& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, August 20, 2018


Guest post by Kevin Lobo

Kevin Lobo
It’s a freezing, wintery Good Friday morning in Toronto. The forces of evil – Satan’s army – are preparing for one more attempt at grabbing and destroying the one remaining thorn, from the crown of thorns that Christ bore. The one thorn that stands in the way of Evil taking over the world.

When the 'end-of-world’ and repentance preaching mad-man is suspiciously struck by a speeding truck and dies in Daniel’s arms, he passes on the mantle of the Thorn Bearer to Daniel. Suddenly a beautiful quiet day is transformed into a war zone as a massive car pileup is followed by riots, shootings, cops and zombie-like mobs that seem totally possessed by some kind of evil. The chaos reaches a peak when an assassin becomes a reality with even a cop gunned down bringing in a highly trained swat team.

Daniel is sure that the hooded man, a sinister presence is behind the rapidly escalating chaos. In the midst of it all, he discovers his own allies that will fight by his side. The forces of evil sensing another defeat let loose a spate of shootings, burnings and riots. Between Yokatherine, whose long past and a brush with the same evil is now coming full circle, and Ezekiel, a teen battling his own moral issues, the three realize that their destinies are closely tied with a final battle of the day.

Before Daniel can deal with any of that he must first fight the deadly charm of Amanda, a stunningly beautiful, dark-haired young woman, a down in the dumps photographer who gets hired for a second time by the hooded man to shoot the events to unfold that Good Friday. Daniel knows that he must put an end to the instant attraction that magnetically brings the two together in the midst of the chaos. Neither Daniel nor Amanda, know how closely their destinies are tied together, yet, not in the way they could imagine.

Between murdered cops, pregnant teens, human sacrifices to the evil one and a day that must face a final reckoning so deadly, that Daniel slowly discovers a world that has lived on the edge and which he must now protect from Satan’s forces. From the slopes of Calvary, where the Son of Man conquered Sin and Death, to this day 2000 years later, the battle has been ever raging.

A battle between the Kingdom of God and the forces of evil, and a victory so critical to all that is good in this world.

Buy Kevin's first novel, click here: Golgotha

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cafe Sarajevo - episode 1

The conflict that engulfed former Yugoslavia in the 1990s is today consigned to history and largely forgotten. It’s been overtaken by equally heinous wars and perpetration of atrocities on civilians across the world.

The genocide in Rwanda occurred almost concomitantly with the genocide of Bosnians, Muslims and other minorities by Serbian war criminals. Then, of course, 9/11 altered the world irreversibly and the “global war on terror” legitimized Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fissures that emerged in the former Yugoslavia as it rapidly imploded as a part of the process of the collapse of Communism, led to a horrific war that resulted in ethnic cleansing on an unimaginable scale.

At a time when swift action could have ended the misery of millions of minorities in this multiethnic society, Germany’s continued to prevarication and procrastination delayed the involvement of the NATO forces. Germany couldn’t muster the gumption to invade the former Yugoslavia because of its Second World War history.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, the Clinton Administration decided in favour of NATO intervention after the genocide in Srebrenica and Markale, and ended the war, and even brought the war criminals to face Nuremberg-type trials.  

With the human propensity to revel in savagery, every massacre becomes a milestone on a never-ending journey of carnage. We forget the lessons learnt in these tragedies brought upon us by popular and charismatic leaders who legitimize their control over power by rousing hatred against a minority.

Twin processes began to take control over global affairs – on the one hand, corporations became global entities, becoming parallel power structure, often rivalling governments in their influence to shape policies. The process of globalisation that began in the 1980s and took flight in 1990s changed the world as we know it.

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, ethnic identities began to become increasingly important to large sections of people in many parts of the world; nationalism, which was already under a threat because of globalisation, was further battered by ethnic groupings that focused on subnational identities.

The collapse of the global consensus on economic globalisation following the 2008 economic crisis resulted in the intensification of subnational identification and its most significant manifestation has so far been the fear of the immigrant and the abhorrence of the outsider.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump capitalized on this anger and changed the political dynamics of the world. Misogynistic, xenophobic, fascist, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-foreign sentiments that had hitherto remained at a subterranean level were menacingly brought to the surface to occupy the global mainstream.    

