Anu Behari is a business mind, a supporter of culture, engaged in community and a great conversationalist. She is also the Founder and President of Eye on India. Born and raised in India, Anu Behari has called the mid-west home for many years now. She embraces her dual cultural life, and celebrates the best of both through Eye on India. Here is the story of Eye on India as she tells it.
It all came about as an interesting accident. My mother, a writer, was speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival. We had heard a lot about this festival, the largest literary free festival in the world. When I went there, it felt like an Indian celebration, conference, and pilgrimage all-together. I was introduced to the producer of the festival Sanjoy Roy and I said, “We need something like this in Chicago. It’s the festival city of the United States!” And thus began the adventure of creating a festival on India that would be the right fit for Chicago. Right away the inspiration and idea received enthusiastic support from the incredible individuals and institutions of the Chicago cultural community.
There is something we leave behind in India when we come to the U.S. We see a lot of Bollywood and the classical arts of India here in the States. The two extremes. You do not see the contemporary India. You miss the conversations, being a part of the dialogues that are current in India. And we want to share those with our community in Chicago, in a way that we both understand. I see a gap in how India is presented here and not really a part of the mainstream and true to the sensibility of both an Indian and a Chicagoan. Thus we see the need to bring current Indian culture into a two-way flow.
People are very keen to go beyond their cultural boundaries. Eye on India is a cultural platform where we can engage in those conversations about Chicago and India together. We bring music, dance, business, literature, ideas, workshops, and more between India and Chicago. Bringing Chicago to India and India to Chicago!
So, the sense of the festival remains the same, yet every year is different. The kind of artists that we present varies year-to-year. They bring in distinct flavors of India. Eye on India does not only create programing, we also facilitate. We connect artists and thinkers. India has so much to offer in terms of the arts, but it can be logistically difficult for institutions and artists to connect with folks in India. We are able to provide that connection, and to aid in finding lasting relationships between artists and organizations. Recently, we assisted Alan Teller and Jerri Zbiral who were on their Fulbright project, Following the Box. Eye on India connected them to several photography organizations and aided in facilitating their trip to India.
One of my most rewarding moments has been our work with the Chicago Children’s Choir. In our inaugural year, we were delighted to work with the Chicago Children’s Choir and a local dance company, Natya Dance Theatre. Over a period of three years, we were then able to facilitate a trip of the Chicago Children’s Choir (40 students) to India. They visited four different cities and performed at the world famous Jaipur Literature Festival. So then imagine the other side, being in India and seeing the Chicago Children’s Choir. The emotion takes you by surprise, because you realize how much Chicago is part of who you are. It was a very overwhelming moment for me personally. I tell all my friends who come from India that we don’t realize how much we now belong to Chicago as much as India. This only became clear to me when I saw Chicago in India.
We are fortunate to have the support of the Indian government and the Consulate General of India. Chicago is our community. All Eye on India events are presented in collaboration with Chicago area institutions and artists. Our success is measured through the web of dedicated partners, organizations, and communities that participate in each year’s Festival. Eye on India is proud of our committed network of stakeholders. Through our ongoing collaborations, Eye on India is planting deep roots in the cultural fabric of Chicago.
Over the last 5 years, Eye on India has become an integral part Chicago’s vibrant cultural tradition and calendar. And as we share our stories and cultures, we discover and explore the several ways of understanding not only of the different cultures and contexts but also of ourselves. Eye on India is just an inspiration, almost an excuse, which takes us on that journey.