Laaleen Sukhera discovered Jane Austen on her 12th birthday when her aunt gifted her a set of the author’s books. Having read a couple of classics by then, Austen intrigued her like no other. A journalist by profession, Sukhera is the founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan (JASP) and the editor and contributor to the book Austenistan, a collection of seven witty and romantic stories by members of JASP.
Also an advisor to the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation (JALF), Sukhera says it was an irresistible opportunity to meet with like-minded enthusiasts and share their observations with inside jokes, laughing at parallels between characters from Austen’s works and the Pakistani society.
“The anthology grew from a discussion we’d had about writing fiction one evening in Islamabad. Many of us at JASP are journalists and academics so writing fiction has always been on our respective bucket lists.”
“The anthology grew from a discussion we’d had about writing fiction one evening in Islamabad. Many of us at JASP are journalists and academics so writing fiction has always been on our respective bucket lists. I decided to make it happen, and so it did. The rest was fate…and Bloomsbury!”
The book is timely because this year also happens to Austen’s 200 death anniversary. At a time when a woman was expected to just preserve the honour of the family in the society and marry into money, Austen’s characters were defiant, witty and self-reliant. Much like the author herself, who pursued an illustrious life of writing when it was quite unheard of women to do so.
Laleen Sukhera put this book together within a year while enduring an abusive marriage, fighting for custody of her daughters, and moving back to her hometown to start the next chapter of her life.
She adds, “We operated at the speed of lightening, from concept to publication… Austenistan’s sisterhood has been with me throughout and I’m not only surviving but thriving!”
But why is Jane Austen so relevant even in today’s day and age, her stories so universal that they can literally transcend cultures and be relevant across the world?
“Austen’s characters are so well sketched that they endure hundreds of years of change and appear as fresh and charming today as they did in Regency England two centuries ago.”
“Love and hope never go out of style, nor do bittersweet reality and the practicalities of life, ” says Sukhera, adding, “Austen’s characters are so well sketched that they endure hundreds of years of change and appear as fresh and charming today as they did in Regency England two centuries ago.”
Sukera started volunteering at the JALF on the invitation of Caroline Jane Knight, a descendant of Jane’s based in Melbourne who’s also written the foreword for Austenistan.
She informs, “We’re also developing a Pakistan chapter to encourage access to literacy and the love of reading among underprivileged children in the region.”
With the release of Austenistan as the tribute to Jane Austen’s legacy, I ask the author about her future plans with the society, which had once just started as a Facebook group.
“A lot more chapters, a lot more dialogue, a lot more synergy and inspiring exciting projects! Lit fests, films, documentaries and hopefully lots of novels!” she adds on an enthusiastic note.
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