About siobhanwatts

I'm part of the New Media team at Southbank Centre, working alongside the Alchemy Festival team.

Rasa: Looking for Kool

Rasa: Looking for Kool is a one-woman show written and performed by Rani Moorthy. It tells the tale of Mrs. U, a defiant character whose world has been turned upside down by war, leading her to retreat underground to a bunker she calls ‘The Coconut Grove’.  The show unfolds in a secret labyrinth underneath Royal Festival Hall, where the audience play the part of war tourists as Mrs.U tells the story of her bittersweet life, her guilt and her loss.

Earlier on today, we caught up with the show’s creator Rani Moorthy as she walked us through the underground tunnels of the Festival Hall. She tells us how the show unfolds and talks about her inspiration for writing the show. Have a listen here.

For more info, and to book tickets to the show, visit our website.

Books About Love with a South Asian Flavour

I can’t wait for The Many Faces of Love event which kicks off tonight at The Southbank, where three brilliant authors, Rosie Swash, Moni Mohsin and Farahad Zama will be discussing two of my favourite things: books and love. To get in the mood, I’ve been browsing through my bookshelves to pick out my favourite three books by contemporary writers (one is South Asian, one is British Asian, one is American Asian) about love set in a modern time. These are well-thumbed books that I’ve re-read and re-read, but a word of warning first. While the first genuinely makes me smile, the other two have reduced me to tears – these are not entirely conventional love stories (they are not *just* about love; there are family sagas, histories and stories of self-identity and so on and so on), and they do not all have happy endings. But that’s the way love goes!

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book, about the chaotic, aristocratic and rambling Dard-e-Dil family whose family name literally means heartache translated. Set between London and high-society Karachi, our story-teller is witty Aliya, in her early twenties, who returns to her family in Pakistan after studying at college in America. Through Aliya, we learn about the high-class Dard-e-Dils, who are a crazy bunch for all their noble aristocracy, and the illicit love story she traces between her cousin and her… family cook. This is love, lively love, across the Pakistani social employee-servant divide. But not only does Aliya uncover her cousin’s love story, she also discovers her own and is forced to confront her own inherent Karachiite social snobbery for falling for a boy whose parents happen to come from the “poor” part of town.  

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is in actual fact a series of short stories, and while not all of them are about love, many of them are, all of them exquisitely and beautifully told. But it’s the last story, Hema & Kaushik, that I’m talking about in particular here; this is the story that gets me everytime. Hema and Kaushik meet as school children, their parents are friends, but the kids barely speak to each other despite, as you’ll find out, living in the same house. Even though Hema the schoolgirl has a crush on Kaushik, the boy who is far too cool, far too aloof and far too moody to actually talk to, their connection is incidental. Each grows up, forgetting the other for there is no real reason to remember, until tiny coincidences bring them back together when they are both grown-up. I’m not going to spoil the ending, which so intricately and cleverly concludes the entire short story collection, but this is one of those stories when you wonder “What if?” and whether everything might just have been different were it not for one, little thing.

Half Life by Roopa Farooki
What I love about Roopa Farooki’s writing is that while her characters happen to be of South Asian heritage, it’s never their sole, defining feature; her characters can simply just so happen to be Asian without the author needing to make constant cultural references to the fact that they are. So this is quite simply a story about two people, Aruna and Jazz, who once were in love and never quite properly fell out of it, despite going their separate ways. It’s about the pain of first love, letting love go and taking it home again. Half Life comes with its own twists and turns, as Aruna and Jazz both desperately cling to each other in the midst of their own personal family dramas, and in the throes of that drama comes a realisation when they each think themselves to be so strong, but then uncover their own fragility. This is ultimately the story of knowing who you are before you can trust yourself to another, which is what both Aruna and Jazz must go through to move on in their lives.

– by Huma Qureshi

Alchemy starts today!

Alchemy is in full swing today, Southbank Centre is buzzing with sights and sounds.  So far today we’ve had a busy yoga class in the Clore Ballroom, spotted the film crew attempting to make a Bollywood film in a week, plus chatted to some Indian musicians and artisans in the Festival Hall who are here as part of the JIYO residency.
There’s plenty to come over the next ten days of the festival, but here’s a round up of what you can find if you pop down today…

*Don’t miss Asian Dub Foundation tonight in the Royal festival Hall. You’re no doubt in for an intense, adrenaline fuelled show from one of the world’s great live acts. Just check out the video for ‘A New London Eye’ to see for yourself. Tickets available

*Look out for the film crew who are producing a Bollywood Film in a Week, using Southbank Centre as the film set. We spotted them on Level 5 of the Festival Hall this morning, but they’ll be all around the site during the festival. Tweet us a picture if you see them!

