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I have a treat for you today, my dear readers! I have been excited about the Austenistan anthology — a collection of stories inspired by Jane Austen that are set in modern-day Pakistan — since I first heard it was being published. Life has been too busy for me to delve into it just yet, but I’m thrilled to have Laaleen Sukhera, editor of Austenistan and author of the story “On the Verge,” and Mishayl Naek, author of the story “Eaaman Ever After,” here today for a discussion about Jane Austen and the anthology. Please give them a warm welcome!

ANNA: How did you discover Jane Austen? Have you read all of Austen’s novels? Do you have a favorite, or a favorite character? What drew you most to her books and the time period?

LAALEEN: I’ve grown up reading her novels and started on my twelfth birthday with Pride and Prejudice, which will always be my favourite. I’ve been in love with Regency England ever since and Georgette Heyer further developed my passion for the era. I’ve found that at different stages in life, one can appreciate Austen’s characters, settings, and dialogues in new and surprising ways. One can reread the novels and rewatch the screen adaptations countless times but be struck by a new detail or observation each time. They’re like dear old friends that you can revisit whenever you please. Whether it’s romance or fashion or travel or aesthetics, they influence you considerably.

MISHAYL: I discovered Jane Austen around my teenage years when the social conventions reflected in her book seemed to ring so true and helped me bumble through personal social navigation. It was an easy escape to fall into her witty, female centered portrayal of society and I loved the female relationships. The time period seemed very romantic to me, and still does! The way the scenery and homes were painted feels beautiful and peaceful, especially when I was living an big, bustling city. It was probably one of my reasons to attend the University of Bath and I definitely imagined myself as one of her heroines as I walked in the countryside. My favorite character is quite cliché but it is—and always will be—Elizabeth Bennet.

ANNA: What was the goal behind Austenistan? What do you hope readers will take from the anthology? Did you find it difficult at all to adapt Austen’s novels and characters to your culture?

Laaleen Sukhera

LAALEEN: We honestly wrote it for ourselves, never dreaming that it would resonate with so many people around the world, nor that Bloomsbury would be publishing it. I hope our readers will laugh and cry and cringe at all the right moments with us—it’s such a joy to hear their views!

I didn’t find it at all difficult to visualize or adapt Austen for Pakistani society. It was almost disturbingly easy; beyond the etiquette and the ‘marriage mart’ and the social season, our inherent misogyny parallels the Regency era. We don’t just read Austen, it’s like we’re living in her world. Her characters are incredibly relevant and relatable.

MISHAYL: Our goal was to create a lighthearted book which told a different story about Pakistan. Each writer worked hard to create ambiance and capture the era and essence of their city in a Jane Austen inspired setting. Since there are different writers, each story has its own feel and take on Austen’s Pakistan. We hope readers will enjoy this contemporary take on Pakistan, which is typically portrayed in a more negative, political light. At the end of the day, our country is filled with women who wish to find a great love, whether its romantic, friendly or family oriented, just like most other women around the world.

It was very easy for me to adapt Emma to the Karachi setting, with its glitzy party scene and constant matchmaking. I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘research’ which consisted of silently watching my peers at social gatherings. Sadly there was a lack of Mr. Knightleys and a plethora of Mr. Eltons.  

ANNA: Are there any plans for another anthology?

LAALEEN: It’s just wishful thinking at this point, not just to appease the fans, but to give me another excuse to work with such wonderful women. Let us know what you think!

Mishayl Naek

MISHAYL: Not that I know of! But we are always open to more anthologies that include a brighter angle of Pakistan.

ANNA: How did you discover Jane Austen Fan Fiction? Do you have any favorite variations?

LAALEEN: I’ve picked up various prequels and sequels, mostly titles with catchy names and beautiful covers, been amused by some and disappointed by others. It simply isn’t possible to ape her style so to overtly attempt that makes the writer look a bit foolish. I’d have to say the Bridget Jones series by Helen Fielding—with the exception of the exceedingly depressing Mad About The Boy—has to be my absolute favourite.

MISHAYL: With the exception of Clueless, I was introduced to Jane Austen fan fiction by our editor Laaleen.

ANNA: What projects are you working on now?

LAALEEN: I’m meant to be writing a novel. At the moment I’m fleshing out characters and trying to get into their heads. It’s not meant to be Austen inspired, but knowing me, Jane-isms will find their way in!

MISHAYL: I am personally trying to write a series of children’s books that are culturally significant.

ANNA: Thank you both so much for being my guests today! You’ve made me even more excited about reading Austenistan. Laaleen told me that the book has done well across South Asia, and that Pakistani booksellers say it is a top 10 bestseller! Congratulations on the anthology’s success thus far!

