& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Dawn Promislow: My thoughts about The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Guest post by Dawn Promislow 

The Guest Cat

by Takashi Hiraide, translated by Eric Selland. Published 2014, Picador.

It's not often that you read a book, a work of fiction, that is so like life that it takes your breath away. This novel is deceptively simple and follows a man who is a writer (the narrator), his wife, and a cat, through a slim 140 pages. Nothing much ‘happens,’ there are the day-to-day comings and goings of a stray cat, and dealings with a neighbour.

I read the book with increasing wonder at the ordinariness, captivated by the simple days of this writer (days I could identify with, being a writer myself), which gesture toward something larger. The narrator stakes out his story in a geographic way, almost the way a cat stalks—so quietly—taking mastery of its surroundings. He describes in detail his house and surroundings, very simple surroundings, but surroundings which accrue weight and meaning in an allusive and elusive way, over the course of the novel. By a magical sleight of hand, the ending comes upon you—much as a stealthy cat does—and is profound.

I haven’t read anything as devastating in a while, or as haunting. It’s devastating in the way some, perhaps most, life events actually are: events and moments seemingly small and insignificant, yet accruing weight over time; mysterious in their happening, mysterious in their import, mysterious in how we manage them; essentially unpredictable and out of our control. Some actions are final, and cannot be undone. This novel, quiet and understated as it is, carries the weight of truth, and of tragedy, even in the manner of classical Greek tragedy.

The over-arching artistry of The Guest Cat, however, lies in the first-person narration. The fictional narrator—who is also, we feel, the writer himself (Takashi Hiraide)—takes control, by telling of these events, and shaping them, and making them into a book. Of course all books are this: a writer taking control of his or her story, and making an order, a sense, of it. But this book, it seems to me, is a particularly perfect example of this, a particularly moving and profound one.

Friday, March 31, 2017

what makes the world stop still

My father’s mother -- Harvilas – was a widow for 44 years before she died. 

Devi – my mother’s mother – had married a man old enough to be her father. It was his second marriage.  Devi also lived as a widow for nearly four decades.

My grandmother’s sister Jaisukh was a widow, too.

I don’t know who named her Jaisukh.  It means Hail (Jai) Happiness (Sukh)! The name turned out to be inappropriate because Jaisukh saw no happiness in her life. Yet, she always made all of us feel that she was contended and happy. She smiled easily. 

Well into her eighties, she would giggle just as an eight-year-old would, but her eyes were sunken and sad.

She kept herself busy, always busy, almost deliberately so, perhaps afraid of being alone. Her life was lost in lives of her sisters’ families, their children and their grandchildren.

But her only family was her mother and when she died, Jaisukh lost her will to live.  She died soon thereafter. 

Unlike her sister and other widows in my family who had seen married life, albeit briefly, Jaisukh did not know married life at all. 

She was married when she was nine.
She became a widow before she reached puberty. 
She was a virgin widow.
And she lived as a widow for more than 70 years.

When Jaisukh died, we did not shed tears; we were happy her misery was finally over.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Trip to South Asia without leaving Mississauga

Earlier this year, I wrote sample columns for a South Asian weekly and sent it to its editor following a brief chat. The weekly is part of a media conglomerate. I was told the final decision would be made by another editor. After waiting for a couple of months, I realize that the weekly is not interested in using them. Well, for whatever they're worth, I'm reproducing them here.

Riding MiWay’s route 42 is like taking a trip in South Asia

I don’t own a car, never have, never will. I live in Toronto and work in Brampton. I change three buses to go to work and three buses to return home. It takes me about an hour in the morning, and about hour-and-twenty-minutes in the evening. The highlight of my commute is the bus ride on the MiWay route 42, which I board at Airport Road.
Nearly all commuters in the morning (around 7:15 am) are South Asians, and nearly all of them are busy chatting on their phone with their dear ones “back home”. One can hear different South Asian languages, and often multiple dialect of a language. News and information, joys and sorrows and a bit of gossip, are shared.
Daughters complain about their in-laws to their mothers on the phone, international students lie or boast to their parents, depending upon their latest results. Remittance details are given or taken down, and on occasions, marriage proposals are discussed, with photos shared on WhatsApp.
The best (or the worst, if you’re not a South Asian) part of the commute on the bus is the pungent smell of South Asian curry that most commuters carry in their lunch bags. South Asian curry is an acquired taste. To most non-South Asians, it’s only hot and spicy. It has a distinct odour that often makes stomachs churn involuntarily and violently.
In winters, when the temperature is deep in the minuses, and the temperature inside the bus is what you’d find in South Asian tropics (touching +30° C), the bus smells like a South Asian kitchen. I’ve seen non-South Asians gag as they enter the bus and breathe deeply as they alight, having held their breath for long.
So, if you’re feeling homesick and feel like going “back home”, just take a trip in MiWay bus’s route 42.

Feeling cold, are you?

Here’s a quick quiz: How to spot a South Asian male in winter?
He’s that guy who’s wearing a minimum of six layers above the waist and four layers below, his head is wrapped around in two thick woolen caps, a muffler, earmuffs, he also has a woolen neck warmer, and he’s wearing fake Ray Bans.

He’s also wearing two pairs of gloves on each hand, and two pairs of socks on each foot, he’s inserted toe warmers in the boots. This guy lives and works in the GTA, where the winters are generally not as severe as they are in other parts of Canada. He wears this external shield for almost six months in a year.

In the morning, before leaving for work, he’ll check CP24 not for news, but for the temperature, and then take immense pride that “it’s minus 1 today, but it feels like minus 7.” He instructs his wife to also bundle up like him, but she is a South Asian wife, she is more sensible and better acclimatized, and she’s no longer in South Asia, so she totally ignores her husband.

At the workplace, he needs 15 minutes each in morning and evening to take off and put on the multiple layers of warm clothes. Throughout the day, he continues to wear an ugly sweater that his mother knitted for him and sent it to him through his neighbour’s aunt’s cousin’s daughter-in-law who is from the same town, and who was coming to Brampton. 

Although he’ll complain about “how cold Canada is” for eight months in a year,  but when he calls his mother “back home” once every other day, he’ll boast, “it is very cold now, you know, minus 20, and there is snow everywhere.  You’re better off in Sawai Madhopur.”