viewComments Literati meet Glitterati at 5th South Asian Literature and Arts Festival


Literati meet Glitterati at 5th South Asian Literature and Arts Festival

Actress Konkona Sen, comedian Varun Grover, and writers Shobaa De, Dr. Abraham Verghese, and Amitav Ghosh were among the stars of the two-day event.

Writer Shobhaa De discussed her new book “Insatiable” in a conversation with journalist Salil Tripathi at the South Asian Literature and Arts Festival Oct. 8. / (Sunita Sohrabji photo)

MENLO PARK, California — Writers, artists, celebrities and their fans gathered at Menlo College here Oct. 7-8 for the 5th South Asian Literature and Arts festival.

The weekend event featured 22 panels, 65 speakers, several art exhibits  — featuring the work of Tarik Currimbhoy, Tanya Momi and Chitra Ganesh, among others — and an outdoor open mic for emerging writers to share their work. 

“This is the largest gathering in the US of South Asian intellectual minds,” Ambika Sahay — founder and executive director of Art Forum SF, which organizes the annual event — told New India Abroad, in an interview ahead of the festival. “We hope to change the narrative on who South Asians are. We live in this community, and these are our experiences,” she said.

Kiran Malhotra, a co-organizer of the event, told NIA: “There are so many South Asian artists in the US who need a platform. Their mute voices need to be heard.” Malhotra noted that for the first time, SALA featured a panel on artificial intelligence, along with an interactive workshop, Project FUEL conceptualized by the writer and poet Deepak Ramola. 

Project FUEL draws upon experiences in 195 countries, making the world an interactive classroom. Participants could, for example, engage with a Maasai woman, or learn from a Nobel laureate.

The inimitable writer Shobaa De stole the show Oct. 8 afternoon, with an interview moderated by her longtime friend, journalist Salil Tripathi, to whom she gave his first job. The two discussed De’s new book “Insatiable,” which the author described as a book about food becoming a metaphor for life. 

De unabashedly shared her age — 75 — as she spoke about ageism. “We live in an ageist world where women are put out to pasture after their child-bearing years. Ageism inhibits women from realizing their full potential.”

De and Tripathi also spoke of the muting of media, and the sceptre of fear under which journalists in India currently live. Tripathi noted that De herself has received death threats. “I am not prepared to back down. It is too late for me to become a chartered accountant or take up dentistry,” she said, eliciting a long laugh and cheers from the audience.

Actress Konkona Sen Sharma (far right) joined screenwriter Tanuja Chandra and lyricist Kausar Munir (center) on a panel dubbed “Parde ke Peeche,” moderated by LGBTQ+ activist Anjali Arondekar (left, partial view). (Instagram/@sudschat)

Actress Konkona Sen Sharma joined screenwriter Tanuja Chandra and lyricist Kausar Munir on a panel dubbed “Parde ke Peeche,” moderated by LGBTQ+ activist Anjali Arondekar. Sharma, who made her directorial debut in 2017 with the film, “A Death in the Gunj,” said she was inspired by her father. 

“My father is a great story teller; he imbues his stories with great emotion, and I keep thinking about them. While I was writing “A death in the Gunj,” I thought maybe 5 people would come to watch it. So that freed me,” she said.

 Dr. Abraham Verghese (right) with poet and conceptualist Deepak Ramola. (ArtForum SF photo)

A day earlier, Dr. Abraham Verghese discussed his new novel, “The Covenant of Water,” with Art Forum SF co-founder Dr. Ajit Singh. Set in Kerala, “The Covenant of Water” is the story of a young girl married to a man three times her age. In an interview, the physician said he was inspired by the stories of his mother’s childhood. 

Venture capitalist MR Rangaswami discussed “The Great Escape,” a memoir by longtime labor activist Saket Soni. The book describes the horrific true story of 500 men from South India who were trafficked to the US to repair the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The book tells the story of the men attempting to escape their slave-like conditions.

Venture capitalist MR Rangaswami (right) moderated a panel discussion with longtime labor activist Saket Soni, author of “The Great Escape.” (Sunita Sohrabji photo)

“Most Americans agree that immigrants are needed in this country, even as a small number of politicians attempt to demonize immigration,” said Soni, to his packed audience. “Immigrants need to tell their stories. We need to understand the dignity of their lives, even in the worst of circumstances.”

Writer Amitav Ghosh closed out SALA 2023, discussing his newest work, “Smoke and Ashes,” with writer/journalist Raghu Karnad.









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