& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, August 20, 2018


Guest post by Kevin Lobo

Kevin Lobo
It’s a freezing, wintery Good Friday morning in Toronto. The forces of evil – Satan’s army – are preparing for one more attempt at grabbing and destroying the one remaining thorn, from the crown of thorns that Christ bore. The one thorn that stands in the way of Evil taking over the world.

When the 'end-of-world’ and repentance preaching mad-man is suspiciously struck by a speeding truck and dies in Daniel’s arms, he passes on the mantle of the Thorn Bearer to Daniel. Suddenly a beautiful quiet day is transformed into a war zone as a massive car pileup is followed by riots, shootings, cops and zombie-like mobs that seem totally possessed by some kind of evil. The chaos reaches a peak when an assassin becomes a reality with even a cop gunned down bringing in a highly trained swat team.

Daniel is sure that the hooded man, a sinister presence is behind the rapidly escalating chaos. In the midst of it all, he discovers his own allies that will fight by his side. The forces of evil sensing another defeat let loose a spate of shootings, burnings and riots. Between Yokatherine, whose long past and a brush with the same evil is now coming full circle, and Ezekiel, a teen battling his own moral issues, the three realize that their destinies are closely tied with a final battle of the day.

Before Daniel can deal with any of that he must first fight the deadly charm of Amanda, a stunningly beautiful, dark-haired young woman, a down in the dumps photographer who gets hired for a second time by the hooded man to shoot the events to unfold that Good Friday. Daniel knows that he must put an end to the instant attraction that magnetically brings the two together in the midst of the chaos. Neither Daniel nor Amanda, know how closely their destinies are tied together, yet, not in the way they could imagine.

Between murdered cops, pregnant teens, human sacrifices to the evil one and a day that must face a final reckoning so deadly, that Daniel slowly discovers a world that has lived on the edge and which he must now protect from Satan’s forces. From the slopes of Calvary, where the Son of Man conquered Sin and Death, to this day 2000 years later, the battle has been ever raging.

A battle between the Kingdom of God and the forces of evil, and a victory so critical to all that is good in this world.

Buy Kevin's first novel, click here: Golgotha

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cafe Sarajevo - episode 1

The conflict that engulfed former Yugoslavia in the 1990s is consigned to history and largely forgotten. It’s been overtaken by many heinous wars and atrocities across the world. The genocide in Rwanda occurred almost concomitantly with the genocide of Bosnians, Muslims and other minorities by Serbian war criminals. Then, of course, 9/11 altered the world irreversibly and the “global war on terror” legitimized Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fissures that emerged in the former Yugoslavia as it rapidly imploded during the collapse of Communism, led to a horrific war that resulted in ethnic cleansing on an unimaginable scale.

At a time when swift action could have ended the misery of millions of minorities in this multiethnic society, Germany’s continued prevarication delayed the involvement of the NATO forces. Germany couldn’t muster the gumption to invade the former Yugoslavia because of its Second World War history.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, after the genocide in Srebrenica and Markale, the Clinton Administration decided in favour of NATO intervention and ended the war, and even brought the war criminals to face Nuremberg-type trials.  

However, we suffer from selective amnesia and easily forget the lessons learnt from these tragedies. The main lesson is that almost all these tragedies are brought upon us by charismatic leaders who we elect and bring to power. We continue to vote for leaders who unleash hatred against minorities to legitimize their control over power.

The Bosnian War has to be viewed from the prism of the rise of globalisation and ethnic identification. Globalisation began in the 1980s and took flight in 1990s changed the world as we know it. Corporations became global entities, becoming parallel power structure, often rivalling governments in their influence to shape policies. 

Simultaneously, and paradoxically, ethnic identities also became increasingly important to large sections of people in many parts of the world. Nationalism, already under a threat from globalisation, was further battered by ethnic groupings that focused on subnational identities.

The collapse of the consensus on globalisation following the 2008 economic crisis resulted in the intensification of subnational identification and its most significant manifestation has so far been the rise of xenophobia. 

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump capitalized on this anger and changed the political dynamics of the world. Misogynistic, xenophobic, fascist sentiments that had hitherto remained at a subterranean level were menacingly and suddenly emerged to the surface to become the mainstream political ideology of elected governments.    

Any creative process that tries to portray this fearsome phenomenon of the freefall and imminent end of liberal ethos would necessarily have to abandon linearity.  It'd have to transcend the limitation of form.  

