Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Kriti 2007" South-Asian Literature Festival, Chicago

I just got back from "Kriti" the South-Asian Literature Festival held in Chicago at the University of Illinois and boy, I'm so glad I went! Kriti is a four-day event using panel discussions, readings, music, storytelling, dance,workshops, movies and more to celebrate South Asian and diaspora literature. This year's guest of honor was Anita Desai. I attended as many discussions as I could but since the program was choc-a-bloc with events it was physically impossible for me to attend them all. It would be a herculian task for me to include a full write-up on each discussion that I attended so I am just going to give you what I thought were the highlights, with an introduction to each panel taken from the official "Kriti" site.

Ok, here are some of the panels and discussions:

Contemporary South Asian Literature in the World:
How does South Asian writing shape the way in which South Asians are regarded by the world? Does it facilitate the stereotyping of individuals? Does it open up new concepts to readers? How are local South Asian and diaspora writers perceived by international (especially Western) readers?

Note: Wasn't able to attend this one but would love to hear from anyone that did. Or, if you are a Western reader and would like to talk about how Indian literature has influenced the way you think of India or the Indian people, please feel free to chime in.

Class Issues in South Asian Literature:

Authors like Hanif Kurieshi and Monica Ali deal with middle class and working class English life from an immigrant perspective, while Jhumpa Lahiri's characters live in a financially comfortable, destined-for-the-professional world. How visible are class issues in South Asian literature? Are comfortable middle-class stories more likely to be published (and celebrated)? Do immigrant upper-middle- class readers become uncomfortable when asked to admit the existence of working-class South Asians?

Note: Since one of the panelists was unable to attend, this ended up being a very informal discussion with Deepak Unnikrishnan and about 4-5 of us. We discussed how many South-Asian writers are not familiar with the working classes (or lower classes) hnece making it difficult for them to write about it. In India, very often, someone from the working class might not be educated enough to write a book and if they do it is quite possible that they will write it in a regional language which unfortunately does not have a very wide audience. A need for more translations therefore exists.

Reading: Monica Pradhan "The Hindi-Bindi Club"

Note: Felt really sorry to have missed this reading because a novel with recipes is my favorite kind of book. I definitely intend picking it up. Click on the title for more info.

Politics and Writing: A Panel and Open Discussion

Writers discuss their goals in writing about politics. (Is any writing not political?) Are they attempting to create change in the world? What changes would they like to see? What have been the visible effects of their work, if any? Should writers be political on a large-scale? What are the inherent dangers of that work? A facilitated open discussion of the ways in which writers engage political issues in their work, and the ways in which readers respond to those issues.
(facilitated by a representative from the South Asian Progressive Action Collective)

Note: Great discussion especially as the four writers, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Sita Bhaskar, Anil Menon, Sankar Roy and Archana Chowhan had very different viewpoints on what constitutes a political novel. Sci-fi lovers look out for Anil Menon's book,`The Beast With Nine Billion Feet'

Dirty Laundry:

There is a clear market in the West for a certain kind of expose/ pathos story from South Asia: child prostitutes, wife beating, widows in Brindhavan, untouchables, street kids, etc. When does exposing an evil move over into exploitation? What responsibilities does the writer have (if any)?

Note: I really wanted to attend this one, but couldn't. Here's an appeal to anyone out there that might have done...would love the salient points of this discussion because I truly believe that a lot of Indian writers are pressured to use exoticism in their books in order to make it more appealing to a Western audience.

Creative Nonfiction:

To what extent are we willing to expose ourselves? Do we have the right to expose the lives of our family and friends? Is the need to tell a true story, to be honest, more important than the need to consider the feelings of others? And what happens when you're not sure you're remembering the story right to begin with? How much freedom do you have to change the details and still call it nonfiction? Writers discuss the challenges of writing creative nonfiction.
Panelists: Hari Lamba, Sushil Nachnani, Visi Tilak and Hemant Mehta.

