In the summer of 2015, Ommer Amer, a then-budding writer from Wah was searching for a publisher for his first novel, The Forbidden Story. However, at that time, quality Pakistani publishers were almost non-existent. Disappointed by the lack of a proper platform to launch and market his book, Ommer decided to do something about the matter. With the help of 2 friends, Hafsa Idrees and Tahniat Saba, Ommer Amer founded Daastan—a self-publishing platform that would give access to all Pakistani writers to get their written word out into the world. And thus, we began our “daastan”.
Team Daastan has a dream—to help writers monetize their work, earn from their talent and grow Pakistan’s literary space. At a time where a large number of people, especially the youth, is tech oriented, the best way to thrive was through the internet. Ommer and his team turned to Plan9 and the startup was incubated in one of its 2015 batches. After a six-month incubation period, it took off and soared to greater heights. We went through a roller coaster of experiences—some good, some bad and some absolutely mind-blowing! (Like when we bagged the 2nd prize on an international platform)
Operating under Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), Plan9 is Pakistan’s first tech startup incubator that started in September 2012. A business incubator works as a catalyst between dedicated and enthusiastic groups with unique ideas and help them to start their businesses. It provides funds from interested investors and services including office space and training.
Plan9 is one of its kind; providing its selected candidates (picked twice every year from a pool of 15 groups) with training from its experienced board, working space with computers, internet access, and even electricity so that Pakistan’s power shortage does not become a hurdle for budding startups. It has launched 130+ tech startups in Pakistan, with a vision of each business making a mark on international levels. The startups by Plan9 are gross valued at $70 million and they have raised a gross investment of $2.5 million
PITB’s tech incubator is led by founder, Dr. Umar Saif who
is also Chairman, PITB alongside Nabeel A. Qadeer, Director Entrepreneurship
and Enterprise Development, PITB.
Daastan upon its Graduation from Plan9
Since it’s incubation, Daastan has surpassed the expectations of many. Shortly after its graduation from Plan9, Daastan arranged a massive caused based letter writing campaign. Students from different schools and UET Taxila wrote letters to the Army. At the Brand Launch of Daastan in Arfa Technology ParkMughees Anwar and Rutaba Yaqub spoke as guest speakers. By the end of 2015, we had organized a number of important literary events such as the Daastan Literary Fest.
2016 was a roller coaster year for Daastan! Filled with endless work despite night and day, we organized out first ever big scale competition, The Stories Untold Season 1. Luckily, we received an overwhelming response. Soon, Daastan launched Qissa—Pakistan’s first self-publishing digital platform, enabling writers from all over the world to publish their books with a few clicks! Qissa garnered appreciation from writers and businesses alike and revolutionized self-publishing as we know it. But that’s not all! Team Daastan kept breaking through barriers by launching its very own Literary Fellowship which would bring together literary activists from all over Pakistan.
Today, Daastan is the biggest self-publishing house in Pakistan. We are working towards the betterment of the country by increasing readership and bringing the works of previously unpublished authors to light. We have helped writers monetize their work, turned passions into careers. Our team has held worldwide competitions, launched businesses, made a space in the media and much more. From one person’s dream, we have transformed into an army of readers and writerswith an unshakable will to rejuvenate literature in Pakistan.
With Qissa nearing its second anniversary soon, we are proud of having published more than 200 books in 13 genres. Our authors are spread all over the world with active participation from 17 countries. Daastan happened upon a gem of a find. It came in the shape of Ms. Ramsha Babar, a doctor-to-be who had written a book about mental health, or more specifically schizophrenia, and wanted to publish it via Qissa.
