Ushering in the era of lockdowns and hygiene protocols in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic did not only push the whole world to the brink of collapse but also exposed the great divide between the north and the south. For centuries, pandemics have inspired oral storytelling as well as written works. We have been able to feel the agony and to unlearn it. We have learnt to turn to writing and literature for familiarity and solace.
In Pakistan the ideas about the origins of this pandemic have ranged from fantastic dangerous to mildly hilarious. There have been no great movies about the asphyxiating effect of loneliness. The Stained – Glass Window: Stories of pandemic from Pakistan, edited by Dana Munir and Taha Kehar, is a compilation of 26 short stories that deal with loneliness, death, love, loss, and compassion.
The whole anthology is about our conscious and subconscious experiences of lockdowns and their memory. Like the light that passes through coloured window panes, the stories take on the colours of medium. So do our moods, which in a way are reflection of what is happening around us. The authors include likes of Naveed Shahzad, Aamer Hussain, Attiya Dawood, and Nirvan Nadeem . The characters in these stories are connected by a singular backdrop, Covid-19.
Stories like Unlearning the Ropes, Gulmohar House, A Dead Daughter, Motorcycle and A Slice of Once Open Sky deal with women in different settings, different social backgrounds and having different level of education. The common thread that connects them is what they have gone through and how unwavering support they provide keeps the entire households and professional lives going.
This collection of short stories makes a case for women. The pandemic related lockdowns resulted in a higher number of cases of domestic violence being reported. In some places the numbers quadrupled. Unfortunately, the person associated with religious piety speaking on television in the presence of the prime minister blamed the pandemic on women’s immodesty.
The book stiches together accounts of various aspects of lockdowns. It handles the anxiety of the upper middle class and the elite. Intruders for instance , is about how weddings and festivities were hampered by the lockdowns and how families had to shift celebrations online. It’s about a couple wanting a destination wedding but getting and online wedding instead due to pandemic. Coming of age deals with the financial anxiety of a young businessman, who is a son of a business tycoon. If the author had wished the rich to appear more humane, the story fails too achieve that. Their giving seems patronising and unconvincing.
The Stained Glass Window presents characters and situations from many backgrounds. The war zone is an account of crumbling infrastructure at a local hospital . The differences between descriptions of public and private hospitals are stark. How people from minority communities suffer on account of prejudices is also highlighted. Nowhere to go by Awais Khan describes the agony and anguish of a well-off man in his forties, losing his job and his mental health.