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Author Annie Zaidi and writer Poorna Swami discuss home, belonging, displacement and identity on Episode 35 of BIC Talks. Annie Zaidi won the Nine Dots Prize for 2019-20 by exploring the question, ‘Is there still no place like home?’ and published Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation in May 2020.
Annie and Poorna discuss how where people are born, where they live, what they speak, where they feel safe are all tied to their sense of identity and belonging, sometimes determined by themselves, and sometimes by others.
Annie Zaidi is a journalist, scriptwriter and author, and Bread, Cement, Cactus is her fourth book. The full book is available for free reading as a PDF download, and physical copies can be purchased as well.
Poorna Swami is an independent writer and journalist based in Bangalore. Poorna was also on BIC Talks on Episode 28, where she spoke to Rahul Rao about the politics and the morality of taking down problematic statues.
Zaidi’s recent book, ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’, combines memoir and reportage to explore concepts of home and belonging rooted in her experience of contemporary life in India, where migration – within the country, especially from villages to cities – is high. The book answers the central question through examining how a citizen’s sense of ‘home’ might collapse, or be recovered.
Zaidi began her career as a reporter with stints at leading newspapers and magazines including Mid-Day and Frontline. She has published both fiction and non-fiction: Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales is a collection of essays shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2010, and Love Stories # 1 to 14 is a collection of short fiction published in 2012. In 2015, she published an anthology called Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing. Elle magazine named Zaidi as one of the emerging South Asian writers “whose writing… will enrich South Asian literature”. She currently works as a freelance writer, working on fiction, scripts and columns for magazines and newspapers.
Poorna Swami writes on arts, culture, literature, and politics. Her essays, criticism, and reportage have appeared in The Caravan, Open, Mint-Lounge, The Hindu BLink, Firstpost and Words Without Borders, among other publications. Her poetry has been published in journals such as Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Prelude. Between 2015-2017 Poorna served as the India Editor-at-large for the international online quarterly, Asymptote, and co-curated the journal’s first special feature on Indian language poetry in English translation. In 2018, she was awarded the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize for young Indian poets.
At the age of seven, Poorna began training in the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam, before extending her training to contemporary dance and post-modern techniques. Her choreographic works frequently cross disciplines but are rooted in formal investigations of the body. Her works have shown in both India and the US, most recently at noted Indian arts spaces such as 1 Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery, Chatterjee & Lal, G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, and Serendipity Arts Festival. She was a recipient of the 2018 danceWEB scholarship at ImPulsTanz – Vienna International Dance Festival.
Poorna holds a BA, summa cum laude, in Dance-Theatre and English from Mount Holyoke College (USA). She divides her time between Bangalore and Mumbai.