Qissa Becomes the Hub of Previously Unvoiced Stories:
Our major focus in terms of the content we publish has always been to ensure that whatever work we receive is, of premium quality. Secondly, our chief concerns is to publish content that challenges the wrong conventions in our society. Our stories depict exceptions which not only hold their ground against the horrors in our society, but also help others in raising their voices and spreading awareness about it. It is due to this very reason that Daastan recurrently launched The Stories Untold. The themes we discuss, force people to pause and think about our maligned traditions that transgress basic human rights. Qissa features books about the abused, the ostracized, and the discarded, to humanize them and consequently help them make a place for themselves in this society
With her book“Broken Winged Birds”, Ms. Ramsha helped us further our cause. The book, inspired from her personal life. It highlights the symptoms and behavior of a person suffering from schizophrenia. Her book, above all brought, to light the fact that these patients could be treated and cured. The protagonist, after seeing visions and losing consciousness for a few days, finds herself in a mental health institution. She discovers that her family has given her up for lunacy. The book is a roller coaster ride in which all the essential components of one’s life; religion, science, society and the stigmas regarding mental health that we have to wade through every day, are brought to the front and seamlessly woven into a tale of education and awareness. Her work is carefully written combining technical medical knowledge with literature.
The novel, after raising 20,000 PKR, was brought into print just a few months after the author got in touch with us. It was later on featured on platforms such as Doctor’s Tribune, and The Humorists, who applauded the effort of the writer and her work.
If you have an expert’s opinion on a topic and want to share it with the world, reach out to us at Daastanand we will help propagate your voice to the masses.
Stories Untold made rounds over social media recently. Our story writing competition was based on the tragedy of Zainab. Writers poured their hearts out to express their feelings on the incident in order to spread awareness regarding the issue.
Following the horrific misfortune that befell the beautiful little six-year-old Zainab Ansari belonging to Kasur, Punjab, a wave of fright and panic went through all of Pakistan. Each person was recounting the report of that tragedy the family of the little girl had gone through. The trauma they must endure for the rest of their lives is unimaginable. The horrendous act of the perpetrator shattered the happiness of a sound family. It wasn’t one life we lost that day, rather a part of the whole nation seemed to have died along with her.
The Stories Untold : I Am Zainab
At that time, many of the organizations stepped forward to improve the situation and all they could to help. Daastan, after careful consideration decided to launch the fourth season of its signature writing competition, The Stories Untold. The theme of “I am Zainab” was chosen to honor the life that was lost.
Through Stories Untold, we wanted our writers to address the grave issue of child abuse. Moreover, we encouraged them to write about any form of abuse – physical, sexual or emotional. We wanted storytellers to highlight effective ways in order to educate children and protect them from such experiences. Another purpose of this theme was to encourage our community to write stories which would serve as guidance and educational material for their children, helping them learn about this social evil and ways they could protect themselves against them.
The Response to our Competition:
Despite the social stigma surrounding the topic, we received a lot of entries, out of which we selected a dozen as finalists. The authors of these stories were put into contact with a professional psychologists. We made sure that the message of their stories would spread and be followed. Daastan went through various such screenings to make sure the stories would be child friendly and could serve as a genuine guide for both parents and children.
The finalists selected were all published digitally through Daastan. Top 5 stories are to be printed with Qissa so as to help spread this message as far and wide as possible.
In the wake of the success of the first two seasons of Daastan’s signature story writing competition “The Stories Untold”, one of which landed the team a fund of significant enough amount to bring the shortlisted authors of the competition to print, Daastan launched the third magical (pun intended) season of The Stories Untold sponsored by Aurochs, in collaboration with Words and Metaphors, during the summer of 2017. It was the team’s plan to continue fueling the fire of literature and encourage the creative ones among the public to squeeze out all they had and a bit more, and spin it into a tale. By continuing to hold the contest biannually, Daastan had uncovered a whole trove of creative writers and word magicians, who kept coming back to participate in the subsequent seasons and dazzled us with their unbounded potential.
Having addressed the serious and thought-provoking side of literature in the theme of the previous two seasons, the founders of Daastan decided to lighten the mood with a bit of fairy dust and themed the third season of the recurring competition, “Magical Pursuits”. This theme was picked to challenge the wildly imaginative among us, who have the creativity to step out from the door of reality into a world of magic, driven by the author’s self-made laws of the creation present there-in. Daastan made the perfect choice in the selection of the theme, as the literature of Pakistan was severely lacking in this genre, and so the entries poured in.
