& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rock & Roll Jihad

One of the surprises of this year’s Masala! Mehndi! Masti! was Salman Ahmad of Junoon, the Pakistani sufi rock band that transformed music in the Indian subcontinent and created an audience for a genre that had an extremely limited appeal.
Salman is now the solo representative of the band that is even today remembered for Sayonee, the path breaking single that became a benchmark for all subsequent music videos.

In a freewheeling conversation with Aparita Bhandari of CBC Radio, that soared beyond music, Salman Ahmad traced his evolution from being a member of a garage band in the United States to a globetrotting UN Ambassador today.

His book Rock & Roll Jihad illustrates this journey. “The thread of healing is a major force in my music,” he explained.

Junoon had to face severe restrictions in Pakistan from the political as well as religious zealots. Salman narrated his meeting with a mullah in Peshawar where the two argued about the place of music in Islam, with the mullah saying it has no place in religion and Salman arguing that it has.

The argument ended with the mullah giving a stunningly beautiful rendition of a verse from the Muslim holy book.

Deftly strumming the guitar to the tunes  of
Stairway to Heaven and a sufi song by Bulleh Shah, Salman held the audience spellbound for more than an hour.

He concluded: “Terrorists didn’t just hijack planes on 9/11, they hijacked Islam.” 

Dinner with Akbar: Jancie Goveas

Janice Goveas’s Dinner with Akbar is an evocative play that depicts the seemingly unending struggles of an immigrant – Akbar – as he tries to get a hold of his life under constantly changing circumstances. 

Mumtaz, Akbar’s wife has left him for another man. Akbar’s daughter Jasmine is a loving, obedient adolescent who is in love with Rashid. 

Abdul’s recent separation from Mumtaz has changed him, and although he strives hard to maintain a semblance of his old routine, clearly he is losing the struggle.

Akbar is from India and is "a liberal intellectually and traditional in his personal life" - that may not sound as paradoxical as it is to many South Asians, living outside the subcontinent.

He wants Rashid to be tolerant of other religions. “Religious pride is not a healthy thing, son,” he cautions and explains, “It leads to communalism, to fanaticism, to all of the things that are contrary to civilization and tolerance.” Yet, he gets into a violent rage when he learns that Jasmine and Rashid are “hanging out”.

Rashid is a second-generation immigrant of wealthy parents, who clearly understands that he needs a job and an empirical education will get him that more easily than an education in liberal arts. 

However, he is still culturally anchored in old-world values and traditions. Rashid sacrifices his intimacy with Jasmine so that the relationship between the father and the daughter doesn’t deteriorate beyond repair.

The characters in the play – Akbar, Jasmine, Rashid and Mumtaz – are carefully and lovingly etched. Janice brings them alive by creating conflict and tension. The scene between Mumtaz and Akbar is the marvelous. The playwright avoids an acrimonious slanging match (which would have been logical and not out of place) and handles the encounter with mature sensitivity.

Janice read excerpts of the play at Masala! Mehndi! Masti! Saturday July 24. The play is from her collection of plays Margaret in search of herself and other plays.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reading short stories

Spoiler alert: Skip the blog if you haven’t read and intend to read Her Mother’s Ashes 3

There’s a haunting moment in Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulaam (1962) when architect Bhoonath’s (Guru Dutt)  team of workers remove debris of a colonial haveli to find a skeleton among the ruins. Bhoonath realises the skeleton is the remains of Choti Bahu (Meena Kumari) who had disappeared when Bhoonath was a servant in the haveli. It dawns upon Bhoonath that Choti Bahu was murdered.

Minara, a young woman in the war-torn East Pakistan, suffers the same fate in Maria Chaudhuri’s story Necklace in Her Mother’s Ashes 3 (HMA-3). Minara is murdered and buried by her ultraconservative parents who can’t fathom leave alone condone or accept her romance with Rahmat.

