LOS ANGELES, CA - In a time when there is easy talk of the death of the print medium and short attention spans, the crowds thronging the annual L.A.Times Book Festival was an inspiring sight. Inclement weather ignored, whole families put in appearances on Apr.9 & 10 at the USC campus, browsing through books,
There was Anjali Joshi at the booth with her book, “Ganesh and the Little Mouse,” from publishers Bharat Babies whose stated mission is to design and produce developmentally appropriate books that tell children’s stories about India’s heritage. Recognized author of ‘Eidolon,’ Sandeep Parmar was scheduled to be there as was New York Times bestselling novelist Soman Chainani with his well known series of books that started with, ‘The school for good and evil.’
People stood in long lines to hear the intriguing and best-selling author Pico Iyer speak on travel writing. A decidedly borderless person, connected to America, India, England and Japan, his unique perception of a world increasingly polarized, was in view. Model and host of the Emmy award winning show, ‘Top Chef,’ Padma Lakshmi signed copies of her new book, called ‘Love, Loss and What We Ate.’ Arriving with her mother Vijaya, she came to her audience in the wake of headline making comments – on her ex-husband Salman Rushdie and presidential candidate Donald Trump. The former she cites for being cruel and the latter as a “racist buffoon.” Politics was also center stage with Times reporters speaking anecdotally on the brass tacks of covering presidential campaigns. The less than charming persona of George W Bush, a singing and dancing Hillary Clinton, the ‘real’ people who come to Bernie Sanders rallies, the songs that the Barack Obama team played, the real fear that a reporter can feel at a Trump crowd, were discussed. Religion was another big player. For Indians familiar with Annie Beasant from the Home Rule movement in India, there was theosophy to be explored, with works by H.P.Blavatsky and others on display. The Ahmaddiya Muslim Community persecuted in the Muslim world and founded in India by Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian drew attention with a board outside its stall calling for separation of state and religion and non-violent jihad, among other things. In the U.S., eager volunteers said, they were headquartered in Maryland. Even more eager were those at the Why Islam booth, handing out material on the shariah and the ever contentious topic – the role of women in the faith. A Sufi school playing a clipping of the whirling dervishes, tried to draw attention to its brand of Islam. The Self-Realization Fellowship showcased their well-produced publications on faith and spirituality and their bestseller, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda. Not to be outdone were the atheists who too manned a stall. A highlight was the appearance of religious scholar and author Reza Aslan who thinks that pop culture can be used to shift perceptions on religion and Tom Bissell, author of “Apostle,” who has famously questioned the Bible’s teachers even terming Mark “an idiot.” Unexpectedly, Kasturba Gandhi made a splash. A young image of her gazed out from a canvas by Calida Garcia Rawles. The SoCal artist said it was part of a series on women who had had normal early lives and grown to international fame, including the likes of Hillary Clinton and Princess Diana. There was artist Dee Dee Cheriel who engaged in conversation and said her father was from India and travels there frequently.
Sumant Padral’s ‘India Jones’ chow truck was a hit with people waiting patiently in line for some delectable frankies and street chaat. A winner of the coveted food award, Vendy Cup, the truck served up mildly spiced but authentically flavored fare in a busy food corner of the festival that had everything from Spanish paella to soba noodles.
Another flavor of India was to be had at the ‘Incredible India’ booth. The large stall had a henna corner where an Egyptian artist produced simple designs on hands and arms. Plastered on the walls were images of the Taj Mahal and yoga postures.
Yoga was visible too at the Loyola Marymount University stall where brochures gave information on the Masters program in yoga studies. And there was much more. There was Stan Lee, Jonathan Gold, Meghan Daum, Jane Smiley…. as one t-shirt proclaimed: Reading is an adventure that never ends.