Interview With Salam Award Founders: Tehseen And Usman

Recently, our Marketing Head Ms. Samin Alam Qureshi had a very interesting interview with the founders of the Salam Award: Tehseen Baweja and Usman T Malik. The Salam Award started around 4 years ago by speculative and imaginative fiction enthusiasts.

The idea sprung from Tehseen and Usman realizing that all well-known science fiction novels and magazines were heavily influenced by the western culture. The curiosity of how the sci fi genre would play out in South Asian, specifically Pakistani culture led them to providing a platform for this sole purpose. They believed that imaginative fiction encouraged people to question thewhat ifs’ and possibly think outside of the box.

Usman also talked about the importance of magic realism, surrealism, uncanny literature and themes that are beyond the mundane and are the driving force for speculative fiction. Art, in Pakistan, has come a long way in connection with surrealism but writing still has some way to go.

The Impact of the Salam Award

The tremendous journey of the Salam Award has had a fruitful impact on multiple fronts. The platform allowed the classic Pakistani cultural stories to be represented on a larger front. The highlights of these were the one where a jinn in the village falls in love with a girl or the one where an innocent boy falls in love with the fairy at jheel saif ul malook.

Submissions from all over Pakistan are received each year; not only from big cities but also from remote areas such as Waziristan and villages in extreme end of Sindh. It’s an opportunity like no other to harness your inner writer. In addition to that, submissions from America, Canada, Korea and middle east are in high numbers. An interesting fact to note is that majority of the submissions are by female writers!

Slow but consistent change

The jurors on the panel have been successful authors from all over the world providing a unique exposure to all the participants. The 2018 winner of the award was brought to Orlando to perform a reading that was very well appreciated by international community. He also got an opportunity to attend international conferences.

The change because of the Salam Award is not too huge but it is slow and consistent. When the famous authors and writers on the panel read writings of such high caliber, they often remember the name of who wrote it. John Joseph Adams– an American science fiction and fantasy editor, critic, and publisher, reached out to the Salaam Award and wanted to read the stories of the 15 finalists of the award; looking to publish exceptional sci fi content. The winners of the salaam award are also published in well known international newspapers.

Literary Future of Pakistan

Over the years, more literary festivals, publishing houses and anthologies have started to come out. Ambitious writers are getting published more than ever, possibly thanks to the digital age. In another five years probably, the industry will be considerably more mature.

To answer whether the change is conscious or automatic, Tehseen believes that due to the typical social media exposure, it is sort of subconscious. Usman, on the other hand feels that as an artist and a writer, social media can be harmful. Despite the marketing advantages it might have on a piece of an individual’s art, it can negatively impact the aftereffects of the exposure a piece of art gains. There’s hate and discouragement that can make an artist never want to make art again.

Challenges faced by the Salam Award team

Usman and Tehseen talk about the biggest challenge that they faced throughout their journey of the Salam Award: underrepresentation of it by the Pakistani media. They felt that international platforms were more willing to promote it than our own Pakistani platforms. Barnes and Noble-an American online book store– wrote about the Salaam Award which was then featured by Pakistani media immediately.  However, before that they were uninterested in writing about the award.

Submission criteria for the Award

The purpose of the Salam Award is to provide an easy-to-use platform for writers to get maximum exposure from minimum complications. Hence, the submission process is as simple as it can possibly get. The submissions are open from January to end of July, which is more than half the year. Moreover, there are less to no restrictions about the submission except that they should be imaginative fictions and under 10,000 words.

Usman ends the interview on a very helpful tip for all the aspiring writers out there; he says that the best writers are a produce of trial and error. So, don’t be disheartened if your manuscript gets rejected once, twice or even thrice. Your 5th one might end up as a bestseller. We, at Daastan, encourage all writers to take keep trying!

To check out the interview for yourself, head over to Daastan’s Facebook page!


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