& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Nationalism, displacement, memory, loss, arrivals and departures

Sanjay Talreja is among the many people from Bombay that I got acquainted to only in Toronto.

I find that incredibly strange – living in the same city, moving about among the same circle of friends, and yet remaining strangers, and then serendipitously discovering each other in Toronto.

Gavin Barrett, Jasmine D’Costa, Syerah Virani, Teenaz Javat are among the Bombayites I befriended only in Toronto.

Sanjay is an award-winning filmmaker who has directed a number of issue-based films in India, edited many independent documentaries in Canada, and has also been associated with the US-based Media Education Foundation as an editor and producer.

I haven’t seen any of Sanjay’s film work. I know him as someone who has a unique ability to evaluate creative work and transform it by suggesting the smallest of changes.

Among the many friends who gave me invaluable feedback to enrich my manuscript, his comments were among the most perceptive. After incorporating his suggestion, I succeeded in transforming a particularly blandly written scene into a something that was rancorous, alive, and almost frothy.  

Sanjay was selected for Diaspora Dialogues for its mentoring program in 2012. And was among the readers at Toronto’s the Word on the Street (TWOTS) in September.

He read an evocative passage from his story Love is All There is. The story is about a triptych of characters (none of whose lives collide) who are affected by the things that shape much of our contemporary lives – nationalism, displacement, memory, loss, arrivals and departures.

A few days later, Jhumpa Lahiri, speaking about her new novel The Lowlands also spoke in a similar vein about the effects of immigration, a multiple sense of belonging and perpetual displacement.

Sanjay’s collection Postcards and other stories (a working title) is a collection of short stories set in India and Canada. The obliquely interlinked stories in this collection explore how immigrants find themselves in the in-between stage of their lives – feeling as if they will never be at home, despite jobs, children, passports, houses and investments.

“This condition of homelessness, of border crossings, of leaving without having fully left, of arriving without a sense of ever being fully settled, forms the underpinning of my stories,” Sanjay says.

Downward This Dog looks at a Yoga teacher who faces a dilemma; Postcards (a two phased story) looks at a man who has become obsessed with prayer even as his wife and father juggle with factors facing their own lives; The Kick is about a bright young woman who believes her dentist may have touched her in the wrong places.

The stories in the collection narrated sardonically and yet compassionately attempt to depict immigrants neither as victims nor agents but as ordinary, complex, contradictory people fumbling and struggling to make sense of their new lives.

About the story he read at TWOTS, Sanjay observes, “Tonally and stylistically, this story is different from the rest of the collection and I am still trying to figure out if it will be part of the final collection but I was trying to use TWOTS
to gauge a response. I read Part 1 of the triptych.”

Images: First image: http://diasporadialogues.com/writers/profiles/2012/08/27/sanjay-talreja.png

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