Notes: This was a particularly interesting discussion. Most of the panelists were in agreement that pure non-fiction can be hard to write because, 1. lots of fact checking needs to be done, 2. Memory is such a subjective thing and no two people will see the same incident in the same way (this applies mostly to a memoir) 3. non-fiction as a genre doesn't sell as well as fiction. Hence most writers and publishers are more comfortable with the genre of "creative non- fiction" where although most of the facts are true, there are certain artistic liberties that are taken with the facts, turning it into a much more entertaining read. The panelists were also in agreement that anecdotes are a necessary component of creative non-fiction.

Hemant Mehta, author of "I Sold My Soul on Ebay: Viewing Faith Through an Athiest's Eyes" was particularly interesting and I definitely intend buying his book should be a lot of fun to read.

Sex and the Word:

In recent years, more and more South Asians have started writing explicitly around sexuality. Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ginu Kamani, the authors in _Desilicious_, the participants in _Yoni ki Baat_, and many performance poets all explore the sexual arena. What are the challenges of working with this material? What are the rewards? Are you willing to read an erotic story? How about in public, on a bus or train? Do you take the books off the shelves when your parents visit? Authors and readers discuss the pleasures and problems of writing and reading sex.
(Panelists:Visi Tilak, Mary Anne Mohanraj (m.), Sharmili Majmudar)

Notes: This was another eye-opener of a discussion. It made me realize that because our South-Asian society is so sexually repressive it is a very difficult road for writers of erotic fiction, especially if they are women. I also learned that when it comes accepting erotic fiction, readers are more likely to want to read stories by women rather than men and that many men have to use aliases if they want their stories published. After the discussion we got MaryAnne Mohanraj to sign our copies of her book "Bodies in Motion".

Making Cooking a Priority:

Join cookbook author Alamelu Vairavan for a discussion of how to add easy-to-prepare, flavorful dishes to your daily life, incorporating more vegetables, dals, and spices in your cooking repertoire. Hear about the history of spices, how to assemble a basic spice pantry, availability, cost, and how to prepare dishes in thirty minutes or less -- plus the story of how aromas and friendship turned into cookbooks!

Note: Really enjoyed this talk. Alamelu is a passionate foodie and it was an absolute delight to hear her talk about how she goes about introducing South Indian food to a western audience. I was very tempted to buy her book because it holds over 150 recipes with a nutritional analysis for each one; she has also managed to condense each recipe to no more than 4 steps which is perfect for our busy lives.

Recommended Children's and Young Adult Literature:

Writers and editors discuss what writers they love to read, and what makes a story stand out as exceptional children's literature.
Sandhya Nankani (m.), Rachna Vohra, Marina Budhos

Notes: A very helpful discussion although I did miss the first 30 mins of it. Found some very useful book recommendations for my 12-year old. Thank you ladies!

P.S. Sandhya, I came looking for you after the discussion but you had gone into another one so I missed meeting you...sorry!


Another highlight of my Chicago trip was being able to meet my lovely blogger friend, Laura of "Maude and Mozart" who took me on a beautiful drive past the stunning Chicago waterfront. It was great meeting her, she is such a bubbly, happy person. She very generously gifted me three books that I am eager to delve into as soon as time permits. Thank you, fabulous Laura!


Beenzzz said...

Lotus! I envy you so MUCH!! It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I would be one of the people to read the dirty laundry stuff, the sex stuff, and the middle class stuff. Ok, who am I kidding? I would read all of it. I'm taking a South Asian comparative literature class beginning in two weeks. I am so excited! Glad you're back. :)

Lotus Reads said...



A South-Asian comparative literature class??? I am almost sobbing with envy here...please,please share! It's something I would LOVE to do..I really need to look up some of the courses being offered by Universities close by.

I wish you could have come with me to "Kriti" would have enjoyed some of the talks...I just wish I could have attended all four days, sadly I could not!

Will visit you soon,Beenzzz...I'm struggling to get back to a normal routine at the mind's still in Chicago! :)

Sanjay said...

Lotus. It truly sounds like you had one heck of a time and trip.

The panels all sound so interesting and it does sound like you had a fun and intellectually stimulating time. Am really happy for ya. :)

Thank you for your snapshot of the festival.

