Reviews on my Books


AUTHOR: All set to make her mark

Reviewed by Rizwana Naqvi

July 15, 2007

Judging by its cover, Afzal ka Khawab seemed like an attractive children’s book. The book deals with fantasies and dreams — as its name suggests but as one flips through its pages, one is pleasantly taken aback as the book not only deals with fantasies but also with some stark realities of life. Four other books in the series followed in quick succession. The series’ author, Binte-Sameera, has become a big name in the world of literature in general and children’s literature in particular.

Writing for children is a cumbersome task. Those who have taken up the challange make use of common themes like adventure, the supernatural and fairy tales. But today’s children, especially teenagers, are not interested in fairy tales and mere feats of adventure. They are daring, young people aware of their surroundings and want to do something concrete to change the shape of the world or, to say the least, leave their mark.

Reading through the five books of the Youth Club series, one feels that Binte-Sameera realises that our children have the potential to do the extraordinary. Her books revolve around a few teenagers who have formed a youth club that strives to help others and to create awareness about the social evils prevalent in our society.

Binte-Sameera is, in fact, Nadeem Akbar writing under a pseudonym — why she changed her name is an interesting story.

Born in 1945 in Jalandhar, Nadeem belongs to a Pathan Burki family that migrated to Pakistan in 1947. Her forefathers had migrated to India from Afghanistan in the 19th century. Her father left his landed property in India at the time of Partition and started his business in Karachi.

Nadeem studied at the prestigious St Joseph’s Convent in Karachi as a young girl. Today she is an extremely well-connected woman. Her uncle General Burki along with General Azam and General Sheikh had a role to play in the toppling of Sikandar Mirza’s government in 1958, which resulted in the imposition of Pakistan’s first martial law by Ayub Khan.

She is not only related to some of the most renowned cricket players of Pakistan namely Javed Burki, Majid Khan and Imran Khan, but also to hockey Olympian Feroze Khan.

Talking about her life, Nadeem reveals that she got engaged at the tender age of 15 to her cousin, a young army captain Zahid Ali Akbar, who was leaving for London at that time.

Though Nadeem wanted to become a doctor, she was not allowed to pursue her passion. Instead, her parents insisted on her joining the Home Economics College to learn household skills. In two years’ time she got married and moved to London. However, since her husband was in the army, they lived in many cities before finally settling in Lahore when he was appointed as chairman of WAPDA.

As an army officer’s wife she had to look after certain welfare projects to help other soldiers’ families. So after settling in Lahore, she joined various organisations such as All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), Helping Hands and the SOS Village. She even started her own NGO named Parwaz which was launched in October 2005 after the devastating earthquake that jolted the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Kashmir. Her NGO worked for the humanitarian relief of the earthquake victims.

Besides her NGO, she now also runs some charity schools for poor children.

Coming back to her Youth Club series and the choice of social issues as her themes she says, “I feel that the young generation today is not as naïve as the previous. Media and internet has enlightened them a great deal, which is both good and bad. They no longer believe in fairies and goblins. Since these children are the future builders of our nation they should be educated in a way that they can grow up to play a positive role in the development of the country they live in.”

When she wrote her first book Afzal ka Khawab, she sent it to her publishers who liked it so much that they offered to buy it. Though she would have preferred to keep the rights, she accepted the offer as her introduction to the literary community.

The publishers asked her to write these stories in the form of a series and she did just that within a few months’ time.

Though Nadeem has not received any formal training in writing, the field of writing is not new to her. As she tells her tale, she recalls that she used to write romantic stories in a women’s magazine called Hoor. As she got busy with other things she had to shelve her passion for writing; but many years later picked it up again and wrote articles for the Nawa-i-Waqt.

Living in London provided her with a lot of time and space for writing in both Urdu and English launguages. She has also written a novel about Afghanistan in English, titled The Afghans, which is lying with the publishers in the UK and is expected to be available in a month or two.

The upcoming novel is “a fictional narration of three generations of a prominent Afghan family, spanning from the invasion and subsequent occupation by the then USSR, the coming to power of the Taliban, the American occupation and a future withdrawal of foreign forces, leaving behind a free Afghanistan. It is basically about the valour of the Afghan people and their free spirit — I have tried to depict why these people were never subjugated by any world superpower,” she explains.