Bluemouth Inc. a Toronto-based “performance collective that creates original, dynamic, immersive” performance events performed Café Sarajevo - episode 1 in Toronto at the Summerworks festival.

An interactive, multimedia, theatre production, it was stunningly original in its presentation and in the innovative use of media technologies. The manifest outcome was the transformation of the audience from passive consumers of art to active participants in the narrative.

Bluemouth Inc. used a video wall, music, narration by multiple actors, digital and GPS technologies, customised video recordings for individual members of the audience to supplement the live performances.  All these devices build upon and complement each other to create an impact that was aural, visual and physical. 

The attempt was to depict the global upheavals such as the refugee crisis and xenophobia of the western societies. The structure was deliberately kept nebulous, easily adaptable, changeable and one that enabled constant improvisation. 

The narrative was loosely based on Lucy Simic and Stephen O’Connell’s trip to Sarajevo and in particular Lucy’s reminiscences of the historic city of her roots. It linked the trip and the history of the Bosnian conflict to the social unrest of the late 1960s and the early 1970s and to the present day crises triggered by Trump.

A seemingly obtuse debate between Noam Chomsky and Michael Foucault became the launching pad for the performance, where Chomsky appropriately declares that it'd be perfectly legitimate to oppose and fight the state and defy its anti-people policies.

Visually, Cafe Sarajevo - episode 1 was a surfeit of images - of Sarajevo, of the women’s rally held in Washington DC after Trump became the US President, and unending collages and raw footage. 

Different members of the audience enacted and read different parts of the narrative. The most telling narrative is the debate that Simic has with an owner at a local coffee shop over whether the coffee served is Turkish or Bosnian.

There was roleplay, too, with members of the audience becoming characters in the narrative. There was a constant sense of being overwhelmed by all that was happening during the performance, and a clear sense of loss of control over what one should experience - whether to much caramel popcorn, or sip coffee. 

In all likelihood, that was the intended effect - as it accentuated the cluelessness that most of us feel about our world.

Café Sarajevo was my third experience of vicariously living through the Bosnian War. The two novels that I’ve read that are linked to this enormous tragedy – Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo and Avenger by Fredrick Forsyth – are both tangentially connected to Canada.

Galloway is Canadian, and in Forsythe’s Avenger, it’s the Canadian billionaire Stephen Edmonds who hires the ‘Avenger’ Calvin Dexter to avenge his grandson’s murder in the Bosnian War.

Forsythe’s novel is a formulaic nail-biting thriller that keeps the reader on the edge as the story unfolds to tantalizing end a day before 9/11.

Galloway’s novel is a fine work that carefully constructs the shattered and disintegrating lives of is the story of Arrow, Kenan and Dragan as they come to terms with the reality of a war-ravaged city that they have lived all their lives.

When I reviewed it about four years ago, I’d said, “To Galloway’s credit, nowhere in the novel does he ever mention the siege from a macro perspective – Serbian forces that surrounded the outlying hills of Sarajevo are never named, and neither are the Bosnian government defence forces named.

The novel shows there isn’t too much to choose between the attackers and the defenders and depicts the daily trauma of living in the city that is changing forever, its inhabitants slowly wilting, decaying, and disintegrating.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=42&v=pxVQXtWLNaI

Photo: http://summerworks.ca/wp-content/uploads/marcato/CAFSARAJEVOepisodeI.jpg

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 14

Che - quietly confident

Che & Mahrukh
2012 brought major changes in our lives. In our fourth year in Canada, our need was to belong to a place that we so much wanted to call our home. Our quest for a home of our own was now the most important thing in our lives. 

We moved into a larger apartment in the same building so that Che would have a room of his own.
Che looks cool & I'm trying to 

The apartment was bigger, but our need was not so much for space as it was for setting roots into this land, and for that, we needed a home of our own. 

A greater part of 2012 was devoted to looking for a home, and we did that in our usual ham-handed manner. 

Once again, Che rescued us. He’d seen a home that was on sale on Gibson Avenue just off Jane Street on Lawrence Avenue West; not too far from our rented apartment on Keele and Lawrence. We began the process in 2012 and moved into our new home the next year. 

With Mike Layton, Toronto Councillor
& Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham at
the Arrivals launch
I responded to a social media post seeking the participation of newcomers in a project called Arrivals. The purpose of the project was “focused on celebrating the stories of new citizens and asking how we can better welcome newcomers, and a better representation of the voices of newcomers in the Canadian narrative and the value they bring to Canada as a whole.”

