& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Citizens of nowhere by Debi Goodwin

Guest post: 
Subhadeep Chakrabarti
(book review)

Canada is a nation of immigrants with a million different stories of loss and arrival, acculturation and adjustments. 

In her new book Citizens of Nowhere, former CBC journalist Debi Goodwin introduces us to an amazing group of young people who faced immense odds before starting their new lives in Canada. 

This is the story of African refugee youth who have been offered one of a few coveted positions in Canadian universities under the student refugee program called the SRP (together with permanent residence in Canada) that would be their only chance of escaping a life time of statelessness in UNHCR camps. 

Ms Goodwin follows 11 bright young people – eight men and three women, as they move from their wretched refugee camp to hopeful futures on Canadian campuses, leaving behind everything they had known in their short lives.

The story begins in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world in the late summer of 2008. Dadaab is home to over a quarter million refugees, the vast majority of them Somalis fleeing a two decade long civil war. 10 of the 11 youths we meet in the book are Somalis, each born in the relative stability of late 1980s Somalia, who grew up knowing nothing but war and life in the refugee camps. 

The camp also houses a small number of political refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea, including the 11th member of this group, an Oromo schoolteacher sent into exile for his political beliefs. 

Debi Goodwin meets these people for the first time when they have just learnt about their selection into the highly competitive program. As they discover more about their Canadian destinations and prepare for the long journey, these bright young people also face the certainty of leaving their old lives behind, possibly never to return. 

In the camps they had been among the best and brightest, working in UN sponsored projects as teachers, mediators and social workers; quite often they had been the only breadwinners. As the day of departure comes, most are emotional to leave behind their families (at least whatever is left of them-several are orphaned) and the only home they have known for much of their lives.

Goodwin travels with her subjects to Toronto, where the close-knit group is split up as they move on to different campuses across the breadth of the country. She notes the sense of wonder and bewilderment that faces these tough but smart people in their first few weeks as they navigate the initial settlement procedures and grapple with the pressures of student life. 

Most also feel pangs of homesickness yet reach out to other students in building friendships across the cultural divide. We meet some amazing helpful people in the campuses, students and staff alike, who try to do their best in helping these newcomers adjust to Canadian student life. 

Anyone who has been an immigrant or an international student would appreciate the challenges and tribulations faced by these brave young people in their first few weeks in the new world.

Over the next year, Goodwin follows up on the students as they settle down into their Canadian lives, do well in school, learn to cook, get jobs, send money to their families and get accustomed to their new lives. Some grapple with their religious traditions and identity, while others immerse themselves headfirst in the Canadian way of life. 

The stories that come out are those of a group of smart and resilient people who are determined to make the most out of the only chance at a decent normal life. 

By the end of the year, as they prepare to take on loans and jobs in order to be self-sufficient (student refugee program only provides full support for the first year in Canada), we find the youths at a far more confident state, assured of their own place in Canada.

As a former international student myself, I find the stories of these refugee youth extremely moving and inspiring. Kudos to Ms Goodwin for her awesome narrative and special thanks to the young men and women who agreed to share their lives with the world.

The student refugee program: http://www.wusc.ca/en/campus/students/SRP

Calcutta-born Dr Subhadeep Chakrabarti lives in Edmonton. He was a PhD student in the University of Calgary between 2002 and 2006.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

At readings

Attending readings is a good way to stay in touch new writing and new writers. It’s also a good way to stay in touch with friends and make new ones. Recently, I met Pratap Reddy at a reading. He told me he has published a short story on Maple Tree Literary Supplement. Read the story here. Ramki and the New Christmas Tree

A week or so later, at the Small Press of Toronto readings, I met Jasmine D’Costa, Fraser Sutherland, Gemma Meharchand and Ava Homa. Jasmine had new material to read, Fraser read poems from his acclaimed new collection and Ava read the Glass Slippers, the best story in her exquisite collection Echoes of Other Land. What I like about the story is Ava’s non-judgemental narration and a brilliant eye for detail.