It is impossible to deal with this fearsome phenomenon in a linear manner.  It becomes necessary for any creative endeavour that attempts to portray the freefall and the imminent end of the liberal ethos globally to transcend the limitations of form.  

Bluemouth Inc. a Toronto-based “performance collective that creates original, dynamic, immersive” performance events performed Café Sarajevo - episode 1 in Toronto at the Summerworks festival.

It was an interactive, multimedia, stunningly original theatre production in its presentation and in the innovative deployment of media technologies. The use of technology transformed the audience from passive consumers of art to active participants in the narrative.

Bluemouth Inc. used a video wall, music, narration by multiple actors, digital and GPS technologies, customised video recordings to supplement the live performances.  All these devices build upon and complement each other to create an impact that aural, visual and physical. The structure is nebulous, liquid, easily adaptable, changeable and enabling constant improvisation. The narrative was also a live podcast.

The narrative is loosely based on Lucy Simic and Stephen O’Connell’s trip to Sarajevo and in particular Lucy’s reminiscences of the historic city of her roots. The attempt is to depict the global upheavals such as the refugee crisis and the paroxysm of collective xenophobic seizures that western societies seem to in throes of.

The narration links the shameless and blasé contemporary attempts at denying citizens even a modicum of basic civil rights to the political crises in United States (and the western societies) of the late 1960s and the early 1970s when multiple wars were waged against people whether in the inner cities of the United States or in the jungles of Vietnam.

Tellingly, a seemingly obtuse debate between Noam Chomsky and Michael Foucault becomes the launching pad for the performance, with Chomsky appropriately declaring that it would be perfectly legitimate to oppose and fight the state and defy its anti-people policies.

Visually, there is a surfeit of images of Sarajevo, of the women’s rally held in Washington DC after Trump became US President. Different members of the audience enact and read different parts of the narrative. The most telling narrative is the debate that Simic has with a server at a local coffee shop over whether the coffee served is Turkish or Bosnian.

There is also a roleplay element to the narrative where members of the audience become characters in the narrative. There is undoubtedly a sense of being overwhelmed by all that happens during the narration, experiencing a sense of loss of control over what they should experience. That I guess is the intended effect because, at present, large sections of the global population have absolutely no fucking idea of what’s going on in the world.

Café Sarajevo was my third experience of vicariously living through the Bosnian War. The two novels that I’ve read that are linked to this enormous tragedy – Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo and Fredrick Forsythe’s Avenger – are both tangentially connected to Canada.

Galloway is Canadian, and in Forsythe’s Avenger, it’s the Canadian billionaire Stephen Edmonds who hires the ‘Avenger’ Calvin Dexter to avenge his grandson’s murder in the Bosnian War.

Forsythe’s novel is a formulaic nail-biting thriller that keeps the reader on the edge as the story unfolds to tantalizing end a day before 9/11.

Galloway’s novel is a fine work that carefully constructs the shattered and disintegrating lives of is the story of Arrow, Kenan and Dragan as they come to terms with the reality of a war-ravaged city that they have lived all their lives.

When I reviewed it about four years ago, I’d said, “To Galloway’s credit, nowhere in the novel does he ever mention the siege from a macro perspective – Serbian forces that surrounded the outlying hills of Sarajevo are never named, and neither are the Bosnian government defence forces named.

The novel shows there isn’t too much to choose between the attackers and the defenders and depicts the daily trauma of living in the city that is changing forever, its inhabitants slowly wilting, decaying, and disintegrating.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=42&v=pxVQXtWLNaI

Photo: http://summerworks.ca/wp-content/uploads/marcato/CAFSARAJEVOepisodeI.jpg

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 14

Che - quietly confident

Che & Mahrukh
2012 brought major changes in our lives. In our fourth year in Canada, our need was to belong to a place that we so much wanted to call our home. Our quest for a home of our own was now the most important thing in our lives. 

We moved into a larger apartment in the same building so that Che would have a room of his own.
Che looks cool & I'm trying to 

The apartment was bigger, but our need was not so much for space as it was for setting roots into this land, and for that, we needed a home of our own. 

A greater part of 2012 was devoted to looking for a home, and we did that in our usual ham-handed manner. 

Once again, Che rescued us. He’d seen a home that was on sale on Gibson Avenue just off Jane Street on Lawrence Avenue West; not too far from our rented apartment on Keele and Lawrence. We began the process in 2012 and moved into our new home the next year. 