Also your meeting with Laura, says so much about you and your friends, like you they all seem to be such wonderful people. :)

Lotus Reads said...

Yes, I did, thanks, Sanjay! It was such a perfect setting...good literature, great weather and a lovely city ( I love Chicago!)

Laura is wonderful and I was grateful to be able to meet up with her.

You know, I packed my camera to take to the festival, but left it at the hotel *sigh*

Parth said...

Sounds like a very stimulating trip. Did you meet Anita Desai in person? I can't remember your views on her book (I should dig up your blog for past entries).

Lotus Reads said...

Parth, hi!!!

No, sadly, Anita Desai read and signed books on Friday morning and I hadn't reached Chicago yet. Strangely enough I haven't read any of her books but intend to remedy that soon. I have met Kiran Desai, however, and she's the sweetest thing. Have you read "The Inheritance of Loss"?

See you on your blog soon!

Asha said...

WOW!!! You have had some great fun in Chicago.What fun!!! I am getting that Hind Bindi book,interesting.

Thanks for all the info Lotus,it's great to read although I could never attend those kind of events.Great points of view.Hugs.Have a great weekend and read that book you want to read!:D

iliana said...

Oh I love chicago!. The festival sounds like it was so much fun. Did you do some book shopping as well? And, how neat that you got to meet Laura. I'll have to add some of the books you mentioned to my TBR list :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Asha ~ Perhaps you won't attend an event like this as a spectator (like I did) but hey, when that recipe book of yours gets written you will have to attend many of these events in order to promote it. Infact, I met a fascinating cookbook author and she is doing so much...writing cookbooks, teaching in culinary institutes, conducting culinary tours...I see you doing all of that Asha, and more!

@Iliana ~ So happy to see you here! Yes, it was wonderful to meet Laura and no, surprisingly after being surrounded by so many books all weekend (and Laura gifted me some too) I didn't have the need to do any shopping at the bookstores. Normally I would flock to Powell's or "Borders", but it's amazing how I controlled myself this time! :)

Angela in Europe said...

Wow, it sounds like you were totally busy in a great way! Some of it sounds really interesting.

Ml said...

Wow! What an awesome trip you had! I'm positively green with envy, Lotus. Glad you had the opportunity and glad you shared it with us!

Welcome home :)

amna said...

I remember reading about the festival in your blog sometime this year- I think its wonderful that you made a trip down to Chicago!

One of my main issues with South Asian writers is how quite a few of them tend to excoticize our culture. Sure, our culture is beautiful, but sometimes it almost seems ethnocentric to write in such a amnner.(In fact a couple of people I know tend to talk about it the same way!) Such kind of writing is a major turn-off for me and I try to stay away from it. I don't think its right to focus on the spices and the colors and the beautiful long-haired Indian/Paki girls, etc.It totally takes away from the story.

I also think its great that more and more South Asians are exploring issues concerning sexuality. You know, I wouldn't mind reading it in public but I don't know if I would keep it in close proximity to my parents! hahah
Don't know why, but I guess my parents won't understand (maybe when I'm 30!).

That was a long comment! I should've just e-mailed you :)


The Traveller said...

The festival sounds AMAZING!I hope someone who reads your blog went to the lecture on Contemporary South Asian Litarature in the World and tells you all about it - I'd like to hear about it too!

Hollydolly said...


Wow, you really had a super time.What an added joy to meet up with a "Blogger Friend". So many new authors I have discovered from your comments. The Hindi-Bindi Club, sounds like a great book. I love stories with recipes.
Glad you are back safe and sound.

I am starting to read Iran Awakening today. I will do a review when I have finished it.


jenclair said...

What a wonderful experience! The panel discussions sound fascinating, and I'd so love to experience an event like this.

I read the review for I Sold My Soul on Ebay, and then added it to my list! Thanks, Lotus.

Laura said...

Dear, dear Anjali! You did so much in your few days!!!! All of the discussions sound like they were totally engrossing! and I find more books to add to my TBR list! I was so, so happy to meet are such a sweetheart and I am lucky we were able to get together!! Did you go to the Art Institute??? So glad you had such a great time!!!

with love,

monideepa said...