A team led by Devon Ostrom, an art curator and public art advocate, conceived the project which comprised taking photographs of the eyes of newcomers and putting them up on Toronto’s City Hall. It was to depict how newcomers saw Toronto, reversing the notion of the newcomers being under scrutiny.
The eyes at City Hall

I was selected based on my written submission – a short essay about my immigrant experience. 

A volunteer from the organisation Helena Shimeles interviewed me. She was so involved in her questions and in understanding my experiences that I cried while answering some of the questions. 

The second part of the project was an insertion of short announcements under a new section called Arrivals in the traditional births and deaths classified announcements of the Toronto Star.  A friend saw the announcement ad and despaired that I’d died.

The project got enormous participation and I met Che Kothari, a young photographer, who clicked a totally clichéd photograph where I posed holding my chin. An enlarged version of that photograph was gifted to each participant.

I met the super talented Haniely Pableo, a young Filipino singer, who was also a part of the project. I also met the super talented Ravi Jain again. 

With Haniely Pableo (right) and another participant
2012 turned out to be a memorable year because Mahrukh joined Home Depot, initially as a garden supplies part-timer, and then gradually, over the next six years, through sheer dint of hard work, tenacity and determination, she finally became a permanent employee this year (2018).

I’ve probably said this earlier, but I’m happy reiterating it and reemphasizing it – that the biggest transformation in our family after we came to Canada has been in Mahrukh.

She was always an independent-minded woman, who has always known what she wanted, and has gone all out to get it; she’s also had the sagacity to accept things that she cannot change. Her presence in our lives has made our transition to Canada truly meaningful.

The year also began well for Che, and he was now at the York Memorial Collegiate for his high school. It was during this phase and especially when he was in Grade 10 that he suddenly developed anxiety issues that spiralled out of control until intervention by a psychologist helped him cope and then overcome these challenges.

As a family, we were ill prepared for this upheaval and suddenly our lives changed. We went through a harrowing time for more than two years; more so because we weren’t aware of the matter.  I’ve always felt that the main cause of this was the burden of expectations that we had put on his delicate shoulders. He was unable to express his discomfort with his situation as a newcomer to the Canadian education system, and while he’d tried to adjust to everything that happened, without any complaints, he was unable to live up to the expectations that we had of him.

With Mike Layton

Che was unable to complete his High School within the stipulated time; it was delayed by a year. But, he remained very much the responsible immigrant child who knew the struggle that the family had gone and was going through to survive in Canada; he was an integral part of that struggle.

He didn’t want to be perceived as a burden and started looking for a job even while he was going through the mental trauma. On his own found a job soon after completing his High School. His mental health treatment continued for a while, and he dropped out of the program in television broadcasting that he started after completing his High School.

One of the struggles that we face in our lives is the unnecessary stigma that we attach to mental health. I’ve never understood why this is the case. If it’s natural to go to a doctor when we have some physical ailment, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to go to a doctor when we have a mental ailment.

It is also during such times that we experience the pettiness of people we know, and who claim to be our friends. A memory that will never fade away is of a few such “friends” mocking our child’s inability to do well at school, without knowing the hard time he was going through.

In the Indian context, 2012 turned out to be a year when we lost one of the tallest cultural ambassadors of India – a man who perhaps single-handedly created more awareness about Indian classical music than anyone else did.

Ravi Shankar, the acclaimed sitar maestro, passed away on 12-12-12. In the universe of music, there is no musical instrument better than the sitar, and nobody could play it as Ravi Shankar did.

And Indian film industry lost its first superstar Rajesh Khanna on 18 July 2012. There are many ways to remember Rajesh Khanna. I remember him for putting the fear of Bhagwan Ram in Lal Krishna Advani’s heart in the 1991 election when Advani won by the thinnest of margins from the New Delhi constituency. (Read the blog on his death here: Rajesh Khanna).

During the year, we also lost IK Gujral, perhaps India’s most erudite Prime Minister; and the technocrat administrator responsible for the white revolution in India – VG Kurien.

Coverage in Globe & Mail
Bal Thackeray also passed away in 2012. As a journalist, I had interviewed him on a couple of occasions and then during one interview when I was at the Sunday Observer, I’d asked him who’d succeed him (two decades before he’d pass into history). He was apparently so disturbed by the question that he refused to meet me ever thereafter.

Bal Thackeray, without any doubt, is one of the most divisive political leaders to emerge in post-Independent India. But, he was not alone. Divisive politics has been the bane of Indian parliamentary democracy, and these leaders and their parties have had no qualms in exploiting the innate divisions within the Indian society for petty electoral gains. 

