“The Indian experience is becoming a diaspora experience as well as a national experience,” said Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, in a conversation with the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk. The discussion, titled Homeland, was part of this year’s New Yorker Festival and is now available online. Moderated by New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, the conversation revolved around issues of identity, diaspora, and community. Forging a connection between a people and their language, Pamuk asserted, “I have a portable home with me all the time and that’s the Turkish language.” Rushdie and Pamuk also offer other insights into writing, perspective, and existing in America. Both authors are full of witty observations: Rushdie, in an anecdote about his family, said, “My mother was the Garcia Marquez of gossip.” You can watch other videos from the 2007 New Yorker Festival here.
More: Critical Mass, the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, offers up its take on the talk.
Earlier this week the Washington Post offered four opinion articles featuring perspectives on America from Muslim writers, including “Why Do They Hate Us?” from Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke. Being born in Pakistan, raised in the States from age 3 to 9, going back to Pakistan and returning to the States for his college and graduate education, in addition to working in NYC provides him with a “textured” view of the U.S. and its foreign policy.
While the main topic is Hamid’s diagnosis of and advice for dealing with anti-Americanism, the piece also offers a glimpse at his own identification as partly “they” and “us.” The encounter he describes in a Dallas bookstore—an elderly gentleman with Hamid’s book in hand points to the man on the cover and asks, “So tell me, sir. Why do they hate us?”—may be seen in contrast to a typical reaction he noted receiving after the publication of his second novel, a work focused on an extended encounter between a Pakistani man who tells his story to an American stranger in a Pakistani cafe: “People often ask me if I am the book’s Pakistani protagonist. I wonder why they never ask if I am his American listener.”
I wish I could say that I first heard about Malalai Joya, the bravest, youngest and first female member of Afghanistan’s parliament in the course of keeping up with international news or listening to current events on the radio, but the truth is she was the footnote in a coffee klatch-style video book club interview with Khaled Hosseini that I clicked through to from a Borders bookstore mass email. Over bundt cake in the kitchen with adoring fans of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini gave props to Joya for speaking out about crimes against girls and women in Afghanistan.
Her colleagues in the Afghan parliament do not share his admiration for her outspokenness. Earlier this week, they voted to suspend her for criticizing them in violation of article 70, a procedural rule that has not been enforced against other members despite their regular criticism of each other. What did she say? BBC reports: “A stable is better, for there you have a donkey that carries a load and a cow that provides milk.” “The parliament is worse than a stable.” Human Rights Watch is calling for her reinstatement.
Joya, 28, famously spoke out in 2003, when as an elected delegate to Afghanistan’s constitutional convention, she objected to the domination of the proceedings by mujahideen. “Why have you again selected as committee chairmen those criminals who have brought these disasters for Afghan people?” Read the rest of this entry »
Continuing the theme of food and mothers on Nirali this month, novelist Monica Pradhan couldn’t have chosen a better time to debut her first mainstream novel.
The Hindi-Bindi Club, written in the tradition of The Joy Luck Club and Like Water For Chocolate, focuses on the lives of three Indian immigrant mothers and their relationships with their daughters.
From her Web site:
Pradhan, whose parents immigrated from Mumbai, was born in Pittsburgh and decided to leave her career in consulting to write. Watch for her interview in the July issue of Nirali, and check out www.hindi-bindi.com.
Padma Lakshmi is gearing up for the third season (her second) of Top Chef, the Bravo network’s popular culinary competition. Starting June 6, tune in at 10 p.m. ET to see Lakshmi host the series which, this time around, takes place in Miami.
Not one to be left out of the spotlight, Lakshmi’s husband, Salman Rushdie, swung by the Colbert Report Wednesday evening to discuss the death of mainstream literary criticism. Colbert asked the Booker Prize winner why “it’s important to have need these elitist, ivory tower Ph.D.-types in magazines and newspapers” letting us know us what we “should and shouldn’t read” (especially with Oprah already telling us). Check out Rushdie’s response here:
Calling all bookworms! Slither on over to the inaugural Asian Pacific American Book Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles this weekend, May 12. Angry Asian Man, Angry Little Asian Girl and more than 30 writers are putting in appearances at this festival organized by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
South Asian participants confirmed for the festival include Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, whose book Ode to Lata is inspired by his love of Bollywood film music (especially the playback singing of the renowned Lata Mangeshkar), Ketu Katrak, a non-fiction writer and professor of Asian American studies, performance artist and writer/director Shishir Kurup, and children’s book Mama’s Saris author Pooja Makhijani (you might remember Nirali’s story on Makhijani, “Getting Under Our Skins”). View the schedule for program details.
