Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
Love + Sex Love Life Stories

I went to a wild sex party — & here’s what happened

There’s this notion that sex parties are for those who can afford Agent Provocateur and ounces of cocaine.

At a party in Dubai, I met a girl who claimed that she had been to a sex party with the cast of “Made in Chelsea”. She told us of the sexy lingerie, the games, the drugs…but never once told us if it was fun.

I don’t think she realized how posey the whole thing sounded. 

That conversation reminded me of this sex party I had attended the year before – not that that’s something I’d EVER forget. I couldn’t believe how pretentious and glamorous it sounded in comparison to the one I stumbled upon that fateful night.

Does everyone think sex parties are an Anne Summers-style fete?

My friend invited a mate and me to an event on Ticketmaster called ‘Hysterical Literature’. At the time, none of us knew it was a sex party. In fact, I thought it was a Waterstone’s event. But when we were met with a 40-year-old man with a feather headdress and zebra hot pants at the door, it was clear.

After walking past the man and realizing we were severely underdressed (or overdressed), we came to a hallway bathed in soft lighting.

Here’s what I saw: Baby oil EVERYWHERE, lube dotted about, condoms scattered around like sweets, a stash on the toilet cistern in case the mood suddenly hit mid bathroom break. 

I sat on the floor of the living room surrounded by 20 people, perched on sofas and laps. There was lots of excited chatter. The host, Eyal, a bald man in gold tight leggings and a satin gown, entered and everyone cheered –  a peculiar pseudo god figure. He shushed the room by holding up his index finger to his mouth and smiled. He opened his arms like Jesus to welcome us. I felt like I was at a family reunion, or maybe even a cult meeting. My stomach was doing flips, but I was grinning like a maniac. What was going to happen?

Eyal instructed us on the importance of consent; he was there to ensure that everyone felt comfortable. If he saw anyone doing anything that made anyone feel uncomfortable he would kick them out.

He rattled through the instructions on safe sex and the importance of respecting the house and I felt like I was in a room of attentive school children rather than scantily clad adults with penchants for feathers. It was certainly new. 

And then the game began. It was an ice-breaking game of the eponymous ‘Hysterical Literature.’

 After, we split up into two groups a la a school disco. Young people gathered in the kitchen and older people everywhere else. There was no pressure to do anything sexual. I chatted to a screenwriter for a good half an hour whilst meters away a married nude couple banged over a kitchen counter.

The highlight of the evening was the professional spanker. She had a stern face and bright red lipstick. At around 1 am, she strode into the kitchen and demanded one of us tried a professional spanking. I thought, well, why come to Rome and not try the pizza?

She led me back into the living room and I was told to lie down on the floor. She gave me a 20-minute session, complete with the ‘yes miss,’ and ‘no miss.’ It struck me that some people would pay her hundreds for this.

What started out as amusing got alarmingly sexual and when my friends came in to laugh at the spectacle, it only took 10 minutes for me to ban them from the room. 

I guess I would say that overall, the evening, which lasted from 9 pm till about 3 am, was funny but not exactly erotic.

For many of the older guests, it was a lustful night. I got to witness my mate having sex in the exact spot where I got spanked. Not erotic at all. But it did get me laughing for the rest of the night. 

Afterward, we trudged towards a kebab shop to get ourselves some chips. I felt completely devoid of energy, like a wanderer who had just spent 40 years in Narnia.

To the rest of the world, nothing had changed.

The physical exhaustion combined with the mental fatigue of handling such a new experience had quite literally ‘whipped’ it out of me. 

I’d never been to anything quite like it before and haven’t been since. Though the environment felt safer than many regular nightclubs due to the emphasis put on respect, it was draining as hell.

Chelsea may boast elitist, drug-fueled, and lingerie-clad sex parties, but I promise you can find a better environment to try one out. With consent and respect at the forefront, sex parties can be a lot more enjoyable than the movies would have you believe. 

Tech Now + Beyond

Growing up means giving up part of who I am, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that

I can’t remember the last time I had a carefree day.

In high school, I was swamped with days like that. I could come home from school, throw my bags down and chill on the couch for hours, with nothing but a slab of chocolate and my PlayStation controller; that was until my mom would come home and yell at me, for not doing anything productive with my life. I can promise you, the time before that felt like complete and utter serenity.

Nowadays things are very, very different. I wake up in the morning, have a mini panic attack about everything I couldn’t complete the day before, then begin the whirlwind of emails, drafts, submissions, errands and coffee that culminates in me passing out on the couch at 2 a.m. I generally have no time for myself other than when I sit down to write poetry which ends up becoming work-oriented anyway.

More than that I have no time for gaming.

And if you’ve read any of my work, you’ll know that video gaming is my life. I can easily clock nine hours of game time without getting bored.