In the process, seven decades after Independence, when India should have become a beacon of hope to humanity with its message of love and acceptance, it's standing on the edge of the proverbial precipice, riven with hatred, intolerance and majoritarian violence. 

In 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist of the bunch that attacked Bombay in November 2008, was sentenced to death. I’m opposed to the death penalty, but on this occasion, I didn’t protest.

I also lost a friend and former colleague Eva Doctor, who suddenly passed away on 26 July 2012. We worked in different sections in the US Consulate while I was there, and I'd periodically take time out and sit with her to chat about nothing in particular and come away relaxed. 

One needs at least one friend in a workplace with whom one can be oneself without pretence. Someone who can bring a semblance to sanity to an otherwise toxic and vicious place that most workplaces tend to be, and that the US Consulate in Bombay was definitely at that time. 

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Telomere Problem

Guest post by Sharad Bailur

Sharad Bailur
Is Fate a deciding factor in human life? This book actually asks this question, never openly or straightaway. But it is the subtext, the premise, on which the novel is built.

Much of its basic philosophy is based on my reading of the philosophy of History from Plato to Hegel to Marx and Toynbee on the one hand, and, Thomas Kuhn, and then mavericks like Karl Popper and Paul Feyerabend, on the other.

While the first four seem to think that events occur as a stream that flows in which mankind wallows helplessly and has no control over, Feyerabend and even Karl Popper have a different and more interesting take on the subject. Popper’s argument is that this “historicism is a myth”. Both believe that chance events make for history. There is no such thing as a discernible pattern that can help us decipher the future.

The Telomere Problem is fiction, science fiction at that, but it has deep philosophical roots. It begins with the inevitability of a love affair gone wrong,  leads to the inevitability of the ‘repair of the situation’, in an entirely novel, if inadequate, manner. It ends with the chance factor of an unexpected death.

This novel doesn’t involve spectacular fantasized subjects like space travel, or monsters from Mars; nor car chases and dancing around trees; and not even court cases and arguments. It is not about crime. It is not a conventional love story.

So, the only way this tale could be told was to make it plausible. Making it plausible involved educating myself in an entirely new subject –molecular embryology. A lot of what was written as long ago as 2007 has come true in the last eleven years. A lot of what is written is expected to come true in the lives of the present generation. That includes major scientific and social, and economic revolutions that will change the face of this earth.

Is that Hegelian? Are these paradigm shifts, as Thomas Kuhn would suggest? Or is it just a string of educated guesses, that could go completely off-track based on chance factors? I don’t know.

On the face of it The Telomere Problem is just a novel. It starts on a simple core premise – the cloning of Madhubala, the film actress, and how it is possible 29 years after her death. Were it to remain at that level it would have merely been an entertaining, if implausible, story. But then it acquired a life of its own, refusing to close when it should have and went on to deal with the dangers involved with cloning.

From there to the use of nanotechnology in medical treatment. From there it turns to the 
new methods being used to arrest ageing and to the emerging possibilities of living forever, and its consequences in fields as far removed as Society, Economics and even world power balance.

You may buy Sharad Bailur’s debut novel here: The Telomere Problem

Sharad Bailur is that rare specimen, who are becoming rarer in our troubled times - an unbiased intellectual, who is willing to change his opinion in the face of new facts. A veteran media relations professional, Bailur has experienced the seamier side of the media at close quarters, and yet maintained a rare gravitas in his dealings with media professionals. I've had the privilege of knowing him for 31 years. 

Saturday, August 04, 2018

The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories

Guest Post by Aparna Kaji Shah

There is no single story about a place or a people. The well-known novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has called it “The danger of the single story” because it is dangerous when we show the same thing about someone again and again; they become that, and all other possibilities are excluded. This is especially relevant in today’s climate, both political as well as social.

Aparna Kaji Shah
 In my collection, “The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories” the female protagonists have different stories to tell. They range from a fifteen-year-old girl from Jaisalmer, in eighteenth-century India, who runs away with the nomadic tribes, to a middle-aged woman in modern-day Mumbai. 

There is also the character of a grandmother in Toronto dealing with old age and disease; of a village bride who moves to Mumbai, expecting the City of Dreams to fulfill her every wish, and of a young mother in pre-independence India on her death-bed reliving the molestation by her father-in-law and fearing for her daughters after her death.

