How Asian values are being changed by globalisation

Shereen el Feki and Sally Howard will discuss Changing sexual vales at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival on 13 May

Shereen el Feki, Moni Mohsin and Sally Howard will discuss changing sexual customs in Asia at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival on 13 May

How Asian values are being changed by globalisation

31 March 2014

By Naomi Canton

Changing Values in Asia is the theme of this year’s Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, which is in its eight year.

The Festival has had a theme for the past three years. Last year the theme was Freedom as a result of a lot of books coming out on that topic after the 2011 Arab Spring.  At that time the theme emerged organically after the books had been selected.

“This is the first year that we have chosen the theme before we curated the books,” says Director of the Festival Adrienne Loftus Parkins.

Loftus Parkins, who lived in Mumbai, Bangalore, Shanghai and Singapore for eight years from 1992, explains what she means by changing values in Asia.

“The thing that I noticed for a long time when I first went to Asia, when globalisation was happening, was that people said it would not work in Asia because they had Asian values, such as doing things for the good of the group and the family, which were not comparable with Western values,” she says. “But now globalisation has happened and Asian companies have come to  do business in the West. Over the last few years I have seen a lot of fiction books documenting new values in Asia, the idea of getting rich, individualism, materialism, all the things that were considered to be Western,” she says.

“Traditionally, Asians wanted to support their families, but now they want to earn money, have big houses and, at least in urban areas, arranged marriages are on the decrease or have changed in nature,” she adds.

“The authors are not judging the values and nor are we saying one set of values is better than the other. In fact, the authors are not even saying the values have changed but their writing is bringing out these changes. As Asian countries become more developed there is more of a desire to have the trappings of wealth,” she adds.

This year Loftus Parkins has selected books to match the theme, which was even touched on in books that came out last year such as Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire and Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

Aw spoke about his book, which charts the lives of Malaysian migrant workers in Shanghai, at our first Pre-Festival event on 2 April.

Tash Aw

Tash Aw

“There are certain authors whose new books we really want to highlight but who are not available in the UK during the dates of the Festival so we create pre-Festival events as a precursor to the Festival to generate a bit of excitement,” Loftus Parkins explains.

British author Hanif Kureishi, who was born in the UK to a Pakistani father and English mother, is opening the Festival on 6 May.

“Hanif Kureishi came to the Festival in 2011 and spoke about freedom of speech. He was terrific. Asia House honoured him with the second Asia House Award for Literature. His new book The Last Word is really exciting. It is his first novel in a while and it’s about a young British writer being engaged to write a biography of an ageing high profile British Indian author and a lot of people have linked it to Patrick French’s 2008 revealing biography of V S Naipaul, which Hanif denies,” she says.

“Hanif was one of the first writers to address the identity issues that British Asians had in the 1970s and 1980s and many developed a new pride in their background after reading his books,” she adds.

The British Library recently announced the acquisition of Kureishi’s personal archive, including more than 50 personal diaries and notebooks.

Hanif Kureishi - Book Cover and Author Picture

Hanif Kureishi and his latest book, The Last Word

The Opening Night will be followed by a book signing and drinks reception when guests can mingle and meet Kureishi.

Since this year is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, Loftus Parkins feels it is appropriate to highlight the massive and often forgotten contribution by Indian soldiers in that War.

Lord Bhikhu Parekh, a life peer, political theorist and a Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster, will close the Festival on 21 May with a talk about the  estimated 1.4 million Indians who served overseas during World War I, with more than 60,000 losing their lives.  The talk will be followed by a canapé reception.

Other highlights of the Festival include a session on New Pan Asian fiction on 20 May. “These are three terrific authors – high-profile Sri Lankan author Romesh Gunesekera, one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists Xiaolu Guo and British Asian novelist Roopa Farooki, whose books are not being published until the summertime. I want to give our audience a preview of their books. We will have advance copies of all the books to buy,” she adds.

Another interesting session is on Digital Freedom in East Asia on 15 May, produced in partnership with English PEN. There have been a recent spate of books either being banned in India or withdrawn by force and there have also been attempts to limit access to books, the Internet and social media in other Asian countries so it  is a very timely debate on the stifling of free speech in Asia.

All the Literature Festival events will take place at Asia House, except The Shroud, a performance poetry performance which will be put on at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, East London. In that performance India-born Siddhartha Bose and British Asian Avaes Mohammad will examine loss, rituals and the things that connect families.

“We are working in partnership with Rich Mix and Penned in the Margins to bring attention to this remarkable new performance,” Loftus Parkins adds.

The Festival, sponsored for the first time by the Bagri Foundation,  is also much more than literary talks with authors. On 16 May there will be a session with the creators of BanhMi11, a Vietnamese street food chain of shops, market stalls stalls and pop-up diners about the next up-and-coming world cuisine in the UK.  “Cooking events are popular so we expect this demonstration and lunchtime sampling to be pretty dynamic,” Loftus Parkins says. “Banh Mi is a typical Vietnamese sandwich.”

The founders of the business Van Tran and Anh Vu will be present to discuss their cuisine and their cookbook published last year.

Changing sexual traditions of personal and sexual relationships in Asia and much more will be discussed at the session Changing Sexual Mores on 13 May.

“I think this is going to be one of the most interesting talks as they are all very dynamic speakers,” Loftus Parkins says. Moni Mohsin, a Pakistani novelist who writes social satire  will chat to Sally Howard, author of The Kama Sutra Diaries, a fascinating book which looks at modern-day and historical India, and to Egyptian British author Shereen el Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel, which is a non-fiction book about the intimate lives of men and women in the Arab world.

The event Burma – A Work in Progress will feature British journalist Peter Popham, who has worked extensively in Burma and is author of The Lady And The Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.

“It is two years since the elections that changed everything. We are going to look at what those changes have meant to Burma.  Now that Aung San Suu Kyi is in government, we’ll examine what she has and has not accomplished,” Loftus Parkins says.

Extra Words are also featuring at this Festival for the first time. “These are opportunities to introduce debut authors to the Festival by doing mini interviews with them,” Parkins says.

The session Loftus Parkins is most looking forward to is the one examining the evolution of British Asian humour on 9 May with Head of Development within BBC Comedy  Saurabh Kakkar, writer/producer of Goodness Gracious Me Anil Gupta and British Pakistani stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza.

“We had an event last year on British Asian culture that was a great networking opportunity for young British Asians, so we wanted to continue that this year with a look at British Asian humour and how it’s evolved since the hugely popular TV show Goodness Gracious Me,” she adds.


The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival takes place from 6 to 21 May, 2014, with pre-Festival events happening throughout April. For full details of the programme click here and here.