The Twentieth Wife

Just published in India Currents!

Photo Credit: Brooke Duthie

Lovers of The Twentieth Wife will be excited to know kathak artist Farah Yasmeen Shaikh will soon be interpreting the popular novel on a San Francisco stage. Avid readers will also be thrilled that Indu Sundaresan, acclaimed author of the novel, will narrate the performance. “I watched one of her performances and was absolutely mesmerized by her technique, stamina, and skill” says Indu Sundaresan, author of The Twentieth Wife, of Shaikh’s dynamism on stage. Shaikh and Sundaresan will be joined by a live orchestra to tell the interwoven stories of Emperor Akbar, Prince Salim, and the woman who would become the twentieth wife of Jahangir, Mehrunissa.

“Mughal kings were larger than life. They lived violently and loved violently” explains Sundaresan. The Twentieth Wife, based on a close historical reading of the Mughal Empire in India, focuses on pivotal events in the transfer of power between two of its most influential emperors. The novel’s true genius, though, lies in locating the story’s historical perspective behind zenana walls. Although the novel has already become a TV series, Shaikh and Sundaresan’s performance will offer a new way into a beloved story. “As far as I know the concept had never been done before. Kathak is a dance form that evolved before the time I’m talking about, but it was performed for the Mughals so it seemed like a nice marriage” says Sundaresan. 

“I wanted to share the honor I feel representing this part of history, honoring this woman for the poignant place she holds today with gender imbalance in the world,” says Shaikh, artistic director, speaking of Mehrunissa. After falling in love with The Twentieth Wife upon first reading, Shaikh reached out to Sundaresan to propose joining their art forms in an artistic collaboration. “I was deeply moved by reading the book. As a Muslim woman trained in and practicing a classical dance form with Islamic influence, I wanted to bring [these things] together” explains Shaikh.

The result is a dynamic interpretation by Shaikh that inhabits the lives, perspectives, and bodies of Akbar, Salim, and Mehrunissa. “The burden of the entire performance falls on her” says Sundaresan of Shaikh. Sundaresan’s narration will tie the performance to its original form, “The entire dance drama is narrated directly from the novel. I added a little original content to help with the transitions.” The performance will, on a deeper level, also tell the story of the collaboration between these two women. “’It’s not just what you create on the dance floor, you must spend time together, eat together, know each other,’” says Shaikh, quoting her teacher and guru, Pandit Chitresh Das, on the art of collaboration.

Photo Credit: Brooke Duthie

Using multi-media effects, a dynamic grouping of musicians, and multiple costume changes, the performance will highlight the unique perspective of imperial women in Mughal history. “In the zenana, in the harem, things happened behind closed doors. The audience may not have been able to see things directly, depending on who they were [historically],” says Shaikh of her shadow-work to portray Mehrunissa’s perspective during the performance. Original music composed by Salar Nader will provide an auditory interpretation for Mehrunissa and other characters, with Ben Kunin on sarod, Raginder Singh Momi on violin, Deepti Warrier on vocals, and Irum Musharraf as vocal support.

“It was kismet,” concludes Shaikh of the opportunity to collaborate with Sundaresan. Female audience members will be inspired by Shaikh’s motivation to “move beyond the repertoire I was taught to find something that uniquely inspires me.” Male audience members will also relate to her interpretation, “So many men find the scene between Akbar and Salim very emotional, and want to talk about it” says Shaikh. Ultimately, the performance will tell the story of the woman who will become Empress Noor Jahan, a woman who becomes much more than simply the power behind the veil. “It is history told in a contemporary context, in a contemporary way” concludes Sundaresan.

Z Space Presents The Twentieth Wife
Farah Yasmeen Shaikh and Indu Sundaresan
450 Florida Street, San Francisco, 94110
Friday, January 16th and Saturday, January 17th 8pm
Sunday, January 18th 2pm
Tickets begin at $35




Just published in India Currents!