Hey! This sounds really good and stimulating. Did you know that these people have a literary 'zine out? It's at
They're even carrying one of my short stories in the fiction section of their current issue.

Arukiyomi said...

mmmmmmm I would have loved to have been there... I still can't get Roy's God of Small Things out of my mind. So evocative of both India and my own childhood... was that particular Roy there?

Lotus Reads said...

@Angela ~ It was all I expected a book festival to be and more! I really loved being there...wish I could have stayed longer!

@ml ~ Helloooo! Are you on holiday? Hope you're having a great time! I'm really happy to see you here!

@Amna ~ We discussed reading and writing about sex at one of the discussions at the festival, and as one of the panelists rightly pointed out, we South-Asians have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. When I was younger if my maa caught me reading erotica she would probably pretend she hadn't seen it, hoping that by doing that, it would all go away! :)

I wish we would embrace sexual writings...I have a friend who writes erotica but we will never see her work because she is deathly afraid of being published and the scandal that might cause.

Lotus Reads said...

@Traveller ~ Hello! Yes, I am really hoping someone will stop by and tell me what went on at that discussion! A lot of our Indian writers I am sure are pressured into focusing on topics that a Western reader has come to associate with India, like poverty, spiritualism, dancing bears, child marriage, dowry burning, the caste system, and so on and I feel pretty certain these things contribute to giving readers a skewed look at India. I know it has done that to me with regard to Africa...

@Sylvia ~ So lovely to hear from you! I must remember to put your book in the mail to you next week. I am so sorry for the delay! Monica Pradhan is a Canadian writer...I hope to catch one of her readings here in TOornto. She will come to Quebec too, I'm sure..look out for her! Yeay about "Iran Awakening". Shirin Ebadi spoke somewhere in LA yesterday, I will look for the podcast and send you the link, ok?

Lotus Reads said...

@Jenclair ~ Thank you! I was impressed with the festival and will definitely try to attend the next one. I was also impressed with Hemant Mehta and I, too, will be buying his you read, if you have any questions,especially on Jainism (the religion he was brought up in) do feel free to pick my ear!

@Laura ~ You sweet thing, you, I have been wanting to write, I didn't visit the Art Institute...I just didn't feel well the next day so I rested in bed and at noon I had to check out of the hotel. I will the next time, for sure! Thank you again for being such a sport and coming to see me at such short notice...wish we could have spent more time chatting! I will be starting "The Relectant Fundamentalist" today and I have loaned "The Road" to a friend of mine from the festival...thank you so much!

hellomelissa said...

WOW what an amazing experience! thanks for sharing it all. many of the forum questions are excellent food for thought.

ML said...

Lotus, not on holiday yet. We leave tomorrow for a week :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Monideepa ~ Yes, I know about Desilit, but I certainly didn't know they were carrying one of your articles...thanks so much for the heads-up, I am definitely going to head on there to read it!

@Arukiyomi ~ Yes, wish you could have been there. I'll let you know the next time they host a book festival like this. No, sadly, Arundathi Roy wasn't there...but I am looking forward to her new book (her first work work of ficiton in quite a while). Can I ask where you grew up...sounds fascinating!

@Melissa ~ You know me well enough to know that something like this was a little slice of heaven for me! :)

@ml ~ This is so exciting, I hope you have a wonderful time! Selfishly, I'm glad you're going to be away for only a week...I'd miss you too much if it were longer!

Happy Reader said...

Lotus - Sounds like you had a terrific time! Wish I could've been there. Hindi-bindi club sounds like a good one. Some of the book discussions you mentioned are thought-provoking!! Thanks for sharing your experience.

booklogged said...

I'm curious as to the meaning of 'Kriti'. I don't need to mention that I'm envious, do I? What a terrific experience for you. And to meet a fellow blogger who was familiar with the area to take you sight-seeing - such a treat. Good for you, Lotus Glad you could attend.

Bookfool said...

You get to go to so many totally awesome events! I envy you! I read Bodies in Motion, btw, and really enjoyed it (as an ARC).