Later this month, I’ll brave the cold and Sunday lethargy when I attend Michael Frazer ‘s Plasticine Poetry Series because this edition features Dawn Promislow. Dawn will read from her collection Jewels and other stories.

I attend these book readings and book events to achieve twin objectives – to get new material to write my blog and to be inspired by new writers who have successfully achieved what I’m aiming to achieve – to become a published author.

Writer’s block

Writing requires more discipline than any activity, especially for an unpublished writer who is learning the craft. For such a writer, having a writer’s block is natural and continuous. By the time the new writer has done half-decent work, it’s quite likely that s/he is a crazed lunatic seeking peace and solace.

The only way I know how to deal with the writer’s block is to write and then rewrite and then rewrite again and then to delete and restart.

The December instalment of the Brockton Writers Series dealt with the issue of writer’s block. Writers from Canadian Voices I & II read from their work and discussed their remedies when experiencing the writer’s block. Farzana Doctor, who curates the series, has written about it on her blog. Read it here: Blogwala

Different writers have different approaches to remedy the writers’ block. About her own experience, Farzana says, “When I first started writing, I snuck an hour here, thirty minutes there. It was a hobby begging time from the rest of my life. Over the years, it has expanded so that it now gets more space than everything else. Perhaps because I took so long to get here, there just isn’t any time to be blocked.”

Saturday, December 04, 2010

GAB is 2

Generally About Books celebrates its second anniversary this month.  What began as an experiment that I didn't think would last long, has. It has become a part of my routine. I feel guilty if I don’t write every week. Although writing every week is becoming increasingly difficult since I began working at the Chamber last October. I don't have the luxury of time to read and write as freely and frequently as I did before and the only reason I’ve managed to have regularly updates is because I have a rather hectic social life attending book launches.

Of the many books that I read this year, two will stay with me - Katherine Govier’s The Ghost Brush and Dawn Promislow’s Jewel and Other Stories
I read unpublished manuscripts of my friends Yoko Morgenstern’s novel and Joyce Wayne’s novel (only the first 70 pages). I’m confident that when published, both will be well received. 

My own attempt at writing my novel is progressing steadily but slowly. 
Two chapters of the novel have been published in two different collections – TOK 5, Canadian Voices Volume 2. Early next year, Indian Voices 1 will publish the third chapter. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nelson Mandela: Conversations with myself

Everybody remembers that day when Nelson Mandela walked to freedom more than two decades ago.

This evening, the Toronto Reference Library brought together eminent Torontonians whose lives were touched by Nelson Mandela at a reading from Mandela’s latest book Conversations with Myself.

Suhana Meharchand, Andrew Moodie, Brian Stewart, Molly Johnson and MG Vassanji read select passages from the book and also narrated personal anecdotes.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to be born when Mahatma Gandhi was practicing non-violent non-cooperation.

And for a brief moment today, I realised that I’m indeed quite fortunate to be living when Nelson Mandela continues to shape our collectively consciousness about what is acceptable and what isn’t. 

Bleeding Light

Sheniz Janmohamed
Earlier this month I attended the annual book launch of TSAR. This year, I knew a few more people than last year. This was my second year and as last year, I was again in the midst of innumerable writers.

My friend Dawn Promislow read from her collection Jewels and Other Stories, Ava Homa read a passage from Glass Slippers, probably the best story in her collection Echoes from the Other Land, Sheniz Janmohamed read from her book of ghazals and H Nigel Thomas read an extract from his novel Lives: Whole and Otherwise.

This blog is about Sheniz Janmohamed’s book of ghazals Bleeding Light.

The ghazal is a unique concept in poetry where the singer is as important as (or perhaps more important than) the poet. This amazing confluence of words and music makes ghazals not merely a pleasant experience, but a transcendental, even spiritual one.

Two of the best contemporary ghazal singers are Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali and the best ghazals they have sung are:

Jagjit Singh: Tum ko dekh to (poet: Javed Akhtar)

Ghulam Ali: Hangama hai (poet: Akbar Allahabadi).

