zoom screenshot featuring: (top row L to R): Beyond Baroque Executive Director Quentin Ring, me, Shreerekha Subramanian; (middle row L to R): Mahmud Rahman, Torsa Ghosal, Neelanjana Banerjee; (bottom row L to R): Sorayya Khan, Arshia Haq, Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed
“I spent a few years in Nepal,” Quentin, Beyond Baroque’s literary arts director, said as we ended our phone conversation last November.
“That explains why you know so much about South Asia!” I exclaimed.
Before our phone call was over, Quentin accepted my pitch to curate and host a reading featuring South Asian writers. By early December 2020, all writers that I asked to participate had accepted, and I had the title for the show: South Asian Writers Resist. I’ve been organizing readings for more than two decades, and this reading was close to my heart: I was able to bring together writers from LA and different parts of the US, whose work I love and respect.
The gathering, held one day after the US inauguration and a peaceful transfer of power, marked a dark period in South Asia. More than 18 months have slipped away since India’s Modi government revoked Kashmir of its special status, pushing Kashmiri citizens into a new level of occupation.
We began the evening with a collaborative reading of a poem, “Postcard from Kashmir,” by Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001), after which each writer read their work. In the middle of the reading, as part of South Asian culture’s tradition of “intermission,” we played Arshia’s radio interview. To see the full reading, please visit Beyond Baroque’s Youtube; and read about each writer here.
The writers tackled rich and varied material: protests against the Muslim ban (Taz Ahmed); a story based on her uncle’s deployment to Iraq (Neela Banerjee); a story based on refugees who have been in Coopers Camp, India since the fifties (Torsa Ghosal); an essay about how the anti-Muslim 9/11 wave impacted her sons in upstate New York (Sorayya Khan); his journey from Dhaka to the US as “the first Bangladeshi” to land in the US (Mahmud Rahman); and a protest poem that marks the pandemic and the protests that erupted after George Floyd’s murder (Shreerekha Subramanian). I read an excerpt from my blog about my conversation in Delhi with Kashmiri artist Veer Munshi, while Arshia Haq played an excerpt from a radio interview with a Pakistani singer/policewoman in the UK.
Many thanks to: Los Angeles Poet Society, Tia Chucha Press, and Tuesday Night Project for co-presenting; Poets & Writers for partly funding the reading; community members and organizations including South Asian Network (SAN), South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), Book Swell, Pakistan Arts Council USC for promoting the reading; Quentin Ring and Jimmy Vega at Beyond Baroque for making the evening successful; and to the writers for sharing their time and texts, and all friends and community members who registered and attended.