Second IAAC South Asian Lit Fest Wraps Up in NYC – with Meera Nair

New York, N.Y. The second annual Indo-American Literary Festival of the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) wrapped up recently in New York City showcasing writers from the entire Indian sub-continent — India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan — including Salman Rushdie, Mira Nair, Suketu Mehta, Madhur Jaffrey, and Sree Sreenivasan. As always the most amazing of them all was Aroon Shivdasani, its tireless executive and artistic director.

1tQVlYR4X1UlcFJ9AwjQjpDNQwspmQ9KR4WY9p_fQrk Aroon Shivdasani, Executive and Artistic Director of the Indo-American
Arts Council (IAAC), welcomes the attendees. Photo: Shashwat Gupta.

Aroon is amazing because not only does she run the annual Literary Festival, but throughout the year she also coordinates the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), Erasing Borders Festival of Indian Dance (EB Dance), Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora (EB Art), and the IAAC Playwrights Festival!

Last month, the IAAC concluded its highly successful Second Annual Literary Festival – this year in collaboration with The English Department of Hunter College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Here’s what transpired:

Launch of Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

DSC07862Madhur Jaffrey is the author of many previous cookbooks-six of which have won
the James Beard Award-and was named to the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage
in America by the James Beard Foundation. She is also an award-winning actress
with numerous major motion pictures to her credit. She lives in New York City.
Photo: Sangeeta Jain.

Learning the Ropes of the Industry

Publishers & Agents: Beena Kamlani, Priya Doraswamy, Rachel Kahan, Jaya Chatterjee, Kent Wolf

Moderator: Arun Venugopal

Publishers and Agents speak of their roles, their expectations, why they consider manuscripts, why they reject them, the length of time between receiving a manuscript and contacting the author, contracts, retainers, what an author should know and prepare before submitting their work. Should an author have a literary agent? Should they contact Publishers directly? What are the pros and cons of each?

ISnQNSfI-WXHUrxIs0eyEThkLLM4Fl59cyoCudjJRE0   Prof. Akeel Bilgrami speaking on The Muslim Invasion. Photo: Shashwat Gupta.


Authors: Dr Patrick Basu, Neal Hall, Rafiq Kathwari, Manav Sachdeva Maasoom, Vinay Tuli

Moderator: Meena Alexander

Four contemporary poets lead us into countries far from our own, and kingdoms close to the heart as they write of violence and survival, beauty and desire, the shifting present and the visionary past.

InVO2wVwvsFyqO-UdnLzRQ2SPUgSukNZyWU-E8BiT-ARam Jethmalani speaking as The Rebel. Writing for Network Television
was a conversation between writers Cherian Dabis & Sharbari Ahmed –
both of whom write for the TV Serial Quantum.
Photo: Shashwat Gupta.

Writing for Network Television

Writers: Shobhaa De, Cherien Dabis

Moderator/Writer: Sharbari Ahmed

In the U.K. one can flip on the television and see, at any given moment, South Asians depicted as part of the mainstream culture there. In the U.S. the story has been markedly different. Up until very recently South Asians were relegated to stereotypical and limited characterizations that sometimes bordered on caricatures, the affable or grumpy taxi driver, the fresh off the boat convenience store clerk, the “guru” brimming with Eastern wisdom. But things are changing, and fast! The U.S. is starting to catch up, with shows like the Mindy Project and the rise of stars like Aziz Ansari and Asif Maandvi. And finally a major network — ABC —  will air a primetime drama with an Indian female protagonist. That show is Quantico and is ground breaking in its approach. There is a push now to diversify the writing staff for tv shows and writing for such a show requires different creative skills than from that of novelists or playwrights. What does it take to find a seat in a major network writing room in the 21st century? And what does it mean to be a South Asian or minority trying to diversify that room?

8NNFx9xXUP_Vv21Y1_vFUmpH7hIJEQDAHYU0fdp6miwAuthor Padma Lakshmi with moderator Priya Krishna during the panel,
“Everything Starts With the Written Word.” 
Photo: Shashwat Gupta.

Historical Fiction: Shared Histories, New Interpretations

Authors: Khushwant Singh, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, Sudipto Roy Choudhury

Moderator: Rajika Bhandari

This panel brings together authors whose contemporary narratives are set against the backdrop of major historical events of the sub-continent and beyond: from the events of the Partition, to the legacy of the Sikhs, to the confluence of Indian, Chinese and European history in the colonial outpost of Singapore during World War II.