I had never read ghazals in English before and quite frankly, it took some getting used to and re-readings before I began to enjoy Sheniz’s ghazals
All the ghazals are refreshing and make you see the world differently. Once the light touches your soul, you can’t remain unmoved.

Here’s one that I liked the most because it evokes so many images.

In Crimson

A man sells packets of socks in a gully where most men walk barefoot.
What can he do but rest his head on that ledge, hastily painted crimson?

In Old Town, Allah hu Akbar pounds the walls of crumbling Fort Jesus.

A taxi cuts us off, Allah is Great plastered on his window – in crimson.

At the Coast, we bargain shillings for bags and kisii stone elephants.

Indians are not good customers. The seller brands our skin crimson.

Bombs detonate at the steps of every mosque, in the throat of every believer.

If Allah is a war cry, how can we lift Bismillah from asphalt stained crimson.

If only we planted a thousand trees for each page we discard and crumple.
When her last pen snaps, Israh will draw blood and scrawl words in crimson.

Israh is Sheniz’s takhallus


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jawaharlal Nehru

Rajiv, Jawaharlal & Indira

Jawaharlal Nehru divides Indians. 

Many Indians believe that India is on a path of enlightened progress because it has stayed steadfast in adhering to Nehru’s political ideals.

On the other hand, an equal number believe that he is responsible for all that is wrong with India – right from the gangrenous Kashmir problem to the long years of fettered economic  growth.

Those who would prefer India to be a Hindu theocracy hold him responsible for being the founder of pseudo secularism – Muslim appeasement in the name of secularism.

Most political ideas and ideologies don’t last beyond half-a-century, and Nehru’s haven’t either. His economic vision was largely statist and a product of his times. It couldn’t have envisaged the steady trot of the Indian economy since 1991 enabled by economic liberalisation.

Yet, Nehru understood India’s place in the comity of nations better than his contemporaries did. His emphasis on economic self-reliance, science and technology, higher education, and a unique interpretation of secularism where the state treated all religions equally, has given India the social capital that will enable it to grow into a major power in the near future.

prolific writer himself, Nehru remains a subject of innumerable biographies. One of the best is MJ Akbar’s Nehru The Making of India. When the world is beginning to recognise India’s inherent strengths and its inevitable rise, an honest, non-partisan assessment of India’s first prime minister is necessary. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City

Mayank waiting to cross the road in Quebec City
A tour guide is a combination of a schoolteacher and an actor – she has to inform, educate and entertain.

Derek Lei Xu was all this and some more. 

The three-day round trip to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City (and a drive through a 1000 Islands and Kingston) would have been exciting even without him. 
However, his constant presence, guidance and direction helped us understand and enjoy our first weekend break since we immigrated to Canada in July 2008. 

Derek spoke in English, Mandarin and Cantonese because
Tai Pan’s (the tour operator) bus comprised 80 percent Chinese and the rest a mix of new immigrants from Brazil, Palestine, Iran, India, Japan, Barbados. Their relatively new status in Canada and their economic tenuousness uniting them as they hopped skipped and jumped from Toronto to the three cities. 

My impressions: Ottawa – an overgrown town; Montreal – a city of the past; Quebec City – a picture book village. 

’s main attraction is the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. I recommend a visit to this museum to all newcomers to Canada. This is the first authentic depiction of Canadian history that I saw, and it serves as a glorious introduction to Canada’s rich past – from the natives to the first European settlers. 

After a walk through, I felt that perhaps the museum could do with a section on the history of new Canadians of non-European origins. 

If you have seen (Capitol Hill) Washington DC and (Parliament building) New Delhi, you will not find Ottawa’s
Parliament Hill particularly impressive. But it is probably in keeping with the Canadian ethos – low key, understated, unostentatious, but no less vibrant and effective. 

And, by the way, I discovered that the Ottawa is a bit like Chandigarh – a city shared by two provinces (Punjab and Haryana, Ontario and Quebec). The Quebec side is
Gatineau and all the road signs turn to French.  We walked up to the memorial for the Unknown Soldier and took some photographs and then picked up a booklet on Parliamentary democracy in Canada from the information office opposite the Parliament Hill. 

