& occasionally about other things, too...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jewels & other stories

A few months after I started this blog, I discovered that it’s easier to write about book launches than to write about books.

To write about books, you've got to read them. Reading requires time and patience. I don’t have either.

Moreover, writing about the books is fraught with awkward situations, especially when you know the writers.

Attending book launches and writing about them is  easier. Of course, I realise that nobody’s fooled into believing that I read all the books I write about.

The launch of Dawn Promislow’s Jewels & Other Stories was just about the most sensational book launches I’ve attended in a long time. 

Type Books at Queen Street W, the venue for the event, was packed. 
Dawn explained why she wrote these stories, read a passage from her book and answered a few questions.

To read Dawn’s interview on Open Book Toronto click here: Dawn's Interview.

I hope everyone who was there bought a copy of the book. 

For those who couldn’t attend or couldn’t buy, here’s your chance to do so. Click on this link: Jewels & Other Stories. 

Monday, September 27, 2010


I spent most of Sunday at the Word on the Street (WOTS). 

This is an authentic books event that lives up to, and even surpasses all the hype that surrounds it.

Mid-morning is a good time to be there because towards afternoon, it turns into a mela (fair).

I attended Katherine Govier’s reading.

Few writers can read as well as they write. Katherine is a rare exception. She read a passage from her latest novel The Ghost Brush.

Here’s an excerpt from the passage she read:

“I watched a long time. He drew many characters with his body. He stopped and started as if moving to music. He strove to remain erect. He strove to stay above the waves. His body used every muscle to articulate itself. It came to me that he was drawing his path. Perhaps it was his message to me...

...I will remember this forever, I thought. I had no idea what forever would be. I did not know what my life would be, but standing there behind my father as he danced with the waves, I knew that I would always watch him tumble, would always think the ground underneath me tumbled just as the waves did. I would never trust that solid ground. I would face the tumult, scanning for the shadow man I loved. I was his child but he was mine too.

We grew up early in my time. We learned about sex and the women who sold themselves in the Yoshiwara.

We were with the men in the studio when they painted the erotic prints. All those pictures of couples grappling, of women forced down to the mat – as if we didn’t hear it at night too, in our houses.

We knew about the hardness of life. I took charge of the money when my father couldn’t or wouldn't. I heard my mother saying the words that would make him stop loving her. But that wasn’t the moment that turned me from a child to an adult. It was that day, in the waves. Me hollering after him like a mother.”

Exquisite and lyrical – not just the written prose, but also the way Katherine read it. 

Images: Katherine Govier: http://www.govier.com/

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Charandas Chor

In February I had attended Tea with Tagore, staged by Rasik Arts – a remarkable show that fused different media with theater. 

Last week, I attended a staged reading of Charandas Chor organised by the same institution.

Rasik Arts is a decade-old institution that is promoting South Asian theatre in Toronto.  

Sally Jones abridged Anjum Katyal's English translation of Habib Tanvir's original Hindi play, and directed it. 

The play is a masterpiece, but to successfully retain its dark satire in English is an extraordinary feat. 

The sheer originality of the idea and the easy confidence with which the entire cast carried off the performance was deeply satisfying.

As this was a staged reading, there was an air of informality to the evening, with some members of the audience roped in to read bit parts.

It worked – everyone had a great time. 

Images: Sally Jones: http://www.torontoartsfoundation.org/TAF-Awards/2009-Sally-Jones

Saturday, September 25, 2010


People will change: Earlier this month, I attended a breakfast meeting organised by Business Without Borders where Jeff Rubin was the keynote speaker.

Rubin’s Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller is an authoritative treatise on how the skyrocketing fuel costs will grind to halt the furious pace of globalisation.

Rubin has linked the continuing recession in North America to the high oil prices. Read about the event at the Business without Borders website

Beneath the hardboiled economist, Rubin is a dreamer, philosopher. The message that I took away from the lecture was that people will soon be forced to seriously look at sustainable lifestyles and reduce their dependence on carbon-based energy sources.

“We’ll change, our economic behaviour will change. A small world will be more liveable and sustainable.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Canadian Voices Volume II

Canadian Voices 2 Launching at Supermarket Art Bar from Imelda O. Suzara on Vimeo.

BookLand Press organised the launch of Canadian Voices Volume 2 at the Supermarket Art Bar on September 20. 

It was without any doubt the most rocking book launch events I have attended in Toronto in the last couple of years that I’ve been here. 

There were writers everywhere – Fraser Sutherland, Katherine Govier, Dawn Promislow, Farzana Doctor, Mariellen Ward and Kevin Lobo, among many others.

