When Jaipur came to New York, with Dalrymple and Tharoor

Words are worth their weight in gold. How else to explain the fact that on a busy weekday in New York, over 300 people left their offices and their work to sit in the dark to celebrate words? It all started with searing words by the Sufi singer Zila Khan and her musical accompanists, in a powerful performance. Then came the words from writers: Words about imagined worlds, words about love and loss, about war and peace, and the lost, much lusted for Kohinoor Diamond. Diverse subjects all woven together by an eclectic group of writers.

The Jaipur Literary Festival had come to New York for the first time and although it was in a brief avatar for a day, book lovers came in to listen and to think and to share. The lit festival had been brought to the Big Apple by Sanjoy K Roy of Teamworks in collaboration with the Indian Consulate and Asia Society. It was a virtual who’s who of literature with William Dalrymple, Navtej Sarna, Namita Gokhale and Shashi Tharoor to name a few. While James Shapiro and Preti Taneja dissected Shakespeare’s Year of Lear, Shashi Tharoor talked about India past and present. One of the truly nostalgic episodes was one about New York, The City of Many Tongues – with the musings of Kanishk Tharoor, Alia Malek, Kyhan Irani, Ross Perlin and Ruchira Gupta. New York has over 800 languages, so it was a celebration of the resilience of languages – and also a dirge for all the lost languages.

And that indeed is the serendipitous thing about JLF – you can go off on tangents, out on a limb or wander off into the mountains of memory. It was a whole afternoon without smart phones or computers as guests browsed through books, guzzled coffee and listened to writers. In the evening they all headed for a celebration in the big hall at Asia Society to chat with the writers, take selfies and toast the authors with wine. Looks like JFL, which traveled also to Boulder, CO and Texas, is going to become an annual feature, a native New Yorker!


Have You Met Sarayu Blue?

Well, we’ve finally arrived at the moment when there’s an entire TV sitcom on American television dedicated to an Indian family! The new series ‘I Feel Bad!’ stars the Indian-American actor Sarayu Blue as a wife, mother, daughter and boss, the center of her chaotic world every week. We just got to see the preview and the series begins on October 4 on NBC.

A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Sarayu’s love affair with acting goes back to her high school days and she received her BA in Theater Arts from the University of Iowa and her MFA from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco

Sarayu played Dr Sydney Napur in the TNT medical drama “Monday Mornings,” based on neurosurgeon Dr Sanjay Gupta’s book of the same name. She has acted in several TV shows, including ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘The Real O’Neals’, ‘Sons of Tuscan’ and ‘NCIS: LA’ as well as ‘Veep’, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ among others. She also starred in the recent feature, ‘Blockers.’

There is a thrill in seeing an Indian face as the focal point in this new comedy series and South Asians are delighted that this is finally happening, and that we have gone way beyond Apu, as new names are joining those of Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari and others.

Madhur Jaffrey and Sarayu Blue in ‘I Feel Bad’.

Sarayu plays Emet Kamala-Sweetzer, a wife, mother, daughter and boss in ‘I Feel Bad’ a comedy about a woman struggling to juggle different roles. She reflects the reality of America where Emet is in an inter-racial marriage (in real life too she is married to a non-Indian) and her Indian-American parents live close by, so there is opportunity for some desi drama.

The noted actor and cooking authority  Madhur Jaffrey plays Emet’s feisty mother in the series. So Indian-Americans will finally get to see an Indian immigrant family and its sit-com adventures every week. Aseem Batra has written and produced the series and it will be interesting to see how the mainstream reacts to the show. Indian masala is finally coming to American homes!

Madhur and Sarayu| Sarayu plays Emet Kamala-Sweetzer, a wife, mother, daughter and boss in ‘I Feel Bad’ a comedy about a woman struggling to juggle different roles.Madhur and Sarayu| Sarayu plays Emet Kamala-Sweetzer, a wife, mother, daughter and boss in ‘I Feel Bad’ a comedy about a woman struggling to juggle different roles.

Anand Giridharadas in a World of Winners and Losers

Are the rich elite really changing our world through their philanthropy or just providing a band-aid to a problem of their own making? Recently journalist Anand Giridharadas was at the New York Public Library in conversation with Joy-Ann Reid, political analyst for MSNBC and host of ‘AM Joy’ to discuss his thoughtful new book ‘Winners take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World’ which talks about the need to build more egalitarian institutions, rather than depend on the generosity of the rich.

Anand Giridharadas and Joy-Ann Feid at NYPL – Photo – David Maki

“A Successful society is a progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and produces broad human advancement. America’s machine is broken,” he writes. “When the fruits of change have fallen on the United States in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them.”

He estimates that the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has almost tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen sevenfold. It is these winners, he feels, who often insist on being the ones to bring about social change, and see to it that real change never happens. So are they change makers or keepers of the status quo? He writes, “The only thing better than being a fox is being a fox asked to watch over the hens.”

Giridharadas examines whether it is possible to improve the world “without permission slips from the powerful.” He doesn’t mince words about arsonists turning firefighters: “In other words, the brilliance of the arsonist entitles him to become a firefighter because he was so good at what he did.” The questions Giridharadas raises are these: Are we ready to call participatory democracy a failure and to declare these other, private forms of change-making the new way forward? Or is meaningful democracy, in which we all potentially have a voice, worth fighting for?

(Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.)

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