Dr. Suraj Yengde, T.M. Krishna, Anjali Arondekar and Salil Tripathi at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Share Your Thoughts

On October 29 & 30, the historic Villa Montalvo, home to the Montalvo Arts Center, hosted the annual South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) 2022 in collaboration with Art Forum SF, the Stanford University Center for South Asia, and the UC Berkeley Institute of South Asian Studies.

Pragati Sharma Mohanty’s art is displayed at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) Marketplace at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

The theme of the two-day festival was Humanity. It featured more than 40 highly acclaimed artists, poets, novelists, dramatists, musicians and thinkers of South Asian heritage. They discussed and analyzed contemporary perspectives related to the immigration experience, color, gender, and caste. 

Actress Swara Bhasker chats with Tushar Unadkat on opening night of the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 28, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

SALA 2022 featured literary heavyweights like Ayad Akhtar, Vikram Chandra, Alka Joshi, Sorayya Khan, and contemporary artists like Annu Palakunnathu Mathew, Ranu Mukherjee, Sarah Ahmad and Jaishri Abichandani. Also participating were film personalities Swara Bhaskar and Poorna Jagannathan, social thinkers like Dr. Suraj Yengde, musician TM Krishna, and Thenmozhi Soundararajan. Poets like Amit Majmudar, Devi Laskar, and Shikha Malavia were in attendance, as were art curators, Drs. Shireen and Afzal AhmadEnActe, the contemporary theater group, performed segments from their famed musical version of the Jungle Book. 

Kiran Malhotra, Art Forum SF Board Member, at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Day two of SALA 2022 featured epicurean panels with delightful discussions about contemporary South Asian cuisine. There were also panel discussions on translations of regional South Asian works featuring award-winning translators like Daisy Rockwell, SALA mentor Moazzam Sheikh, and Jenny Bhatt

Kiran Malhotra, Director SALA 2022, said, “the theme of humanity through inclusion, equality and bridging divides was reflected in all our sessions, be it poetry, prose, the epicurean panels or the arts.” She added, “We also wholeheartedly invite people from other South Asian communities, like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Nepal, to participate in SALA.” 


Cast members of EnActe Arts “The Jungle Book Rudyard Revised” perform at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local

Spotlight Sessions: 

Sacred Games to Geek Sublime: With Vikram Chandra and Salil Tripathi

Vikram Chandra in conversation with Salil Tripathi. Photo credit: Nandita Chowdhury Bose

Journalist and author, Salil Tripathi, and Vikram Chandra, novelist and UC Berkeley Creative Writing Professor, discussed topics ranging from the current socio-political situation in India, to the rise of organized crime in Mumbai, the criminal-politician nexus and the threats that social media and related technologies pose to privacy.

Chandra’s first book, the Commonwealth Writers Prize winner Red Earth and Pouring Rain, was published three years after the Babri Masjid demolition but is still relevant today. Tripathi calls the book “prescient.” Said Chandra, “It is bizarre that our culture is one of multifariousness, and on the other hand, they (politicians) are making it about one narrative, and doing it in a way that involves intimidation and violence. I felt it coming, and it came out in the book.”

In Sacred Games, Chandra goes deep into the underbelly of Mumbai, peeling layers on the seedier side of this very complex city, where organized crime reigns supreme. 

His latest book Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty is also his first non-fiction book where he connects the dots between art and technology. 

Homeland Elegies: With Ayad Akhtar and Dr. Anuradha Luther Maitra 

Playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar, author of American Dervish, Homeland Elegies, and Pulitzer-prize-winning play Disgraced, calls himself primarily a “dramatist.” With razor sharp wit, which is sometimes self-deprecating, Akhtar talks about the immigration experience of his parents, both of whom were doctors from Pakistan, “at a time when America had entered the space race and the lofty expectations thereof on the second-generation children of such families. 

After years of eluding success, Akhtar finally landed with great aplomb, winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Disgraced. His latest novel, Homeland Elegies, was selected by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2020. Akhtar is currently the President of PEN America. 

Novelist and Playwright Ayad Akhtar signs books and interacts with fans at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Akhtar reminisced that all through their childhoods, his brother and he were told by their father that “the objective for you both is to achieve a higher level of success than we (parents) did.” 

“Our success was a way for him to achieve a higher level of acceptance within the culture,” Akhtar said. “I do not see it that way, but he did. I had conflicting relationships with both of them for different reasons, as I say it in the Homeland Elegies.” 

