& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mohan Rakesh's Aadhe Adhure

Mohan Rakesh is credited for ushering the modern era in Hindi theatre. His plays Ashad Ka Ek Din (One Day in Monsoon, 1958) changed the course of Hindi theatre by pulling it up from the quagmire of literary didacticism, and for using contemporary, real life language that people spoke, understood, and could easily relate to.

Along with Dharamveer Bharti, Mohan Rakesh changed changing the face of Hindi theatre. Bharati’s Andha Yug (The Blind Age, 1954) used the Mahabharat to depict the malaise in society when everyone becomes unseeing and uncaring. What Bharati and Rakesh achieved in Hindi was part of a pan-India movement at transforming theatre that was initiated with the launch of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in 1942, the formation of the National School of Drama (NSD), and involved many mid-twentieth century stalwarts such as Ebrahim Alkazi. Integral to this evolution, which continued for two decades, were other pioneers such as Badal Sircar (Bengali), GirishKarnad (Kannada), and Vijay Tendulkar (Marathi).   

Mohan Rakesh’s second play Aadhe Adhure (Halfway House, 1959) was also path-breaking because it dealt with contemporary realities of a modern, mid-twentieth century India trying hard to rid itself of the colonial vestiges, and seeking to find a new voice that though wasn’t confident, at least had clarity.

Aadhe Adhure depicts the destitution of a single-unit family in an urban setting. It is about a middle-aged father Mahendranath, who is a failed entrepreneur; and mother Savitri the single-breadwinner, who is desperately seeking a better life; and their three children son Ashok, who is unemployed and seemingly unemployable; two daughters – Binni, who elopes to marry, but has returned seemingly forever; and Kinni, the rebellious teenager who frequently raises hell just so that she gets the attention that she constantly craves for.  There are three other characters – all men, who are intricately linked to the family’s failing fortunes.

The play is primarily about Savitri who is convinced that she deserves better in life. She is convinced that her no-good husband Mahendranath is unlikely to ever become successful; she is frustrated that her life hasn’t shaped in the manner that she had envisaged two decades ago when she was young and just starting up with Mahendranath. As the play unravels, the audience learns of the many and desperate attempts Savitri makes to change her circumstances, seeking relationships with successful men.

Despite her desperation, and the abuse she suffers from her husband, she continues to labour hard to keep the family from drowning in penury. It is a sacrifice that she makes without having a choice, and she is clearly unhappy about it. Unfortunately, all her attempts to change her life don’t go anywhere. The play ends with both Savirti and Mahendranath returning to home, perhaps realizing that they don’t have anyone else but each other.

Anubha Jha Shankar & Poornima Mohan
The Hindi Writers’ Guild of Canada staged Aadhe Adhure in collaboration with the Savitri Theatre Group at the Sampradaya Dance Academy auditorium in Mississauga recently. It was a superlative show with all the actors performing brilliantly. The standout performances were by Poornima Mohan as Savitri, who did justice to a role that requires consummate skills but also the art of underplaying; and by Anubha Jha Shankar, as Binni, the elder daughter, who is conflicted because she wants to retain what is hers (and her family’s), even as she attempts to become a new, independent person.

Although written six decades ago, the play retains immediacy and relevance. However, the conclusion rankles because in early twenty-first century, we clearly would not like to adversely judge a middle-aged woman’s quest for a better life by wanting to abandon her circumstances of the past two decades which didn’t give her anything more than toil and abuse. 


Support: Sawitri Theatre Group
Director and set design: Prakash Date
Stage building:Suman Ghai
Stage Manager:Shaba Shringi
Music: Deepak Sant
Production Assistant:Naimesh Nanawati; Medha Dandekar
Lights and Sound: Sulakshan Mohan and Keyur Shah
Props: Dr. Shailja Saksena
Wardrobe: Namita Dandekar
Make up: Akhila Jog/Monisha Date
Tickets and other support: Vijay Vikrant

Savitri: Poornima Mohan
Mahendra Nath: Vidya Bhushan Dhar
Binni: Anubha Jha Shankar
Kinni: Anchal Sahgal
Ashok: Uday Chauhan
Singhania: Nirmal Siddu
Jagmohan: Milind Karindikar
Juneja: Vivek Gulvade

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Human Migration and the Changing Demographics of Canada

Immigration and refugees are words that have become an anathema in Europe, evoking strong emotional responses, making it impossible to conduct a rational debate on the subject. The rise of the Donald Trump brand of politics in the United States indicates that there is a groundswell of opinion that covertly supports stringent measures to keep a check on the influx of immigrants. Even though the other side of the political spectrum may seem balanced, there is an unmistakable unease amongst some of the most liberal minded leaders and their followers about the possibility of the great unwashed turning up in planeloads at the nearest airport.

