& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best of GAB

I'm busy writing, and haven't finished reading Empire of Illusion.

So, here's an end-of-the-year best of GAB. I've included some explanation to justify the selection.

Best wishes for the New Year.

December 08: Jesus, Jinnah & Atal Behari

(I wrote about my favourite history book Richard Tucker's Ranade and the Roots of Indian Nationalism. Later discovered, reading MJ Akbar's column, that Jinnah had changed his birthday from October 20 to December 25. October 20 is also an important date for me)

January 09:
White Tiger

(Quite simply one of the best books I read this year. Also, my blog comes up in many searches when readers of the book Google the Great Socialist and White Tiger.)

February 09:
Fun Home

(My first adult graphic novel. Amazingly sensitive and touching. I discovered a wonderful art form that economises on words but not on emotions.)

March 09:
Running in the family

(I hadn't read Ondaatje before. This was a great introduction. Then, I read In the Skin of the Lion, the most definitive book on Toronto.)

April 09:
It’s raining

(I always got drenched in the first rains in Mumbai. Tried doing that in Toronto and almost fell ill. Also wrote about Alexander Frater's Chasing the Monsoon. The book has Jawaharlal Nehru's quote about being disappointed with Bombay's monsoon. See the quote below.)

& Nehru on Bombay's monsoon

(Used photographs from Rahul Gandhi's website.)

Asian writers

(Met Jasmine D'Costa for the first time, and read her wonderful collection of short stories Curry is Thicker than Water.)

June :
VS Naipaul

(Reading a master; awestruck.)

Writer as God

(This piece was a result of an intense internal turmoil.)

A Streetcar Named Desire

(Nick Noorani wrote back. I was surprised, overjoyed.)

Festival of South Asian Literature & Arts

(Met MG Vassanji for the first time.)

Princess of Serendip

(I met Dionne Brand a month later; she has a warm heart.)

Canadian Voices

(A marvelous collection of fiction and poetry by new voices in Canada)

Global Soul

(Realised that I'll always be an outsider anywhere I go.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

GAB is One

About a year ago last December I decided that the best way I could get around the problem of being published in Canada was to start a blog.

Writing a blog had been on my mind even in India. However, a combination of factors – primarily being hooked to television – prevented me from writing regularly. Some friends did encourage me to write, but those attempts were few and far between.

My reading hadn’t stopped. I read as if my life depended upon it; indiscriminately. Although for many years, I had ceased to read fiction. That changed in Toronto thanks to an easy access to a public library within walking distance from home. I began to read Canadian fiction and discovered so many great writers. Also got to know a couple of them personally.

I wrote my first short story and then began to develop it into a novel. It’ll be a while before the novel is anywhere near being completed. I was a bit foolhardy to enter a half-finished manuscript in a competition. Not surprisingly, I was nowhere near the winners.

I’ve enrolled at Humber to work on my manuscript with MG Vassanji. He helped me work on my short story thanks to Diaspora Dialogues’ mentoring program. Diaspora Dialogues has accepted the short story for publication. The fifth edition of TOK: Writing the New Toronto will have The New Canadians.

All this would have seemed like a dream last year when I started Generally About Books. As I assess my last year, I’d say the single biggest achievement has been getting a job that acknowledges my talent and utilises my experience.

However, my achievements in the writing sphere are no less noteworthy, and my apologies for being so openly immodest.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone telling me that I’d win two scholarships within a year; get a blog and a column in Canadian Immigrant. Moreover, get to know a whole host of people who have something to do with writing.

I attribute my transformation to the seriousness with which I approached writing my blog. It proved to be cathartic. Fortunately, I met so many people during the last 12 months who didn’t discourage me.

As I approach the first anniversary of my blog this week, I realise how serious the exercise has become for me. I have turned into a serious and compulsive reader and a writer. Until a couple of months ago, I managed to complete at least a book a week. Now the pace has slackened because I’ve started writing my own book.

I’m reading Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, a book that is ominous and disturbing. I plan to write about it next week. It sort of echoes the observation I made when I started this blog.