BOMBAY BOYS IN NEW YORK features Booker of Booker author Salman Rushdie and Kiriyama Prize winning author Suketu Mehta in conversation about the two cities Bombay and New York. Both authors have written extensively about both cities – the fecund and the dazzle, cities which aren’t typical of either of the two countries they inhabit.

DSC07956 Sir Salman Rushdie with Suketu Mehta. Photo: Sangeeta Jain.

Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve novels: Grimus, Midnight’s Children (which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence, Luka and the Fire of Life, and his latest book Two Years, Eight Months & Twenty Eight Days.

Suketu Mehta is the New York-based author of ‘Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found,’ which won the Kiriyama Prize and the Hutch Crossword Award, and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the Lettre Ulysses Prize, the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. He has won the Whiting Writers’ Award, the O. Henry Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for his fiction. Mehta’s work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, Time, and Newsweek, and has been featured on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ and ‘All Things Considered.’

Self Publishing

Authors: Chandru Hira, Harish Gidwani, Jaya Kamlani, Miral Sattar, Anjali Singh, Rajdeep Paulus

Moderator: Sangeeta Mehta

Up until a few years ago, there was only one way to get published: through an established publishing company. Now, advances in digital technology have enabled all writers to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and self-publish, but is this the right choice for most of us? The first half of this panel will cover some of the “how-to” aspects of self-publishing: How to format and upload your book (on Amazon’s KDP or CreateSpace, Smashwords, Kobo, or another platform), how to set the right price for your book, how to secure reviews and market your book independently. The second half will focus on the personal journeys of several self-published authors and how they chose this path. Panel participants will also weigh in on emerging publishing models, such as community and partnership publishing, and the growing popularity of the hybrid model. Expect a lively debate and plenty of food for thought.

Publicizing Books Thru Social Media

Speaker: Sree Sreenivasan

Social Media Guru Sree Sreenivasan will help authors traverse the social media jungle by showing you the most effective marketing strategies to publicize books on a medium primarily used for “connections.”  See video of session here.

DSC07966Founder Aroon Shivdasani at the center of the storm. Photo: Sangeeta Jain.

Atmospheric Embriodery

Author: Meena Alexander

Moderator: Leah Souffrant

Leah Souffraint will engage Meena Alexander in conversation about her new book of poetry Atmospheric Embroidery after a brief Reading.

India and her Realities

Authors: Raghu Karnad, Meera Subramanian

Moderator/Author: Hindol Sengupta

India: The reality of her people during the Second World War and of her geographical crisis today.

Literary Pub Crawl, Greenwich Village, NYC


Authors: Kavitha Rajagopolan, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Hindol Sengupta

Moderator/Author: Marina Budhos

Writing is an intimate act. But news about Islam, the war on terror, ISIS, and Muslims daily blares in the public sphere. How to bring to light an experience that is both over-exposed and invisible? As a writer creating literature about the South Asian Muslim experience, how does one manage the balance of private and public? Does one write to counter Islamophobia and stereotpyes? Or simply stay true to one’s own private vision? What are the particular challenges of creating a literature of the South Asian Muslim experience? Authors Marina Budhos, Tanwi Nandini Islam and Kavitha Rajgopolan will share their own experiences as authors writing fiction and nonfiction on the South Asian Muslim experience.

Negotiating South Asian LGBT Identity

Authors: Mala Kumar, John Burbridge

Moderator: Chaya Babu

This category emphasizes a diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writing in all genres, including fiction and nonfiction and works of varying length. Participating writers provide a platform to discuss critical LGBT issues that continue to be taboo on the Indian subcontinent.

Everything Starts With the Written Word

Author: Padma Lakshmi

Moderator: Priya Krishna

Padma Lakshmi was originally known as a model and actress, but her career really started with her writing. Meet the author of two cookbooks and the ex-syndicated columnist for the New York Times and style columnist of Harpers Bazaar as she discusses how her work as a writer launched her career in food and TV, including two culinary shows on the food network, her Emmy nominated role as host & executive producer of the hit series Top Chef, the world of retail table top hard goods with the Padma Collection, as well as her culinary company Easy Exotic, which sells teas, and organic frozen rice. Padma will discuss her journey from her first cookbooks to where she is today.

