& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tea with Tagore

Tea with Tagore in Toronto. 

I’m happy to report that there were more people interested in the presentation than there were seats at Harbourfront’s Studio Theater.

Ishwar Mooljee played Tagore. His resemblance to the  master of letters is uncanny. He effortlessly engaged the audience with his conversational approach to the subject. Sally Jones’ research on Rabindranath Tagore as a painter was unobtrusive.

The wonderful world of Tagore as an artiste remains incidental in relation to his enormous reputation as a writer and justifiably so. Many outside the subcontinent may not know this, but Tagore is the only poet who has written the national anthems of two nations – India and Bangladesh.

I would liked to know whether Tagore’s nephew Abanindranath Tagore had any influence on him as a painter because Abanindranath’s is credited with the formation of the first truly Indian - Swadeshi - style in painting and his students included stalwarts such as Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy. While this could have provided an added dimension to the program, on its own Tea with Tagore was riveting, although just half-an-hour was rather too short.

Prior to the event, I had written to Jones and send her the link of my blog on Tagore’s journalism that I wrote last year. Jones responded explaining, “I have been looking at his essays, addresses, letters, etc., during the last ten years of his life...and painting rather than on his fiction. I hadn't thought much about his journalistic writing - have been looking more at speeches he made in different countries... Hope you can get to Harbourfront on the 20th and perhaps we can exchange ideas then.”

I waited to meet her after the show, but couldn’t. She was probably backstage busy wrapping up. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Midwinter Night's Dream - III

The Roof Salon at the Park Hyatt Hotel was dimly lit, although there were many chandeliers. The venue of Diaspora DialoguesA Midwinter Night Dream resembled a meeting place in bazaar; the only thing missing was a hookah beside the pillows and cushions strewn across the room.

The ambience inside the room was a combination of A Jewel in the Crown and Lawrence of Arabia. AR Rehaman’s music from Slumdog Millionaire played softly in the background. A pair of tabla was placed in the room, and a few painted cages, too.

The cages were a mystery; they must have belonged to a nautch girl in Cawnpore before 1857. They had somehow reached Toronto.

Autorickshaw, a fusion group that combines jazz with Bollywood, later performed at the venue. 

I met Helen Walsh but didn't recognise her initially because she was wearing a multicoloured mask; Philip Adams was wearing an admiral’s jacket. Writer Antanas Sileika was a literary fortuneteller for the evening and another writer Sean Dixon played an antique banjo and sung a couple of postmodern songs, one of which even had lyrics about taxation.

Then the writers – Michelle Wan, Anar Ali and Andrew Pyper – read from their works. Wan read from her mystery novel. Ali read Baby Khaki’s Wings and Andrew Pyper from his work-in-progress novel.

The view outside was stunning – downtown Toronto’s skyscrapers and the CN Tower – all brightly lit. It reminded me of the Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai from the Oberoi.

I had wanted to attend both days the event was held to coincide with Toronto’s Wintercity festival. I had been invited as a blogger to the event. 

I couldn’t go because I went to Che’s school to see him perform at the concert. My son plays the clarinet well. He’s part of his school’s honour band. You’re included in the honour band when you take your music seriously.  

Image from Diaspora Dialogues' website

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Charles Dickens' 198th birthday

It’s Charles Dickens’ 198th birthday today. 

Surprisingly, today’s Toronto Star’s classified section runs a small insertion paid for by the Dickens Fellowship (Toronto branch) wishing the master a Happy Birthday.

Those who know me also know my deep and abiding interest in Dickens. My first impulse when I’m reading or writing anything is to relate it to Dickens.

For instance, last week, Che needed an example of a protagonist who has lived in a particular area as a young person and then returns to the place as a grown up. Instantly, I thought of Pip and Miss Havisham’s decaying mansion – Satis House from Great Expectations.

(An aside: I won’t be surprised if Che, becomes a journalist. Proof: He was given the assignment Tuesday to be submitted Friday. He started working on it late Thursday night, sat up late night, awoke early Friday morning and roped in the entire family to get it done. I’ve know many reporters in my days with the same approach to their work. Exasperating.)

In the frenzied world of mass media, where the focus is on the here and now, history is remembered only on anniversaries.

So, Dickens will be dusted off the library shelves and his ever-lasting impact discussed in a couple years to coincide with his 200th birth anniversary. (Who knows, by then library shelves may not exist as i-Pads and Kindles replace books.)

It happened last year to Darwin and Lincoln (both born on February 12, 1809).

It would’ve been appropriate for at least one mainline newspaper in the English-speaking and reading world to write about one of English language’s biggest writers and his continuing influence on contemporary writers.

I checked Google News. The only worthwhile feature on Dickens today is by James Humes, a historian, writing in The Pueblo Chieftain (Southern Colorado).

Mass media, and especially newspapers, have conditioned media consumers to focus only on what’s new and forget the past. History is for the specialist. 

And that is so not right.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Value of Nothing

I hadn’t heard of Raj Patel before the Toronto Star began to run ads of his interview by Ellem Roseman at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss his book The Value of Nothing: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think.

He turned out to be a brilliant young man who engaged a 500 plus audience with zeal of an activist and erudition of a scholar. Patel spoke with passion inherent to youth and conviction that seemed naive.

His alternative world view is radical. His belief that a handful of individuals can start a bush fire that can become a conflagration of change is endearing.  

During the one-hour interaction at Salon, Patel touched upon wide-ranging ideas – from Athenian democracy to farmer suicide in Maharashtra, India, to the disbanding of the Commons to serve capitalism.

The conversation and the Q&A session were simple, straight forward and therefore engrossing. Patel made a fine distinction that would be difficult for many to accept – he emphasised that he’s not anti-market; he’s just against capitalism. He explained for capitalism to succeed, it would have to scuttle the market forces. 

That is because for capitalism to succeed, it would have to exploit subsidies from various sources – chiefly from nature in the form of environmental degradation.

In response to another question he explained that decision-makers and policy formulators in the west often are unable to realise that there are a growing number of people in the less prosperour parts of the world who don’t want “development to be dropped into their lap.”

Increasingly, Patel emphasised, the individual choices that would need to be made on a global scale would be the need to live within our means and developing means to hold ourselves accountable for our economic decisions and living with the consequences of our decisions.

Quoting a startling statistic, Patel said in 2008, a whopping 49.2 million people in the United States were food insecure. He said the debate now is veering towards not merely addressing hunger, but addressing why hunger is being produced.

One hour was too short to get to know this energetic scholar and his works.