A Literary Evening Brings
Left-Leaning Writers Together
By A. H. Cemendtaur
L to R: Abira, Rajika, Ved Vatuk
and Farooq Taraz
The Friends of South Asia
organized its second annual literary evening at the Stanford
University on Saturday, April 16. The theme of the evening
was 'War and Terrorism, The South Asian perspectives.' The
program was sponsored by Dr. Khawaja Ashraf, Editor of the
online PakistanWeekly.com, an online magazine.
The marathon reading session featured writers of South Asian
descent reading in English (a clear majority), and in Punjabi,
Hindi, Urdu, and Kannada. Ijaz Syed, a Bay Area activist
and a literary figure in his own right, emceed the program.
The event started with the emcee reading Punjabi poems and
their English translations submitted by Irfan Malik, a poet
based in Boston. Malik's poetry was a sensitive mind's reaction
to the Indian and Pakistani nuclear explosions in 1998.
Shikha Malaviya, a local artiste, then presented a poem
she wrote on being emotionally overwhelmed by the tragic
assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
Maya Khosla who has several poetry books to her credit read
three of her poems.
This writer read an Urdu short story.
Sudhi Bangalore, who writes in Kannada, read a poetic reflection
on an Independence Day celebrations (July 4) at a time when
war raged in Afghanistan and Iraq was talked about being
next in line.
Moazzam Sheikh, editor of an anthology recently published
by Penguin India, read the opening passage of his story,
"A fountain in the desert." The part Sheikh read
had interesting imagery and was complete with his signature
inclusion of sexually explicit material.
Writer-actor Saqib Mausoof, with the assistance of two volunteers,
then presented excerpts from his play titled "Shock
and Awe." Abira Ashfaq, an attorney and an activist,
read excerpts from an essay "Reflections of an
Saqib with Nidhi Singh and Usman
It was an account of her interactions with a Palestinian
detained by the US following the September 11 attacks.
Work submitted by Sarah Husain, a poetess based in Florida,
was read by Vidhu Singh. Mahmud Rahman, a Bangladeshi-American
writer, read passages from a story "Interrogations."
Writer-activist Sabahat Ashraf presented a reflection triggered
by the media coverage of a person described by the US authorities
as "the Al-Qaida computer whiz" and who went to
the same High School and College in Karachi as Ashraf did.
Ashraf drew a parallel between this person and someone of
the same background from an earlier generation of leftist
The last scheduled item was the presentation by the troupe
led by local playwright Wajahat Ali —the actors did
an animated reading of segments from Ali's play titled "Domestic
Being affiliated with the
host organization, this scribe is aware of the meticulous
planning that went into organizing the event. A call for
submissions was floated on various mailing lists of writers
and activists two months in advance. A subcommittee comprising
of Ijaz Syed, Anu Mandavilli, and Abira Ashfaq reviewed
each submission and selected the ones to be read at the
evening. An attractive handbill created and produced by
Yasmeen Fatimah and Ramkumar Sridharan provided short bios
of all the writers reading, or being read, in the evening,
and the order in which they were supposed to read. But then,
creative artists are not known for being too organized and
Three writers showed up at
the venue with work they could not submit to FOSA in time.
The program organizers magnanimously granted them permission
to read. Beneficiaries of this amnesty were Rajika Bhandari,
who read a memoir; Ved Vatuk, who presented his Hindi poetry;
and Farooq Taraz, who read Urdu and Punjabi poetry. With
this anomaly, a program that after the initial 4-5 readings
looked progressing at the desired pace and was expected
to end on time, went on a little longer than might have
One aspect that clearly undermined the effectiveness of
FOSA's literary evening - despite the excellent literature
that was read - was its low attendance. The program that
was not ticketed and had free snacks and drinks served (thanks
to Abira Ashfaq for that arrangement) was attended by only
40 people, and that count included the writers and their
friends and family members.
Was the theme 'War and Terrorism' too intimidating and dissuaded
a common cautious Desi from attending the program? We will