray OBE, Artistic Director Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage exclusively spoke to Asian Voice about it.
Q - Please explain the concept of My City My Home for our readers.
My City My Home was a writing competition for women living in or connected to Birmingham, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Their writings express personal feelings connected to ‘home’ and ‘city’, and around identity and belonging. Many women move to new places to make a home for their families and experience the challenges and excitement of these life-changing events. The writings in the book powerfully express a gamut of emotions written in three languages – English, Bangla and Urdu respecting mother tongue from the three places.
Q - How do words empower women, where we live in a world and community that seldom likes to listen to women and their voices?
Women form close to 50% of the world population and we still have unheard voices of women to tell their own narratives in their own words. A patriarchal society dominates many sections of the community, undermining the role of women in providing stability at home, progress in society and development of future generations. This project was aimed to open up an opportunity for women to communicate and ‘find a voice’ through words and print. Pen, in the hand of a woman, can definitely be mightier than the sword.
Q - What does it take to put together a book like this, with tremendous efforts amid an ongoing pandemic?
This project faced many challenges including the pandemic! This included our ambition to include scripts in three languages and our determination to reach women who remain unheard in society. We created a team of Associates in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Birmingham who enabled us to connect with women within hard to reach groups and networks. They provided support through writing workshops and technology to upload their work online. Edit and print of scripts in Urdu and Bangla alongside English also had its own challenges.
Q - What does a book like this mean for women from Asian countries?
The book ‘My City My Home’ brings together women from Asian countries and Birmingham on a shared platform of writing about issues and stories that have relevance across borders. I hope it makes a small shift to their isolation and resonates together as a collective voice. This can be empowering. The fact that they could write in their mother tongue was an equally important recognition of their identity and status. We did not translate everything to English to reduce hierarchy within the languages.
Q - In the future, how can more women become a part of themes like this?
At Sampad we are committed to providing opportunities for women to be recognised for their talent, skills and ability. We continue to work with women at all levels of society and support them to reach full potential through training, learning sharing and performance. Our specific strand of work under the banner of ‘Sakshi’ ( meaning witness) is focused on activities with and for women. We would love to hear from individuals and groups who wish to connect with us.