& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, January 06, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 21

After taking the oath as Canadian citizens

In 2014, I joined the preparatory classes for the mandatory test that all newcomers have to take to become Canadian citizen. I’d go to Scarborough once a week for three months in the coldest months of winter (January to March) just to prepare myself to answer 20 questions.

Mahrukh didn’t feel the need to join any classes that the Toronto Public library offers to all aspiring citizens. In the final test, she got all 20 right. I got one wrong. So much for my dedication to learn Canadian history.

However, I do think it’s important for all newcomers to familiarize themselves with Canada’s history, especially to understand the seriousness with which its contemporary leaders are willing to accept historical wrongs that were committed and offer public apology for the government’s past decisions and actions.  

I have often wished governments in India would do so, but the only example I can think of is when Dr. Manmohan Singh apologised in the Indian Parliament for the Sikh genocide of 1984.

But I digress. Let’s return to the citizenship test.

Of course, taking the citizenship test doesn’t really help newcomers understand the Canadian ethos better. It’s an effective way to start. Fortunately for me, even before I became a citizen, I’d become a part of Passages to Canada, a portal created by Historica Canada.

Passages Canada volunteers share their personal accounts of cultural identity and heritage online and in person with schools and community groups. I was invited to address students of grade 6 and then invited to two different community centres to talk to newcomers.

The theme of my sessions would be adjusting to the new work environment in Canada and taking in stride jobs that don’t necessarily challenge one’s abilities, expertise, skills and don’t match one’s capabilities.

During my tenure at the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and especially when its offices were at Yonge and Sheppard, I frequented the North York branch of the Toronto Public Library. It was a grand library (I haven’t been there is years now, and it’s been through a major renovation).

Then, in January 2014, I’d to force the then leadership to move to the new office that the Chamber had acquired and we moved our offices to the East Mall on Toronto’s west end.

As luck would have it, the year began with one of the worst ice storms in Toronto’s history. The city and its suburbs were shut down for nearly a week. The storm took a severe toll on the people of Toronto – many of whom had to live in sub-zero temperatures for prolonged periods, without power. But it turned the city into a visual winter paradise. I’d never seen (before or since) such a beautiful envelope of ice over everything, especially trees.

The Chamber originally had an office which became two offices and then three as the operations expanded. With that move, I also lost touch with office workers with whom we shared space. The entire floor formed office suites and the company than rented out these suites had a manager and two assistants.

Leslie, Mary, and Phyllis (replaced by Beatrice) became dear friends for the four years that I was at the location. They organized unarguably the best Christmas parties for their tenants. I shared a great bond with them, and especially with Mary.

I often wonder what is it that makes us closer to someone and not to someone else. In my case, I guess, the only reason is when the person treats me as more than just a coworker. 
With Pawan and Tarun

My colleagues at the Chamber, Tarun and Pawan, were much younger than me but were, like me, newcomers, doing their first job in Canada. Tarun left soon after my services were ended. Pawan continues to serve the Chamber.

Both became fathers in those years. Before them, I’d briefly worked with a young woman, Rakhee, who was also a newcomer.

With my new job at Simmons da Silva, my commuting time became longer by about 30 minutes one way. I was now commuting to Brampton and it was an altogether new experience. Thanks to our decision to have a home on Lawrence Ave, TTC’s route 52 became an integral part of my commute (it is, even now, when I work in Oakville).

I know this blog post reads a bit jumpy and disjointed, but it’s the last post for 2014 and I’m making sure that everything that I missed out in the previous posts is covered here.

My exit from the ICCC marked the end of a phase in my life and the beginning of an important one at Simmons da Silva.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Belief in Marathi

Cover of Belief
Welcome to 2019.

This blog enters its second decade. It’s a bit disconcerting that I’ve continued to write here for a decade and want to continue doing so. 

Except for being married to Mahrukh for 23 years, I haven’t done anything for quite as long.

None of my jobs have lasted for a decade, and have always ended for good reasons. A former colleague compared me to dust, because, as he put it, “I take time to settle down.” 

He was wrong. I’m not like dust. Dust settles eventually. I don’t think I can ever settle down.

So, as I said, it’s a bit unsettling to realise that I’ve been at it on this blog, posting about all things that are of interest to me, over the last decade.

Here are some reasons why started blogging.

  • To let people (potential employers) in Canada know that I could write in English
  • To reacquaint myself with regular writing – something that I’d not done in many years, as I abandoned journalism as a vocation.
Back Cover

  • To create a platform to write about books, authors, and book events. I was quite clear in my mind about taking writing more seriously in Toronto than I’d ever done in Bombay.

Despite years of writing, I cannot claim to be a proficient writer, but despite that rather obvious shortcoming, blogging is a gratifying experience. 

One frees up time from the burdens of the world to engage with one’s thoughts and turn them into words. 

Blogging in Canada led to an opportunity to become a columnist with the Canadian Immigrant (between 2010 to 2014).