Amjeed Kamil, 35, has just released his debut novel.
Straightening Ali is about “family ties,” “conflicting cultures” and love. It is the story of a British Pakistani gay man whose family pressures him to enter an arranged marriage. And although a work of fiction, the narrative rings true to life.
Last month, CNN’s Seth Doane filed this video report from New Delhi, bringing attention to the struggles often concomitant with being gay in India.
“Being gay in India can get one thrown into jail in this country because of a section of the Indian Penal Code (Section 377) which criminalizes same-sex relationships,” Doane says. “The law, drafted in the 1860s when the British were still ruling … India, states: ‘Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature … shall be punished with imprisonment … and shall also be liable to fine’.”
Members of India’s LGBT communities report feeling marginal and unsafe says Doane. Some gay men see marriage as a ‘way out.’
Gautam Bhan is a Delhi-based queer rights activist and author of the book Because I Have A Voice. “A lot of gay men use marriage to be free. A lot of gay men use marriage in order to be with their boyfriends,” says Bhan, “You can wear a tiara and a ballgown … but if someone asks you, and you say: ‘Well, no, no I have a wife,’ then you’re done, you’re clear. You can do whatever want.”
Amjeed Kamil on MySpace and elsewhere
The Naz Foundation supports members of India’s LGBT communities
Read Gautam Bhan’s blog
Purchase Straightening Ali
Facebook gets rid of Arab LGBT group at the request of Saudi, Egyptian governments
India opens its first condom bar
It’s that time of year again.
Time to dig up last summer’s faded swimsuits, and figure out what you will be pretend-reading under that poolside umbrella come Memorial Day weekend.
If you’re a fan of diasporic lit (no shame), then you’re in luck. There’s plenty of fresh fiction to choose from:
ROOPA FAROOKI’s debut novel Bitter Sweets has just hit shelves.
The Oxford grad previously worked as an accountant (“like a good Asian girl”) and in advertising (She hoped it would be more creative. It wasn’t), ultimately abandoning the 9-to-5 of corporate London.
The risk paid off.
Traditionally forest dwellers, the indigenous Gond people of central India believe that the lives of humans and trees are closely entwined. Trees contain the cosmos; when night falls, the spirits they nurture glimmer into life. It’s not hard to imagine glimmering spirits being nurtured inside the beautifully intricate and luminous trees depicted by award-winning artists Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ram Singh Urveti in The Night Life of Trees book and exhibition, currently showing at the University of Hawaii. Each painting is accompanied by narratives from the artists describing a legend, myth or folktale associated with each individual tree.
Durga Bai is the illustrator of counting book One, Two, Tree! and her work also combines traditional symbols and stories with a contemporary focus on women’s issues and experiences. The work of Bhopal-based Bhajju Shyam includes The London Jungle Book, a striking visual travelogue of his first visit to a western city, a visit undertaken along with internationally-shown artist Ram Singh Urveti to paint the interiors of an Indian restaurant called Masala Zone in London. Elaborate textures filling the figures in the paintings are characteristic of Gond art, which is mostly painted on the walls of homes, and Urveti’s work is said to be identifiable by the motif he uses to fill figures, an arrowhead.
Born in Hyderabad and raised in the UK and the USA, Rishi Reddi is one of the hottest authors in the South Asian community today. A former environmental attorney for the state of Massachusetts, Reddi made her fiction-writing splash two years ago, when a short story of hers published in the Harvard Review was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon to be included in The Best American Short Stories 2005.
After signing a contract with HarperCollins to publish two books, she released her first set, Karma and Other Stories, this past month—to rave reviews. The stories in Karma, set in the Boston area, track the life of an interconnected lndian American community. With her nuanced prose, she wonderfully depicts the depth of her characters and demonstrates the negotiation of their cultures. Check out Nirali‘s May issue for a review of Karma and an interview with Reddi.