& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Kayt Burgess wins 3-Day Novel contest

Kayt Burgess

Kayt Burgess
Announcing the winner of the 34th International 3-Day Novel contest

Grand prize winner: Heidegger Stairwell by Kayt Burgess of Aurora,  Ontario

About the Author

Kayt Burgess is a writer, artist, opera singer and musician. She studied classical music at the University of Western Ontario and earned her Master’s degree in creative writing from Bath Spa University in the UK. Kayt was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario, grew up in Elliot Lake and now lives near Toronto after stints in New Zealand, England and Scotland.Heidegger Stairwell is her first novel. It will be released by 3-Day Books in September 2012.

About the Book

Music journalist Evan Strocker has almost finished a memoir chronicling his time with Heidegger Stairwell, an indie-rock legend from small-town Ontario whose members he has known his whole life. But the band thinks he’s left a little too much of himself on the page—allowing his experiences as a transgender man and his complicated romance with the lead guitarist eclipse the story of the group’s dramatic rise and fall. Through graphic notes and colourful marginalia, the musicians weigh in on their friend’s version of the truth, and fight to put their own testimony on the record. As Strocker’s manuscript finally comes together, both band and writer are forced to face a shocking new event that will once again change their fortunes.

Second prize winner: Street Dogs by Brandon Hobson
Brandon Hobson is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing atOklahoma State University. His fiction has appeared in NOONNew York TyrantPuerto del SolNarrative MagazineWeb Conjunctionsand elsewhere. He lives in Hennessey, Oklahoma, with his wife and son.
Third prize winner: She felt like velvet by Karen Cressman
Karen Cressman is a marketing writer with a fascination for all things Alice In Wonderland. She is currently developing three novels-in-progress and, of course, dreaming up plots for the next 3-Day Novel Contest. She lives with her husband in Brampton, Ontario.
Our Top-10 Runners-Up

  • Full Moon Rules by Lenore Butcher of Woodstock, Ontario
  • Alice’s Adventures Through a Very Big Mirror by Victoria Dunn of Ottawa, Ontario
  • Darius to the Max by Cathi Radner Castrio of Argyle, New York
  • Not by Terry Leeder of Oakville, Ontario
  • Rounds Down Range by J.L. Myer of Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Half of No by Kari Pilgrim of Brooklyn, New York
  • Happily Destroyed by Evan Purcell of Bullhead City, Arizona
  • Deadfall by Rachel Slansky of San Francisco, California
  • Lords of Ironfire by Rudy Thauberger of Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Banquet of Consequences by Anderson Todd of Toronto, Ontario

Friday, January 20, 2012

In support of Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie was invited to the Jaipur literature festival, but the rector of India’s leading Islamic seminary, the Darul Uloom of Deoband objected to his presence. Many Muslims have found Rushdie’s Satanic Verses offensive. 

India was among the first countries to ban the novel – the ban hasn’t been lifted till now. 

William Dalrymple, writer and one of the festival organiser, said in a statement, "Salman is a writer of enormous breadth. His … passionate engagement with Indian Islamic history shows he is far removed from the Islamophobe of myth. This is a great tragedy, and we hope he will be able to come back again in the future."

The Guardian (London, England) reported: 

“On Friday, the British Indian writer Hari Kunzru caused further upset by reading a section from The Satanic Verses, which remains banned in India. Further attempts by writers to read from the book were stopped by organisers.

"Willy, Sanjoy: why did this happen?", Rushdie later asked Dalrymple and the festival's producer, Sanjoy Roy, protesting against their decision to prevent further readings from the banned work...

Indian officials told the Guardian they feared action by groups run by Dawood Ibrahim, a well-known crime boss living in exile, who they believe is closely linked to the Pakistani security establishment. Security experts, however, described the idea of killers being dispatched by organised criminals to kill the author as "extremely far-fetched. 

The struggling Indian government, led by the centre-left Congress party, has made no public statement on the row. There are major state elections in the coming weeks in which the votes of Muslim communities will play a critical role. The festival's organiser, (Sanjoy) Roy, said there was a need in India "to question … why we continue as a nation to succumb to one pressure or another." "This is a huge problem for Indian democracy," Roy said.

