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'
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.
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 ...it 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!