For over 15 years the nonprofit Society for Art & Cultural Heritage of India has been recognized for its partnerships with Bay Area arts institutions and local and international artists and scholars. Kalpana Desai, SACHI President, talks with India Currents about the creative programming that showcases the richness and diversity of the Indian artistic tradition.

Artist Jitish Kallat and Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose sitting on Kallat's installation Public Notice 3 installed on the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase at the Art Institute.

How does SACHI connect to the current South Asian Bay Area arts scene and the institutions that support that scene?
SACHI is a community driven organization. SACHI has carved a special niche for generating rewarding learning experiences especially in the visual arts, but also through film, theater, book discussions, conversations, textile workshops and music and dance demonstrations. SACHI has a long standing relationship with art institutions like the Asian Art Museum, the Palo Alto Art Center, the Cantor Arts Center, the Mills College Art Museum, and the Berkeley Art Museum. In addition, we share a strong affiliation with the Center for South Asia at Stanford and the Center for South Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. Over 15 plus years, SACHI has partnered with nearly 50 Bay Area and international groups.

What does SACHI bring to Bay Area arts and culture that is unique?
The South Asian visual arts space is one that has room for a wider reach beyond artistic and academic circles. Performing arts often provide rich context in elucidating and illuminating concepts explored in the visual arts. We bring together different forms of artistic expression in creative ways for a dynamic and multi-dimensional understanding of Indian culture. The recent exhibition on yoga at the Asian Art Museum, for example, inspired a children's yoga workshop. Similarly, a Thumri-Kathak music and dance performing arts event in conjunction with the Maharaja exhibition beautifully evoked an atmosphere of court entertainment.

Swami Vivekananda, Hindoo Monk of India, United States, 1893, Poster (color lithograph), copy of original from Goes Lithographing Company, Chicago, Vedanta Society of Northern California, courtesy of Asian Art Museum

How does SACHI represent both classical and contemporary arts?
Our close association with Bay Area museums and our connections in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, London, Mumbai, and Delhi enables SACHI to access both scholarship and living artists from a wide geographical spectrum. Contemporary art is an area that interests SACHI in many ways, because it intersects with current events. The SACHI team stays connected to both the classical and contemporary realms, as well as folk art traditions. 

What are you most excited about in the May lineup of SACHI events?
A highlight mid-May SACHI event is on May 18th. This event is exciting because it brings together Swami Vivekananda as a reformist thinker and pairs him with a contemporary Indian artist, Jitish Kallat, whose Public Notice 3 was installed on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This event will make a powerful statement about the state of the world through Vivekananda's timeless message of universal harmony and Kallat's creative transformation of this message. The Art Institute of Chicago curator who worked closely with Kallat during the installation, Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, will be presenting the talk.  On May 23rd, SACHI is hosting a talk by Vedanta scholar Prasad Vepa, Trustee of the California Institute of Integral Studies. “The Not-so-Hidden Secrets of Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita” will provide a philosophical exploration of the yoga exhibit.

Public Notice 3, Site-specific text-based light installation, Grand Staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago,
Gift of the Artist, 2010.418

SACHI started in 1997. How have you seen the organization change and develop over the years? 
SACHI has evolved organically over the years, and it continues to grow and flourish with the changing composition of its talented and dedicated volunteer Board. The scale and number of programs launched annually has perhaps doubled over time. As a result, SACHI’s visibility in the art and culture world has increased with a greater demand for program participation than it can comfortably accommodate within its existing framework. That SACHI has found a place in the program agenda of museum and university settings on a consistent basis is something we are particularly proud of. 

“Public Notice 3:  From Vivekananda to Kallat”
Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose
Sunday May 18th, 2pm 
Samsung Hall, Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin Street, San Francisco
Free after museum admission

“The Not-so-Hidden Secrets of Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita”
Prasad Vepa
Friday May 23rd, 2pm
Education Classroom, Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin Street, San Francisco
$15.00, limited seating


TiEcon 2014

Just published in India Currents!