The title story, “The Scent of Mogra”, is narrated by a dead woman who is reminiscing about her life on Earth and about her daughter who she somehow knows is suffering. These are stories not just about women’s oppression and exploitation in a male-dominated society, but of resilience, passion, and triumph. The varied female protagonists, in their different time periods, go through the turmoil that is life-changing and that creates within each one an inner strength and a determination to move on. These women come into their own as life unfolds around them.

I am delighted to announce that “The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories” will be published this September by Inanna Publications. When I started writing these stories, some written in Toronto, and others in Mumbai while we were living there, I never gave a thought to having them published; I was so enjoying the creative process and the writing. But friends and family urged me to submit, and I did. I was very fortunate to be accepted by Inanna.

One of the themes that link the stories in this collection, women’s lives within a patriarchal structure, is close to my heart. But the writing of the stories took me outside of myself in a way that let me see the larger picture of women’s existence over the centuries; it gave me a deep appreciation of the unique texture of individual lives and relationships.

The stories will resonate with all readers, men and women, young and old, as they are drawn into the lives of the characters. The women who inhabit the stories inhabit the real world, and we all know someone like them. “The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories” will not only remind readers about the many issues that women face across generations and cultures but help cast a fresh eye upon them.

I hope that like all art that moves readers, viewers or listeners in its many mysterious ways, my stories will find a way to engage my reader’s heart, her imagination and intellect and provide the keen enjoyment that we all go to books for. Finally, my wish is that this collection will help someone feel less alone in the world.

I am excited about the launch of my book on September 28th, sponsored by The International Festival of Authors (Toronto Lit Up) and Inanna Publications, at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. I will read from my stories and sign books from 6 to 8 pm. I look forward to seeing many of you there. 

In case you would like to pre-order “The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories”, it is available on Amazon Canada, the US and the UK. It can also be pre-ordered from Indigo. You can follow me on Twitter @akajishah  and on Facebook at Aparna Kaji Shah.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 13

Che - quiet, shy & handsome
I’ll continue with 2011 because when I look back at the year, I realise that a lot of things happened. And while it’s not possible to capture everything into this series, I do want to ensure that I don’t miss some important occurrences.

My involvement in the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts enlarged my circle of acquaintances in the creative world. I realized that the suburbs of Toronto – Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville had a thriving cultural scene buzzing with events and programs and that South Asians were organizing most of these events.

I was invited to an exhibition of Hindi film posters – Picture House – organized by Ali Adil Khan and Asma Arshad Mahmood at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. It was a painstakingly put together exhibition, where Ali and Asma put a stamp of originality on a subject that could easily have become a sentimental and lachrymose, not to say banal, depiction of a dying art. 

I blogged rather animatedly about it, and my journalism teacher-turned-friend Teenaz Javat read it. She got me invited to the CBC’s Metro Morning show for a brief chat about the exhibition. (Read the blog: Picture House)

At IIFA, photo by Mariellen Ward
In late June, I was invited to participate in the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards at the Rogers Centre with Mahrukh, Che and Durga who was with us. The invitation was from my friend CP Thomas, who was doing the public relations for the event organizer Wizcraft (co-owner Sabbas Joseph used to be a colleague).

Thanks to CP, a serial entrepreneur and the publisher of Indian Voices, we got some of the best seats at the awards venue. The show belonged to Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, and a bunch of film stars from the yesteryears. (Read the blog: IIFA in Toronto)

Farzana Doctor, the author friend who organizes the immensely influential Brockton Writers’ Series invited me to read at the September 2011 edition of the series along with Jessica Westhead and Pratap Reddy. She was greatly amused by the emails I exchanged to finalise my reading at the series and quoted from it verbatim while introducing me.

With Pratap and Jessica at Brocton Writers' Series
I have tremendous admiration and respect for Farzana. She gave key inputs to improve my manuscript and make it more “Canadian,” when I was struggling with it. Of course, by the time the manuscript emerged as a novel, a lot had already changed. At different stages of my writing process, she was willing to assist, suggest, promote and otherwise help in whatever way she could. Being a star author that she is, she’d forgotten my name by the time her third novel was launched.

Later that month, at the Word on the Street, I participated in the “Adopt a Writer” program with Jessica Westhead at the Word on the Street festival. Books and books-related events had become a major preoccupation. The Munk Centre in midtown Toronto became a regular venue to participate in such events. (Read the blog: Parallel Histories) It was to continue for a few years until recently when I began to consciously slow down my activities in view of my deteriorating kidneys. 