* Meet skilled artisans and musicians from rural India at the JIYO residency in the Level 2 foyers of the festival Hall. It’s the first time JIYO have exhibited in the UK, so it’s a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in their exploration of the traditional knowledge, skills and practices of India.

*Visit the Spirit Level of the Festival Hall for a look at art works created by emerging British Pakistani artists, curated by the Mica Gallery.

Don’t forget you can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #alchemyfest. Let us know what you think of the festival and send us pictures of you on site. Have a great time at the festival!

Meet Alchemy blogger Huma


Huma Qureshi is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes for several newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times. She also puts in a weekly appearance on the BBC Asian Network. Huma’s work can be found at www.humaqureshi.co.uk and you can follow her on Twitter @huma_qureshi.

Huma’s top five festival picks…

1) The Many Faces of Love
I can’t wait to come along to this, because I’m a bit of a romantic at heart, and also because I adored Farahad Zama’s lighthearted, affectionate novels about arranging marriages; plus Monhi Mohsin’s witty tweets make me laugh so I’m looking forward to her talking offline!

2) The Ethnic Writer: How to avoid labels
As a writer myself, I’m all too aware of falling into the ethnic label trap (British, Muslim, Pakistani parents? Check, check and check) so am intrigued to hear what Nikesh Shuklah has to say on the matter – plus his book Coconut Unlimited rocked.

3) Sachal Jazz Ensemble
Okay: I have a confession to make. In the run up to my wedding last year, I practiced ‘walking down the aisle’ in my flat, shimmying along to the Sachal Jazz Ensemble’s rendition of The Girl From Ipanema. My song choice was vetoed in the end (ahem), but now I’ll get to hear them live (bring me that tabla beat) so the sashaying can recommence.

4) Pakistan On The Brink
The world is watching Pakistan right now – and this intellectual talk sounds fascinating to get an insight into the political instability Pakistan finds itself in. (If only this didn’t clash with the Sachal Jazz Ensemble…)

5) Watermarked: Women and Water in Pakistan
One of my favourite all-time writers, Kamila Shamsie, is appearing at this event, to talk about Pakistan, women and the aftermath of the 2010 floods – not to mention funny lady Shazia Mirza and the hugely clever Ziauddin Sardar. All three contributed to a collection of stories, published last year to raise money for the All Pakistan Women’s Association, which was beautifully put together by Homa Khaleeli, so this will no doubt be a wonderful evening.

Find Huma on the web:
www.humaqureshi.co.uk
The Guardian
@Huma_Qureshi

Meet Alchemy blogger Kerry

ImageKerry is a writer, stylist, digital consultant, editor, blogger and vintage dealer based in London. Hailing from the North of England Kerry studied English in Cornwall and Manchester and currently writes and edits for a number of online and off-line publications. Kerry also offers advice on Digital Branding, manages marketing campaigns for fashion clients, edits websites and provides creative input to a variety of campaigns and projects. Also a published poet and vintage fashion dealer Kerry spends her spare time working on her own blog, Tricky Customers, scouring markets and baking cakes.

Kerry’s Top 5 Festival Picks:

1. Alchemy Catwalk
It’s always great to see collections by designers and India has such a strong aesthetic identity. The venue, The Clore Ballroom in The Royal Festival Hall is also going to be stunning.

2. Hetain Patel & Shane Solanki: Work in Progress
Creative collaborations are often very interesting and the exploration of language and communication is very close to my heart as a writer.

3. The Brit Pak
Being introduced to new artist is always exciting especially when the art comments on social issues.

4. Taste of India
I adore authentic Indian food as it’s so full of flavour and love to watch it being cooked by the experts.

5. Asian Dub Foundation
Asian Dub Foundation are musical pioneers who have encouraged more and more people to perform and listen to Asian music. Their political background, musical sound and influence makes this band  fascinating and unique.

Find Kerry on the web:
Tricky Customers blog
Tricky Customers Tumblr
@kerryflint

Welcome to the Alchemy 2012 Blog

Hello and welcome to the blog for Alchemy 2012 Southbank Centre’s annual festival exploring the rich contrasts and connections between the UK, India and South Asian culture.

We’ve recruited a team of bloggers who will be writing about all aspects of the festival and attempting to fill you with interesting bits of knowledge about Indian & South Asian film, literature, music, dance and travel. During the festival itself they’ll be live blogging, tweeting, photographing and hopefully leaving time for plenty of dancing and yoga-ing as well.

The festival starts on April 12th, so have a look what’s on and don’t forget to keep checking back here for some great posts from our bloggers.