Meet two debutant female writers who created a living record of the pandemic’s impact on people
In ‘A World On Hold’, writers–Divita Aggarwal and Surabhi Sundaram–set out to create a moving collection of first-person narratives that echo the voices of those unheard.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us to be resilient, compassionate, empathetic, tolerant and understanding.
Delving deep into how it affected various people across industries are friends Surabhi Sundaram and Divita Aggarwal.
They are among India's youngest female authors, who during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, created a living record of the global pandemic in their book, ‘A World On Hold’. The duo realised early on, that data has its place in understanding the pandemic but doesn’t always reveal the whole story. Each of us lived through the same global crisis, but experienced it differently.
Through the voices of entrepreneurs, celebrities, migrant workers, frontline workers and grave diggers, the book offers a 360-degree view of how the pandemic impact lives and industries across the country.
The book is comprehensive and offers hope and lessons for the future. It compiles 20 diverse and compelling experiences chronicling the events of the last two years that brought the world to a standstill.
From Shashi Tharoor, Vidya Balan, Nonita Kalra, Shilarna Vaze to an anonymous police officer, a migrant worker, a gravedigger, and a cabin crew member—all have shared their first-hand experiences at hospitals, crematoriums, migrant worker camps, and vaccination centers.
Surabhi and Divita have known each other since their undergraduate days. The young authors overlooked their own individual experiences to create a kaleidoscope of stories throughout the book.
During the pandemic, Divita was working as an Associate in Brand Marketing with the online lifestyle platform Little Black Book while Surabhi was working as a multimedia journalist and was on the ground reporting the pandemic. Both of them saw how the pandemic affected various industries.
“So we got to talking about how the pandemic was affecting all of us, and the idea came about why we don’t just document what's happening around us, it's something historic that we all are going through. So in this period, let's just put together something that we can look back on and it can be used as a reference for future generations. So that's kind of how we came up with the idea and started writing,” says Surabhi.
In this book, the two writers try to capture moving, heart-breaking, conflicting emotions across a diverse set of people.
“When we started writing the book, nobody knew anything about COVID-19, or the extent to which it would disrupt our World. This was our attempt to make sense of a year where nothing added up,” Divita says.
“While writing, we were clear about wanting to capture the emotional essence and touch on each and every aspect. What guided our research was, the curiosity to find out how different people were impacted. So that's why you will find someone like a politician like Dr Shashi Tharoor in the book, but you will also find someone like a gravedigger,” adds Surabhi.
The duo, who had started writing in September 2020, finished the first draft by December 2020. “The writing took only a couple of months for us. But as we are novice writers, procuring agents and getting the publishing it took us two years. So the book was finally published this year in June by Om Books International,” says Surabhi.
Their book ‘A World On Hold’ sold out its first print run within the first three weeks of its release. It was also ranked number 6 bestseller in the Society and Culture category on Amazon in the pre-order phase itself.
On-the-ground reporting brings out scenes of fear and grief. But even in this, the authors offer a glimmer of hope to the readers.
Surabhi explains, “There was anguish and heartache everywhere. But even in the bleakest of times, there was a ray of hope. There were people–ordinary people like you and me–who went above and beyond to help another. It’s the reason we pulled through. It is these touching, personal narratives that are at the core of our book.”
“It was an emotionally challenging time for all of us. And one takeaway was the different ways in which all of us were coping with those emotions, to how they were affected and the different mechanisms that come by virtue of being in that industry,” says Divita.
To quote some popular stories, parliamentarian and author Shashi Tharoor offers invaluable insights into the political workings of India’s response to the global pandemic. Surabhi and Divita showcase the larger picture, alongside Tharoor’s personal worries about his family’s health, particularly that of his aging mother.
Similarly Actor Vidya Balan brings out the challenges faced by the Indian film industry; the multi-crore industry had to shift–almost overnight–from creating for the big screen, to adapting to OTT platforms. But even as she talks about complex issues, the authors, with their inimitable skill, offer you an intimate glimpse into Balan’s daily life.
Since data and numbers can’t be ignored, the authors weave statistics into the stories. Readers are provided facts and numerical data, with regard to the travel industry, food industry, Indian cinema, health sector and also the evolution of startups.
The book has been given a shoutout by renowned influencers, actors and journalists such as Ravish Kumar, Kubra Sait, Nakuul Mehta, Shrima Rai, Santoshi Shetty to name a few.
Additionally, a rigorous marketing campaign for the book involved a first-of-its-kind initiative in the publishing industry. The authors of the book collaborated with pandemic-born brands to create a hamper wherein the curation, products as well as execution involved brands that were conceptualised during the pandemic years. This initiative was a way to endorse the book as well as a way to support businesses that took the plunge in this difficult period.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti