Sunday, October 09, 2016

Third Annual IAAC Literary Festival

On Gopika Jadeja's invitation, I attended the third IAAC Literary festival yesterday. The 3-day festival, organized by the Indo-American Arts Council, was attended mainly by South Asian Americans. It was a fascinating glimpse into the relationship between them and Indians from India. The Americans were intensely interested in social and political developments in India. They were also captivated by celebrity culture, that of Bollywood and of nationalist politics. The panels on the the first biography of film legend Shashi Kapoor and on the secret diary of Kasturba Gandhi were very well attended.

I particularly enjoyed the panel "This Unquiet Land," also the title of the debut work of non-fiction by award-winning broadcast journalist Barkha Dutt. She has reported on a wide range of issues, famously on the disputed region of Kashmir. She was impressively sharp and articulate, and was well-matched by the nimble acuity of her interlocutor Suketu Mehta, the New York-based author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and an associate professor of journalism at NYU.

Gopika's panel on art and activism was also well-received. She spoke about her translation of poetry in the minority languages of the state of Gujerat into English, including the poetry of the Dalit. Her fellow panelist Priyanka Dasgupta spoke about her investigation into the phenomenon of passing, not of blacks passing as whites, but of Indians passing as Blacks and Latinos in the late nineteenth century because of the Asian Exclusion Act. She mentioned a book about this phenomenon happening in Harlem, when Indian sailors docked in New York ran away from British imperalism and hid from American racism.

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