A Library’s Indian Experience

(As published in India Currents)

Libraries have been called the cradle of democracy, paradise, and temples. The Hayward Public Library will soon transform into a cultural town square with an afternoon of Indian art, poetry, literature, dance, and food. “Experience India” is a milestone in the library’s continuous engagement over the years with its South Asian members in the form of literary groups, workshops and events; and of course, library materials. The Hayward library currently has over 650 Hindi DVDs, over 90 Hindi books, and a great number of Indian music CDs.

Experience India will commence with artist and poet Salma Arastu talking about her book, The Lyrical Line: All Embracing and Flowing, which has more than 100 pages showcasing her work and poetry from the last 10 years. Having lived in India, Iran, Kuwait and in the United States (currently in Berkeley); born to one faith and married into another; Arastu’s diverse experiences have been forged into her paintings, poetry, sculpture, and digital art. Arastu’s body of work traces her multiculturalism through to its many stages of realization. She says, “What has become clear to me now is that we are all one. The spirit of humanity is faceless.” Mirroring this “grounding of faith,” her paintings are of people whose faces have no features; they highlight the unifying human spirit rather than the distinguishing marks of ethnicity.

“I am delighted to present Salma,” says Trudy Toll, the library’s specialist on South East Asian materials. Having traveled throughout India and read extensively about things Indian, Toll believes that “events such as Experience India unify a community by truly identifying and respecting that which is unique in all of us. (Arastu’s) work reaches across boundaries, and needs no interpretation.”

The Hayward Public Library’s has featured other South Asian programming such as forums with the Islamic Network Groups of San Jose, Laughter Yoga workshops, and  an author series.

Suruchi Mohan, debutant author of Divine Music, will be featured at the event. Divine Music invokes the seduction of and in the world of Hindustani music-learning in India. Having earned her master’s in vocal music in Lucknow, India, Mohan wanted to portray the beauty of Indian classical music in words. The story in essence, draws upon the absolute hold that music can have over the life of its student. “In all cultures, students have a very intense emotional relationship with their art teachers. Divine Music has echoes throughout history,” Mohan says.

The storyline also brings out the harsh realities in the lives of two classmates, one from a privileged background, the other from a more common one. Adds Mohan, “Class does shape people’s lives, I find that disturbing. All I can do is to increase awareness of it through my writing. My two main characters represent the opposite ends of the social spectrum.”

Mohan is an award-winning journalist who covered high-tech and business news for McGraw Hill and International Data Group publications through the 1990s. Her nonfiction has appeared in San Jose Mercury News, Reader’s Digest, and Sacred Fire. She holds an M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.
“I really enjoyed reading Divine Music,” says Sally Thomas, Adult Services Librarian at Hayward. “The novel is rich in detail about contemporary India and its cultural traditions, and the characters really come alive on the page,” she says. “I knew that Hayward Public Library’s diverse community would be interested in her novel and would appreciate an opportunity to meet her.”

The last in the line-up at Experience India is award-winning San Jose-based bharatanatyam dancer Priya Banerjee who will bring to life the rhythm of India. Banerjee, 17, she has already had the distinct privilege of performing at the Kalakshetra Dance Festival in India in 2003, and the Barcelona Dance Grand Prix in 2007. A young graduate of the Shri Krupa Dance Company and senior at The Harker School, both in San Jose, her other interests include odissi dance, Rabindra Nritya, Spanish, and psychology.
Experience India will also include a delectable sampling of Indian appetizers by The Favorite Indian Restaurant of Hayward.

Saturday, Feb. 20, 12-4 p.m. Hayward Public Library, 835 C St., Hayward. (510) 293-8685. www.library.hayward-ca.gov.

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