Most of us in Canada take pride in the Justin Trudeau brand of liberalism that encouraged 25,000 refugees from Syria to come to Canada in 2015. However, as the recent Munk debate in Toronto on the subject clearly showed, even those who are inclined to support immigration of refugees appear to want strict measures in place to control the influx. 

I urge you to watch the Munk debate on the subject because it is indicative of the gradual shift of public opinion away from the liberal ethos that Canadians have by and large embraced (irrespective of their political inclinations) on the question of immigration and allowing refugees.

In the Munk debate, the audience poll showed that prior to the debate an overwhelming majority was in favour of refugees being allowed into Canada; however, the pendulum of opinion swayed dramatically in the other direction by the end of the debate. And on conclusion of the debate, even though a majority of the audience members were still in support of Canada’s liberal policies on refugee immigration, the margin between those in favour of and those opposed had shrunk dramatically, not to say disconcertingly.

The same issue was debated at the 2016 edition of the Spur Festival. The subject of the debate was ‘Human Migration and the Changing Demographics of Canada.’ The panelists were Margaret Kopala, a journalist and Conservative political activist; Kiran Banerjee, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto; Abdul Nakua, a community organizer and activist; Dana Wagner, senior research associate at the Global Diversity Exchange. CBC’s David Common moderated the debate.

The debate was pertinent, engaging, and provided a fresh perspective to the Canadian experience. Setting off the discussion, David Common observed that in the Canadian context, the debate on immigration would not be on “whether to,” but on “how to,” because, uniquely in Canada, the entire political spectrum supports immigration.

Abdul Nakua observed that increasingly the debate has veered towards the status of Muslims immigrants in the western world, and the third generation of Muslim immigrants are seriously questioning their status in the western society vis-à-vis their identity. He said that by 2030, nearly 80% of Canadians will be immigrant, so it is necessary for Canada to develop mechanisms to accommodate immigrant aspirations – immigrants continue to face cultural, economic and social barriers. Nakua emphasized that Canadian identity is not based on ethnicities but around values – Canadian values.  

Dana Wagner said in Canada integration of newcomers whether immigrants or refugees has worked quite well. She explained that when multiculturalism as a program was launched, it was state-led and aimed at the majority community to help change Canada’s predominantly British identity to a more diverse identity. However, Wagner said, Canadians cannot be complacent about social licenses because there is race-based poverty.

Margaret Kopala demanded that the influx of refugees should be slowed down immediately till Canada has proper controls in place. She said in 1981 there were just six ethnic enclaves in Canada, but that number has leaped to over 200 in present times. She warned that the 25,000 Syrian refugees who were allowed in Canada in 2015 will be allowed to sponsor their relatives and that would lead to more than 150,000 refugees coming into Canada. Kopala insisted that screening of refugees and immigrants should not just be for security but also for compatibility.

Kiran Banrejee observed that in present times, over 60 million people are affected by war and there are more than 20 million refugees across the world. He said the norms and definitions for refugees laid down in the UN convention on refugees (1951) is to a large extent outdated, but is the only policy document that protects displaced persons. He said refugee camps have been permanent when by nature they are temporary, and increasingly, refugees are unable to access permanent resettlement.

In the ensuing debate, Kopala observed that it was necessary for the countries in Western Europe and North America to go to the refugees where they are to provide them succour rather than have them immigrate. Wagner said clarity on the subject has been hampered because of a huge gap between perceptions and reality. There are two systems of permitting refugees in Canada – resettlement and inland system, she said, adding that there are three streams of immigrants – economic, refugee and family. Wagner advocated for private sector participation in integration of refugees and immigrants.

Kopala said newcomers need to understand the influence of sex, drugs and social media on their young adults. She also seemed to imply that immigrants and refugees are not economically as productive as native Canadians, and this is the key factor for the lowest productivity indices that Canada has amongst OECD countries.

Towards the end of the debate, panelists appeared to come to a consensus that for immigration to succeed, economic integration of the immigrants had to succeed.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Shalak Attack....street artist

Yesterday, I met a dedicated group of young artists who have been active in street art for some years now in Toronto and around the world. These young artists are Shalak (Elisa Monreal), Smoky (Bruno Sant’ Angelo Revitte) and Fiya Bruxa (Gilda Monreal). 

They were working on a mural for a soon to be launched restaurant in Mississauga’s Port Credit neighbourhood. 

I had seen their work recently at the Caledonia and Lawrence Avenue intersection below a railway bridge at Benton Road. And, of course, they had also been involved with the Pan Am and Para Pan Am Games held in 2015 in Toronto. I’ll be interviewing them in June for TAG TV.

Shalak and Bruno seen in these photographs are husband and wife, and Fiya is Shalak’s sister. 

While Shalak and Bruno were busy giving finishing touches to their work, I got talking to Fiya. 

