Beautiful Books: Acha Bacha

Debut playwright Bilal Baig of the emotional heavy-hitter Acha Bacha (Playwrights Canada Press) — a play about the intersections between queerness, gender identity and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora — sits down with cover designer Harmeet Rehal to talk about how they captured the essence of a “sacred queer relationship at the forefront of this cover” and the weight of “that touch being able to exist outside of colonial/white gazes.”


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Below is a reproduced conversation between playwright Bilal Baig and cover artist Harmeet Rehal.Bilal Baig: hey!!Harmeet Rehal: hello!! shall we do this thing ahahBB: YESHR: hmmmm shall i start with a question i’d love to ask! or would u like to start the direction of this chat hehehBB: omg no ok u go firstHR: okokok!! i feel like i’m fishing for compliments asking this LOL but mostly just bc i am curious! but atm what’s ur favourite part of the cover design? and i think beyond that when u open the book itself – what part of it leaves u in awe!!i feel like i have so many parts of it i tear up at LOL when i read through – so i’m excited to hear which parts maybe bring up those same emotions of elation i guess!!BB: omg u deserve ALL the compliments…ok I’m going to respond to your first question FIRST.idk how to properly explain this but i’m looking at the cover right now it’s like, I love the cloudiness of it. the blurriness…like literally, parts of it are foggy, like you’re forgetting something, or something is incomplete….and that’s like the ESSENCE of the play basically u know??do u agree?also loved when u brought this image into the mixxxxxx I was likeHR: OMG YES YES!! I also feel like this being libra season – ur descriptions around this cloudiness + blurriness resonate so much!!! and it reminds me of this airy, creative and ethereal energy of this szn but also ur libra energy + creative energy!!! and outside of zodiac jargon – yeah there’s this grounding element to the cover but also totally this air of like “forgetting something” that ur describing, and it is rlly visceral!!BB: did the image I tried to send never send?HR: no not yet!!BB: lmao one secHR: loool np!!BB
when u brought THIS innnnHR: AAAAAH!! i was just about to send this later in our chat about how much this image meant to me!!i remember even when watching the play, this scene just got me very emotional oof!!BB: ugh omggg WOWHR: it’s so tender and intimate – the still of this scene feels like it’s speaking volumes trulyBB: I totally agree, like where the two are actually comfortable and then the rest of the play kinda puts them thru series of uncomfortable circumstances…HR: my reaction at this brown queer love + comfort! but tbh at the whole play ahah
BB: omg yesss cry ur eyes outok also what part of the cover feels grounded to you?HR: the boldness of the title! i think the meaning and history and relationship to the terms “acha bacha” is complicated – but i feel a sense of home in those words. That feels grounding, i also think the hands! while i know they are reaching towards the centre – and there’s some level of tension in their positioning. But knowing it’s the hands of zaya and salim – just feels grounding in the fact that there’s this sacred queer relationship at the forefront of this cover!BB: ugh yes omg sacred is such a good word…I just keep thinking about what it means to me to see queer/trans BIPOC ppl/characters ACTUALLY TOUCHING each other like why is that so uncommon u kno lolHR: oooof for sure! and i think that touch being able to exist outside of colonial/white gazes, makes it even more special and imp!i feel like especially during a pandemic where so many folks are touch starved and the ways safe/comforting touch can be so grounding for some survivors also – 2sqtbipoc affirming each other physically feels so much more vital to see and read aboutBB:
HR: omg !! i love this gif aaaaah!!BB: lmaoHR: also quick check in – how r we feeling for time?BB: maybe if u wanna pop in ur first draft and then ur last draft I’d love to just see the two of them and we can chat about that and pce out??HR: omg yes yes !!let’s talk about it !!it feels wild to see them side by side wooow
BB: OMG.ok tell me what was the most frustrating part from getting from draft 1 to FINAL??HR: omg i was just about to ask u the same q LMAOOum ok i thinkmy own anxiety and self doubt!!BB: oh yeah that’s so realI think for me, I was just like… how can we hold all the elements that make up this cover together??like this could go south at any moment so easily u kno……but it didn’t bc I think we just fundamentally understood each other so deeplyHR: omg yes i agreeeee!! like you had these vv intricate sensorial understandings of what energy the book needed to have and felt that and yeah i think my anxiety was similar like how do i make sure i don’t fuck this up LMAObut being able to work on it with u like every step of the way was a rlly like honest and wonderful time – like i had a blastBB: well it was just so lovely that u kept throwing shit on the wall kinda u kno? u were just down to try anythingHR: omg ty!! yeah i rlly enjoyed like making a thing and than tearing it apart over and over until we felt that like aha moment and even though we arrived at that digitallyi remember the air shifted – it felt idk its indescribable!!BB: ugh yessss I think its bc I know how much u care about the play and that’s why I was like to the publishers it has to be HARMEET or the cover can just be BLANK lmaoHR: omg yeah i was floored when i was notified i would be doing the cover!! like it’s just such a gift to the communities we are accountable to!!ur play is magicty again for thinking of me for this!! i am so grateful for u and all u are!BB: YOU ARE MAGIC, I really had such a lovely time working with you on this. It’s seriously been an immense PLEASURE AND PRIVILEGE working with you.And I can’t wait for MOREHR: ooooooof ty for those affirming words!!!!! and me 2!!!!! like our creative energies together???so healing and expansive!!BB:
HR: HAHAHHAHTHE BESTTTTBB: lmao lets end on this beautiful noteHR: agreeeeed!!! hehehe

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 Thanks to Bilal and Harmeet for sharing their conversation with us about the design inspo behind Acha Bacha, and to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press for connecting us. Acha Bacha is available here on All Lit Up.  Discover more beautiful books and the designers behind them on the ALU Blog >>