As proven by the previous competitions, hundreds of authors toiled to be a part of our family. Stories of 4000-6000 words were submitted to us in both English as well as Urdu, and all of them were screened very carefully to filter out the top few. The stories were judged mostly on the basis on the impact they created on the reader, on the writer’s ability to whip up whole plot lines and characters without loopholes, and how closely they stuck to the theme of fantasy. It was a battle of mythical levels, and the results were finally posted a couple weeks after the deadline closed.
After having read the entries of The Stories Untold Season 2 on the theme of “A War Within”, the team of Daastan found themselves incredibly moved because of each of the stories. They wanted to help further market these snippets of reality, to bring bits and pieces of it served as hors d’oeuvres to the readers so as to build their appetite for the main course of the meal – the book – that was to follow. The idea was to make the story penned down more relatable, to humanize the words, and build the audience’s relationship with their writers, helping the readers sense the emotions that ran through the authors as the phrases were put to paper.
The resulting movement that ensued, an innovative and ahead of its time podcast series, was named Nashist. Nashist, an Urdu word, literally translates to a ‘gathering’ or a ‘seated assembly’, and that is the exact effect we wanted to produce. We wanted our readers to come together as one and listen with their hearts while one of their own quoted the books, heavily focusing on the sentiments each word entailed. Each week, one of the top five finalists of The Stories Untold from each language was chosen, and a selection made from among its pages that would draw the listener’s breath away. One of our literary fellows of the debut batch would then narrate the appointed lines, over heavenly music produced by Moonlight Studios. The storytelling was done in such a brilliant manner that it shook the listener’s mind, helping them associate with the writer and empowering the writers by helping them communicate in a much more personal manner with their readers.
In the beginning of the year, Daastan hosted its first story writing competition that set the precedent for other seasons of the program that would follow. The first season was an unimaginable hit, with almost 100 entries from all over Pakistan. Daastan got to uncover some major talent and later on also published a book as a tribute to the top 5 position holders, titled “A Journey to Stardom”, which documented their struggles as a writer in a community which tends to overlook the artisans present in it. October of 2016 saw Daastan pitching for a micro fund of 2500 USD which it went on to win for season 2 of “The Stories Untold”. The fund was offered by the PeaceTech Lab under the banner of PeaceTech Exchange (PTX). PTX is a workshop-based competition which enables peace sustaining enterprises to contest and win the offered amount by pitching their idea and establishing how it will help underdeveloped regions utilize technology for the advent of peace, social inclusion and conflict resolution.
A War Within:
With funding under its belt from Peacetech Lab, PTX, Technology for Peace Initiative (TPI) and United States Institute of Peace, Daastan launched season 2 of “The Stories Untold” with the theme “A War Within”. This time around, we encouraged writers and participants to look deep into the conflicts and pressures faced by individuals on a daily basis, and chart out whole territories on how to deal with them, both as an observer as well as the victim. It was the perfect opportunity for every person who had felt caged at any time in their life to put that feeling to words and come out stronger and accomplished. The competition was split into two modules, which allowed Urdu writers to send in entries as well, helping us reach a part of the community we hadn’t been able to touch before. We also partnered with “The Ancient Souls” from across the border to expand our entry base, as well as the “Young Women Writer’s Forum Pakistan”.
Results of the competition:
As expected, the participants blew us away. We received more than 150 entries from all over the world of such high quality that it was a great difficulty to shortlist them. The qualifying rounds consisted of top 30, followed by top 15 and then the final winners. Each shortlisted candidate’s work was published digitally on Qissa, and the top ones also lived the dream of seeing their work go into print. The certificates and prizes distributed, along with publications, amounted to a grand total of 100,000 PKR.
Are you a writer who has a story caged in their chests? Sign up on Qissa and publish your work, or keep up with our updates on Daastan to participate in our next story writing competition.