By late evening we were outside
Montreal (Mount Royal), an island city which hosted Canada’s only Summer Olympics in 1976 – gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s Olympics. 

It was the first Olympics on Indian TV, with daily highlights brought every night into the living rooms of the more privileged Indians. I saw it at my friend Mukesh Mistry’s house at
Sakina Mansion; and all of us were awestruck by Nadia – a girl just about as old as most of us, capturing the hearts and minds of the world with her perfect 10s. 

A brief visit to Montreal gives an impression that it sort of stopped growing in the 1970s. The imposing and obtrusive physical infrastructure, including the behemoth of a viaduct that runs through the city, belongs to the past.  

The Olympics site is stark though impressive.  Montreal is the second largest Francophile metropolitan area in the world after Paris, and has a pulsating cultural life; we’ll need another, more leisurely visit to the city to get better acquainted with that side of the city. 

The night is at Holiday Inn in downtown. 
Nice place for the money we paid. 

Next morning, we’re off to
Quebec City. Nothing prepares you for the quaint charm of this first urban settlement in Canada. The petite old town is straight out of children’s story book – the small houses, the narrow lanes with horse-drawn buggies, the wooden stairs, artists hawking their pen and ink drawings on street corners –all belong to the less hurried times of the past. 

Yes, time stands still in the old Quebec City and they should pass a law (if they haven’t already) not to change that. 
You realise you’re in a tourist place when the cafĂ© charges $2.75 for an espresso, and young lad behind the counter gives it to you concoction made in Jura coffee machine in a paper cup whose size is smaller than the glass that holds a tequila shot.  

To compensate for this outrageous rip off, we met with the pleasant
Jean Philippe Vogel, an artist who draws pen and ink sketches of street monuments of the old city and sells them to tourist at a reasonable price (6 for $10). And while you buy his prints, he explains a bit of the city’s geographical history. 

The night is at Delta. No free internet in the room. 

With the sun out of the clouds, the return journey next morning turns out to be pretty enjoyable; we returned to Toronto late in the evening, after an all-too-brief stopover in Kingston.

See more photographs of the visit on my flickr page, click here:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Echoes from the Other Land

Recently, I attended the launch of Ava Homa’s collection of stories Echoes from the Other Land. Ava is an immigrant to Canada and her collection of stories set post-Islamic revolution Iran are at once deeply personal and political.

has published the book.

Echoes from the Other Land
’s launch was at Beit Zatoun, a meeting place with a Palestine heart and a global soul. It was my second visit to this fascinating place, with a pronouncedly political milieu.

Homa read an excerpt from a story in her collection – A River of Milk and Honey.

It’s a story of Sharmin, a teenager with Down’s syndrome (although this is never explicitly stated) and her muted pain of growing up into a lonely woman without any hope of getting Azad, the boy she silently loves.
Launch event; Ava (author) in blue jacket

Sharmin is homebound and fantasises about a perfect world where she is without a blemish and emerges from a river of milk and honey.

“I close my eyes. It’s not hard to imagine myself emerging from the River of Milk and Honey, luminous wings open. Azad passes by and stares. Gathering my wings behind me, I walk elegantly in a white dress towards a garden of red roses, pretending not to see him. A breeze blows through my hair. When I get to the garden, I turn and beckon to him; he has a look of adoration in his eyes. He runs to me. We walk together through the garden, hand in hand.”

Azad loves Kazhal, Sharimn’s beautiful neighbour, who everyone desires – from teenagers like Azad, to grown men such as neighbour Shilan’s father.

Kazhal has “Rhythmical step, appealing makeup, large breasts, flat belly, big lips.” She’s everything that Sharmin wants to be but isn’t and can’t be. Sharmin’s aunt tells her that beauty is misery, but she’s unconvinced.

