The Chindia Dialogues, an interview with Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha
October 28, 2011, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Art, Literature, Opinion | Tags: , , ,

Especially in New York do we have trouble mentally transcending the confines of the city and our own personal routines. Wrapped up in subway lines, e-mail chains, and power cables, not only is New York City a veritable maze to navigate through in itself, but living in it also creates a psychological web of signification in our heads. New Yorkers develop an involved sense of awareness in order just to function. It makes sense that intelligent and diligent people thrive in this city. One troubling side effect is a distendency to extend our awareness from matters that don’t directly effect us, even if they’re just downtown.

Fortunately, groups such as The Asia Society facilitate a means for New Yorkers to get informed and involved with matters outside the general realm of consciousness we adopt living in the city. From November 3rd through November the 6th, The Asia Society will be hosting “The Chindia Dialogues,” a series of panels and lectures about modern dynamics in two of the world’s largest, fastest developing, and most influential nations. The festival features the work and thoughts of leading intellectuals in global culture. Two of these scholars joined me on Citywide.

My two guests, Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha, were a fascinating pair. They’d worked in close proximity for some time and have been aware of each other’s work, but in the studio at WNYU is the first time they’d met. They’ve also coincidentally each published a book in the last year in which they summarize the conditions growing up in their home nations of India and China, becoming writers, attending college in the United States and returning to write about their countries of origin. Both books then go on to represent the modern conditions of India and China respectively via detailed profiles of individuals. The method is effective as these writers delve deep into a nation’s role in forming an individual. They also find a way to connect the lives of these individuals to a global condition, one experienced everywhere and especially visible in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

 Not only are the stories they share (including their own) interesting and enlightening, but so is their perspective. This was a very unique interview for me to record, because I knew my questions would have little to add except to start a conversation between two people who have studied and thought about their home nations for their entire lives. It is amazing to see how conflicts between bordering nations translate to each other. How one populace sees the domestic woes of their neighbor as potential salvation if instituted at home. How a revolution enflames diverging and vibrant cultures. It is a great treat to hear these two thinkers in profound conversation. Please enjoy the interview below-

The Chindia Dialogues will take place at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th street) between November 3rd and November 6th. For a complete program, please visit Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha will form a panel with two other scholars in conversation about shared culture between nation-states on Sunday November 6th. Citywide will give away free tickets to this event to the first person who e-mails or comments on this blog post!

About the authors:

Jianying Zha (查建英)-
A writer, television commentator, and China Representative of the India China Institute at The New School. She is the author of two books in English, China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, and five books in Chinese: three collections of fiction and two non-fiction books, including Bashi Niandai (The Eighties), an award-winning cultural retrospective of the 1980s in China. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she has published widely in both Chinese and English for a variety of publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Dushu and Wanxiang. Born and raised in Beijing, she was educated in China and the United States, receiving degrees from Peking University, University of South Carolina, and Columbia University. She divides her time between Beijing and New York. She has appeared frequently in television talk-shows in China as a commentator on social and cultural topics.

Here is a review of her latest book, Tide Players, in The New York Review of Books (very interesting article):

Siddartha Deb-
Indian author born 1970 in Meghalaya and raised in Shillong of northeastern India. Siddartha attended school in both India and the United States at Columbia University. His first novel, The Point of Return, is semi-autobiographical in nature and is set in a fictional hill-station that closely resembles Shiillong. His second novel, Surface, also set in Northeast India, is about a disillusioned Sikh Journalist. His first non-fiction book and most recent work, The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India, was published in June 2011 by Viking Penguin. He has also contributed to the Boston Globe, The Guardian, The Nation, The New Statesman, Harper’s, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. He currently teaches at The New School in New York.

Lucas Green

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