Marshall McLuhan’s centenary was celebrated globally in 2011, and in Toronto, his hometown, he was remembered at a panel discussion organized by the McLuhan Legacy Network. It was an important discussion.

McLuhan remains prescient about the future of the media. He’d predicted the Age of Internet long before it became a reality. He said, “The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function, and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”

My blog was being noticed and I began to get offers from publishers for book reviews. I’d prefer to write mostly about authors, book events and about books without doing reviews. Calypso Editions in the USA sent me a new translation of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘How much land does a man need’. It’s a simple, straightforward folklore of human greed. I blogged about Tagore and Translation in two parts. (Part 1, Part 2)

Che - getting ready for the
school concert
At work, I was doing all that needed to be done to give back to the ICCC – the organization that had made life possible in Canada for me and my family. I enjoyed the work, and what I loved more was the constant interaction with people who were deeply involved with the organization. 

Under Satish Thakkar's leadership, the organisation took off and successfully scaled peaks of glory never before attempted in the three-and-a-half decades of the organisation's history. 
Harjit Kalsi was another stalwart – an unassuming, soft-spoken, hands-on manager, who made the most menial tasks pleasurable. Together, Harjit and I created a short documentary on Hindi film songs with the railway motif for the ICCC’s year-end gala that had the Indian Railways as its theme.

At home, Che was in his final pre-teen years and was turning into a handsome young man. The next three years would be hard on him; years that’d change him forever.  I’ve often thought about these years and often wondered whether I did the right thing in getting us here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 12

Che at his school concert
2011 turned out to be a momentous year in many ways. Some of India’s biggest and most enduring cultural icons left us – Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, and Maqbul Fida Husain. Each had carved a special niche amongst Indians with their achievements.

Husain’s death was tragic. The artist who had shaped aesthetic sensibilities in post-independence (and post-colonial)  India had to live his last few years in exile, fearful that if he continued to live in India, he would be apprehended and imprisoned for hurting the Hindu religious sentiments because he had preferred to paint Hindu goddesses (and Mother India) in the nude. One should bear in mind that all this happened before Narendra Modi changed India irreversibly and forever in 2014.

Bharat Mata by MF Husain
On May 1 2011, American soldiers killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The man redefined our world and his ideology of terrorism divided (divides) people as nobody else has since perhaps Leninism did in the early 20th century. The manuscript that I was working on was primarily based on the ideology of hatred preached by Laden and his foot soldiers in the Islamic world.

The year began with the Islamic world suddenly seized by an urgent need for a revolution. Led by social media, the youth of Egypt took to streets and demanded democracy; young people from across the Middle East joined in. Briefly, with the ouster of Mubarak in Egypt and the brutal street lynching of Gaddafi, it seemed that after all these years of being under brutal dictatorships the region would see the birth of democracy.

It appeared that perhaps George Bush Jr had been right all along – that invading Iraq had been about ushering democracy in the Middle East. Of course, that was not to be, and aided and abetted by the United States of America (then under Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State) throttled democracy and reinstated a military dictatorship in Egypt, leaving most of the Middle East smouldering.

Also in 2011, the world’s population crossed 7 billion, and the seven billionth baby was born in India, and India won the World Cup, fulfilling Sachin Tendulkar’s dream.

However, this is not the place for a detailed discussion on global sociopolitical and cultural issues. This blog is about Mahrukh, Che, Canada, and me. For all of us, the year was turning out to be immensely important. Che graduated from the middle school and decided to go to the York Memorial Collegiate for high school. He had become an independent-minded young adult who took his own decisions.

Che's graduation from Middle School
In school, he learnt to play the clarinet and was included in the school’s concert choir. It was probably a routine matter, but for us – immigrant parents – it was an amazing achievement and we took pains in ensuring that he was dressed appropriately. Che’s transformation had been the quickest because he went to school and there is nothing better than grassroots education to ensure comprehensive integration.

Read about Che at school here: Losing accent

Mahrukh, who had completed her program in social work from Medix, was courageously working as a volunteer with different settlement agencies across Toronto. She was gaining tremendous experience and was acquiring firsthand knowledge about the intricacies of the settlement process. However, she remained singularly unlucky because while everyone admired her abilities and skills, nobody was willing to offer her a regular job.

