Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
When Adiba reached out to me and invited me to participate in her virtual launch for The Henna Wars, I was over the moon. I’ve been buzzing with excitement for Adiba’s debut, The Henna Wars and I’m delighted that it releases today. Although I couldn’t contribute by hosting a live chat, I knew I absolutely had to invite Adiba to the Pond again following her previous visit alongside the contributing authors of the Keep Faith anthology!
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – diverse young adult contemporary is such an exciting and wonderful space right now, and I love that The Henna Wars is going to give us a romance that centers on a romance between two girls but also explores some pretty important and thought-provoking themes that are relevant to today’s society.
I firmly believe that The Henna Wars will be game-changing and I cannot wait for people to read this book. I love that this book is a romance (tinged with a bit of rivalry between the two leads!) and features brown and queer girls. Importantly, I love that Nishat, the main character of The Henna Wars, is Muslim and lesbian, which is such needed representation given the dearth of Muslim queer characters right now.
I am so happy to have Adiba back at the Pond today! Same as before, Adiba visits us as a cute yellow ducking wearing a pink hijab and wearing a red backpack! Today, we are going to talk a little bit about The Henna Wars and what readers can expect from the book. But, before I share the author interview, I am pleased to formally introduce you all to The Henna Wars!
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
I love the cover for The Henna Wars so much, friends. I have a soft spot for illustrated covers; seeing two brown girls on the cover with detailed henna on their hands fills me with so much joy. And how about that blurb? I love the hints of family drama, romantic tension, and also that this book will dive into important discussions about cultural appreciation versus appropriation. I’m so excited to read this!
Author Interview: Adiba Jaigirdar
Xiaolong: Hello Adiba! A big warm welcome back to The Quiet Pond! It’s so good to see you again and we are so happy that you are visiting us for the second time. For our friends out there who are only just meeting you for the first time, can you tell us about yourself?
Adiba: Hi! Thank you for having me, and I’m so excited to be back at The Quiet Pond! I’m Adiba Jaigirdar, I’m a teacher and an author. I’m Bangladeshi and Irish, and I’m currently living in Dublin, Ireland. I love writing books about queer POC. And my debut novel is The Henna Wars!
Xiaolong: A big congratulations to you and a happy release day for The Henna Wars! Your debut is one of my most anticipated books this year – and I can’t wait to read it. For those who may not be too familiar with it, can you tell us what The Henna Wars is about?
Adiba: Thank you so much! The Henna Wars is about a girl called Nishat, who is Bangladeshi, Muslim, and a lesbian. She decides to come out to her parents, but they don’t take it very well. At the same time, a childhood friend reappears in her life. When a school business project requires all the students to create their own business, both Nishat and Flávia decide to open a henna business—even though it’s part of Nishat’s culture but not a part of Flávia’s. So, while Nishat is annoyed at Flávia, she is also developing feelings for her. She has to find a way to navigate her parents’ disapproval, along with her complicated feelings for Flávia.
Xiaolong: Something that we don’t often unfortunately see in stories that feature queer Muslims – and it’s one of the reasons why I am so excited to read The Henna Wars. What was it like to write a story where lesbian identity and Muslim identity intersects?
Adiba: It was a really great experience writing Nishat as a character who was both Muslim and a lesbian, and also Bengali. It was great to dive into what the intersections of her identity meant for her as a character, and also how it shaped her into who she is, along with how it shaped the plot of the book. At the same time, I had to be very aware of the narrative I was writing into as I wrote The Henna Wars. There’s so many negative stereotypes about Muslims in the media, and Islamophobia is unfortunately rife all over the world. One of the things that Islamophobes love pointing to is homophobia in Muslim countries and communities. Obviously, their takes are completely devoid of any nuance, and stripped of the context of global homophobia regardless of people’s religions. I knew that this was the context I was writing in, so I wanted to be careful about how I portrayed sexuality, and its acceptance or rejection within Nishat’s family. It was a tough thing to balance all of that, but I hope I achieved it!
Xiaolong: A big theme in The Henna Wars is cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation – a theme, I think, will echo across a lot of readers who are frustrated by that ‘blurry’ line. What inspired or motivated you to write about cultural appropriation versus appreciation?
Adiba: It was definitely inspired by my own experiences. Growing up in Ireland, I knew a lot of people who would make fun of parts of my culture. For example, people would turn down their noses at the food that I ate, but then the same people would buy South Asian inspired jewellery or clothes, and everyone would ooh and aah at that. So, I learned as a kid that if I practised my culture that was wrong—I should stifle that. But if my white peers practised the parts of my culture they liked, they were seen as cool, cultured, and worldly. Those kinds of experiences definitely made me internalise a lot of hatred of my own culture, and it took years to unlearn all of that. I’m probably still working on unlearning a lot of that. Nowadays, there’s thankfully more awareness of topics like cultural appropriation, but people still do a lot of harmful things. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of really great conversations with people about culture, and specifically cultural appropriation, and all of that has definitely informed the theme in The Henna Wars.
Xiaolong: In The Henna Wars, family is also a distinct and present theme across the story, particularly for Nishat. Why was family such a significant focus in The Henna Wars?
Adiba: Growing up, I was always surrounded by family. My first friends were my cousins, and I’m lucky (and sometimes unlucky) to have a really big extended family who spent a lot of time together. Nowadays, we’re all emigrated out of Bangladesh into different parts of the world, so it’s not quite the same but having this kind of a family dynamic definitely makes you realise the importance of families, along with all of the complexity within them. For me, it would feel inauthentic to write about a Bengali teen whose family doesn’t have a significant role in their life—be that a positive role, a negative role, or somewhere in-between.
Xiaolong: I know that you have been a writer for a long time, and, once again, we are so happy for you that The Henna Wars is now out in the world! Do you have advice for queer writers of colour who are working towards writing and publishing their queer books with characters of colour?
Adiba: The best piece of advice I can give is to keep writing and trying to put your work out there. It might not always seem like it, but there are people out there who are waiting for the exact stories that you’re writing. The publishing industry is far from perfect, and it’s definitely not easy to tell our stories. But it’s worth it to push so that the readers who need these stories can find them.
Xiaolong: Last question – and a fun question that I like to ask all visitors at the Pond! What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Adiba: This is going to be controversial but khichuri! Khichuri is rice made with daal (or lentils), and a lot of Bengalis see it as a comfort food. It’s the dish you often have when it’s raining outside (don’t ask me why…it’s just what you do), and in Sylhet, which is the region of Bangladesh I’m from, you sometimes even have khichuri for breakfast.
About the Author
Adiba Jaigirdar was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has been living in Dublin, Ireland from the age of ten. She has a BA in English and History, and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is a contributor for Bookriot. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she can be found ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, and expanding her overflowing lipstick collection. She can be found at adibajaigirdar.com or @adiba_j on Twitter and @dibs_j on Instagram.
I’m honoured and overjoyed that Adiba could visit us again at the Pond today! I also want to say a huge, huge, huge congratulations to Adiba on The Henna War’s release today! (Don’t forget to add The Henna Wars on Goodreads!) I cannot wait to read this and I have a feeling it’s going to be a new favourite of mine!