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

“For over 20 years, TiEcon has showcased some of the most successful companies around the world and brought together the entire ecosystem of entrepreneurship including venture capitalists, thought leaders, successful entrepreneurs as well as aspiring entrepreneurs,” says Venktesh Shukla, President of TiE Silicon Valley. TiE started at a 1992 lunch meeting in Silicon Valley, and now hosts 60 chapters in 17 different countries. Its annual flagship conference, TiEcon, attracted 3600 participants from over 50 countries last year.  “TiEcon 2014 is centered around phenomenal speakers and a strong technical agenda… it’s also a chance to speak face-to-face with successful entrepreneurs,” says BV Jagadeesh, TiEcon Co-Convener and Managing Partner of KAAJ Ventures.

Manoj Saxena

“I believe 2014 is going to be a defining year… cloud architectures [will] go from experimentation to deployment and when big data goes from promise to production. The entrepreneurs at TiEcon will likely have a large impact on how these innovations develop,” says Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of Red Hat. The first day of the conference highlights three breaking topics: the internet of things, big data, and cloud infrastructure. “Each of these topics represents billions of dollars in new potential value creation for entrepreneurs,” says Pradip Madan, TiEcon Co-Convener and venture builder in healthcare and the internet of things. In the internet of things, participants will explore the potential to provide meaningful and useful applications through device connection. “After the internet in the mid-90’s, I don’t think anything has had the potential to be as big as the internet of things” opines Jagadeesh. Big data, the analysis of large data sets to inform business decisions, promises to create incredible responsivity to the customer. Cloud infrastructure, or companies’ ability to use and share infrastructure when needed, “creates tremendous flexibility in scaling” says Jagadeesh.

Shahid Khan

The biggest draw of TiEcon is its speakers. “IBM announced plans to invest $1B in a new business dedicated to building out the Watson ecosystem… Manoj Saxena, now Managing Director at The Entrepreneur’s Fund and most recently IBM’s Watson Division Head, will engage Mike Rhodin, IBM’s Senior Vice President for Watson, in a discussion on opportunities in cognitive computing” explains Madan. Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, Founder, Chariman, and CEO of the Symphony Technology Group “reflects a force of vision and persistence that will set a strong example for TiEcon attendees” says Madan. Shahid Khan, President and Owner of Flex-N-Gate as well as owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, will discuss how entrepreneurship extends beyond the high-tech ecosystem. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Bollywood Producer, will talk about inspiration in producing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. “Competing as an athletic champion requires the same determination as succeeding as an entrepreneur” concludes Madan.

Romesh Wadhwani

The second day of TiEcon focuses on personal growth. “Each of the keynote speakers brought sustained vision, courage, charisma, and determination to their work. Understanding their views is what complements a tech entrepreneur’s training,” explains Madan. Second day conference topics include healthcare, youth, entrepreneurship, technology services, energy, and impact investing while participants hear about the successes and challenges of experienced entrepreneurs. “Time is of the essence; participants can learn from ‘old mistakes’ to move forward rapidly,” says Jagadeesh. Young startups will bring their innovations to the TiE50 competition and companies will showcase their products and services in Expo booths. “Entrepreneurs looking for co-founders will find them in FounderConnect. Entrepreneurs looking for funding will meet VCs and angel investors in VCConnect. Those looking for mentorship in a specific topic will be able to do so in MentorConnect,” explains Madan.

TiEcon is volunteer-run. “All our volunteers are here for various reasons: networking, brainstorming, meeting founders, and providing mentorship. We’re very excited to give back to the entrepreneurial community” says Jagadeesh. “I hope to bring new perspectives to my work from TiEcon. I am also looking to build new teams and find new partners, and expect to do both” says Madan. TiEcon 2014 is a high-contact opportunity for all entrepreneurs to connect and learn. “I believe in a flat world of opportunity for every entrepreneur, man, or woman, from any region of the world. I believe that each of us should have the opportunity to maximize our intellectual and social productivity through entrepreneurship. The demographics, scale, and impact of TiEcon flatten the world ever more each year,” concludes Madan.

TiEcon 2014
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great America Parkway
Santa Clara, CA  95054
May 16th and 17th
Tickets begin at $225.00