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About Austenistan

Heiress and society doyenne Kamila Mughal is humiliated when her brother’s best friend snubs her to marry a social climbing nobody from Islamabad. Jameela Baig’s cold, unenterprising husband hasn’t planned for the future and all she can think about is how to find suitable husbands for her daughters. Roya Khalil discovers that her fiancé has been cheating on her and ends up on a blind date in Surrey on her wedding day. Beautiful young widow Begum Saira Qadir has mourned her late husband but feels she may finally be ready to start following her own desires. Emaan navigates post-divorce singlehood in cosmopolitan Karachi, Samina confronts her inner demons in metropolitan Lahore, and Maya fears her marriage to her English diplomat husband has gone cold.

Inspired by Jane Austen and set in contemporary Pakistan, Austenistan is a collection of romantic, uplifting, witty and sometimes heart-breaking love stories which pay homage to the queen of wit and romance.Comprising seven stories inspired by Austen’s novels and largely set in contemporary Pakistan, Austenistan is an amusing, sometimes savage and sometimes moving look at love, loss and second chances in the upper echelons of a society which very closely echoes Regency England. The writers are professionals from the media, academics, law, and medicine, and are members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan (JASP), whose founder, Laaleen Sukhera, is editor of this collection.

ABOUT THE STORIES:

The Fabulous Banker Boys

By Mahlia S Lone

“The business of her life was to get her daughters married”—Pride and Prejudice

Jameela Baig, struggling to pay the bills and coveting respectable alliances for her four unmarried daughters, is overjoyed when two eligible young men arrive from Dubai and seem interested in Jahan and Elisha. Young Leena’s antics, however, seem likely to disgrace them all…

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Begum Saira Returns

By Nida Elley

“No character, however upright, can escape the malevolence of slander”—Lady Susan

It is 1989 and hope is in the air as Pakistan elects its first female Prime Minister. Alluring Saira Qadir reappears in Lahore society for the first time since the death of her husband, confronting old flames and new social barriers.

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Emaan Ever After

By Mishayl Naek

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more”—Emma

A spirited divorcée has an awful run of luck with Karachi’s most sought after bachelors, who also happen to act pretty entitled. Thankfully, Emaan has her best friend Haroon’s shoulder to pinch and cry on…or does she?

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The Mughal Empire

By Saniyya Gauhar

“Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy’s marriage”—Pride and Prejudice

Kamila Mughal, publisher of Pink magazine, never imagined that a Queen Bee like herself could possibly be outdone by the gold-digging Bilal sisters who cut a swathe through town, even scooping up the man she’s always had her eye on. But might she find love while trying to merely save face?

***

The Autumn Ball

By Gayathri Warnasuriya

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love”—Pride and Prejudice

Trailing diplomatic spouse Maya longs to attend the society gala of the year with Hugo, her reluctant English husband, in Islamabad’s bubble-like enclave for embassies. As the night progresses, Maya suspects that her marriage is as shaky as the DJ’s playlist.

***

Only The Deepest Love

By Sonya Rehman

“The more I see of the world, the more I am dissatisfied by it”—Pride and Prejudice

University lecturer Samina has learnt not to trust men from her battered and abandoned mother. Her young cousin, in the meantime, has had an arranged marriage with a wealthy young man who doesn’t appear to desire her, or indeed women in general. About the only upside to their wedding was that Samina met a man there whom she can’t quite get out of her head…

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On The Verge

By Laaleen Sukhera

“One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then without stumbling on something witty”—Pride and Prejudice

Blogger Roya Khalil, on the hunt for a perfect-on-paper soul mate, discovers her blue-blooded fiancé is cheating on her. A second chance at making a spectacular marriage presents itself when a matchmaking aunt snags her a date with an obnoxious British Asian halal meat tycoon.

Buy Austenistan: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bloomsbury (U.K.) | Waterstones (U.K.)

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About the Authors

Laaleen Sukhera

EDITOR & CONTRIBUTOR

Laaleen is a communications consultant and writer. She graduated with an MSc in Professional Communications and a BA (High Honours) in Screen Studies and Communication & Culture at Clark University in Massachusetts. She is the founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan and has appeared in programs, podcasts, and features in 1843 (UK), the BBC (World Service &100 Women), the British Council (UK and Pakistan), Harper’s Bazaar (India), HELLO! (India and Pakistan), NewsTalk (Ireland), NPR/National Public Radio (USA), Sky Arts (UK), The Times (UK), and Vanity Fair (Italy), and has been quoted in The Atlantic, The Economist, and The New York Times.

Earlier in her career, she worked as a series coordinator and interviewer for an award nominated documentary that aired on ITV, as a field producer and advertising executive in New York, as a TV producer in Lahore, as a public relations consultant in Islamabad, and as the associate editor of Libas International.  Laaleen represented Austenistan at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, the Times of India Lit Fest Bangalore, and at panels hosted in Washington DC by the Jane Austen Society of North America and Muse District at George Washington University, as well as in Lahore at the British Council Library, the LGS Lit Fest, The Last Word, and in Islamabad at the British High Commission’s British Club and at London Books Café.

