Hope in the Face of Hopelessness: In Conversation with Divya Arya

“There’s one question I get asked a lot, about the impact my book had on the two protagonists, Saumya and Duaa”. Divya Arya kickstarted her session for the NLF Reading Challenge by elaborating upon this very aspect. Her book Postbox Kashmir explores the intertwined lives of two girls, Saumya and Duaa, one letter at a time. 

“The project happened at a very significant time in their lives–they were 15-year-olds and now, they’re 19-year-olds. It really was a time when they were shaping up and firming up their opinions and understanding about the world, hence it opened up a part of the world that I think they were not engaging with or maybe looking at through some coloured glasses. It’s a credit to them that they were so open and willing to engage with each other to understand each other’s perspectives. When you see their growth curve even in the book, you see them becoming these really open-minded, amazing, young women.”

Divya discussed how authenticity matters when it comes to writing books like Postbox Kashmir.

“Their exchange and sharing was just very heartwarming to read for anyone who comes across it. We promised them right at the outset that there’d be no intervention from our end and we’d let them take the conversation wherever they wanted to take it. After all, they were opening up, how could they be judged or questioned about it? This gave them the freedom as well as the confidence that they can say what they want to say in whatever words they want to say.”

One of the many things that really shines through in her book is the fact that it’s bilingual. Divya explains, “I think I wanted to retain that authenticity and bilingualism since the key to the whole project was highlighting the languages they were living and operating in. I think the work reaches different kinds of audiences if you do it in two languages.”

Writing memoirs, capturing one’s experiences in the rawest possible form is not child’s play–it comes with a whole lot of challenges. For Divya, it’s imperative to find a sense of hope in the hopeless. 

“The trauma, the journeys, all the war stories that we heard, they were really overshadowed by all this kindness and I think that really is what makes the world go around. Sometimes in our reporting, we tend to under-report, and I think it’s a constant challenge and work-in-progress for all journalists to try and bring out what really makes the world go around. It’s not hate or violence, it’s actually these sort of selfless acts which really make us better human beings.”

About the Author

For almost two decades, Divya Arya has been telling stories by and for the people. She explores pressing human rights and social justice concerns across various media forms. She is a BBC award-winning journalist who has also hosted the global news programme on BBC World Service Radio and launched the talk show, WorklifeIndia on BBC World News TV from Delhi. Divya is the first Indian journalist to be named a Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Her findings were published in the essay collection, Breaching the Citadel.

About the Book

Postbox Kashmir is an engaging work of non-fiction for teens that explores the history and current-day life in a disputed and war-torn region in India through the letters of two pen pals, Saumya and Duaa. The book takes on the daunting task of attempting to portray life in Kashmir through their letter exchanges, against the backdrop of Kashmir’s political history and volatile present.

About the NLF Reading Challenge

The NLF Reading Challenge is a four-month-long reading event from March to June 2022, involving students between 10 to 13 years of age. It runs for participants across India on the competitive and non-competitive tracks. In addition to fun book-based activities and regular author interactions, the challenge will conclude with a quiz competition that will see the three best teams win gold, silver, and bronze engraved trophies respectively, certificates of achievement, and a great set of books! 

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