I’d continued to work on my manuscript and an extract of my unpublished manuscript was published as a short story in the Indian Voices Vol I published in India by CP Thomas and edited by the formidable Jasmine DaCosta, who had already included another extract from the manuscript in the Canadian Voices Vol II. I was one of the readers at the launch of the collection at Toronto’s Supermarket Bar. I was delighted that MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz were among the audience. The hugely talented Farzana Doctor was the other reader.  This was my moment under the spotlight (literally) and I enjoyed it every bit.

At the launch of Indian Voices Vol I
Jasmine DaCosta introduced us to Mariellen Ward, a travel writer of repute, who did an interview with the group (Jasmine, Farzana and Niranjana Iyer) about new Indo-Canadian writing in Toronto and got it published in the Maple Tree Literary Supplement edited by the versatile Amatoritsero Ede. Read about it here:  Defining Indo-Canadian writing

My association with MG Vassanji had continued even after I completed my program in Creative Writing under his guidance at Humber College and he included me in the core group of the organisers of the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts (FSALA). Along with the other committee members, I was to organize the second edition of the festival. I’d participated in the first edition in 2009 and had gone to the Robert Gill Theatre Koffler Centre at the U of T (St. George) at the reading of Bapsi Sidhwa (Ice Candy Man / Earth); Anosh Irani and Tahira Naqvi also read at the event.

Read here about FSALA 2009

For 2011, the program was perhaps a bit more ambitious with over 30 authors participating, including the iconic Girish Karnad, the Jnanpeeth award-winning playwright of groundbreaking plays such as Tughlak and Naga-Mandala. The festival also acknowledged Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s centenary. Ananya Mukherjee of York University performed an amazing skit in Bengali based on Tagore’s writings. For an academic, it was truly a jaw-dropping performance. I told her she’d have succeeded as an actor, too, had she tried.  

Read about the festival here:

The festival was remarkable in many ways. I had the privilege on meeting two of the best playwrights in India – Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani. Dalbir Singh, at that time a student, interviewed both of them at a scintillating session. With Karnad, I managed to have an exclusive chat as I walked with him back to the hotel. He was more concerned that I’d be cold because I wasn’t wearing any warm clothes.  

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 11

Che and Mahrukh returning from Pune to Bombay
By the time 2011 began, both Mahrukh and I were missing Bombay rather desperately. It’d been three years in Canada, three years away from what we still considered ‘home’, three years that had been unexpectedly harsh, hard and unrelenting. We were happy that we survived, but also tired. We needed a mental rejuvenation. And what better way to get that than to go home on a vacation? In August 2011, we took Swissair and reached Bombay.

Our city had changed, transformed into a giant construction site. The number of skyscrapers under construction was evidently spiralling out of control; the Mumbai Metro had started from Ghatkopar to Versova, but the project would become altogether more ambitious in the next few years. The Bandra Sea Link had been completed and looked every bit the architectural marvel that it was envisaged to be.

We were ecstatic to be back, but not for long. Something had changed inside us. Bombay no longer felt like home. It’d changed, and so had we. Yes, the monsoon was at its peak, but - unexpectedly - the humidity was unbearable. And we were ashamed to admit that because we'd lived in that humidity for all but three years of our lives. 

After a few days of being cloistered at home, working on my manuscript, I ventured out and met some friends. They were all universally welcoming, affectionate and delighted to see me. However, their lives had inexorably moved forward, as had mine (although their lives seemed to have moved faster and far ahead as compared to mine). 

What remained was just a shared past. I wasn’t a part of their present and that changed the relationship into something that was somehow lesser than what it’d been; somewhat incomplete, static; somewhere directionless, uprooted.

Suddenly, my city was no longer my own, my people had become distant. It was then that the irony of my existence became obvious. I guess it's the fate of all immigrants – neither belonging to the city that had become one’s home, nor to the city that had been one’s home. I would never become a Torontonian, and I was no longer a Bombayite.

I was in an in-between world, belonging nowhere, condemned to be an outsider even in my own life. The relationships that one makes when one is young probably last longer because these relationships are not need-based; they are what one wants. As one grows older, and especially in the case of an immigrant like me, who emigrated at an old age, it’s almost impossible to form genuine relationships that one wants; and the only relationships that seem possible are those that are need-based.  

My relationships from the past had turned to fossil and my relationships of the present were transactional, based on mutual needs. No doubt, there have been (and hopefully there will be) exceptions, but perhaps they only prove the rule; or am I being too cynical and morose?