When Kazhal tells her that she has no friends with whom she can converse, Sharmin realises that a beautiful young woman can be as lonely as one with Down’s syndrome. They become friends. Later Kazhal gets married to someone who claims to be rich, but before the marriage is consummated, her family discovers that he isn't.

“Kazhal does not know what to do. She tells me that she actually hates him, and hates her mother for making all the decisions on her behalf and then blaming her. Sometimes she even hates herself for being so wretched and sometimes she hates all women for being such miserable creatures. I hold her hands in mine.”

Images: http://ava-homa.blogspot.com/

Monday, October 11, 2010

Brockton Writers Series

Brocktown Writers Series image

Farzana Doctor is a writer. Her Stealing Nasreen is a book I intend to read before the end of 2010. 

At the launch of Canadian Voices II she invited me to the first anniversary celebrations of Brockton Writers Series

Fraser Sutherland's book 
It was at St. Anne's Anglican church on Gladstone Ave. I went because Fraser Sutherland was to read his latest poems from his highly acclaimed book The Philosophy of As If...

The venue for the event – St. Annes Anglican church – is an absolute marvel. 

Fraser told me that among the artists who painted the murals on the church’s walls include artists from the famous Group of Seven. Reading about the architecture of the church on its website revealed its fascinating story. 
Vivek Sharya's book

This is serendipity, and I must thank Farzana for it.

St. Anne's Anglican Church
I must also thank her for introducing me to the work of Vivek Sharya, a young writer who has written a book of short stories – God Loves Hair. The stories are about growing up in a world where his sexual orientation is an issue that seemingly acquires a larger dimension than his being.

He cast a spell with his reading and singing. His reading was especially memorable because it was accompanied by a slideshow presentation of illustrations of his stories. The stories carry original illustrations by Juliana Neufeld.  

Fraser Sutherland is a friend, mentor, editor, and a lot more. He wears his fame lightly and is embarrassingly modest for someone who is quite simply brilliant. 

He read from his book The Philosophy of As If... A poem in the collection is called Replies To a Little Girl in the Back Seat of a Car That Draws Up Beside Me at a Bus Stop on Chilly Night in March Whose Smiling Mother Calls Out ‘She Thinks You're Santa Claus'. 

Other writers and poets who read included Catherine Paquette, Michael Erickson, Hema Vyas. 

Images from Internet

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jewels & other stories

A few months after I started this blog, I discovered that it’s easier to write about book launches than to write about books.

To write about books, you've got to read them. Reading requires time and patience. I don’t have either.

Moreover, writing about the books is fraught with awkward situations, especially when you know the writers.

Attending book launches and writing about them is  easier. Of course, I realise that nobody’s fooled into believing that I read all the books I write about.

The launch of Dawn Promislow’s Jewels & Other Stories was just about the most sensational book launches I’ve attended in a long time. 

Type Books at Queen Street W, the venue for the event, was packed. 
Dawn explained why she wrote these stories, read a passage from her book and answered a few questions.

To read Dawn’s interview on Open Book Toronto click here: Dawn's Interview.

I hope everyone who was there bought a copy of the book. 

For those who couldn’t attend or couldn’t buy, here’s your chance to do so. Click on this link: Jewels & Other Stories. 

Monday, September 27, 2010


I spent most of Sunday at the Word on the Street (WOTS). 

This is an authentic books event that lives up to, and even surpasses all the hype that surrounds it.

Mid-morning is a good time to be there because towards afternoon, it turns into a mela (fair).

I attended Katherine Govier’s reading.

Few writers can read as well as they write. Katherine is a rare exception. She read a passage from her latest novel The Ghost Brush.

Here’s an excerpt from the passage she read:

“I watched a long time. He drew many characters with his body. He stopped and started as if moving to music. He strove to remain erect. He strove to stay above the waves. His body used every muscle to articulate itself. It came to me that he was drawing his path. Perhaps it was his message to me...