July is summer in Toronto and it gets as hot and humid here as in Mumbai. I generally hate this climate although everyone who’s been here more than three or four years just can’t get enough of this season. For me, July is a month of rest, recuperation, reflection and renewal.

This month, I did something I haven’t done in a while – read. I enjoyed reading several short stories from different collections.

A few that I enjoyed more than the others are Sujata Bhat's Indian Cooking (RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers), Allyson Blood's Saturday (TOK 5), Maria Chaudhuri's Necklace (HMA-3).

Bhat's story poignantly captures the transformation of a family where the mother gets scarred on her face while cooking. The seemingly mature acceptance of the tragedy by the family hides the discomfiture they experience. In reality, the mother is unable to overcome the physical and mental trauma of the burns, manifested in her edgy jokes. 

Blood's Saturday has exasperated Noura exclaim, “People must change with the times. We’ve been her ten years already.” She shrugs. “Why does he act like none of this exists?” She sweeps her arm around the dark apartment. “We are here. It’s like living with a ghost sometimes.”

Chaudhuri’s Necklace set in pre-independence Bangladesh (East Pakistan) has an extraordinary scene when Minara, the daughter, who has been betrothed to marry Kalim, confesses to her mother that she doesn’t know him enough to know whether she loves him. Her mother responds: “How dare you? How dare you speak of love? Don’t you know it is an unforgivable sin to even think about falling in love with a man before you marry?”

I’ve written about these because I liked them more than the others. These collections have many other memorable short stories (including by acknowledged masters such as Bapsi Sidhwa and MG Vassanji). 

It takes me longer to read a collection of short stories from cover to cover than it does for me to read a novel. My preferred way of reading a short story collection is to read one story, then put it aside and pick it up later to read another. 

Buy these two collections and read them; you’ll enjoy them.

Get your free copy of the booklet that has the stories by RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers here.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Traffic In the Era of Climate Change

Globally, there’s a growing movement to curb the use of fossil fuels and personal automobiles.

Urban transport policies that aim to promote pedestrian rights and dedicated bicycle lanes on thoroughfares are becoming a norm across the developed world.  

Scandinavian countries lead the world in aggressively dissuading its people from using cars and adopting the bicycle.

In Canada, too, the pedal pushers are slowly gaining acceptance, especially in Montreal (Toronto lags behind; but is catching up at least on the public transit issue).

Surprisingly, in India, a well-entrenched tradition of using public transport is being wilfully abandoned in preference for an automobile culture with all its attendant excesses that is reminiscent of the United States of the 1950s.

This is sad because urban geography in India doesn't necessitate the owning of a car. That is not the case in North America.

Here, you need a car.

To not have a car in Toronto often poses an insurmountable challenge. In Mumbai, owning a car often poses an insurmountable challenge.

But to not want to have a car doesn’t sound as weird in Toronto as it does in Mumbai.

Senior Indian journalist Vidyadhar Date’s book
Traffic In the Era of Climate Change was released recently in India.

Given Date’s incisive work as a journalist, the book will be a major milestone in the debate on formulation of urban policy and the regulating the use and abuse of personal vehicles.

Introducing the book on his Facebook post, Date writes, “I am glad to inform you that my book on the inequality and injustice in India’s transport system has just been published. It questions the automobile-dominated pattern of transport planning and urban development. It calls for a humane, people-friendly, environment-friendly shift in favour of public transport.”

Date explains, “The book shows how political and economist interests have shaped transport policies, how the car has been built into a status symbol. With my interest in culture I cite numerous examples from a wide range of creative minds ranging from Greek philosophers to Dickens, Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. Godard’s classic film
Weekend of 1967 with its depiction of a car crash, deceit and violence shows the relationship between car and capitalism. Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger depicts India’s inequality through the eyes of a car chauffeur and it shows how motorists behave.”

The book is published in India by Kalpaz Publications, New Delhi (e-mail:
kalpaz@hotmail.com / books@gyanbooks.com)
Date’s photograph:  http://www.facebook.com/vidyadhar.date