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, and the trauma
they must endure for the rest of the lives, all because of the horrendous acts
of the perpetrator. It wasn’t one life we lost the day we as a nation failed
Zainab, but rather some part of the whole nation seemed to have died along with
I Am Zainab:
At that time, many of the organizations stepped forward to improve the situation and do whatever it is they could to help. Daastan, after careful consideration of how to help our nation which was going through a moral crisis, decided to launch the fourth season of its signature writing competition, The Stories Untold, in honor of the life that was lost, by labeling the theme as “I am Zainab”. Through their stories, we wanted our writers to address the grave issue of child abuse, and encouraged them to write about whichever form of abuse they chose, whether physical, sexual or emotional. We wanted the storytellers to not only highlight, but write about effective ways through which the children could be protected from such experiences. Another purpose of this theme was to encourage our community to write stories which would then serve as guidance and educational material for their children, helping them learn about this social evil and ways they could protect themselves from it if ever faced with any such scenario.
The Response to our Competition:
Despite the social stigma surrounding the topic, we received
a bucket load of entries, out of which a dozen were selected as finalists. The
authors of these stories were put into contact with a professional
psychologist, so as to ensure that the message that their stories would be
spreading was an accurate one and could be followed through as real advice. The
team of Daastan went through various such screenings to make sure the stories
would be child friendly and could serve as a genuine guide for both parent and
offspring on what to do in these situations.
The finalists selected were all published digitally through Daastan, top 5 of which would also go into print 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.
Daastan launched its very first story-writing competition in 2016, providing the writers of Pakistan with a chance to prove themselves and let the tales that they carry inside them out. With the launch of this competition, Daastan was on the hunt for the emerging stars of the literary industry of Pakistan. It was targeting the storytellers who keep their world concealed from the rest of us, carrying within themselves a plethora of stories and scenarios which never see the light of the day.
The Criteria for the Competition:
The theme of the competition was ‘Perfect Imperfections’. The Stories Untold expected the authors to talk about the people or sections of the society deemed as ‘imperfect’, and how they are above any such label and rather are very much worthy to be branded as ‘perfect’. The authors were encouraged to write about local characters, settings and plots, so as to make it relatable for the readership of Pakistan. The target also was highlight and in turn humanize the transgressions against minorities and any other convention violating body that is ostracized for its inability to ‘fit in’. The entire concept of the theme was to present everyday harsh realities in a way that would spread awareness about the social issues plaguing our society, and for the authors to develop their characters in a manner which would enable them to face and beat the odds.
The word count was limited to 4000-6000 words, and the language of entries was specified to English only. Almost around 100 submissions were received in a short span of five weeks, making the competition a monumental achievement for the team of Daastan.
What followed was days and weeks of meticulous and careful analysis, which carried the top stories through various rounds of the competition. Initially, the top 30, followed by the top 15 of the entries were announced. These would go on to be published on the Qissa website, and made available for everyone to read. The winner, Wafa Zaka writer of ‘Cursed and Healed’ was selected from the top 5 after her story was put through a grueling contest. She was awarded a cash prize of PKR 10,000, along with publication both digitally and in print with a designated ISBN.
If you want to participate in one of our writing competitions, keep an eye out for our updates on our social media pages such as Facebook, so the opportunity doesn’t pass you by.