What explains the growing acceptance of street art, I asked. It now has corporate backing, she said. That is a sure sign of gentrification, Fiya added, with a touch of annoyance. She cited the example of the street art at Queen Street W in downtown Toronto, and how it has become a tourist attraction.

If that is the case, I said, isn't it is turning into a complete antithesis of what it was meant to be – a potent instrument of protest against not just the established norms of art, but also against civil society. 

She seemed to agree briefly, but then Fiya said it’d be grossly erroneous to interpret street art as vandalism. Society continuously vandalizes nature to sustain humanity.  

It's all a question of how one sees the situation, Fiya said, and then thoughtfully added, three-hundred years from now, when future historians will look back at our times, they will wonder why were a legion of kids and young people were painting graffiti on the walks of public property across the world, and why was the world not acknowledging this as art, but only as vandalism?

Fiya said the confluence of graffiti and murals has given street art in North America a new acceptance.  

Here are some photographs and a video clip of the team at work.  Please pardon the amateurish and shoddy clip. My enthusiasm is inversely proportional to my video-making abilities.

And don't forget to watch my show Living Multiculturalism on TAG TV where I'll be talking to the three young artists. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Katherine Govier

Among the many people who have helped me make Canada my home is Katherine Govier,
renowned author and immigration activist. I first met her when I was a student at Sheridan College’s now defunct program in Canadian journalism for internationally qualified writers. Patricia Bradbury invited her to interact with students.

And with that uncanny knack that I have of turning near-perfect strangers into near-perfect enemies, we got off on a wrong start. But it was Katherine’s magnanimity that she overlooked my transgressions, and continued to extend a cordial but firm support.  

Her exquisite collection of short stories The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery introduced me to her writing, and I was to discover that she began her career as a writer in 1979. Earlier this month, Katherine published her eleventh novel The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel.

In 2009 she started sending periodic Postcards to a select group of “correspondents”, and I was privileged to be amongst the recipients. Always personal, often idiosyncratic, these Postcards give a rare insight into the life of a prominent Canadian author.

Writing recently in her Postcards series, Katherine reminisced:

My first book, Random Descent, made its debut in February, 1979. The novel was hardcover, and priced at $12.99. I did a reading at 21 McGill Street with Robertson Davies, who taught me how to autograph:  you sat at a desk and your wife stood off to the left, ushering people into an orderly line and ensuring that each of them had one – and only one – freshly purchased book for signing.  You took a good quality fountain pen, opened the proffered book to the half title page, carefully crossed out your own name where it is printed under the title and with “by” above it, and wrote your signature in a beautiful, cursive script, before the awestruck crowd.

Ah yes, well much has changed.

In addition to be a renowned author, Katherine is an ardent advocate for newcomer integration into the Canadian mainstream, and has been working tirelessly for this cause.
About four years ago she launched the Shoe Project to create a platform for immigrant women to share their stories. 

Writing recently as a guest blogger on Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s blog, she explained her involvement with this path-breaking activism:

People ask me why I have taken on this work—why when I’m busy, why when I could be doing my own writing, why when I could be holidaying in Mexico, why when adult immigrants to Canada whose first language is, say, Tamil, are so difficult to coach as writers in English.

Here’s the reason: I love it. Meeting women aged 18, 30 or 65 from China, Croatia and Syria and Afghanistan and South Sudan and Brazil and Russia is huge fun. It’s travel without the security lineups; instead of at Pearson Airport I’m lining up for the butcher at 5 am in Poland in the 1980’s in minus twenty degree Fahrenheit weather—and I’ve got Relaks boots on my feet. (Look it up!)…

The Shoe Project is literacy. The novel is literary. These are considered in our country to be two entirely different things.

I’d like to introduce a new thought: this distinction is a form of discrimination. It is like racism. The writing of a person who does not use the correct adverb or misses the past tense of a verb or chooses a generality because she doesn’t have the broad vocabulary of a native English speaker is deemed not publishable, not artistic, not worthy of support of the literary establishment, the granting agencies, not worthy of the time spent to fix it by newspapers or radio. It is pushed downwind into “literacy”— which means “there are ESL issues”; it doesn’t count, and can’t be published. But with advice from peers around a workshop table, coaching, editing, and copyediting- which, frankly, native English speakers need too- That same story becomes vital, informative and urgently to the point. Great stories get lost between languages.

We’re all in this together. And here’s another thought: new writers bring new readers.”

The Three Sisters is a “story of an unlikely marriage, a century of a life in a mountain park, and a collection of runaway aristocrats, wildlife artists and cowboys who made history — but did not make it into the history books.”

The launch event at Ben McNally bookshop in downtown Toronto was a grand success. 

Recently, I interviewed Katherine and two Shoe Project participants on my show Living Multiculturalism. Here's the video of the interview: