& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair Shines Spotlight on South Asian Literature

INSPIRE! Toronto InternationalBook Fair is a mass celebration of reading and writing poised to engage 50,000 fairgoers over three and a half days at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Working with Meenakshi Alimchandani, head of Toronto-based South Asian service agency Desi Resources, and in partnership with the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Fair will feature a series of literary events with a South Asian focus.

At “The State of the Publishing Industry Around the World” fairgoers will hear from a panel of speakers from the international publishing community.

Neeta Gupta will speak on behalf of Indian publishing house Yatra Books, a multilingual press that aims to empower Indian readers and connect local and international voices.

This discussion will take place on Saturday, November 15 at 11 a.m. in From the Four Corners, INSPIRE!’s dedicated international programming room.

Navtej Sarna, author of We Weren’t Lovers Like That and The Exile, and India’s Ambassador to Israel, will be in the spotlight at “The Jaipur Literature Festival Presents: Navtej Sarna.”

Travelling from India for this event at INSPIRE!, Sarna will appear on Saturday,  November 15 at 12:3 p.m. in From the Four Corners.

Fairgoers can discover South Asian literature close to home at “The Jaipur Literature Festival Presents: Canadian Authors Published in India.” 

This showcase of South Asian-Canadian authors features Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Jasmine D’Costa, Anosh Irani and Manjushree Thapa and is moderated by poet, novelist and professor Priscila Uppal.

This presentation will take place on Sunday, November 16 at 10 a.m. on the Spark Stage, INSPIRE!’s go-to stage for the year’s most talked about books.

Mahtab Narsimhan, award-winning author of The Tiffin and an INSPIRE! Fair Ambassador, will host “Myth and Magic with Mahtab Narsimham” on Sunday November 16 at 3:30 p.m. o the TD Children’s Stage.

Children should come prepared for fun and prizes at this introduction to fantastic magic, Hindu mythology and more in children’s fiction.

About INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair is Canada’s book exposition for all things print and digital, launching November 13-16, 2014.

From literature to children’s books, from romance to mystery, from the science of business to the business of science, the book, in all its forms, will be the star of the Fair. In addition to the English-language market, INSPIRE! will provide for Toronto’s diverse language communities, hosting international, national, regional and local exhibitors.

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair is a place for readers to connect in the most immediate ways with those who write and with those who produce the books they love, a place where people can reconnect with the passion and enchantment of the world of reading.
INSPIRE! is committed to supporting a healthy book business. 

Ticket Information INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair tickets are available now. Tickets are $15 per person, with re-entry on all three days included in the price of admission (visitors are required to pick up a re-admission pass). The Fair will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 14 and 15 and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on November 16. Tickets are available online at torontobookfair.ca/tickets.

Tickets for the INSPIRE! Lift-Off Opening Party (19+) on November 13 go on sale on September 12. Tickets are $25 and include general admission to the Fair.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Hermit in the Himalayas - Paul Brunton

Guest Post by Gyanendra Shukla 

Shukla introduces Paul Brunton, "a British philosopher, mystic, and traveler
who left a journalistic career to live among
yogis, mystics, and holy men, and who studied
Eastern and Western esoteric teachings"

A journey within to understand the real self and to lead a meaningful life has been the prescription by our sages. This journey can only be accomplished by avoiding superficiality and rigmarole of day to day life, using solitude as a vehicle to reach the destination. The abode of Gods – the Himalayas – with its pristine beauty has attracted real seekers since time immemorial.

One such seeker was Paul Brunton (1898-1981), one of the first Englishmen who chose Himalaya for his quest to understand the deeper meaning of existence.  A Hermit in the Himalayas published in 1937 is not only a travelogue but also covers his spiritual journey in a most profound manner where East meets West without any prejudice.

Paul, a journalist in London, had a keen interest in philosophy which led him to travel extensively in India where he met some real yogis as well as charlatans. He went on to write more than a dozen other books, sharing his experience and learnings of the eastern philosophy, and how it can help the world in turmoil. 

Paul Brunton
Paul's keen observation and love for nature is well captured through the lucidity of his prose. The changing colours of the snow-clad mountains, deodar trees, mornings, evenings, rains, wind and flowers couldn't have found a better pen to describe their beauty. He revered nature as his mother.

Solitude doesn't imply that Paul wasn't interacting with people during his sojourn in Himalayas. Whether simple folks or the rulers, he was at ease with everyone, but the purpose of his conversations was only to know more about life.

His encounters with the holy men were about ancient knowledge, some of which may go beyond scientific explanation. He used his own wisdom to get to the truth. In the ultimate analysis, this book is not about 'renunciation' but an effort to learn “Who am I.”

Images: Paul Brunton: Wikipedia. Book Cover: Snapdeal

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Emergence of Regionalism in Mumbai – History of the Shiv Sena

Inevitably, a visit home brings to surface the latent unease over the Shiv Sena.

The political, social and cultural behemoth that controls Bombay (which it renamed Mumbai in the 1990s) continues to flourish, and grow, apparently despite the dwindling Maharashtrian population in the capital of Maharashtra.

Today, in fact, the organization’s base has seemingly widened to encompass other (non-Maharashtrian) communities as well, and it could well be ruling the state in coalition with its partner the Bharatiya Janata Party later this year after elections to the state assembly conclude.

Thriving on a combination of cultural nationalism, regional chauvinism, and xenophobia, the Shiv Sena has completely changed Bombay's character. The party’s formation lay in the slogan ‘Mumbai is in Maharashtra but there is no Maharashtra in Mumbai’. The party has never really veered away from its core demand to give better representation to the local Marathi population in Mumbai.