As a mark of solidarity with Rushdie, Generally About Books is reproducing an extract from Satanic Verses. 

The human condition, but what of the angelic? Halfway between Allahgod and homosap, did they ever doubt? They did: challenging God’s will one day they hid muttering beneath the Throne, daring to ask forbidden things: antiquestions. It is right that. Could it not be argued. Freedom, the old antiquest. He calmed them down, naturally, employing management skills à la god. Flattered them: you will be the instrument of my will on earth, of the salvationdamnation of man, all the usual etcetera. And hey presto, end of protest, on with the halos, back to work. Angels are easily pacified; turn them into instruments and they’ll play you a happy tune. Human beings are tougher nuts, can doubt anything, even the evidence of their own eyes. Of behind-their-own-eyes. Of whyatm as they sink heavy-lidded, transpires behind closed peepers… angels, they don’t have much in the way of a will. To will is to disagree; not to submit, to dissent.

I know; devil talk. Shaitan interrupting Gibreel.


[…] His name: a dream-name, changed by the vision. Pronounced correctly, it means he-for-whom-thanks-should-be-given, but he won’t answer to that here; nor, though he’s well aware of what they call him, to his nickname in Jahilia down below—he-who-goes-up-and-down-old-Coney. [Coney Mountain in Rushdie’s rendering is a pun on many levels, and a reference to Mount Hira, where Muhammad is supposed to have had his first Koranic “revelation.”] Here he is neither Mahomet nor MoeHammered; has adopted, instead, demon-tag the farangis hung around his neck. To turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks all chose to wear with pride the names they were given in scorn; likewise, our mountain-climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is to be the medieval baby-frightener, the Devil’s synonym: Mhound.

That’s him. Mahound the businessman, climbing his hot mountain in the Hijaz. The mirage of a city shines below him in the sun.”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Understanding Gandhi

I recently read Tariq Ali’s brilliant piece in Viewpoint (“an activist alternative to the corporate-mainstream media”) on Saadat Hasan Manto, unarguably, South Asia’s best chronicler of the horrors of the subcontinent’s Partition in 1947.

Ali’s piece (Manto & ‘1947’) is a mix of the polemical and the personal, in which he adroitly combines personal history, opinion, translations of poems by Faiz and Sahir to profile Manto and contextualise his continuing relevance to South Asian societies in present times.

Non-partisan historians generally accept Ali’s analyses of the causes of the Partition and its fallout five-and-a-half decades later in South Asia.

He states, “Nehru and Jinnah were both shaken by the orgy of barbarism (of Partition riots). It offended all their instincts. But it was Mahatama Gandhi who paid the ultimate price. For defending the right to live of innocent Muslims in post-Partition India he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a fundamentalist Hindu fanatic. Godse was hanged, but two decades later, Godse’s brother told Channel Four that he regretted nothing. What happened had to happen.

“That past now rots in the present and threatens to further poison the future. The political heirs of the hanged Godse are shoving aside the children of Nehru and Gandhi. The poisonous fog of the religious world has enveloped politics. History, unlike the poets and writers of the sub-continent, is not usually prone to sentiment.”

I was reminded of another interpretation of the dichotomy between the ideas of Gandhi and Godse by Ashis Nandy.

Traditionally, most historians have misconstrued (perhaps deliberately) Gandhi as a liberal secularist not much different from Nehru, which is not to say that Gandhi was an illiberal fundamentalist. But there is a fundamental difference between Gandhi and Nehru and Gandhi defies attempts at such compartmentalisation of people and ideas into mutually exclusive and opposing categories.

Nandy gives a penetrating insight in this dichotomy between Gandhi and Godse (Outside the Imperium: Gandhi’s Cultural Critique of the West from Traditions, Tyranny and Utopia Essays in Politics of AwarenessA VeryPopular Exile, Oxford India Paperbacks).

