& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Cook’s Temptation - Joyce Wayne

Joyce Wayne
My friend (also teacher, mentor) Joyce Wayne’s first novel The Cook’s Temptation is being published by the Mosaic Press, Canada early next year. She worked on the book for the last five years.

Set in Victorian England – an era that Joyce finds fascinating – the novel is about Cordelia Tilley, a strong-minded Jewish woman’s dilemma: to be true to herself versus her desire to be accepted in the English society.

“It’s a story of an outsider trying hard to adjust and be a part of her new environment,” Joyce explains. “In that sense, the novel will find resonance with immigrants who experience such transition. The adjustment is easy initially but becomes difficult as time passes, and this is because the society is unwilling to go beyond superficial acceptance.”

The Cook’s Temptation brings to life the complexities of Victorian life, first in County Devon and then in London’s East end.

“I’m fascinated by the Victorian era and especially fiction from that era. George Eliot is one of my favourite authors. I also like Sarah Walters and Michael Cox, both of whom wrote about the Victorian era. And you tend to write what you read,” Joyce says.

The novel portrays one woman’s life, class conflict, religious intolerance, suspicion and betrayal. Cordelia is the daughter of a Jewish mother and an Anglican father. Her mother has groomed her for a life in English society while her father, a tough publican, has shown no tolerance for his wife’s social climbing or the conceits of their perspicacious daughter. 

Cordelia’s mother dies from typhoid fever, she tries to run the family’s establishment, she falls prey to a local industrialist, she gives birth to a son, she is tormented by her husband and his family. Finally, she is rescued by suffragette friends and sets off to start a new life in London.

“The idea of the novel came when I visited a graveyard at Holsworthy village north of Devon and I saw a grave with the name Cordelia on the stone. It was then that I decided that I’d write about Cordelia,” Joyce says. 

“The book is also about the many layered British society, the complicated relationship that an outsider has with a society. It also explores the not-so-subtle antisemitism of the British society in that era.”

The Cook’s Temptation is about one woman’s life, class conflict, religious intolerance, suspicion and betrayal. It’s about a woman who is unpredictable, both strong and weak willed, both kind and heinous, victim and criminal.  It’s a genuine Victorian saga, full of detail, twists and turns, memorable scenes, full of drama and pathos.

According to Joyce, “Cordelia isn’t just one woman, she’s many women.”

After reading the manuscript of The Cook’s Temptation, author Jasmine D’Costa, who has been instrumental in turning many newcomers to Canada into writers, publicly applauded Joyce. She wrote: “Reading books written by people I know is always a shock. I read Joyce Wayne’s manuscript of The Cook’s Temptation soon to be out in print, and discovered a new person. Wow what a story she wove! And from where did all those sex scenes come from? I am hoping it is purely from imagination.”

Joyce has an MA in English literature and has taught journalism at Sheridan College, which is where I met her in 2009. She revived my interest in literature, and for the first time, under her guidance, I formally studied literature. 

We argued intensely over what constituted good literature, and I remember an especially intense argument over Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. She was convinced the book was a modern Canadian classic, and I was niggardly in praising it because I felt it was similar (in theme) to Alex Haley’s Roots

I re-read Hill’s novel recently when my son Che said he enjoyed the book. And I must admit Joyce was, indeed, right. The book is uniquely Canadian. I didn’t get the quintessential 'Canadian-ness' of the novel when I read it in 2009 because I wasn’t familiar with Canada.

Joyce is a winner of the Diaspora Dialogues contest for fiction, and has been awarded the Fiona Mee Award for literary journalism. She is the co-writer of the documentary film, So Far From Home in 2010, a film about refugee journalists persecuted for their political views, and various of her other works have been published in Parchment, Golden Horseshoe Anthology, Canadian Voices, TOK6.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Weather Permitting & Other Stories - Pratap Reddy

Pratap Reddy
My friend Pratap Reddy will soon have his first collection of short stories (Weather Permitting & Other Stories) published by the prestigious Guernica Editions.

