Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Distance makes the heart grow fonder

Do memories change over time? And does our pining to relive those moments, somehow alter our recollection? This was the undercurrent of Chili Salon #4. Pepper jack cheese, spicy tofu, Kerala fish curry and chili guacamole decorated the table, topped by cinnamon brownies and ghee-infused jelabis. Surprise guests from Brooklyn peppered the conversation, with Queens locals holding down the fort.

Afzal Hossein's paintings recollected hazy memories of his childhood, from the vicarious angst of a new bride to stealing mangoes from a neighbors tree. A native of Bangladesh, Afzal led us down memory lane, with a slide presentation of the land he left in 1996, the new world he now inhabits, and the immigrant experience that continues to provide inspiration. We were transported, as he spoke about the chickens that ran wild outdoors and on to the frying pan, and excursions to country fairs where distant monuments came alive for a few coins in a Bengali Viewfinder. When asked how life in America had changed his memories of Bangladesh, he responded that he considers himself to be an American, (though Jackson Heights is not really America), and that distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Next up, we were transported to 1957 Kerala, India, in an era where steamy conversations on the backwaters, reading Marx in paddy fields, and free education for girls, left a population talking, mobilizing, and readying itself for change, long before Obama and the Internet. This provides the backdrop for short story writer and essayist Meera Nair's new book Harvest. Set during the revolutionary Kerala Peoples Science Movement, where science provided an activist precedent against caste politics. Through the eyes of Saro, we are taken into the life of a young girl, witnessing the change around her, feeling guilty for always feeling hungry, and contemplating whether she should find work to relieve her burdened mother. Meera vowed that it's not a political work and she veers away from writing or story lines that are pedantic. After seven years of writing, dreaming, imagining, and putting pen to page, Meera said she came to regard the characters, as family. With editing in full swing, the novel should be out in bookstores soon.

Artist Bios
We hear from Jackson Heights local and acclaimed short story writer and essayist, Meera Nair, who writes of worlds intimate, painful and anything but masala. Meera Nair has an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. Her debut collection Video (Pantheon 2002) won the Asian-American Literary Award. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times magazine, the National Post , The Threepenny Review, Calyx, Discover and on NPR's Selected Shorts. Meera has won fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (2004 & 2008) and the MacDowell Artists’ Colony. Her novel “Harvest” will be published by Pantheon.

A native of Bangladesh,
Afzal Hossain takes us through a visual image down memory lane, with a slide presentation of the land he left, the new world he now inhabits, and the immigrant experience that continues to provide inspiration. Hossain received his B. Arch. from Pratt Institute. He studied painting at the New York Art Students League. He worked for Robert A. M. Stern Architects as a designer and later founded BANG Architecture/Design with his wife Julie Nymann. He currently resides in Jackson Heights.

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