Optimistic Guard said...

what a great round up of an excellent event, im sure you must have enjoyed it a lot, and Chicago is just one of the best cities in the world. I loved it.

Lotus Reads said...

@Chitts ~ If I get my hands on Hindi-Bindi I'll be sure to let you know what it's like, ok? Monica Pradhan is a Canadian writer so it should be easy to find her book here.

@booklogged ~ Hello! Kriti means Creation. Nice name for a festival that involves the written word, no? :) Did my write up bring back memories of the time you went to Salt Lake City for the author/book fair?

@bookfool ~ Thank you! I'm so glad you have read and liked "Bodies in Motion". The author read a little from her book to us and it sounded really nice!

@optimistic ~ You were in Chicago? Lucky you! I love that much to see, so much to do and besides the people are really great!

phaseoutgirl said...

Hi Lotus,

Welcome back! I am one of those many non-Indians who read a lot of South Asian writers. Funny enough I started with tagore when I was in my teens, and have been hooked ever since!

I have just re-posted something on my blog which I think you will fin interesting:

Come visit me soon!


Anonymous said...

sigh. you [b]do[/b] get around, don't you? going to Ondatjie's reading too, aren't you? this writeup of Kirti is lovely - i feel like i'm there.
coming to Asha's concert? i'll come if you come. seriously, this time.

Andi said...

Sadly, I'm entirely undereducated when it comes to South-Asian literature, but what a fascinating festival! I loved reading all of the descriptions of the panels.

Lotus Reads said...

@Cecilia ~ Tagore? *sigh* He's the best...I would love to read more of him and have my children read him too! GOing to visit your blog right away, the post sounds so interesting, thanks for letting me know!

@Nocturne ~ Cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see you here! When is Ondaatje's reading? Have you read "Divisadero" yet? I find I need to keep lots of time aside for an Ondaatje novel, it's not one of those you can read speed read ...his writing needs to be savored,no?

Asha? Asha Bhosle? Girl, you're more "with it" than I can ever hope to be. Send me the details and I hope we can go!

@Andi ~ Thank you, yes, they were really interesting panels and discussions..I'm so glad I got to go!

Happy Reader said...

Hey Lotus, Divisadero is on my reading list too. I'm anxiously waiting for my library copy!

Anali said...

Welcome back! You were missed! Sounds like you had a great time, especially the blogmeet. How fun!

The festival sounds wonderful! It was great that you got to go. Chicago is a beautiful city. I was there years ago, but would love to get back there.

The "Creative Nonfiction" seminar sounds especially interesting to me. I've stumbled upon some of those problems. I was writing something for my food blog that involved a story about another person. I asked their permission to tell the story and they did not feel comfortable with it. I was glad that I asked and didn't overstep any boundaries.

Jude said...

Wow- sounds like it was informative and enjoyable. I love going to events like this. Haven't been in a while but must get back into it!

Sugarlips said...

You were in Chicago...
You were in Chicago....
WHY didn't you tell me *sobs loudly*

Looks like you had great time..Festival sounds great and "Anita Desai" was there *sobs again* how come I didn't know :o( but thanks for sharing the sweet of you :)

I have read "Brick Lane" by Monica Ali though but I would love to read these 2 books you mentioned and if you get your hands on 2nd one do share your reviews :)

Good to see you back :)

Stay Beautiful...!

Bookfool said...


Just a quick note in case you don't see the reply at my blog. The Chunkster Challenge isn't actually over, so you still have time to read more (if you desire to). It ends June 30 and I'll have one last drawing, then. So, do check back at the end of June!!!

Radha said...

That sounds so interesting. You gotto post a little more about the discussions !
What discussion did Anita Desai take part in?

sandhya said...

I was looking for you, Lotus! But had no idea how to find you. I'm sorry we missed each other. Yes, next time, definitely.

I've had a crazy week at work, but hope to post my impressions and summaries of KRITI this week too ... it'll be nice to compare/share notes.

diyadear said...

happy for u that u had such a nice trip.. liked abt alamelus recipe book a lot..talking abt recipes, hers the recipe i had promised u.. the malabar chicken be frank i haven't yet tried it out. but got this from a friend just for u.. (its a bit crude. hope u wdnt mind..)njoy!!

