by Ben Biddell.
‘Together: An anthology from the COVID-19 pandemic’, is a true collection of the many voices of humanity during the hard time that has been and still is in 2020, curated by Dutch researcher Dr Pauldy Otermans and social educationist Dev Aditya from London. The 444-page book, which is currently available in in nine countries, includes many human experiences from the pandemic which include stories of many brave hearts who contributed to safeguarding humanity. Alongside these stories are fabulous artworks to illustrate the written pieces and give them a sense of a personality and pictorial depth, which helps to differentiate between the many pieces which range from poems to prose and personal thoughts of the contributors.
This book published by Otermans Institute has been referred to by the Chairman of the Royal Institution Sir Richard Sykes as “truly a collective representation of the unity humanity has shown during the pandemic” and that as a book “there has been no other book that depicts the human spirit from the COVID-19 crisis so vividly”.
Aishwarya Parui (pictured), a resident of Southampton and current student at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, was lucky enough to have her poem “Certain’20” included. With thousands of submissions coming from all over the world to the curators Dev Aditya and Pauldy, being published in the book is a great feat. Amidst the lockdown, she channelled some of her observations and experiences into this short verse having realised the certain uncertainties during the pandemic. Her piece is complimented with an artwork by international artist Ella Mežule, in this global anthology which comprises of artists and authors from five continents.
She said: “It was Dev Aditya, one of the forces behind the anthology Together, who asked if I wanted to contribute to this noble project to help raise funds for the NHS and front-line services in the UK. I have always loved writing and find it extremely therapeutic to release my thoughts, experiences and observations in expressions such as verses and short stories. The motivation came from Dev Aditya and the words flowed naturally from the experiences during lockdown – daily activities, stories, news, media. The sources spread across continents, for me, as I have families in India and friends in Singapore.”
The other authors that have written pieces alongside Aishwarya are diverse, spanning from a member of bar staff at a pub on the frontline of the changes to life because of social distancing, to world renowned author and poet Benjamin Zephaniah, famed British actress and singer Annabel Leventon, and one of the two anthology curators themselves, Dev Aditya, a social entrepreneur who trains 25,000 students in rural India through his firm Otermans Institute.
The formats of the written pieces are widely varied from accounts of experiences to essays, poems and opinion pieces. In the preface of the book the curators, Dr Pauldy Otermans and Dev Aditya, stated that once the authors had written their submissions, they tried a social experiment by only giving the names of the literary pieces with one-line summaries to artists who had hours to make an artwork for the book. They concluded that their experiment “turned out to be extremely positive”.
The outcome of the experiment of the book as a whole will be extremely positive too, given that the proceeds from the sales of the anthology will go towards funding the NHS through NHS Charities Together, particularly focusing on the heroic frontline nurses, doctors and other staff and some other frontline services. The curators of the book, Dr Pauldy Otermans and Dev Aditya, have also stated that “they will not be taking back the money they invested in making this massive publication possible”, and will continue to push the fundraiser in every way possible. This money will be donated to regional hospitals and health charities, including those local to Southampton including UHS NHS Trust. And if the funds raised are significant enough, these can also help bigger causes such as Oxford University’s research, trials and development to produce a coronavirus vaccine, which are currently looking very promising.
The curators said that their vision behind the project was not just to allow people to only fund the health charities like the NHS and frontline services but also “to create a piece of contemporary history worth passing on to the next generations in that process”. You can also contribute to the project and anthology by submitting a story or artwork of your own about your time in lockdown and during the pandemic from a Southampton resident’s perspective, through the anthology’s website. These will be included in the upcoming paperback edition of the book.