kriti festival

by Rajdeep Paulus 

When you mash South Asian time with South Asian talent, no one gets any sleep. No wonder I’m so tired. As I reflect on all that I experienced, I came up with my TOP 10 QUOTES heard during the 2014 Kriti Festival at the University of Illinois (UIC) Chicago campus.  Mind you, there were plenty more memorable quotes to choose from the festival, but for those seeking to discover the up-and-coming names in the South Asian arts scene, here are just a few of the voices to listen for:

1. Mary Anne Mohanraj, a Sri Lankan-American writer, professor, former associate coordinator of Asian and Asian American Studies at UIC, author of “Bodies in Motion,and the Kriti Festival’s organizer.  Here she is, reading from her memoir –

Where do you go when home will not have you?”

rajdeep paulus
Rajdeep Paulus and Kriti Festival 2014 organizer, Mary Anne Mohanraj.


2. Manil Suri, the guest of honor and author of “The City of Devi,” was both poignant and funny as he shared about his books, fractals, and the blessing and curse of diversity in India. But when we first met at the welcome dinner reception, he had me laughing to the point of tears as he told the story of the cab driver who picked them up from O’Hare to take them to their hotel. A cab driver with strong opinions.

Cabbie: “Sure you don’t want to stay at the Crown Plaza?”

Manil: “But we have a reservation at such an’ such hotel.”

Cabbie: “Yeah, but you’re better off at the Crown. Or the Hyatt? Want me to check if they have a room?”

Manil Suri
Manil Suri covering points from his novel, “The City of Devi.”

3. Fawzia Mirza, actor and director, in her moving one-woman performance, titled “Me, My Mom, and Sharmila”–

Suddenly, a train appears, snaking its way across the majestic plain. The jeep drives alongside. Handsome Indian Man looks in the window of the train car and spies our Heroine, a flawless beauty, played by Sharmila Tagore. She looks up. Their brown eyes lock. Instant Romance. When I first heard this song as a kid, I was obsessed. I COULDN’T WAIT to be found, to be like Sharmila, to be someone’s Queen.”

4. Manish Shah, actor, on his dream to expand the reach of his theater group —

I want to build bridges with South Asian theater. So the guy who goes the Bears game also comes to see our plays. Just like I go to plays and am headed to the game in… Gotta go.”

5. Prateek Strivastava, a comedian, who had us in stitches, and for the life of me, I can only recall one of his jokes —

When I looked for my name, the Disney key chains said Patrick. And Patricia. No Prateek in sight. My dad said, pick one. It’s $1.99. We all know Indians are all about a good deal. I picked Patrick.”

6. Anjali Singh, NYC Editor at Other Press, on publishing:

It’s about relationships and connections. And time and timing, but relationships are key.”

7. Satyajit Kharkar, Director of Coin Toss, on the kissing scene of his debut film,

Independent cinema is like a product from (a) farmers market. It is fresh and made with love by passionate people. It survives only because of community support.’”

Kriti Festival
Rajdeep Paulus and attendees of the Kriti Festival 2014.

8. Tanaz Bhathena, 2009 winner of the Mississauga Arts Council, on how that “I don’t want to be a doctor” conversation went:

When I told my father that I didn’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. He said, ‘No problem, you’ll be an accountant.’ And it was done.”

9. Soniah Kamal, author of “Isolated Incident,” as we introduced ourselves on the ‘Sex in Word panel.’ When Mary Anne Mohanraj asked,

How do your parents feel about you writing about sex?”Soniah said, “Oh, my mother still thinks I’m a virgin.”

Mind you, Soniah has three kids.

10. Sonali Dev, author of A Bollywood Affair, on South Asian life expressed in contemporary culture:

I hated Slum Dog Millionaire.”

Followed by me gasping, the stepping back, because this was just a nibble of the diversity that colored the Kriti Festival. For the record, I really enjoyed Sonali’s spunk and energy, although I probably won’t ask her to the movies. 😉

As stated earlier, there were so many people, moments, words, thoughts and expressions worth celebration at the Festival, including a small taste of a twelve-year photography project on South Asians, by Preston Merchant.

Thank you Mary Anne Mohanraj for the countless hours you poured into making the festival a wonderful and memorable experience for all who attended. If you missed it, we will see you at the next one. Till then, keep writing, dancing, singing and soaring into the wonders of the arts. And we’ll meet in that world, where inspiration meets imagination. Where distance and time have no limits. Where differences and diversity meet and mingle. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be there.

If you were there, what did I miss? Please share your favorite moment(s) in the comments below.


rajdeep paulusRajdeep Paulus is Masala-Marinated Young Adult Author of the award-winning novel “Swimming Through Clouds.” She also blogs for Masala Mommas, Brown Girl Magazine, Nomi Network and Cycling for Change-C4C2015. You can find her in cyber space on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PinterestTumblr  and her website.