Chicken Biriyani


Preparation :-

soak rice in water for 25min.boil water and put rice.after it is cooked drain the
water.mix ghee.
In another pan, fry onion and keep aside
Next fry together garammasala,salt,pudina,gchilli and pepperpowder. Now add chicken and cook
well.addginger,garlic n jeera also while cooking. later add cashew,kismis,tomato ,curd and add
lime juice from 1lime.add rice into this and mix .add fried onion.

diyadear said...

happy for u that u had such a nice trip.. liked abt alamelus recipe book a lot..talking abt recipes, hers the recipe i had promised u.. the malabar chicken be frank i haven't yet tried it out. but got this from a friend just for u.. (its a bit crude. hope u wdnt mind..)njoy!!

Chicken Biriyani


Preparation :-

soak rice in water for 25min.boil water and put rice.after it is cooked drain the
water.mix ghee.
In another pan, fry onion and keep aside
Next fry together garammasala,salt,pudina,gchilli and pepperpowder. Now add chicken and cook
well.addginger,garlic n jeera also while cooking. later add cashew,kismis,tomato ,curd and add
lime juice from 1lime.add rice into this and mix .add fried onion.

Lotus Reads said...

@Happy Reader ~ I hope your library copy won't take too long to reach you, Chitts. If it is proving to be a long wait, I don't mind sending you mine. Let me know.

@Anali ~ Thank you mon ami! Yes, it makes you wonder how any memoirs get written, right?

@Jude ~ Great to see you here. How are you? Yes, I love book festivals, now if only I could find a way to generate some money from it, that way I'd get to go to more festivals!

@Sugarlips ~ You live in Chicago???? *sobbing even louder than you* I didn't know!!!!!!!!! I would have definitely contacted you! Waaaaaaaaa!

@Bookfool ~ Thank you so much! I will give it my best shot!

@Radha ~ Thanks! As far as I know, she read from one of her books and signed copies...I am not sure if she spoke or not (she probably did). Sadly I wasn't there the morning she was.

@Sandhya ~ Hi!!! I am so glad you plan to write on "Kriti", I so look forward to reading it. I'll visit again soon!

@Diya ~ You're such a sweetie, thank you so much for remembering. The recipe looks great and I will definitely try making it one of these weekends. Alamelu is such a great lady...check out her website "Curry on Wheels", she might be coming to your city!

Sugarlips said...

*Wipes Lotus's tears and gives her a big hug*

Yes I live in Chicago and I thought you knew :( but anyways NOW YOU KNOW :)


Stay Beautiful...!

A Reader from India said...

Hi Lotus,

Sounds like you had a wonderful time at Kriti. (I am jealous!) Regarding class issues in literature, the situation seems to be getting better and better, with writers from various sections of society getting published and read. Last week I read a news item about a writer in Kerala who has a Masters in English literature and runs a tiny tea-shop for his living. It sounded wonderful to read that many big publishers in the West had expressed interest in his books. Also Baby Haldar who was published to acclaim.

About the dirty laundry thing, I fully agree with you - Writers emphasizing on exotic India. But there too, things seem to be changing for the better.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sugarlips ~ You're a sweetheart! I knew Nabeel lived in Chicago because of his post on the Chicago river, but for some strange reason I thought you lived in Alabama! lol I just thought you visited him occasionally. I feel so silly now! lol

@A Reader ~

Your comment gives me so much to hope for! I am so happy that it's getting easier to be published in India. Most of us who live here (North America)are in a time warp of sorts...for me, India will always be as I left it in the early 1990's and I suspect that is the case for other South Asian immigrants as well. I am so grateful to have your blog to read and to have you comment here, this way I can update myself with the publishing industry back home.

I read Baby Halder's book and am going to send it to HollyDolly, I think she will enjoy the read.

Thanks, Reader, for stopping by, it's always good to hear from you.

equiano said...

This sounds like such a wonderful opportunity - so many things to see. Glad you had a good time.