Last night, I went to Browngirlworld 7, a fabulous evening to celebrate IWD. The evening’s headliner, L.A.-based theatre/hiphop/spoken word artist D’Lo (http://chavez.ucla.edu/DLo/bio.htm) showed an incredible range of talent playing her mother, then a sensitive but guarded boi character from her first play “Ballin With My Bois”, then a straight bio-man leading a 10-week training for other men about how to appreciate women. She guided the audience through serious and funny with the same ease with which she fluidly shifted genders.
Not for the first time, Browngirlworld made me nostalgic for Desh Pardesh, a progressive and political South Asian arts festival that started in the early 90’s. Do you remember Desh? Cameron Bailey wrote in NOW in 1999, “You gotta love Desh. The Tories are back, the 90s are over, yet here it still is — kicking against the pricks and throwing the best party in town. This polymorphous festival baffles the opposition like Tendulkar on the cricket pitch. Diasporic? Yes. Activist? Yes. Sexy? Come here and smell for yourself.” For me, it was a festival that helped me come of age as a proud queer and South Asian woman, a space where I first performed with Saheli Theatre Troupe, and first really noticed and flirted with my girlfriend. Each year, I circled the dates in my calendar with anticipation, sometimes taking time off work so I wouldn’t miss anything as Desh grew from a weekend to a week-long event. Sadly, Desh collapsed in 2001, and it has been sorely missed ever since. Although there has been an uprising of queer South Asian energy in Toronto after 2001 (for example, Rewriting the Script was launched in 2001, groups like Dosti, Mirchi and Salaam formed or got more active), Toronto has never been the same. In my opinion, no one has been able to replicate that excitement and power of Desh. But that sexy, diasporic, activist, grass-roots energy was present, if only for a few hours, last night. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Browngirlworld’s producer and MC, (and an artist in her own right), conjured up a Desh-like magic. She collaborated with the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, chased down a lot of local co-sponsors and booked some terrific spoken word, burlesque and drag performers. I think she did an incredible community service for those of us folks who so badly needed (and still do need) a place like Desh.