Waba Kay Dor Mein – In the Time of the Pandemic

Surviving and reflecting during a global crisis

Vasl Artists’ Association is announcing a three-month long writers’ mentorship program. The final product will be a fiction anthology to publish the short stories of writers selected for the program.

The theme of the publication is the Covid-19 pandemic. Pitches could span the lockdown, the disease, distancing protocols, changed lifestyles, or forced decisions. Writers can engage with the theme directly or indirectly. If your pitch is selected, you will develop your proposal into a 5000-word story during a 3-month mentorship program. An honorarium will be given to all selected writers. The short stories can be written in English or Urdu. Vasl will translate the Urdu stories into English for the anthology.

Jurors for Fiction Anthology


Vasl hopes the publication will create space for collective introspection through creative expression, to share and process experiences of crises and articulations of alternative futures. The stories will reflect on what crises can teach, help create or help undo, or prompt rethinking spanning its individual, familial, community, political and economic manifestations.


Writers must:

  • Be under 35 years of age
  • Be unpublished – writers must not have a book published under their authorship. Writers with stories published in college magazines or writers’ digests or magazines can apply
  • Be willing to commit to attending a three-day residency in Pakistan in August 2021 – we are still unsure if this will materialize because of the pandemic, but all authors have to agree to attend if it does
  • Write their final stories and send writing samples in either Urdu or English
  • Be able to access internet to communicate with mentor, whether through email or online face to face platforms

The writers will be introduced and linked to mentors who will guide, suggest and advice on story development. An honorarium will be paid in the duration.

Depending on the pandemic and vaccine availability, a 3-day residency may be held in August for the writers – Vasl will confirm when possible.

The completed, approved 5000 word stories will be published in an anthology.



The Covid-19 case count in Pakistan seems to have plateaued and the graph is veering downwards. Mortality rates were significantly lower than anticipated, even after factoring in that many deaths were not reported as Covid-related deaths. Barring a renewed spike or a second wave, Pakistan seems to have managed to contain the scale of the pandemic. As the wave recedes, it carries away much of the topsoil of consumption, growth, expanding markets, efficiency and economic mobility, leaving behind the subsoil which pedology calls Horizon B. What lies exposed in this substratum of society?

Globally, we witness crumbling welfare systems, unsustainable modes of production, unprotected labour, financially amputated governments, people’s fatalism and degraded value for human life. The pandemic has brought into focus global precariousness: the system runs based on the fundamental assumption that the system will continue to run. A few weeks’ pause necessitated by lockdowns has led to failing economies, contracting markets, revived protectionism, political conflict, and as some suggest, even a crisis of civilization. In modern history, fiction in the subcontinent has been the primary medium for thinking and reflecting on painful and calamitous issues. Social commentaries have mostly been ensconced in creative expression, through poetry and short stories. Writers such as Manto, Abdullah Hussain, Sajjad Zaheer and Ismat Chughtai, to name a few, are revered as public intellectuals for offering people catharsis and away of expressing and sharing experiences which are otherwise unspeakable. Creative expression is a critical cultural resource for collective processing and reflection. While writers across the world struggle to get published, there is a difference in the Pakistani market. In many parts of the world, publishing markets are saturated whereas in Pakistan, literary writers have very few outlets available to them. While celebrated Pakistani authors have found national and international platforms, young writers struggle for space and recognition. The publishing market is thin, with the exception of popular, mainstream writing which finds a home in popular writers’ digests. A majority of available novels are self published, and many writers do not have the resources to do so. Bursaries for fiction writing can therefore play a pivotal role. Providing a platform for unpublished creative writers would allow them to express themselves, find resonance with larger audience/ readership, and enable them to engage with society across a range of demographics. An effort will be made to allow representation from demographic and identity groups which are usually overlooked. This anthology is based on the premise that calamities offer crucial vantagepoints for studying what otherwise festers in opaque foundations, and will continue to shape and fertilize societal conflicts well after the topsoil is back in place. It will be published probably well after the pandemic outbreak’s immediacy has passed. As such, it hopes to position itself in that moment where introspection and deliberation becomes possible.

Mentors for Fiction Anthology

This Project is supported by Open Society Foundations