Women Fiction Writers

Authors: Tania James, Maya Lang, Mira Jacob

Moderator: Sujata Massey

The Hot New Genre of Food Writing

Authors: Madhur Jaffrey, Suvir Saran, Floyd Cardoz, Vikas Khanna, Saransh Goila, Nandita Godbole

Moderator: Pia Padukone

Established chefs, food writers, and food critics who bring their discerning palate and cooking to the art of writing.

Fiction Writers

Authors: T Dasu, Rahul Deokar, Zubin Shroff, Sameer Pandya

Moderator: Nayana Currimbhoy

Treading on Eggshells: The Muslim Invasion

Authors: Mahmood Mamdani, Akeel Bilgrami

Moderator/Author: J.J.Robinson

A discussion on the global & political ramifications of Muslims today – their secular identity, nationhood and identity in a crisis moment; as well as a world view of refugees, racism, terrorism…

The Rebel

Susan Adelman, Ram Jethmalani

Moderator: Devika Kewalramani

Susan Adelman’s biography The Rebel features Ram Jethmalani who came to Bombay from Sindh in 1948, and developed one of the most illustrious legal careers in the English speaking world. For 75 years, Ram has defended the most famous, and notorious, figures of India. A Member of Parliament for over 35 years, he also mediated between Pakistan and India through the Ram Jethmalani Kashmir Committee. A life-long legal educator, he helped initiate the National Law Schools of India. A strong opponent of corruption in government, he was Union Minister of Urban Affairs and Employment and Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs. He has campaigned for judicial accountability all his life. Writing in the Indian Express, his 10 questions a day to Rajiv Gandhi for 30 days during the Bofors scandal helped end the Gandhi government. In his eighties, he founded the Sunday Guardian.

Closing Night

Mira Nair and Sabrina Dhawan in Conversation: From Page to Stage.


Sabrina Dhawan graduated from Columbia University’s graduate film program in 2001 with her debut feature as screenwriter, Monsoon Wedding. Amongst other awards, it won the ‘Leon D’Oro’ at the Venice Film Festival and received a Golden Globe nomination. At Columbia, her student short Saanjh – As Night Falls won ‘Best of the Festival’ at the Palm Springs Film Festival; ‘Most Original Film’ from New Line Cinema, ‘Audience Impact’ Award at Angelus Awards, and was nominated for a Student Academy Award.

Mira Nair is the rare prolific filmmaker who fluidly moves between Hollywood and Independent Cinema. After several years of making documentary films, Mira Nair made a stunning entry onto the world stage with her debut feature film Salaam Bombay! (1988). Now hailed as a classic, the film has received more than 25 international awards including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988, the Caméra d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Her second film, Mississippi Masala (1991) won three awards at Venice. Since, Nair made films such as The Perez Family (1993), Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), My Own Country (1998), The Laughing Club of India (1999). In 2001, Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, becoming one of the highest grossing foreign films of all time.

Nair then directed the Golden Globe winning Hysterical Blindness (2002). After making William Makepeace Thackeray’s epic Vanity Fair (2004), she directed a film based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s best-selling novel The Namesake (2006). This was followed by the Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia (2009) starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.

Closing Night Wine Reception

The Literary Festival was sponsored in part by India Abroad,, Neerja Sethi , the J. Luce Foundation, and TakkarHarriceNY-DreamsB4UAVSmoleculecommunications.

r3i3yHzbzDvkMdc6zCjCqP-i1VJ8RAOk8FO0mMpJ4OwAbhinav Chintakunta coordinates with Mira Nair at the Literary Festival.
Photo: Shashwat Gupta.

The Indo-American Arts Council is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit secular arts organization passionately dedicated to promoting, showcasing and building an awareness of artists of Indian origin in the performing arts, visual arts, literary arts and folk arts. For information please visit

Indo-American Arts Council, Inc. (IAAC)
517 East 87th St., Suite 1-B, New York, N.Y. 10128.
Phone: 212 594 3685. Web:

See: First Indian Literary Festival at Columbia a Best Seller

The Indo-American Arts Council is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit secular arts organization passionately dedicated to promoting, showcasing and building an awareness of artists of Indian origin in the performing arts, visual arts, literary arts and folk arts.

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