...I will remember this forever, I thought. I had no idea what forever would be. I did not know what my life would be, but standing there behind my father as he danced with the waves, I knew that I would always watch him tumble, would always think the ground underneath me tumbled just as the waves did. I would never trust that solid ground. I would face the tumult, scanning for the shadow man I loved. I was his child but he was mine too.

We grew up early in my time. We learned about sex and the women who sold themselves in the Yoshiwara.

We were with the men in the studio when they painted the erotic prints. All those pictures of couples grappling, of women forced down to the mat – as if we didn’t hear it at night too, in our houses.

We knew about the hardness of life. I took charge of the money when my father couldn’t or wouldn't. I heard my mother saying the words that would make him stop loving her. But that wasn’t the moment that turned me from a child to an adult. It was that day, in the waves. Me hollering after him like a mother.”

Exquisite and lyrical – not just the written prose, but also the way Katherine read it. 

Images: Katherine Govier: http://www.govier.com/

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Charandas Chor

In February I had attended Tea with Tagore, staged by Rasik Arts – a remarkable show that fused different media with theater. 

Last week, I attended a staged reading of Charandas Chor organised by the same institution.

Rasik Arts is a decade-old institution that is promoting South Asian theatre in Toronto.  

Sally Jones abridged Anjum Katyal's English translation of Habib Tanvir's original Hindi play, and directed it. 

The play is a masterpiece, but to successfully retain its dark satire in English is an extraordinary feat. 

The sheer originality of the idea and the easy confidence with which the entire cast carried off the performance was deeply satisfying.

As this was a staged reading, there was an air of informality to the evening, with some members of the audience roped in to read bit parts.

It worked – everyone had a great time. 

Images: Sally Jones: http://www.torontoartsfoundation.org/TAF-Awards/2009-Sally-Jones

Saturday, September 25, 2010


People will change: Earlier this month, I attended a breakfast meeting organised by Business Without Borders where Jeff Rubin was the keynote speaker.

Rubin’s Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller is an authoritative treatise on how the skyrocketing fuel costs will grind to halt the furious pace of globalisation.

Rubin has linked the continuing recession in North America to the high oil prices. Read about the event at the Business without Borders website

Beneath the hardboiled economist, Rubin is a dreamer, philosopher. The message that I took away from the lecture was that people will soon be forced to seriously look at sustainable lifestyles and reduce their dependence on carbon-based energy sources.

“We’ll change, our economic behaviour will change. A small world will be more liveable and sustainable.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Canadian Voices Volume II

Canadian Voices 2 Launching at Supermarket Art Bar from Imelda O. Suzara on Vimeo.

BookLand Press organised the launch of Canadian Voices Volume 2 at the Supermarket Art Bar on September 20. 

It was without any doubt the most rocking book launch events I have attended in Toronto in the last couple of years that I’ve been here. 

There were writers everywhere – Fraser Sutherland, Katherine Govier, Dawn Promislow, Farzana Doctor, Mariellen Ward and Kevin Lobo, among many others.

Writers and poets whose works are in the volume were there in good numbers, too. As Zohra Zoberi wrote about the event, “people were spilling out on the streets.”

Robert Morgan and Jasmine D’Costa had put together a rocking event.

..whoever said writers are boring?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chasing a Mirage - The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State-I

It’s taken me quite a while to finish reading Tarek Fatah’s book Chasing a Mirage, The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State. It’s a controversial book. I’d even say that it’s an incendiary book; but equally it’s refreshing, bold, frank and incisive.

Post 9/11, as the world has tried to understand the phenomenon of radical Islam, and the fanaticism and intolerance of its votaries.

M. J. Akbar’s Shades of Sword: Jihad and the conflict between Islam & Christianity and Tariq Ali’s Clash of Fundamentalism (both published in 2002) deal with these issues and give an expansive and inclusive interpretation of Islam.

Tarek Fatah’s book belongs to the same genre and gives a valuable insight into a religion that is usually misrepresented. Fatah’s book, while giving a plethora of arguments that prove that the pursuit of an Islamic state is chimerical, also underlines the innate appeal of the religion to its adherents.