I also began writing my first fiction. I struggled with the manuscript for many years and am thankful to the guidance I got from many friends and well-wishers in my journey to become a published novelist.

Belief, my novel, was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House Publishers, the Toronto-based prestigious publishing house that MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz launched nearly four decades ago to create a platform for Canadian multicultural writing.

My friend Kumar Ketkar (who is now a Member of the Indian Parliament's Upper House) and Sharada Sathe were in the USA when the book was published. Kumar insisted that I send him a copy immediately. To my pleasant surprise, Sharada decided to translate Belief into Marathi.

Sharada (second from left) when Kumar and Sharada were in Toronto in 2015.
This photograph is of a get together of friends in their honour
Although diminutive in appearance, Sharada Sathe is a formidable woman. She is one of the founding members of the Stree Mukti Sanghatana and continues to serve as the organisation’s secretary.

Over the last decade or so, Sharada has begun to translate works from English into Marathi. Her translations include works by such eminent personalities as Amartya Sen, Somnath Chatterjee, Mohit Sen, Sam Pitroda. Her most recent translations include Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi and Makers of Modern India.

Sharada completed the translation of Belief in a record time and the book was to be published in 2017 by Manovikas Prakashan in Pune. But, there was some hitch and the publishing was delayed. I'd given up hope of the book actually being published anytime soon.

And then suddenly last week, as 2018 was coming to a close, I got an email from Kumar and Sharada informing me that the book is ready and will be hitting bookstores in January 2019.

Having lived for 46 years in Bombay, Marathi is an integral part of my life. I cannot write in the language, but I read it and speak it with some degree of fluency. It is, indeed, my honour and a privilege that such an eminent personality as Sharada Sathe has translated my novel into Marathi. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Bollywood The Films! The Songs! The Stars!

Probably for the first time in a decade, all the three of us have been at home during the yearend holidays (normally, both Mahrukh and I work).

And being generally unmoneyed (not in any desperate sort of way, but, well, sort of only generally), we don’t really have any option but to stay at home or loiter in downtown Toronto, go see a Hindi movie or take a long ride on a streetcar.

For the first time in a long while, I’ve been able to chat with my son Che, who’s now all grown up, and talks like a young man that he has become.

The conversation is fairly broad-ranging and encompasses esoteric topics such as life’s purpose, meaning of and need for power, and the need for human company.

But given that his parents passionately love the movies, the conversation inevitably veers to movies. His passion is gaming and movies no longer interest him, which is kind of not right, but it can’t be helped.

During the Christmas weekend, we went to see Shahrukh Khan’s Zero at the Cineplex at Yonge and Dundas Square. There weren’t many people in the audience (slightly more than the number that came to see Thugs of Hindustan).

The audience in Toronto is wise and unerringly decides what movie to watch on the android box and what to watch on the big screen. As always, there were a few non-Indian (I mean Caucasian) viewers in the audience. I find it heartening to see them so avidly coming to see a Hindi movie.

Zero is a disaster. Katrina Kaif will get the best supporting actor award for her role as movie star Babita.

After the movie, we were in a mood to loiter and went across to the BMV Books at Yonge Street, “just to browse” and ended up buying a few books “because they were on a discount.”
Among the books Bollywood, a coffee table book that is sweeping introduction to (mainly popular) Hindi films right from its inception (Phalke) right up to the mid-2010s (just before the release of Bahubali and its sequel).

Bollywood The Films! The Songs! The Stars! Dorling Kindersley Limited an imprint of Penguin Random House is the first American edition, published in 2017 in New York. 

Fittingly, the foreword is by Amitabh Bachan, who accurately condemns (albeit mildly) the use of the word Bollywood (making the Hindi film industry sound like a cheap immitation of Hollywood, which it isn’t).

He quotes his father, the poet Harivanshrai Bachchan, who, when asked about Hindi cinema, said, “I get to see poetic justice in three hours! You and me shall not see this in a lifetime…perhaps several lifetimes!”

The book is a joint effort and there are many contributors including the veteran film historian SMM Ausaja. The book divides the history of Hindi cinema into seven sections beginning with 1913. It’s richly-produced, with extraordinary details, vignettes, anecdotes, factioids, biographies of film personalities and detailed descriptions of some of the most important films and film stars of Hindi cinema. 

The book is a steal at just $20.

Continued in the post below.

10 most popular Hindi films

Continued from the post above

Rajesh Khanna
Some of my friends know that I’m an unapologetic fan of popular Hindi cinema, and I’ve reproduced interesting vignettes of nine most popular films of all times – roughly one films for each decade, beginning from the 1930s. 

They are 
  • Achhut Kannya (1936) 
  • Kismet (1943) 
  • Mother India (1957) 
  • Mughal-e-Azam (1960) 
  • Aradhana (1969) 
  • Sholay (1975) 
  • Mr. India (1987) 
  • Dilwale Dulhania le Kayenge (1995) 
  • Lagaan (2001) 

The book was produced before the release of Bahubali, but any list of popular Hindi films would automatically include at least the first part of Bahubali.

