& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, March 06, 2009

Toronto – an experiment gone grand

Lillian Allen’s conclusion of her poem on Toronto –

We are Toronto,
an experiment
gone grand

– captured the true essence of the city that’s becoming my own.

Allen’s poem launched the literary component – A City of Writers for 175 Years – of Toronto’sdemisemiseptcentennial * celebrations.  

This was the first literary event I attended in Toronto. Mahrukh was with me; that was a first, too.

The event was almost what I expected it to be – subdued; and had it not been for the cracker of a poet – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha – it would have been a good literary event. Leah Lakshmi turned it into an exceptional one.

Allen’s poem was geographical, lyrical. To her the city is diverse, alive, inverse; a city in heat with a three-million sided heart. Leah Lakshmi’s poems were demographical, pithy, violent, in-your-face and shorn of all niceties. They made you laugh – uncomfortably because they seared your soul. 

Leah’s poems were more appealing to me because they described my own situation. She used a term – tired brown smile – that, I think, sums up the totality of existence of all the visibility minorities in this city that is supposed to be the multicultural melting pot, but is so only in belief.

Glen Downie read from his award-winning book of poems
Loyalty Management. The poem that he read was about cows.

Let there be cows
beneath the 
CN Tower

Downie explained that the image of cows roaming at will in Toronto would be completely antithetical to the orderly and disciplined regimen of downtown Toronto. Downie’s purpose is to disturb the entrenched mores of social tolerance. Cows roaming around would – if nothing else – unsettle urban life so comprehensively as to make it unrecognizable. 

Having arrived from Mumbai less than a year ago, I’m not quite sure I understand or agree with the imagery. Cows roam the streets of Mumbai at will. Yet, downtown Mumbai is as soulless as downtown Toronto, and people as mechanical and false as anywhere else.

Robert Rotenberg read the first, tightly-written chapter from his just-published book – Old City Hall for the final session of the event. Again, the scenario he depicted – of the 74-year-old immigrant from India, delivering newspapers at a condominium, being greeted by the night shift concierge and then having a daily conversation with one of the residents of the condo – is straight out of my life.

Also, I'd imagine, out of the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Cynthia Good, director of the Creative Book Publishing program at Humber College in Toronto hosted the event. Diaspora Dialogues was associated with the event. 

Not surprisingly, the audience comprised almost exclusively Caucasian Canadians. There were just three others.

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