Shaheen Chishti’s The Granddaughter Project recounts major events in history through women
The grandmothers in the story embody the collective who endured the same horrors.
A champion of women empowerment, Shaheen Chishti, who is also a strong advocator of world peace turns into an author with the book The Granddaughter Project. The debut read of the famous Chishti descendent of Ajmer and founder of Shaheen Chishti Women Empowerment Foundation, picks up three resounding voices who narrate their stories during the historic events in history - Bengal Famine of the 1940s, the Holocaust of 1940 onwards and Notting Hill Gate of 1958. He tells us, “The grandmothers in the story embody the collective who endured the same horrors. The stories on each individual echo the lives of the many other women who suffered similar fates. The characters are based on real women that I know. Having deep-dived into their stories, they intrigued and moved me to bring them under the spotlight to be known by the larger community.”
Here, the British-Indian author and activist tells us more about The Granddaughter Project. Excerpts:
What inspired you to pen down The Granddaughter Project?
I would hope that my daughters and future granddaughters get to live in a society that fully respects women; a society in which they would not have to face the same injustices and lead their lives in fear of what could happen to them just because of their gender. We have certainly made progress as a society but there is still such a long way to go to ensure that all our granddaughters live without fear of men and are not held back to reach their full potential. I wanted to help young women find their voices and power, and to make the most for themselves – not for their society. So many young women now are the living legacies of strong women who came before them, able to live their lives and enjoy their freedoms and identities because of the sacrifices made by their grandmothers. So many grandmothers went to their graves without telling their stories, for fear of the repercussion and consequences upon their families. Some understandably lacked courage, others lacked opportunity. But now they can be unburdened.
How challenging was it to pen down your thoughts and ideas into it?
It was indeed quite challenging to collate them all while holding a full-time job and looking after a young family. Also, to gather all the thoughts and experiences that I came across over the years made me lament at times but I tried to piece them together to the best of my knowledge. For everybody has their own diverse experience witnessing an event, I penned it thoughtfully to bring it to the larger audience as an eye-opener. Having witnessed first-hand and read about the horrors of the many dreadful events, to weave the events into words certainly can get overwhelming, and that is the reason, The Granddaughter Project is very dear to me. To see the women in their unrelenting pursuit to remain afloat during destitute times and to achieve their long-surviving quest gets teary for the beholder.
Tell us about the book in brief.
The book covers three characters mainly based on Goddesses Durga, Holocaust and Notting Hill Carnival. It covers the Bengal Famine of the 1940s, the Holocaust of 1940 onwards and Notting Hill Gate of 1958. The grandmothers in the story embody the collective who endured the same horrors. The stories on each individual echo the lives of the many other women who suffered similar fates. The characters are based on real women that I know. Having deep-dived into their stories, they intrigued and moved me to bring them under the spotlight to be known by the larger community. I chose these characters to underscore noteworthy life-changing events that took place during the last 130 years: the Bengal famine of 1943, the Holocaust and the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. All this was chosen with women empowerment in mind, alongside my desire to highlight women’s plight during these events.
You work for women empowerment, can you tell us about the projects that are close to your heart?
To mention the least, we are always up for whatever it takes for the larger cause - empowering women. I founded a foundation to help deliver various services including healthcare services like breast screening, cervical cancer diagnosis, sexually transmitted diseases' diagnosis, among several others. These topics to date are subjected as taboo to speak about or to seek professional help for, hence we aimed at coming forward for the empowerment of women in the most vital way.
Being from the Chishti family, is there anything that you are doing to conserve the legacy?
The Chishti motto is Love towards all and Malice towards none and I would like to take this message and create peace among the human race and in addition work on the empowerment of women (half the society). We will provide free cervical cancer tests, breast screen, other women issue. We will build many homes for women where they can work and sustain themselves. We will build schools for women and provide opportunity for women. I will also continue interfaith dialogue to improve the understanding of the various faiths so they can co-exist.
Will there be more books after The Granddaughter project?
Yes, I have another book planned and am extremely excited to share more details when the time is right.