Mahrukh shared this feeling of being uprooted perhaps more acutely because she had (and still has) her family in India. If there is one thing that she has in great abundance it is resilience.  Immigration changes everyone, and everyone manages these changes differently. In Mahrukh’s case, the changes were too drastic and it took a tremendous effort for her to emerge from the trauma of displacement.

Being an outgoing and amiable person, she was able to make friends easily, bond with people not too different from us. However, she worked on transforming herself. The result was not manifest when we went to India in 2011, but within a few months, when 2012 began, Mahrukh joined Home Depot, which changed her so completely that she is no longer the woman she was when she left India.

We returned to Toronto after a month’s stay in Bombay. Somehow it’d felt strange to go home on a vacation, but when we returned, it didn’t feel strange to return to what wasn’t yet home.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A decade in Toronto – 10

Che in Kingston (2010)
I return to my memoirs after a long gap of over a month. The last couple of months have been hectic and difficult. I’ve changed my job and will be working at the Canada India Foundation from Monday, May 28. A former friend and colleague in Bombay had described my penchant for continuous transition rather aptly. He called me dust. “He takes time to settle down.”

In any case, the pressure of a job change and the freelance assignment led to a severe curtailment in the free time I could have at my disposal to do what I ought to do more – write. So, here I’m back blogging.

The year is 2010. Let’s continue from where we left off in the previous post. In November 2010, two years and some months in Canada, we took a three-night tour to Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City and Kingston in a bus. I’ve blogged about the visit earlier and if you’d care to read about it, click here: Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City.

The grand Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal
In Quebec City, while strolling down the market, we met Jean-Philippe Vogel, a pen-and-ink artist who was selling sketches of cityscapes on the street. These were exquisite and detailed. I bought a few and recently gifted to a dear friend and another to a colleague.

We returned to Toronto with a promise that we’d go back to Quebec City and Montreal frequently. But such is the fate of immigrants that the lure of “back home” overrides every other destination. In 2011, we returned to India for the first time after immigrating to Canada, but we’ll talk about that later. 
Sheridan Medal for Academic Excellence

With Nelson and Laura
at the Sheridan Convocation
One of the major highlights of 2010 was my graduation from Sheridan College where unsurprisingly I won the Sheridan Medal for Academic Excellence (silver medal) for coming first in the class. After a couple of decades in journalism, both as a journalist and as a teacher, I guess I knew a bit more than the others on the subject.

It was the first convocation that I attended in my life. I’d skipped the one when I got my university degree nearly three decades ago. It was also the last time I met nearly all of them. And but for a few, I don't really miss their absence. Joyce, Yoko, Teenaz have become friends.

I was working on my manuscript and learnt about the 3-Day Novel festival that is held during the Labor Day weekend. I entered the competition and worked furiously to complete a manuscript in three days. It was terrible in quality but such a great experience that I did that for the next three years. At present, I’ve four novella length stories that I plan to cut down to short story length.

I continued to go to readings by other authors, and participate in literary events. Although 2010 was not the first time I participated in the Word on the Street festival held towards the end of summer, it was definitely the first year when I knew many authors. 

I met Robin Maharaj, whose novel The Amazing, Absorbing Boy I’d recently read. Katherine Govier had her new novel The Ghost Brush published the same year and both Robin and Katherine were reading at the festival. My friend Dawn, whose short story collection was to be published by TSAR later that year, was reading at the Diaspora Dialogues tent.

That year, I also attended the play reading of Habib Tanvir’s classic Charandas Chor. Sally Jones, who ran Rasik Arts in those days, had organised it. Another play that she staged at the Harbourfront Centre was about Tagore as a painter. Tea with Tagore had Ishwar Mooljee enacting the role of Tagore. I blogged about it, too, and should you be interested in reading it, click here: Tea with Tagore.

One of the most pleasant surprises of my life was to meet a college friend Nandita Desai (now Nandita Chawla) at the Harbourfront Centre. In high school, I’d a major crush on her, and everyone (but she) knew about it.  It’s such a strange thing about life. I exchanged polite pleasantries with someone who'd meant so much to me three decades ago. It all works out the way it’s meant to be. I was with my wife and son and she was with her husband and her daughter.  

That year, we also went to the Masala Mehndi Maasti, which turned out to be a washout thanks to torrential rains, but I was happy to hear Janice Goveas read excerpts from her play Dinner with Akbar. And, of course, Meena Chopra invited me to the launch of her collection of poems Glimpses of Setting Sun and an exhibition of paintings. If you’d like to read about the book launch event, click here: Meena Chopra.