Drawing on his own family story, in Homeland Elegies, Akhtar dramatized situations and feelings into a sharper relief. He describes the father in his book as one “unapologetically in search of wealth and financial success, and the mother with a dyspeptic, homesick response to the new world in which they arrived. While this is mostly true, I pushed them to the extremes on each side for more conflict. And that is what I do as a dramatist,” he professed.

The Henna Artist: Alka Joshi With Aarti Johri

Author Alka Joshi, whose debut novel, The Henna Artist, was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, sees herself as a visual artist. When asked how she plots her books, she explained that she first envisions the scene and puts it on paper, then builds a story around it. 

Joshi credits her mother’s stories of their life in Rajasthan (Joshi moved to the US when she was nine years old) with sparking her interest in historical fiction, although it was her husband who suggested she write a book. Lakshmi, the protagonist of The Henna Artist, is loosely based on Joshi’s mother.   

Author Alka Joshi signs books at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

During the session, it became clear why Joshi’s books are as popular as they are. Johri seemed well-prepared with a list of questions, but Joshi needed minimal prompting. She held the audience spellbound with stories of her mother, of the books she’d read and the films she had watched, in order to research her books. She also got input from her father and others from his generation. Joshi’s father, who is in his early 90s, remains her first reader, and fact checker.     

At the end of the session, Joshi unveiled her newest book, the third in her Jaipur trilogy, The Perfumist of Paris. Her other book is called The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

South Asian Landing: With Amit Majmudar, Jenny Bhatt and Vishal Ganesan

Amit Majmudar spoke about his struggles with infusing his translation of The Gita with the meter and music germane to the Sanskrit verses. Commenting on Majmudar’s craft, writer and critic Kalpana Mohan said, “I loved one moment in the discussion where he described the shock and awe felt by Arjuna upon seeing the Vishwarupa. Majmudar told us how he tried to achieve that in his translation, and I think it conveyed the point that translation must invariably be “transcreation” for it to touch the soul of its audience.” 

Amit Majmudar reads from his translation of the Bhagavad Gita at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Translator Jenny Bhatt was eloquent and passionate about why the world needed evangelists for India’s literature in the regional languages. Her translation of Gujarati writer Dhumketu’s work, The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories by Dhumketu, is now available for sale. 

Translator and Author Jenny Bhatt performs a reading at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Found in Translation: With Daisy Rockwell and Moazzam Sheikh

Daisy Rockwell, artist and renowned translator of Hindi and Urdu literature, told the audience what a joy and a challenge it was to translate the Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree. The translated work won the International Booker Prize, the first translation of an Indian language book to do so.

Painter and Translator Daisy Rockwell reads a poem at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Author and Translator Moazzam Sheikh reads a passage from one his books at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Rockwell’s earlier translated works included heavyweights like Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas (2016), Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard and Krishna Sobti’s final novel, A Gujarat here, a Gujarat there. Paying a tribute to Rockwell, Kalpana Mohan said, “I had never imagined how difficult it would be to convey word play. Now that I’m reading Shree’s book in Hindi, I realize how much, idea for idea, Rockwell’s imagination had to match Shree’s own.” 

Breaking Barriers: With Jaishri Abichandani and Vikram Chandra

Jaishri Abichandani, a Brooklyn-based artist and curator, navigates the world of art and social justice with passion and determination. Her sculptures “become this whole other thing where I can ascribe politics and subvert religious iconography. Because over the course of my life, I have completely renounced Hinduism for its caste apartheid and its misogyny,” she says. 

While Abhichandani is utterly in love with India, its culture, temples, art and architecture, as a woman creator, she also knows that “the people who sculpt those deities are all men. And they have centuries of scripture that go into the proportions and the signifiers and everything that depicts a deity. And for me as a woman to make those, to use that to mess with it to create new iconic graphics and to do it with my own hands is a really satisfying place to be,” she says.

On a High Note: Musician & Social Justice Warrior T.M. Krishna With Anjuli Arondekar

In the beginning, T.M. Krishna enjoyed the cultural power of singing Carnatic music, an artform that is revered. “I loved being a representative, what was considered, ideally Indian culture, and all those tags.” Then he started to think about the exclusion inherent to the artform. He started to call for the democratization of Carnatic music by challenging its past history, advocating for the bringing back of communities and content that had been erased. 