Originally from Hyderabad in India, Pratap has been writing fiction since he came to Canada more than a decade ago. 

His stories have been published in Canada, India and the United States in several anthologies including Diaspora Dialogues’ TOK – Writing the New Toronto series, Canadian Voices, Indian Voices, The Courtneypark Connection, and in literary journals and websites such as the Maple Tree Supplement, among others.

Pratap wrote feature-length newspaper articles in India, and like many others, turned to fiction writing only after coming to Canada.

“I’ve been a voracious reader all my life, and when reading becomes a part of your life, eventually you also want to try your hand at writing,” Pratap says. Describing his collection, he said in some ways all the stories reflect his immigrant experience. 

Pratap has completed the creative writing program at Humber School for Writers and has been a recipient of the Writer’s Reserve Grant from the Ontario Arts Council, and awarded the Best Emerging Literary Artist award by the Mississauga Arts Council.

At present, he is working on his novel and hopes to complete it before the short fiction collection is published. One of the most notable features of Pratap’s personality is his utter modesty and down-to-earth simplicity. It’s a trait that has helped him create magical stories.

Here’s an excerpt from his story In the Dark, published in Canadian Voices Volume I. The story occurs during the blackout that stopped North America in its tracks a decade ago, and is about accidental encounters that surprise a couple and redefine their relationship.

Dev remembered the day he had asked Shalini to buy a box of strawberry pie from the grocery store. Shalini had been working for three months and he had been laid off from his job at the gas station. Shalini returned from her shopping and duped a carton of fresh strawberries on the table in front of him. As he looked up in amazement at her, she said: “You should stop eating those disgusting pies. You’ve put on a lot of weight.” Dev couldn’t think of a reply.

As they stood in the long line, they heard people talking about the blackout.

“I believe that the entire province is without electricity.”

“No. All of North America, in fact.”

“I’m sure it’s the work of terrorists!”

The cash register was not working so the clerk was collecting money and issuing change from a plastic box. They left the store and soon were on the street where Dev lived. The entrance to his basement apartment was in the narrow space between two houses. Dev locked the door and stepped inside.

“Isn’t your wife at home?” asked Anne.

“No,” said Dev, “She’s at work, packing undies.”

It was almost pitch dark inside. Anne started climbing down the steep staircase. The door behind her close by itself. She cried out, “I can’t see anything.”

“Here, grab my hand,” said Dev. “Ouch! That’s not my hand!”

Holding on to each other, they tottered down the steps. When they reached the bottom, Dev bent his head and kissed Anne on her mouth. Anne thought she ought to protest but her lips had a will of their own. Anne felt something hard at her navel. It was the carry-bag containing the box of strawberry pie.”

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Celebrating India

Bharat Mata by MF Husain

I suppose remembering India is in inverse proportion to the time and distance.

I've been out of India for a very long time. And Canada is far, too far. So remembering India is easy and effortless. Of course, with Facebook, time and distance have ceased to matter. The best way to remember India is to read books on India. I recently re-read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and The Moor’s Last Sigh. I don’t think any writer can equal Rushide’s love for India.

Here are two short paragraphs from these books that reveal his passionate love for India.

“August in Bombay: a month of festivals, the month of Krishna's birthday and Coconut Day; and this year-fourteen hours to go, thirteen, twelve-there was an extra festival on the calendar, a new myth to celebrate, because a nation which had never previously existed was about to win its freedom, catapulting us into a world which, although it had five thousand years of history, although it had invented the game of chess and traded with Middle Kingdom Egypt, was nevertheless quite imaginary; into a mythical land, a country which would never exist except by the efforts of a phenomenal collective will-except in a dream we all agreed to dream; it was a mass fantasy shared in varying degrees by Bengali and Punjabi, Madrasi and Jat, and would periodically need the sanctification and renewal which can only be provided by rituals of blood. India, the new myth – a collective fiction in which anything was possible, a fable rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God.”
Midnight’s Children