Achhut Kanya“questions the caste system through the doomed love story of Pratap, an upper-caste Brahman boy, and Kasturi, an untouchable, low-caste girl. Among the luminaries who saw the film were poet and politician Sarojini Naidu and the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, who came to Bombay specifically for a screening of the film at the Roxy cinema.”

Kismet “was released at a time when the country’s freedom movement was in full swing, with the Quit India Movement of 1942 still fresh in the public mind. While the film’s main plot has nothing to do with India’s fight for independence, it nevertheless reflects nationalist sentiments through its music. In a stage show, Rani (Mumtaz Shanti) performs a song with the refrain “Door Hato Aye Duniya Walon Hindustan Hamara Hai”. Normally, the British would have never allowed such words. However, lyricist Pradeep, who had to go into hiding to avoid being arrested, cleverly added references to Japan and Germany, Britain’s adversaries in World War II, as enemies of the nation, and so the Censor Board had no choice but to permit its inclusion.”

Mother India “No discussion of Mother India is complete without reference to Nargis’s highly charged performance. Not only is it one of the finest seen in Indian cinema, it also earned Nargis the distinction of being the first Indian actress to win laurels abroad for her performance. In 1958, she was declared Best Actress at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) and the renowned English-language periodical – FilmIndia exclaimed, “Nargis lives the role better than Radha could have lived it.”

Mughal-e-Azam “The film proved to be a happy ending for all involved except Madhubala. During the film’s shooting her congenital heart disease became worse by her having to drag heavy chains around – Asif had procured real iron chains to make the scenes more authentic. Yet she bore it all bravely, giving the performance of a lifetime as the doomed courtesan. However, the biggest tragedy was her parting ways with Dilip Kumar. The two completed Mughal-e-Azam under a lot of strain, not even speaking to each other during the shoot. However, none of this is visible on-screen and their love scenes are some of the most sensual and passionate to have ever been film in Indian cinema.”

Aradhana “is inextricable from the actor-playback singer phenomenon of Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar, of which songs such as “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani” and “Roop Tera Mastana” were the stepping stones. Khanna maintained, “Kishore was my soul and I his body.” Although Kishore had been in the business for almost 20 years, he hadn’t come close to displacing top playback singer Mohammed Rafi. But with Aradhana, his journey to the top gained momentum. The soundtrack of the film captured key moments and beautiful sentiments in melody. The film’s music composer S. D. Burman was ill during the making of the movie. It is said that his son RD Burman, who also went on to become a famous music composer, may have stepped in to help his father.

Sholay “The gold standard for Bollywood films, Sholay was not only successful at the time, but enjoys unprecedented longevity. The film’s iconic characters, heartwarming songs, and dramatic storyline captivated audiences of all ages. Even the dialogues in the move proved to be so famous that the producers released a record containing only the lines from the film – a first for any Bollywood movie. Such was Sholay’s popularity, that it ran at Bombay’s Minerva Theatre, which had a capacity of some 1,500 people, for five straight years, from 1975 to 1980. In fact, the terminus near the theatre was called the “Sholay bus stop.”

Mr. India “…it is the villain Mogambo who has become the film’s most iconic character. Dialogues for Mogambo were still being written when much of the shooting was completed because Akhtar was still working out the details to his satisfaction. The famous dialogue “Mogambo khush hua” became a national catchphrase, but not without a tussle. When director Shekhar Kapur felt the line was being repeated too often and suggested editing out several instances, Akhtar convinced him to keep them, saying, “Even when Kapil Dev hits a six, people will say, “Mogambo khush hua.”

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge “has now become a part of Hindi cinema lore because of its memorable scenes, hit songs, clever script, and stylish costumes... Along with Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, DDLJ shaped the language of mainstream Hindi cinema through 1990s, especially when it came to romance and family. The film’s influence can be seen in many later films, which have tried in vain to recapture its magic. Most importantly, DDLJ opened up a huge, viable overseas market for Bollywood films among the Indian diaspora the world over. In India, it had a historic run at the box office and the film continues to be screened for well over 1,000 weeks at the Maratha Mandir cinema in Bombay.”

Lagaan “All (the) effort eventually produced a film that was a great success. Winning eight National Film Awards and nine Filmfare Awards in India, Lagaan also struck gold internationally. Despite the film’s running time of almost four hours – overly long by Hollywood standards – audiences were not deterred. People were reportedly lining up around the block for tickets in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Meanwhile, the movie reviewers in the UK and US were united in its praise, heralding Lagaan as the first crossover Bollywood. It broke ground around the world, making its way onto the UK’s list of top ten films of the year. It also became the first Indian movie to secure a nationwide release in China and enjoyed an unprecedented nine weeks of screening in Paris. Lagaan was also nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.”

Bahubali is not a part of this book, and it isn’t a Hindi film (it’s dubbed from original Telugu into Hindi and other languages), but it has become a pan-India (even global) monster success.

I'd also add Dewaar to this list because, in my very humble, opinion, it is Amitabh Bachchan's best film of all times.