Anjali Arondekar talks with T.M. Krishna at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

T.M. Krishna passionately believes that Carnatic music, or all art for that matter, should be non-exclusive. There are many homes where he is not welcome anymore, but that does not matter to him. “You don’t need to get it right. You just need to have the mind to say I’m making an effort. I’m gonna make a mistake, fall on my face, that’s fine. But I will get up and learn.”

Arrived! with Devi Laskar, Sorraya Khan, and Sandhya Gajjar

As children of immigrants, Laskar and Khan tell stories of generational and cultural gaps, as well as the joys and sorrows of acculturation. These two successful writers had a free-flowing conversation with Gajjar and the audience about their writing styles and techniques, including their rituals of writing. With honesty and eloquence, Devi and Sorraya also shared the writing blocks they ran into after personal traumas, and the paths they took to find their writing voices again.

Devi Laskar is the author ofThe Atlas of Reds and Blues & Circa. Sorraya Khan wrote We Take Our Cities With Us: A Memoir.

Wine Shine and Chicken Khurana: Chef Ranjan Dey, Ayesha Thapar, Chef Srijith Gopinathan, Neeta Mittal With Ritu Marwah

A block and a half from Union Square in San Francisco, Chef Dey’s New Delhi Restaurant is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in the Bay, while Chef Gopinathan is the newest kid on the block with Ettan in Palo Alto serving Cal-Indian cuisine.  

Ritu Marwah, Chef Ranjan Dey, Neeta Mittal, Ayesha Thapar and Chef Srijith Gopinathan on the “Wine Shine and Chicken Khurana” panel at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Neeta Mittal brings her passion for spices to LXV Wine with a unique wine tasting and flavor pairing experience. “When you’re talking about wine tasting, there are somewhere between 600 to 2000 flavors in the classic wine,” so allowing people to pause and have a context for the tasting elevates the senses.

The high-energy conversation was full of food, wine, and laughter.

The Conscious Objector: Chaitali Sen, Salil Tripathi With Raji Pillai

This discussion centered on the suppression of art, culture and voices amid the current political turmoil around the world. 

Sen believes that politics and history have “an impact on our personal lives, our family lives, the most intimate parts of our lives.” She uses fiction to show the power of political violence that confronts a love story.

Journalist Salil Tripathi at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 29, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Tripathi offers some sobering thoughts on the state of journalism today. “Some of the best journalism today that you see coming from many of these countries tends to come from independent journalists who write purely on the web. They are freelance and often web-based, without the protection of security and insurance coverage.” 

So, how do we find ways to connect with those on the other side of our belief system?  

Sen is concerned about building up a populace of population of people who are really going to be able to put up a fight, while Tripathy firmly believes that we have to stay firm with what we know to be true in this world where misinformation, disinformation and even plain lies take over the discourse. While people must be free to express their thoughts and opinions, they must be held accountable as well. He urged the audience to read great nonfiction and ethics.

In Conversation With Poorna Jagannathan

Poorna Jagannathan with Puneeta Kala at the South Asian Literature and Art Festival (SALA) at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Calif. on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

SALA ended with an entertaining conversation with the quintessential cool Desi mom, Poorna Jagannathan.  

“My mom, my aunt and my sister—all of us are immigrant women,” Jagannathan said. “And yet when you see us portrayed on screen, it’s just nagging. You are only concerned about grades, and concerned about the kids getting married. And you know, of course there’s truth in that because we’ve left our homes behind—you’re trying to find belonging, find acceptance. An immigrant woman’s journey is so personal and complex and felt ridiculous to watch on screen,” until her role as the mother Nalini Vishwakumar in Never Have I Ever

Calling it a watershed moment in India, Jagannathan produced and acted in a play called Nirbhaya, based on the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey. They opened in a thousand-seat theater in India, and after the show, “people came forward to tell their story and we were there two or three in the morning. It was a powerful experience.”

Nandita Chowdhury Bose

Nandita Chowdhury Bose is a journalist, writer, and editor. In the past, she has worked at publications like India Today and Society. Since moving to the United States, she has been a freelance communications...

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Producer/Founder of DesiCollective Media, where she creates audio, video and written content that impacts the South Asian diaspora. She is also a writer for magazine...

Rasana Atreya

Rasana Atreya’s debut novel Tell A Thousand Lies was shortlisted for the UK-based Tibor Jones South Asia Prize (2012). She finds a mention in the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque’s "Emerging South...