With Mike Layton, Toronto Councillor
& Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham at
the Arrivals launch
I responded to a social media post seeking the participation of newcomers in a project called Arrivals. The purpose of the project was “focused on celebrating the stories of new citizens and asking how we can better welcome newcomers, and a better representation of the voices of newcomers in the Canadian narrative and the value they bring to Canada as a whole.”

A team led by Devon Ostrom, an art curator and public art advocate, conceived the project which comprised taking photographs of the eyes of newcomers and putting them up on Toronto’s City Hall. It was to depict how newcomers saw Toronto, reversing the notion of the newcomers being under scrutiny.
The eyes at City Hall

I was selected based on my written submission – a short essay about my immigrant experience. 

A volunteer from the organisation Helena Shimeles interviewed me. She was so involved in her questions and in understanding my experiences that I cried while answering some of the questions. 

The second part of the project was an insertion of short announcements under a new section called Arrivals in the traditional births and deaths classified announcements of the Toronto Star.  A friend saw the announcement ad and despaired that I’d died.

The project got enormous participation and I met Che Kothari, a young photographer, who clicked a totally clichéd photograph where I posed holding my chin. An enlarged version of that photograph was gifted to each participant.

I met the super talented Haniely Pableo, a young Filipino singer, who was also a part of the project. I also met the super talented Ravi Jain again. 

With Haniely Pableo (right) and another participant
2012 turned out to be a memorable year because Mahrukh joined Home Depot, initially as a garden supplies part-timer, and then gradually, over the next six years, through sheer dint of hard work, tenacity and determination, she finally became a permanent employee this year (2018).

I’ve probably said this earlier, but I’m happy reiterating it and reemphasizing it – that the biggest transformation in our family after we came to Canada has been in Mahrukh.

She was always an independent-minded woman, who has always known what she wanted, and has gone all out to get it; she’s also had the sagacity to accept things that she cannot change. Her presence in our lives has made our transition to Canada truly meaningful.

The year also began well for Che, and he was now at the York Memorial Collegiate for his high school. It was during this phase and especially when he was in Grade 10 that he suddenly developed anxiety issues that spiralled out of control until intervention by a psychologist helped him cope and then overcome these challenges.

As a family, we were ill prepared for this upheaval and suddenly our lives changed. We went through a harrowing time for more than two years; more so because we weren’t aware of the matter.  I’ve always felt that the main cause of this was the burden of expectations that we had put on his delicate shoulders. He was unable to express his discomfort with his situation as a newcomer to the Canadian education system, and while he’d tried to adjust to everything that happened, without any complaints, he was unable to live up to the expectations that we had of him.

With Mike Layton

Che was unable to complete his High School within the stipulated time; it was delayed by a year. But, he remained very much the responsible immigrant child who knew the struggle that the family had gone and was going through to survive in Canada; he was an integral part of that struggle.

He didn’t want to be perceived as a burden and started looking for a job even while he was going through the mental trauma. On his own found a job soon after completing his High School. His mental health treatment continued for a while, and he dropped out of the program in television broadcasting that he started after completing his High School.

One of the struggles that we face in our lives is the unnecessary stigma that we attach to mental health. I’ve never understood why this is the case. If it’s natural to go to a doctor when we have some physical ailment, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to go to a doctor when we have a mental ailment.

It is also during such times that we experience the pettiness of people we know, and who claim to be our friends. A memory that will never fade away is of a few such “friends” mocking our child’s inability to do well at school, without knowing the hard time he was going through.

In the Indian context, 2012 turned out to be a year when we lost one of the tallest cultural ambassadors of India – a man who perhaps single-handedly created more awareness about Indian classical music than anyone else did.

Ravi Shankar, the acclaimed sitar maestro, passed away on 12-12-12. In the universe of music, there is no musical instrument better than the sitar, and nobody could play it as Ravi Shankar did.

And Indian film industry lost its first superstar Rajesh Khanna on 18 July 2012. There are many ways to remember Rajesh Khanna. I remember him for putting the fear of Bhagwan Ram in Lal Krishna Advani’s heart in the 1991 election when Advani won by the thinnest of margins from the New Delhi constituency. (Read the blog on his death here: Rajesh Khanna).