My knowledge of Islamic history and theology is non-existent and it would be improper for me to comment on the efficacy of the arguments that Fatah makes in his book. 

I found them convincing; there are many who will find his arguments provocative.

We can’t be dismissive of such scholarship. 

A debate I’d like to see in Toronto is between Sheema Khan (Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman) and Tarek Fatah. While I’ve no doubt that such a debate would be polite and civil, it would still bristle with cutting edge erudition and sharp arguments.

It is necessary to have such debates.

The next blog entry (see below) is an excerpt from the book. I must hasten to add that like most secular Hindus, I felt personally wounded when the Babri Masjid was brought down by Hindu fanatics in 1992. 

Chasing a Mirage – The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State - II

Excerpts from Tarek Fatah's book:

The Saudi’s can do anything they wish and yet face no scrutiny. Take, for example, the case of the Prophet’s 1,400-year-old home in Mecca. The Saudi plan to demolish it. What makes this planned demolition worse is the fact that the home of the Prophet is to make way for a parking lot, two fifty-storey hotel towers and seven thirty-five storey apartment blocks – a project known as the Jabal Omar Scheme – all within a stone’s throw of the Grand Mosque. Had the site been destroyed by non-Muslims or some occupying Western army, the entire Muslim world would have seethed with outrage. But the news of the demolition was met with a defeaning silence. By November 2007, not a single Muslim country, no ayatollah, no mufti, no king, not even an American or Canadian imam had dared utter a word in protest. Such is the power of Saudi influence on the Muslim narrative.

Compare this to events in December 1992, when a mob of 150,000 Hindu nationalists attacked a 16th
-century mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya. Within hours the mosque was reduced to a rubble, and in the weeks to follow, thousands of Indians died in Hindu-Muslim riots. The Muslim world reacted with outrage. Among the countries that expressed anger at the destruction of the centuries-old Indian mosque by Hindu extremists was Saudi Arabia. In United States and Canada, imams gave fiery sermons and urged congregations to protest. Although more than a dozen years have passed since the destruction of the mosque, there is still bitterness in the air. Muslims worldwide feel a sense of betrayal and impotence at not being able to control their own destiny and protect their historical religious sites.

The question is this: Why is it that when the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was demolished, hundreds of thousands of Muslims worldwide took to the streets to protest, but when Saudi authorities plan to demolish the home of our beloved Prophet, not a whisper is heard?

...Daniel Howden of The Independent quoted Irfan Ahmed al-Alawi, the chairman of the Islamic Heritage Foundation, which was established to help protect the holy sites, pointing to another outrage. Alawi told The Independent about the case of the grave of Amina bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet. “It was bullbozed in Abwa and gasoline was poured on it. Even though thousand of petitions throughout the Muslim world were sent, nothing could stop this action.

Howden noted that there were now fewer than twenty structures remaining in Mecca that dated back to the time of the Prophet. He listed lost history as including the house of Khadijah (wife of the Prophet), demolished to make way for public toilets; the house of Abu-Bakr (companion of the Prophet), where there is now a Hilton hotel; the house of Ali-Oraid (a grandson of the Prophet) and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, which is where the king now has a palace in Mecca.

Couldn't newspapers such as Al-Ahram of Cairo or the Dawn of Karachi or the Millet of Istanbul have reported this act of cultural genocide? They could have, but chose not to...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Creativity has many voices

Canadian Voices II has a hundred pieces of creativity – short stories and poems.

As with any collection, some are strikingly good to read.

I haven’t finished reading the collection yet. Of what I have read, the following short stories stand out for giving me that “aa..haa!” moment.