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Mishayl Naek

CONTRIBUTOR

Mishayl is a freelance writer and monetary economist who received her BA in Economics from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania [where she received the Jeanne Quistgaard Memorial Prize] and M.Sc. in International Development [concentration: Political Economy] from the University of Bath. She has worked at the State Bank of Pakistan in the Development Finance Group and Monetary Department, where she co-authored various policies, reports and studies including a study on monetary policy for SAARC [presented in July, 2012].

Mishayl lives in Karachi, Pakistan, and has been published in BeautifulYou.com, the Express Tribune, Good Food, Grazia Pakistan, Libas International, Women’s Own, and Yello. She runs the Yummy Mummy Network group on Facebook to address childcare issues, activities and resources for metropolitan Pakistani mothers. Mishayl remotely appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the Times LitFest Bangalore 2018.

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Nida Elley

CONTRIBUTOR

Nida is a college teacher, a writing coach, and a writer. She grew up between Scarsdale, New York and Lahore, Pakistan. She has worked in the fields of academia, non-profit film and event management. Nida previously taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Literature to college students in Lahore; she currently teaches at St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and is shortly relocating to London, UK. She received her Bachelors degree in Journalism & Mass Media from Rutgers University, New Jersey, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

Her work has been published in Psychology Today, The Friday Times, High Profile magazine, Paper magazine and she maintains a blog, A Storyed Sensibility. Nida appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the British Council Library and at The Last Word, both in Lahore, as well as at the University of Southern California’s Conversation@PAM as well as at the University of Texas at Austin’s South Asia Institute.

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Saniyya Gauhar

CONTRIBUTOR

Saniyya is a barrister by profession and was editor of the Pakistan based business magazine, Blue Chip, for four years. A graduate of Sussex University, she received a First Class Honours in Contemporary History and later went on to do the Common Professional Examination [CPE] and was called to the Bar in 2000.

Saniyya has worked in corporate law and litigation in both London and Pakistan. She is currently a freelance writer and editor. She has had articles published in magazines and prominent Pakistani daily newspapers and edited and co-authored papers for prestigious international academic journals. Saniyya appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the British Council Library in Lahore and in Islamabad at the British High Commission’s British Club and the London Books Café.

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Mahlia S Lone

CONTRIBUTOR

Mahlia is a seasoned textile journalist. She contributes to WWD [Women’s Wear Daily] among other publications, and is currently the editor of GoodTimes magazine in Lahore, Pakistan. Mahlia was valedictorian of her graduating class at the Lahore American School and attended university at Kinnaird College in Lahore, William Smith College in New York and Clark University in Massachusetts.

She started her journalistic career as the assistant editor of the op/ed pages at The Nation and became the features editor for The Friday Times before she began writing for trade publications. Mahlia has maintained a blog for Matrix Sourcing, a textile buying-house located in Lahore. Additionally, she has strategically planned creative lines for several home décor and fashion startups, and planned society fundraisers for philanthropic causes. Mahlia appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the British Council Library and at The Last Word, both in Lahore.

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Sonya Rehman

CONTRIBUTOR

Sonya is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan, with an expansive body of published work comprising over 400 articles. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia, Rolling Stone [Middle East], BBC [The Strand], Asia Society, Esquire [Middle East], The Hindu, The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, The Diplomat Magazine, Forbes, The Friday Times, DAWN and The News International, amongst others. In 2010, Sonya was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue her Master’s degree in Print Journalism at Columbia University, New York, and was one of four students [in the same year] to receive the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Fellowship.

In addition to her prolific publishing career, Sonya teaches English and journalism, runs her own postcard start-up, From Lahore With Love, and was selected as a speaker at an independently organized TED event, TEDxKinnaird in Lahore in 2011. Sonya has also anchored and scripted for television at HUM TV, hosted a radio show for City FM89 and conducted journalism and creative writing workshops in Lahore over the years. Sonya appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the British Council Library and at The Last Word, both in Lahore.

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Gayathri Warnasuriya

CONTRIBUTOR

Gayathri is a Sri Lankan Molecular Biologist with a background in Cancer Research and work experience in HIV/Public Health. She holds a PhD in Molecular Biology and Toxicology from the University of Dundee and is an alumnus of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine [MSc Molecular Biology of Infectious Diseases] and Imperial College London [BSc Biochemistry].

Born and brought up in Columbo, Sri Lanka, Gayathri has been a nomad since the age of fifteen and has lived in Saudi Arabia, the UK, Nigeria, Guyana, Barbados and Pakistan. She currently lives in Amman, Jordan, and is completing an MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine while working on science and innovation partnerships. Gayathri appeared as a panelist for Austenistan at the British Council Library in Lahore, as well as for ‘Austenistan: Jane Austen 200 Years On’ at the Galle Literary Festival 2018.

Have any of you read Austenistan? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments!

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