I picked up The Emergence of Regionalism in Mumbai – Historyof the Shiv Sena by Sudha P. Gogate (1932-1987). The book – published by Popular Prakashan – is a doctoral thesis produced in 1978. The author had plans to edit and publish it but passed away suddenly in 1987.

The book provides amazing details of the years prior to and immediately after the formation of the Shiv Sena, and the author has through research successfully been able to weave a story that makes for compelling reading, especially for those interested in the history and the development of Bombay.

Eschewing the flourishes of a journalist, Dr. Gogate has focussed on facts and unearthed details that are a revelation. Many of the facts would be known to a veteran journalist or someone who has lived through the era, and has followed the fortunes of the Shiv Sena over the last five decades.

Describing the groundswell of support for Marathi aspirations, Dr. Gogate says, “As early as 26 January 1964, the Indian Republic day, the editor of the Maratha [the colourful Pralhad Keshav (Acharya) Atre] declared at a private meeting at Shiv Shakti, from where the Maratha was published, his resolve to found a youth organization of 100,000 youths from Maharashtra, which was to devote itself to the interests and the services of Maharashtra. On 27 January 1964, the Maratha carried a front-page banner Acharya Atre to found Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Atre’s Shiv Sena, according to the report, was to be a revolutionary organization of young men below the age of 21. A quotation by Samarth Ramadas, the 17th-century poet saint ‘Let the Marathas unite!’ May the Marathi spirit grow!’ formed the motto of the proposed Shiv Sena of Atre.”

Of course, Atre’s Shiv Sena didn’t materialize, and two years later, on June 19 1966, Bal Thackeray formed the Shiv Sena, and forever changed Bombay.   

Me and My Plays - Mahesh Dattani

Mahesh Dattani has appeared quite frequently on this blog. It’s no more than a coincidence. 

Mahesh was a guest at the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts in 2011, where he first narrated the genesis of his interest in theatre. Girish Karnad was the other eminent playwright at the festival, and along with University of Toronto’s Dalbir Singh, they had a scintillating exchange of ideas of contemporary theatre in India.

Then, last year, he was in Toronto for a series of speaking engagements, and during that visit, the SawitriTheatre Group staged Seven Steps around the Fire, and the University of Toronto’s the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies, in collaboration with the Centre for South Asian Studies and the Centre for Comparative Literature organized a staged reading of Mahesh’s The Big Fat City.

On a recent visit to Bombay, I visited the highly-recommended Kitab khana, the bookshop in the heart of Bombay (Flora Fountain), and among the books that I picked up was Mahesh’s Me and My Plays (Penguin, 2013).

The book comprises an essay – Me and My Plays, and two of his latest plays – Where Did I Leave My Purdah? and The Big Fat City.

Actor, director, and Mahesh’s collaborator in transforming Dance Like a Man into a phenomenon that it has become, Lillete Dubey has written a foreword to Purdah. Actor Achint Kaur has written the foreword to Big Fat City.

I’ve written about Me and My Plays based on Mahesh’s talk in Toronto last year (see here: Mahesh Dattani Festival in Toronto), so I don’t want to repeat it. But I must emphasize that it's a crisp and lucid narration of the last 25 years of his journey as a playwright.

After reading the essay, it does strike me as plausible that Mahesh may have thought of penning his memoirs after his narration in Toronto during our 2011 festival.

Reproduced below is an extract from the essay:

By the time the 1990s rolled in, my theatre group, Playpen, was established and recognized in Bangalore. It was possible for me to move from one production to the next, confident that I would somehow manage to get a sponsor. I had begun to work on my new play Bravely Fought the Queen and was putting the finishing touches to it when I got a call from Alyque (Padamsee). He asked me if I was aware of the motion in Parliament by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) about building a temple in Ayodhya in place of the existing mosque. I was in my early thirties then, but as na├»ve about politics as today’s seventeen-year-old. This wasn’t even headline news at that time and so had slipped my attention. Alyque was most concerned with the rise of religious fundamentalism and was certain of a program brewing that would destroy the cultural harmony of the country yet again. I wasn’t too sure of doing a play on the Hindu-Muslim divide. Sensing my hesitation he invited me to Mumbai and arranged an improvisation with Pearl Padamsee’s students at the JB Petit school. The improvisation had two Muslim boys who, running away from a mob that is out to kill them, seek shelter in a Hindu household. The improvisation was riveting and I could see the dramatic possibilities.

It took me almost two years to write it (Final Solutions). Again I was keen to do my own production in Bangalore first. But a week before the scheduled performance at the theatre festival, the Babri Masjid was destroyed. Although I had based my play on the Tazia riots in Ahmedabad in the 1980s, the play now took on a different shade. The festival organizers pulled the play out of the festival at the last minute.

It took another two years before it could be staged. An NGO in Bangalore offered to stage it. The tag line read ‘A plea for tolerance’. But due to its initial ban, word had gotten around that the play was controversial. I was advised by friends not to do it, especially in the light of the Bombay riots. I remember, a whole section of the auditorium was filled with practising Muslims who were keen to see the play, and later I came to know that most of them had never been to a play before. The performance was met with silence. But the actors found themselves surrounded by new fans after the performance. Many of the Muslim members in the audience came backstage and congratulated the actors. They could not believe that the actor who had played Javed was not, in fact, a Muslim. Clearly, the actor was the hero. And I vicariously reveled in that heroism. When the actor politely introduced me to them, they showered me with gratitude for putting up the play. I even made a new friend, who, till this day, continues to call me on and off just to inquire after my health and well-being.

I was deeply moved by the heartfelt response to my play. Perhaps it was this kind of unconditional acceptance that I carved for as a human being. Now I was ready to take on the world.