Before I conclude, I must congratulate myself for another reason, too. This is the first year – after many, many years – that I made more friends than enemies.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Small Press of Toronto

Snow in Toronto is like rain in Mumbai. Towards end of May when the earth is parched, all Mumbai waits for the rains. Towards end of October, when it begins to get really cold, all Toronto waits for snow.

In Mumbai it didn’t rain almost all June. It didn’t snow in Toronto all November.

There’s a good reason for Copenhagen summit to set stringent targets.

Last week it began to snow and the temperatures fell below freezing. I could almost feel the sense of relief amongst the people of the city, even as they welcomed the first snowstorm with vocal curses. In this respect, Torontonians are not too different from Mumbaikars.

Going out in freezing temperatures requires a lot of willpower. Today, it was no different. I wanted to participate in the Small Press of Toronto Book Fair. And meet my friends. The fair was a combination to mainstream publishers as well as the underground press.

There were many writers, editors, publishers. I knew just two of them – friend and author Jasmine D’Costa and poet Glen Downie. There were independent publishers, self-published writers, publishers who publish only poetry, crafts folks who create homemade stationery, cards, posters and all sorts of knickknacks.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend any of the book reading sessions or the author interviews because my friends were meeting me at the Gladstone Hotel to discuss a book project (more about that sometime later).

Talking of books, talking of writing, sharing stories of our lives over Earl Grey tea in a pot and having egg omelette, bacon and fried potatoes. Saturday afternoons can’t get better than that.

It gets dark before 5:00 PM. We returned home.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Global Soul

Twelve months is a long time. A long time to be away from a place you’ve belonged to for 46 years.

As 2009 comes to an end I’m gripped with a strange sense of deprivation. I’ve been away from my city for an entire year. Of course, I've been in Toronto since July 2008. But 2009 is the first year of that I've been away from Mumbai throughout the year.

Quite naturally, I miss everything about Mumbai; including all my old enemies. And yet, I’ve come to like Toronto as well, especially my new friends.

Coming to Canada was a dream nurtured for many years collectively by my family. Living in Canada for the last 17 months now makes me acutely aware that those glib talkers who say that in this world of globalisation geography is history don’t know what they are talking about.

Or perhaps I’m differently made.

In my new job, I’ve met more people in the last two months in Toronto (and Montreal) than I did in the last 15 months. Every time someone asks me how long I’ve been here, I act like Morarji Desai – which is to say that I answer the question with another question – and ask the person to take a guess. The answers vary, always by a long shot. The closest anyone’s come to the correct answer is three years.

When I tell them, “I came here last July,” they usually comment rather favourably at how well I’ve adjusted to my new environs.

  • Perhaps my stint with the US Consulate has helped me.
  • Perhaps it’s my habit of reading the newspaper every morning.
  • Perhaps I’m actually too much of an outsider and everyone’s just trying to be polite.

Take your pick.

Earlier this year I read Pico Iyer’s Global Soul. Iyer says the new globalism is the nationalism.

He explains, “...in the modern world, which I take to be an International Empire, the sense of home is not just divided, but scattered across the planet...I begin to wonder whether a new kind of being might not be coming to light – a citizen of this International Empire – made up of fusions (and confusions) we had not seen before: a “Global Soul” in a less exalted (and more intimate, more vexed) sense than the Emersonian one. This creature could be a person who had grown up in many cultures all at once – and so lived in the cracks between them – or might be one who, though rooted in background, lived and worked on a globe that propelled him from tropic to snowstorm in three hours.”

I clearly don’t belong to this category. This is the category that is probably most at home in Davos – the place which, as Iyer says, is the new face of this 21st century globalism.

I was rooted in Mumbai for the first part of my life. I wish to stay rooted in Toronto for the rest of my life.

I was an outsider there in Mumbai (despite being born there) and I'll be an outsider here (despite probably dying here).

Image: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/archive/books/00/05/25/image/Pico_Iyer.gif

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

25 years after Bhopal

Rahgu Rai's photograph that has come to symbolise the Bhopal Gas tragedy (originally published in India Today)

Nobody knows the identity of this child.

Read today's report in The Times of India