“…the dawning of a new world, Belle, a true country, Belle, above religion because secular, above class because socialist, above caste because enlightened, above hatred because loving, above vengeance because forgiving, above tribe because unifying, above language because many-tongued, above colour because multi-coloured, above poverty because victorious over it, above ignorance because literate, above stupidity because brilliant, freedom, Belle, the freedom express, soon, soon we will stand upon the platform and cheer the coming of the train…”
The Moor’s Last Sigh

And then there are special occasions to remember India, especially when you’re outside India. In Toronto, the Panorama India and the Consulate General of India Toronto organize the India Day parade. It’s a feel-good event when Indians come together and have a few hours of fun at Toronto’s Dundas Square (which celebrated its decade this week). Indians from different provinces group together and take a walk around the block.

This year, the floats were missing and had been replaced by Kolkata-style hand-pulled rickshaws. Even tiny Manipur was represented. And the most vibrant groups were – expectedly – from the southern states, although the Gujaratis with their garba didn't do too badly either. A couple of years ago it was the Rajasthani group which played Lata Mangeshkar’s Meerabai bhajans (read about it here).

The human rights groups, along with groups opposed to the Indian state, including Sikh separatists, stand on the other side of the square, raising slogans.

Despite ‘voting with my feet’, so to speak, in favour of Canada, I've participated in the parade for the last five years that I've been here in Toronto because, that cliche about taking an Indian out of India but never India out of an Indian is very true. I'm the first to point out an 'incorrect' map of India (which excludes part of PoK / Azad Kashmir from India), despite being generally in favour of the Kashmiri right to self-determination. I know this at variance with my conviction that nationalism and patriotism have little relevance in a post-colonial, globalizing world.

These concepts had a special significance in the colonial era. Nelson Mandela succinctly explains it in his autobiography. In his Long March to Freedom, Mandela quotes Anton Lembede (1914-1947):  “The history of modern times is the history of nationalism. Nationalism has been tested in the people’s struggles and the fires of battle and found to be the only antidote against foreign rule and modern imperialism. It is for that reason that the great imperialistic powers feverishly endeavour with all their might to discourage and eradicate all nationalistic tendencies among their alien subjects; for that purpose huge and enormous sums of money are lavishly expended on propaganda against nationalism which is dismissed as “narrow,” “barbarous,” “uncultured,” “devilish,” etc. Some alien subjects become dupes of this sinister propaganda and consequently become tools or instruments of imperialism for which great service they are highly praised by the imperialistic power and showered with such epithets as “cultured,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “broadminded,” etc.”

Mandela affirms: “Lembede’s views struck a chord in me. I, too, had been susceptible to paternalistic British colonialism and the appeal of being perceived by whites as “cultured” and “progressive” and “civilized.” I was already on my way to being drawn into the black elite that Britain sought to create in Africa. That is what everyone from the regent to Mr. Sidelsky had wanted for me. But it was an illusion. Like Lembede, I came to see the antidote as militant African nationalism.”

In my very humble opinion, in the present context, and with specific reference to India, unbridled nationalism is harming India because it’s being used as a means to segregate Indians on the basis of religion, and exclude the minorities from the mainstream (see photograph).

BJP poster welcoming Modi to Hyderabad (August 2013)

Ramchandra Guha concludes his classic India After Gandhi thus: “Speaking now of India, the nation-state, one must insist that its future lies not in the hands of God but in the mundane works of men. So long as the constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and – lest I forget – so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive.”

And in India’s survival and prosperity, I don’t think nationalism and patriotism are of any particular significance. 

Image: Barefoot across the nation Maqbool Fida Husain & the Idea of India Ed: Sumathi Ramaswamy

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Orgy - Bänoo Zan

Bänoo Zan
The Orgy[1]
Bänoo Zan

God invites the prophet
to Her feast:

reveals Herself in
food, drink and lust—

He desires Her so much
he doesn’t eat, drink or embrace Her.

The divine metamorphosis
makes him

Her equal.  

July 11, 2013

[1] In Iran, the month of Ramadan is called, “God’s feast”.