Now that I’m #adulting, you know, hustling for that feeling of meaning and belonging, I don’t really have time to sit down and just enjoy some game time. At most I’ll get in about 30 minutes before the deadlines get the best of me.

Honestly, it feels like I’m wasting valuable time.

Not to mention the cost of gaming has become too much for my very empty pockets. With games like Overwatch sitting at around R1,000 (roughly $76) on the PlayStation Store, it’s not very frugal to invest in multiple AAA titles.

More than being able to sit back and play games, I also feel completely disconnected from the gaming community as a whole. Before I would spend time looking at forums, watching gaming videos and even staying up to go through E3 trailers frame-by-frame. I would participate in online discussions about new releases and even started my own little website with some friends in high school.

It was meant to be my start in gaming journalism.

Even though the community can be pretty exclusionary for a bisexual Indian girl like me, it can also be liberating when you find your people within it. It took time, but eventually, I found multiple sites dedicated to people of color within the gaming community.

But by the time I got around to that, I was already in my second year of university. Things were starting to heat up: I had to start applying for fellowships and internships, apply for meaningful jobs and start carving a little space into this world just for myself.

I was discovering myself at the same time that I was losing the very thing that made me into who I am.

It sounds dramatic, but gaming played a formative role in the kind of person I am today. Without it, would not be as confident and assertive with my thoughts and what I want to do in this world.

I would also not know how to survive the impending zombie apocalypse.

<a href="“”"></a>

All jokes aside, growing up is not easy.

I wish I could say that no one ever prepares you for it, but I guess that’s not exactly true. I remember numerous occasions where people told me that eventually I’d have to give up a lot in order to succeed in life, and I even remember people telling me that my love for gaming would eventually fade away.

It hasn’t though, and that’s the hard part. I spend so many hours of my day just waiting for the slightest opportunity to jump in front of the TV and play, even for a few minutes at a time. But us gamers know that 30 minutes of game time in real life can only really equate to five minutes in the game’s world.

It’s barely enough time to finish a single main quest in Skyrim.

Everyday is an opportunity. I try my best to get my poetry, fiction and articles published, I work hard at my fellowship with The Tempest, I’m doing multiple intellectual projects on the side, and I try to find time to fit in family, my health and everything else I have to do to live a balanced life.

I know that what I’m doing right now can’t ever compare to how busy I’m going to be in the future, so should gaming even factor into my life anymore?

The answer is yes. It brings me ineffable joy. And if that means slacking on a little bit of my work for a few hours of gaming?

Life can wait.

Tech Now + Beyond

What happens when you can buy your way into outer space?

Here on Earth, we have a system where you receive certain privileges and human rights only if you can afford them.

And if you cannot, you can say goodbye to your education, healthcare, even your happiness.

And if this wasn’t enough, we might be starting to rebuild the same flawed system in space too.

Take SpaceX’s “moon mission” as an example. Elon Musk’s private space exploration enterprise is planning to send two paying customers around the moon by 2018. The price is a secret, but some estimate it to be as high as $175 million dollars per seat.

What happens when we make space exploration so wildly exclusive, in the interests of rapid innovation? For one, we short-change the human race. If, in the future, only the elite, the .0001% of humans have the opportunity to experience the world outside of ours, it is almost as if no one does at all.

NASA has provided this country with a tradition of government-sponsored space programs. While the agency does not send ordinary Americans to the moon, their voyagers are extremely well-trained professionals. This makes more sense than to send amateur rich people out into space with, at best a year of training, and a hope for the best.

Of course, NASA’s approach doesn’t make financial sense. NASA does not rely on external funding; with a government lacking passion for exploration, and in favor of pouring funds into other areas such as defense spending, the agency cannot compete with its private competitors.

As a result, a bastion of space research is now being eclipsed by companies that fund joy-rides for the rich. Some want NASA to step aside and permit the flourishing of the free market. Adam Minter on Bloomberg urges the government to accept that “the private sector will always have an advantage” in terms of lowering costs. This is the same logic used to argue for privatized human needs, such as healthcare.

None of this is to say that private space start ups should disappear. At their best, these enterprises fill in for NASA’s lack of funding through frequent collaborations, their importance shown by NASA’s blog dedicated to SpaceX.

Private space companies are not ideal, but they have proven helpful. Instead, the problem lies with how the private and public space exploration sectors are being positioned against each other. In this battle, the underfunded and bureaucratic NASA is no match. We cannot afford to let it step aside and be replaced by an entirely privatized space industry. We cannot risk having important research projects decided entirely on the whims of the free market and the personal benefit of the rich.

Also a problem: the perpetual underfunding of NASA. And under Trump, it’s not likely to get better.

Unless these problems are fixed, we are poised to enter a future where even outer space travel is divided by class.