Writers and poets whose works are in the volume were there in good numbers, too. As Zohra Zoberi wrote about the event, “people were spilling out on the streets.”

Robert Morgan and Jasmine D’Costa had put together a rocking event.

..whoever said writers are boring?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chasing a Mirage - The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State-I

It’s taken me quite a while to finish reading Tarek Fatah’s book Chasing a Mirage, The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State. It’s a controversial book. I’d even say that it’s an incendiary book; but equally it’s refreshing, bold, frank and incisive.

Post 9/11, as the world has tried to understand the phenomenon of radical Islam, and the fanaticism and intolerance of its votaries.

M. J. Akbar’s Shades of Sword: Jihad and the conflict between Islam & Christianity and Tariq Ali’s Clash of Fundamentalism (both published in 2002) deal with these issues and give an expansive and inclusive interpretation of Islam.

Tarek Fatah’s book belongs to the same genre and gives a valuable insight into a religion that is usually misrepresented. Fatah’s book, while giving a plethora of arguments that prove that the pursuit of an Islamic state is chimerical, also underlines the innate appeal of the religion to its adherents.

My knowledge of Islamic history and theology is non-existent and it would be improper for me to comment on the efficacy of the arguments that Fatah makes in his book. 

I found them convincing; there are many who will find his arguments provocative.

We can’t be dismissive of such scholarship. 

A debate I’d like to see in Toronto is between Sheema Khan (Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman) and Tarek Fatah. While I’ve no doubt that such a debate would be polite and civil, it would still bristle with cutting edge erudition and sharp arguments.

It is necessary to have such debates.

The next blog entry (see below) is an excerpt from the book. I must hasten to add that like most secular Hindus, I felt personally wounded when the Babri Masjid was brought down by Hindu fanatics in 1992. 

Chasing a Mirage – The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State - II

Excerpts from Tarek Fatah's book:

The Saudi’s can do anything they wish and yet face no scrutiny. Take, for example, the case of the Prophet’s 1,400-year-old home in Mecca. The Saudi plan to demolish it. What makes this planned demolition worse is the fact that the home of the Prophet is to make way for a parking lot, two fifty-storey hotel towers and seven thirty-five storey apartment blocks – a project known as the Jabal Omar Scheme – all within a stone’s throw of the Grand Mosque. Had the site been destroyed by non-Muslims or some occupying Western army, the entire Muslim world would have seethed with outrage. But the news of the demolition was met with a defeaning silence. By November 2007, not a single Muslim country, no ayatollah, no mufti, no king, not even an American or Canadian imam had dared utter a word in protest. Such is the power of Saudi influence on the Muslim narrative.

Compare this to events in December 1992, when a mob of 150,000 Hindu nationalists attacked a 16th
-century mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya. Within hours the mosque was reduced to a rubble, and in the weeks to follow, thousands of Indians died in Hindu-Muslim riots. The Muslim world reacted with outrage. Among the countries that expressed anger at the destruction of the centuries-old Indian mosque by Hindu extremists was Saudi Arabia. In United States and Canada, imams gave fiery sermons and urged congregations to protest. Although more than a dozen years have passed since the destruction of the mosque, there is still bitterness in the air. Muslims worldwide feel a sense of betrayal and impotence at not being able to control their own destiny and protect their historical religious sites.

The question is this: Why is it that when the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was demolished, hundreds of thousands of Muslims worldwide took to the streets to protest, but when Saudi authorities plan to demolish the home of our beloved Prophet, not a whisper is heard?

...Daniel Howden of The Independent quoted Irfan Ahmed al-Alawi, the chairman of the Islamic Heritage Foundation, which was established to help protect the holy sites, pointing to another outrage. Alawi told The Independent about the case of the grave of Amina bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet. “It was bullbozed in Abwa and gasoline was poured on it. Even though thousand of petitions throughout the Muslim world were sent, nothing could stop this action.

Howden noted that there were now fewer than twenty structures remaining in Mecca that dated back to the time of the Prophet. He listed lost history as including the house of Khadijah (wife of the Prophet), demolished to make way for public toilets; the house of Abu-Bakr (companion of the Prophet), where there is now a Hilton hotel; the house of Ali-Oraid (a grandson of the Prophet) and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, which is where the king now has a palace in Mecca.

Couldn't newspapers such as Al-Ahram of Cairo or the Dawn of Karachi or the Millet of Istanbul have reported this act of cultural genocide? They could have, but chose not to...