Nandy notes, “Gandhi died, almost necessarily, at the hands of one who represented the modern world and sought a secular-scientific orientation to statecraft. The young assassin, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, supposedly a religious fanatic, gave a spirited last speech in court before the death sentence was passed on him. It was essentially a fervent, rationalist, modern plea to recognise the dangers Gandhi posed to the growth of the modern state in India and to the conduct of ‘normal’ politics along the lines of Professor Henry Kissinger would have approved of. The plea invoked interesting reactions. Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance, called Godse  an insane killer who did not know what he had done. Yet, Nehru’s government banned Godse’s last testament lest others should find it too sane. The government knew that it was Godse who was seeking the secular solution, Gandhi the religious.”

Nandy adds, “It is a measure of the success of modern science in India that his ultra-Hindu, Brahmanic assassin accused Gandhi of bringing in anti-scientific ideas like soul force and morality into politics. Nathuram Godse claimed that he had unwittingly to kill Gandhi on behalf of the modern world, especially on behalf of modern ideas of statecraft and rationality, so that the newborn Indian nation could survive. One of Godse’s last wishes was to take the appeal against the death sentence passed on him for killing Gandhi to the Privy Council in Britain – still the highest court of appeal for India in 1948 – so that the world could judge his action impartially. He felt that the modern world would give him a better hearing than the superstitious, effeminate, Hindu admirers of Gandhi in India.”

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Cook / Book

Sang Kim

I envy those who cook, and I envy those who write fiction. 

I can’t cook, and I struggle every morning with my fiction writing.

I compensate for my deficiencies in the culinary arts by loving my food, and constantly experimenting.

My love for food is in inverse proportion to my ability to cook. I love food, I don’t cook.  

Over the last three years and some months in Toronto, I've have developed a palate for cuisines I couldn't possibly have imagined I’d ever eat when I was in India.

Primarily, this is because I didn’t even know they existed, or had read about them only in Vir Sanghvi’s food columns when I was in India.

I had Moroccan Tajine at a restaurant in downtown Toronto not too long ago. My friend told me that the meat was optional, but I did the right thing having it with meat. It added substantially to the taste and the aroma.

Tajine is a North African delicacy that gets its name from the earthen vessel in which it is made – not unlike the traditional method of cooking the masterpiece of Gujarati delicacy – the Undhiyu.

A few days ago, I had the Iranian Shole Zard – a delicacy that I’m convinced is a divine concoction that humans only accidentally discovered.

Some time ago, a group of friends had warm Japanese sake in small clay cups and we sat on wooden benches enjoying deep fried oysters with three kinds of sauce.

I compensate for my deficiencies in creative writing (and every day I discover new ones) by enjoying good writing, especially good literature.

Whenever I meet someone who is a natural at both cooking and writing, all I really want to do is just go back to bed, and never get up. 

And I make it a point to acknowledge their talents.

I recently discovered that MG Vassanji, the two times Giller winner, is also an accomplished chef – his Hyderabadi-style eggplant recipe is as magnificent as his prose.

Jasmine D'Costa makes exquisite chicken biryani.

That brings me to my friend Sang Kim.

Every time I meet Sang, I feel completely inferior.

He’s everything that I want to be and will probably never be.

This is how he describes himself on his Facebook page:  “Author, Playwright, Social Entrepreneur, Restaurateur, Accidental Chef.”

He is also the Co-Director of the Small Press of Toronto (SPoT), a bi-annual book fair at various venues throughout Toronto. 

Last month, I visited the fall edition of the SPoT fair to meet Sheniz Janmohamed, Doyali Farah Islam and Ava Homa.

I met Sang. too.

And he gave me yet another reason to crawl back to bed and hide.

He stood in the middle of the book fair, completely oblivious of his surroundings, and recited first of Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

In case you don’t know, that’s one long poem!

I was stunned; as, I’m sure, were Sheniz and Ava.

He later wrote to me, “One of my life's goals is to memorize all 10 Elegies - they say EVERYTHING.”

Sang also told me that he was working on a book and a television project called Cook / Book where he'll be interviewing Toronto writers in their kitchens and cook together.

Acclaimed novelists Katherine Govier, Austin Clarke and Joy Kogawa, have confirmed their participation in the project.

I believe Sang has also convinced Ava Homa to be a part of the project. 

It’s a book worth waiting for.