Chester & Grace
by Cassie McDaniel

A Black Snowball by Braz Menezes
A Blue Fish by Yoko Morgenstern
The Devil’s Stone Cook by Joyce Wayne

And among the poems, these are the better ones:

by Elizabeth Barnes

The Great Depression by Jasmine D’Costa
On Un-making Contact by Deena Kara Shaffer
Apology by Sarah Zahid
I, Too, Am Canadian by Jasmine Jackson which ends with these memorable lines:

So please do not take my accent or the darker hue of my skin

For mistaking me to be any less Canadian


Bookland Press, Toronto 6021 Yonge Street, Suite 1010, Toronto ON M2M 3W2 Tel: (800) 535-1774, Website: http://www.booklandpress.com/, E-mail: books@booklandpress.com
ISBN: 978-0-9784395-8-3, 360 pages, $25.95

Images: Jasmine:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ruksana's Story in Canadian Voices Volume II

Canadian Voices Volume Two and Ruksana's Story by Mayank Bhatt

Another short story published!

I have with me copies of Canadian Voices Volume II that has my short story in it.

Indeed, I'm proud, delighted and humbled.

Write to me and get a copy today. I'll pass on the writer's discount to you.

Here's a brief note about the collection:

An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Emerging Canadian Writers

Canadian Voices is a powerful and moving collection of prose and poetry, which stretches across the boundaries of age, skin color, language, ethnicity, and religion to give voice to the lives and experiences of ordinary Canadians.

This vibrant, varied sampler of the Canadian literary scene captures timely personal and cultural challenges, and ultimately shares subtle insight and compassion written by a wide spectrum of stylistically and culturally diverse authors.

Canadian Voices is more than simply an anthology — it is a celebration of wonderful writing by some of today's finest emerging Canadian writers. This book is an ambitious, lasting, and meaningful work of literature that will not soon fade away. It is an exceptional reading experience to be enjoyed and savoured.

Publishers: Bookland Press, Toronto 6021 Yonge Street, Suite 1010, Toronto ON M2M 3W2 Tel: (800) 535-1774, Website: http://www.booklandpress.com/, E-mail: books@booklandpress.com ISBN: 978-0-9784395-8-3, 360 pages, $25.95

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Open conversations

Since I began writing this blog in December 2008, I've welcomed and encouraged comments, even when these comments have been critical.

I have published many such comments over the last 20 months and will continue to do so as long as I maintain this blog.

However, I have little patience for cowards who will bend technology to camouflage their real identity and use those of my friends to comment on my entries.

I have the courage of my conviction to say what I do. I come from an open society (India) and live in an open society (Canada).

My advise to my friends and well-wishers is to engage in an open debate. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jai Hind!

August 1947 the British partitioned the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan and left. Pakistan celebrates its independence on August 14 and India on August 15.

This morning, I celebrated the Indian Independence Day on Pakistani Independence Day. Panorama India, a Toronto-based cultural organisation, and the Consulate General of India in Toronto, organised the India Day celebration and grand parade at Dundas Square.

I learnt the Parade is five-years-old, and it aims eventually to rival the
Caribana Parade. At present, it’s modest and utterly charming, offering vignettes of the Indian microcosm.

There were floats from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Kerala and Goa, and some from the many sponsors of the event.

Rajasthan had the smallest float and
RANA had adopted the Mirabai theme. Mirabai is the 16th century woman poet-saint and feminist who epitomises the Bhakti-Sufi tradition of sub-continental syncretism.

The morning trip to Dundas Square (with Che rather reluctantly accompanying me) was worth the effort because the Rajasthan float played
Lata Mangeskar’s Mira bhajaans.

Later, I read the
Times of India’s website and its special coverage on India’s Independence Day.

As many know,
Mahatma Gandhi stayed away from the Independence Day celebrations, preferring to douse the flames of communal riots in Calcutta.

Here’s a gem from that report:

Journalist Horace Alexander narrated an incident that occurred in that surcharged season (mid-1947). One day when Gandhi was praying in a village, a Muslim caught him by the throat. Gandhi almost collapsed. But even as he fell down, he recited some lines from the Quran.

On hearing them, the Muslim said, “I am sorry. I am prepared to protect you. Give me any work. Tell me what should I do?” 

Gandhi replied, “Do only one thing. When you go back home, do not tell anyone what you tried to do to me. Otherwise there will be Hindu-Muslim riots.

Forget me and forgive yourself.”