During the year, we also lost IK Gujral, perhaps India’s most erudite Prime Minister; and the technocrat administrator responsible for the white revolution in India – VG Kurien.

Coverage in Globe & Mail
Bal Thackeray also passed away in 2012. As a journalist, I had interviewed him on a couple of occasions and then during one interview when I was at the Sunday Observer, I’d asked him who’d succeed him (two decades before he’d pass into history). He was apparently so disturbed by the question that he refused to meet me ever thereafter.

Bal Thackeray, without any doubt, is one of the most divisive political leaders to emerge in post-Independent India. But, he was not alone. Divisive politics has been the bane of Indian parliamentary democracy, and these leaders and their parties have had no qualms in exploiting the innate divisions within the Indian society for petty electoral gains. 

In the process, seven decades after Independence, when India should have become a beacon of hope to humanity with its message of love and acceptance, it's standing on the edge of the proverbial precipice, riven with hatred, intolerance and majoritarian violence. 

In 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist of the bunch that attacked Bombay in November 2008, was sentenced to death. I’m opposed to the death penalty, but on this occasion, I didn’t protest.

I also lost a friend and former colleague Eva Doctor, who suddenly passed away on 26 July 2012. We worked in different sections in the US Consulate while I was there, and I'd periodically take time out and sit with her to chat about nothing in particular and come away relaxed. 

One needs at least one friend in a workplace with whom one can be oneself without pretence. Someone who can bring a semblance to sanity to an otherwise toxic and vicious place that most workplaces tend to be, and that the US Consulate in Bombay was definitely at that time. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Telomere Problem

Guest post by Sharad Bailur

Sharad Bailur
Is Fate a deciding factor in human life? This book actually asks this question, never openly or straightaway. But it is the subtext, the premise, on which the novel is built.

Much of its basic philosophy is based on my reading of the philosophy of History from Plato to Hegel to Marx and Toynbee on the one hand, and, Thomas Kuhn, and then mavericks like Karl Popper and Paul Feyerabend, on the other.

While the first four seem to think that events occur as a stream that flows in which mankind wallows helplessly and has no control over, Feyerabend and even Karl Popper have a different and more interesting take on the subject. Popper’s argument is that this “historicism is a myth”. Both believe that chance events make for history. There is no such thing as a discernible pattern that can help us decipher the future.

The Telomere Problem is fiction, science fiction at that, but it has deep philosophical roots. It begins with the inevitability of a love affair gone wrong,  leads to the inevitability of the ‘repair of the situation’, in an entirely novel, if inadequate, manner. It ends with the chance factor of an unexpected death.

This novel doesn’t involve spectacular fantasized subjects like space travel, or monsters from Mars; nor car chases and dancing around trees; and not even court cases and arguments. It is not about crime. It is not a conventional love story.

So, the only way this tale could be told was to make it plausible. Making it plausible involved educating myself in an entirely new subject –molecular embryology. A lot of what was written as long ago as 2007 has come true in the last eleven years. A lot of what is written is expected to come true in the lives of the present generation. That includes major scientific and social, and economic revolutions that will change the face of this earth.

Is that Hegelian? Are these paradigm shifts, as Thomas Kuhn would suggest? Or is it just a string of educated guesses, that could go completely off-track based on chance factors? I don’t know.

On the face of it The Telomere Problem is just a novel. It starts on a simple core premise – the cloning of Madhubala, the film actress, and how it is possible 29 years after her death. Were it to remain at that level it would have merely been an entertaining, if implausible, story. But then it acquired a life of its own, refusing to close when it should have and went on to deal with the dangers involved with cloning.

From there to the use of nanotechnology in medical treatment. From there it turns to the 
new methods being used to arrest ageing and to the emerging possibilities of living forever, and its consequences in fields as far removed as Society, Economics and even world power balance.

You may buy Sharad Bailur’s debut novel here: The Telomere Problem

Sharad Bailur is that rare specimen, who are becoming rarer in our troubled times - an unbiased intellectual, who is willing to change his opinion in the face of new facts. A veteran media relations professional, Bailur has experienced the seamier side of the media at close quarters, and yet maintained a rare gravitas in his dealings with media professionals. I've had the privilege of knowing him for 31 years.