2021 Primadonna Prize
I am thrilled to be included in the long list for the 2021 Primadonna Prize. The short list will be announced later this year.
Primadonna is the first literary festival in the UK specifically to give prominence to work by women, as well as writers of all genders, economic statuses and ethnicities whose voices are not usually heard. It strives to tackle the current imbalance in the literary and publishing world, and to create a space where all ideas are welcome and all experiences are of equal value.
No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience
Essay on No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience. Article in Italian.
In 2019, according to Amnesty, a total of at least 2,307 people were executed in 56 countries around the world; in addition, 27,000 death sentences were handed down. Due to the unreliability of the data, this number is considered artificially low.
No Time to Sleep, è una performance della durata di ventiquattro ore che dà prova della grande potenza della recitazione mettendo in scena il punto di vista di un detenuto condannato a morte. Ho assistito a questo spettacolo due anni fa a Lahore, e ancora oggi mi sveglio spesso nel cuore della notte ripensandoci. La pièce s’incentra sulle ultime ventiquattro ore del detenuto Z, ossia il dottor Zulfiqar Ali Khan, accusato di omicidio in Pakistan. Nell’antefatto, nonostante l’argomentazione dei suoi legali secondo cui egli aveva agito in legittima difesa nel corso di una rapina a mano armata, il verdetto è di omicidio volontario e viene quindi condannato a morte. Zulfiqar trascorre diciassette anni in carcere e sette anni nel braccio della morte, nel corso dei quali la sua esecuzione viene programmata e interrotta più di venti volte. Verrà infine giustiziato nel 2015…
Queen Victoria In The Basement, shortlisted
My short story, Queen Victoria In The Basement, has been shortlisted in the White Review short story competition. The story is set in the basement of the Lahore Museum. I was inspired to write it after seeing the statue of Queen Victoria in the Armoury and the guard who was looking after it.
Dear Mr Chairman,
Yesterday, after I switched on the spotlight so that you could see the Queen properly, you covered your nose so I wanted to explain why there’s a smell.
Please, allow me to introduce my good self to you. I’m Benazir Mirza (also known as Aspro), and for ten years now, I’ve been working as guard and caretaker in the basement of our prestigious Lahore Museum. But more than that, I’m a devoted sevadari to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
Sir, I want to tell you everything – how after Partition the Queen was dragged from Charing Cross Road, where she’d sat under the shade of a marble pavilion since 1904, and dumped here in the basement. However, I don’t want to lie and pretend that I haven’t been watching you for many years. I see you every morning when I’m taking my tea break at 11.30 am at Khalid’s kiosk and you drive through the gates of the Museum. You sit at the back, on the left, with your window rolled up. I even know your number plate…
Shortlisted for CWFA
Shortlisted in the Creative Future Writers’ Award (prose section) for my short story No One Can Save Anyone.
A Safe Place
Langata Prison, Nairobi, December 2008
Kay slept on a thin mattress with a torn blanket to cover her. In the corner of her cell was a steel bucket and a brown sponge for wiping both her body and the rough walls finished with gloss grey. The bulb hanging from the corrugated iron roof was never turned on. The only light coming in was through the barbed wire in the narrow ventilation gap between the roof and walls. Her cell, at the end of a long, wide corridor, had a small internal window with bars which overlooked the passageway lined with other cells on either side. These were shared by five or six women. Once a day, before they were marched out to the fields, they ate together in the passage seated on low stools. Kay slept and ate on her own.
‘Oi,’ she shouted, ‘there’s a cockroach in here.’
‘Marry me Nuru,’ Jaffer said in his precise, measured tone, ‘and together we’ll build our future in this new independent Republic.’
He was standing opposite Nurbanu’s typewriter and she was sitting at her desk at the Chambers where she worked. She’d met him several months earlier when he’d come in to meet one of the lawyers and they’d struck up a friendship. Nuru had a Pitman’s Secretarial Diploma and a driver’s licence from the first Ladies Driving School in Nairobi. She felt with her natural beauty and qualifications she deserved the care of a man who would cherish her. Jaffer was a self-made, successful business man. He was short, dark and stocky and less educated than Nuru, but she accepted his proposal because he was someone who appreciated her; why else would he speak about her and Kenyan politics in the same sentence?
The Tabla Player
Saam – The First Clap
I whistle raag Bhairavi and rap both tablas, and check the tautness of the rough leather straps, and tap the tablas once and twice, and listen to their tone and echo, separately and together, and using a small hammer I strike the straps and edges of each drum, one at a time, rotating and knocking at the pegs until every stroke gives off an even tone, and with the heel of my hand I apply pressure to the drums in a rapping, sliding motion so that the pitch changes and matches that of the tanpura humming in the background, and I adjust the wooden block between the drum and the leather strips and move it up and down and along the side to regulate the tension of the drums…
This One’s Not For Us
I rolled down my window and watched the street vendors stroll between the stationary cars, tankers, matatus and buses. I had a strange impulse to drive straight into the car in front, just for the satisfaction of knowing I’d made an impact for once. I gripped the steering wheel.
Dilip and I were stuck on Mombasa Road driving to the city center of Nairobi from our offices near the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. We’d just passed the golf course on our left and the old East African railway station on our right. I fiddled with the knobs for the indicator lights and switched off the engine.
A street seller sidled up to the car carrying Kenyan flags of all sizes, the black, red and white fabric flapping around his face.
“Madam, do you need flags, sunglasses or a photo of the president?” he asked…
No One Can Save Anyone
Short story, No One Can Save Anyone, shortlisted for 8th annual Creative Future Writers’ Award (CFWA).
Thirty-six writers from a wide range of working class, LGTBQIA+, Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds were today (13th July 2021) shortlisted for the 8th annual Creative Future Writers’ Award (CFWA).
The UK’s only national writing competition and development programme for all underrepresented writers, the Award celebrates exceptional writing from people who traditionally lack opportunities due to mental health issues, disability, identity, health or social circumstance.