Along with this, she is also working on a series of fiction books on earthquakes, a couple of which are already with the publishers in Pakistan. “These fiction books are about children who were abducted from the quake-stricken areas and later sold to camel-racers in the Middle East; girls to red light areas; and some into bonded labour. Every child has his/her unique story to tell.” Nadeem plans to write five to seven stories in this series.

When asked how she brings herself to write stories, she says that she does not plan them; she just picks her pen and the story develops on its own. Her smooth narrative represents the fact that she writes from the heart and not just for the sake of writing.

Nadeem has many favourite writers and the books she enjoys reading are Shaukat Siddiqi’s Khuda ki Basti and Razia Butt’s romantic novels.

Among English authors she is a great fan of Louie Lamoure who wrote about the Wild West and enjoys reading Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. Her favourite book is Gone With the Wind.

Besides reading and writing she also loves to paint. Commenting on her unusual first name she says, “Nobody in their right mind can imagine ‘Nadeem’ to be a woman’s name. When I was young many of my friends suggested that I should change it. I stuck to it anyway.”

When asked about her pseudonym she says that her editor at Ferozesons, Shaheena Islam, came up with it. Sameera is the name of Nedeem’s mother, “so I am Sameera’s daughter — Binte-Sameera”. But for her publishers in the UK, she is still Nadeem.

CHILDREN’S BOOK REVIEWS: What dreams may come

 Reviewed by Rizwana Naqvi

Bint-e-Sameera is a new name in children’s literature. She is associated with child welfare associations like the SOS village, Apwa and Helping Hand. It is this familiarity with such organizations that provided her an opportunities to acquaint herself with the problems children are faced with in Pakistan. Afzal ka Khwab is the first book of her Youth Club Series under which she has written five books.

Afzal is the young son of a brick kiln worker who is forced to quit school and work at the kiln, because his father falls ill. A group of children between the ages of 13-16 years from well-off families have formed a youth club and they get to know about his predicament. Thus, they set out to help Afzal. They discuss the issue with their parents and come up with solutions to help him and his family. The children encourage Afzal and his father to work on a self-help basis for their cause.

Through her story, Sameera shows that children have an ability to change the course of events and bring about a transformation not only in their own, but also in their families’ lives. If they are given a chance and encouraged in their endeavours, they can certainly do wonders.

Brilliantly interwoven in the story are the problems faced by kiln workers and how they are exploited by their employers. Sameera also emphasizes on the importance of education, showing how the lack of it can leave them vulnerable to exploitation. Furthermore, she shows that Afzal, who has received some education, is able to see through the kiln owner’s trickery.

Afzal ka Khwab depicts how unity among workers along with a little awareness of the world can really make things easy for them. It is only when the workers got together that the kiln owner and his henchmen failed to suppress them.

CHILDREN’S BOOK REVIEWS: The demons within

 Reviewed by Rizwana Naqvi

Tuberculosis (TB) is a dreaded disease. There was a time when it had no cure. People feared TB patients and stay away from them, which is still the case even though TB today is curable if diagnosed at an early stage.

Sadly, the disease is prevalent in Pakistan, especially among the lower classes.

Bint-i-Sameera in her second book in the Youth Club series, Chuppa Dushman, highlights the problem and creates awareness regarding the prevention of TB and getting early treatment. She believes children can do wonders if they are properly guided about tuberculosis as they grasp things quickly.

In Chuppa Dushman, the Youth Club members learn about George’s, a gardener at a local school, ailment and the predicament of three young children in the same locality, whose parents had died of the illness and who have been shunned by the neighbourhood. The Youth Club members take up the challenge to help these people and seek their parents’ assistance in their endeavours. They arrange treatment for George and the others who are suffering so much from the disease and also get all the children of the neighbourhood vaccinated.
When they learn that a concerned parent is going to talk to the principal about keeping a TB patient employed at school, they meet the principal to discuss the problem themselves and save the gardener’s job. This also shows their concern for a poor man — they don’t want him to lose his job, as he has a family to support.

From their discussions with their parents, the principal of George’s school and the three children, readers can learn about the importance of precautionary measures such as hygienic living and vaccination.

The author is a social worker, associated with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working for the welfare of poor children. Her work brought to her notice, the plight of poor children in Pakistan and she has undertaken the task of evoking their interest in acquiring knowledge. Though difficult, she knows this is possible as children have the capacity to learn and adapt if properly guided.