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.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
Let’s Go On a Pond-cation posts are some of my absolute favourite posts here at The Quiet Pond, and I am so happy and excited that we get to do one for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month this year! With most of us cooped at home or having not traveled anywhere, I love the idea that we can take you away on a virtual vacation – a vacation that is very much book-related!
Today, I have the pleasure of having Aamna Qureshi, author of The Lady or the Lion visiting us at the Pond today as a tan-coloured bunny wearing a hijab! Aamna and Xiaolong are taking us on a journey today – and we’re going to Pakistan, the beautiful place that inspired the worldbuilding in The Lady or the Lion. So friends, pack your bags and bring some snacks – we are leaving the Pond today and going with Aamna on an adventure!
Hello Pond-goers! My name is Aamna Qureshi and I am so glad to be here today!! Since many of you haven’t been able to travel due to COVID, I thought we’d take a little virtual vacation together to one of my absolute favorite places in the world — Pakistan! This beautiful country inspired the setting of my debut novel, THE LADY OR THE LION, which chronicles a princess’s journey falling in love and learning to become a queen.
Join Xiaolong and I as we explore!
Baltit Fort in Karimabad, Hunza Valley, Pakistan
Durkhanai would have a similar view from the balcony of her rooms, and she can often be found here sighing at all hours, thinking of how Dhadi has expressly forbidden her from seeing the handsome and clever new ambassador.
Later that night, standing on her balcony, the night air was a warm embrace. May brought with it the sweet and endless days covered in a soft rose gold sheen. Leaning on the railing, a sigh escaping her lips, Durkhanai wondered.
She wondered and wondered and wondered, looking up to the stars, sprinkled across the horizon like raw sugar, and she plucked them from the sky, let them melt in her mouth.
If she stuck out her tongue, would it be stained gold with starlight or navy from the night sky?
Pasu Cones, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Look at those pretty snow-capped mountains! This picture was taken in August. The snow remains year round and was used for this little exchange between our hero and heroine.
“A prayer for you then, Shehzadi,” he said, raising his glass between them. “May Allah keep your intentions pure as the snow that caps the heavenly mountaintops.”
“And may He keep your thoughts even purer,” she added, raising her glass to his.
They both grinned, suddenly drunk off the game that had begun.
“Ameen,” they said together, and they drank.
(A classic chai spread at my grandma’s with aloo samosay, dahi bhalle, jalebi, and sandwiches. Not pictured is the actual chai, which was still being cooked on the stove.)
One of the perks of being a princess is you can always ring for chai and yummy snacks whenever you’re meeting with your cousins or friends. It’s much more fun scheming politics or discussing your love life with a healthy supply of samosay on hand.
Naran, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
She felt like a river flowing toward a waterfall: inevitable, uncontrollable.
This was just a little stop on the side of the road as we drove, a little hidden wonder. The water struck me as shimmering with starlight, glistening and glowing. We sat here for quite some time, enjoying the fresh mountain air, watching the water rush by.
Rakaposhi, Karimabad, Hunza Valley, Pakistan
Here, nature was an entity of its own, and to Durkhanai, it was the loving presence of the parents she had never known. The trees had supported her when she had learned to walk, the air had kissed her cheeks every morning. The rain had softened her angry tantrums, the sweet hum of birds had sung her to sleep.
It warmed her heart. This was her home.
With a view like that, it’s no wonder Durkhanai has such a connection to the land!
Fairy Meadows, Diamer, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
This was my favorite stop. Look at that gorgeous, gorgeous view! Fairy Meadows is an adequate name for the picturesque land that sat so high up in the sky. We did horseback-riding through a trail, parallel to the clouds. The horse I rode was a beautiful white-maned horse named Heer, and consequently, Durkhanai’s favorite horse is also named Heer.
Lok Virsa Museum in Islamabad, Pakistan
Mughal-era hand-carved wooden doors are quite popular in Pakistan. Fun Fact: my mom wanted to import one from Pakistan to New York when she got married and moved to America. My father promptly shut down the idea as it clashed with the design of American homes.
These are the types of doors you could expect to see at the tribunal at the heart of The Lady or the Lion. Behind one would stand a beautiful lady, behind the other, a ferocious lion. Princess Durkhanai must choose which door to send her lover to.
So I must ask: Which door would YOU choose? The lady or the lion?
And with that, we’ve reached the end! Thank you so much for coming along with me. If these look like the type of places you’d love to explore, The Lady or the Lion is out July 20th!
The Lady or the Lion by Aamna Qureshi
Once there was a princess forced to choose a fate for her lover – to a future in the arms of a beautiful lady, or to death in the mouth of a lion? But what came first was the fate she would choose for herself.
As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. Enter Ambassador Asfandyar Afridi, a wry foreigner who admits outright that he is a spy. Stubborn, proud, and suspicious of foreigners, Durkhanai does not appreciate that he won’t bow to her every whim and instead talks circles around her.
And yet, she has to make him her ally to expose those truly responsible for the attack as more ambassadors from neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each one of them with their own agenda and reasons to hide the truth.When a mysterious illness spreads through the village and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must sort through the ever shifting loyalties at court and her growing feelings for Asfandyar. Will she be able to leave the antics of a spoiled princess behind and become what her people need – a queen?
About the Author
Aamna Qureshi is a Pakistani, Muslim American who adores words. She grew up in a very loud household, surrounded by English (for school), Urdu (for conversation), and Punjabi (for emotion). Through her writing, she wishes to inspire a love for the beautiful country and rich culture that informed much of her identity. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to new places where she can explore different cultures or to Pakistan where she can revitalize her roots. She also loves baking complicated desserts, drinking fancy teas and coffees, watching sappy rom-coms, and going for walks about the estate (her backyard). She currently lives in New York. Look for her on IG @aamna_qureshi and Twitter @aamnaqureshi_ and at her website aamnaqureshi.com.