& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Canadian culture

Recently, I attended a splendid lunch and learn discussion organised by Diaspora Dialogues where a writer (Joyce Wayne) and a literary agent (Dean Cookegave great insights into the process of writing fiction, and getting published. 

I was there to understand the process because I, too, hope to get my novel published some day. 

And I wondered whether I would be a Canadian writer or an Indian when (if) my novel is published? 

I don’t know; both, I guess.  

How much of a Canadian can an immigrant become, especially a first-generation immigrant. Then, what is it to be a Canadian? And, what is Canadian culture.

There are many interesting theories to these questions.

As a student of journalism at the Sheridan College in (2009), I was introduced to Canadian literature in English, and read Northrop Frye’s “garrison mentality” definition of Canadian culture.

“...I have long been impressed in Canadian poetry by a tone of deep terror in regard to nature, a theme to which we shall return. It is not a terror of the danger or discomforts or even the mysteries of nature, but a terror of the soul at something that these things manifest. The human mind has nothing but human and moral values to cling to if it is to preserve its integrity or even its sanity, yet the vast unconsciousness of nature in front of it seems an unanswerable denial of those values. [...]

“If we put together a few of these impressions, we may get some approach to characterising the way in which the Canadian imagination has developed in its literature. Small and isolated communities surrounded with a physical or psychological “frontier” separated from one another and from their American and British sources; communities that provide all that their members have in the way of distinctively human values, and that are compelled to feel a great respect for the law and order that holds them together, yet confronted with a huge unthinking, menacing, and formidable physical setting – such communities are bound to develop what we may provisionally call a garrison mentality. In the earliest maps of the country the only inhabited centres are forts, and that remains true of the cultural maps for a much later time. [...]

(Conclusion to Carl F. Klinck’s anthology Literary History of Canada – 1965)

Of course, for John RalstonSaul this is a manifestation of the “colonial mind”.

In A Fair Country, he argues:

“Even the way we represent our literature tells us something about the colonial mindset. Roy MacGregor laid this out with perfect intellectual clarity in Canadians. Why is John Richardson’s less than mediocre nineteenth-century novel Wacousta so relentlessly pushed forward as the founding statement of our sensibility? What is its message? That the nature and climate of Canada makes it a place to be feared. That the First Nations are violent and to be feared. That settlers must dominate in every way in order to assuage their fears. This deeply European view – steeped in the discomfort of the outsider – helped to set the pattern for a colonial interpretation of Canada. Ours was to be a place in which white Christians must be constantly ill at ease, uncomfortable, living far from their true civilizational inspirations. At the same, they must also imagine themselves as cut off from the gigantic, uncontrolled nature all around them. They must struggle to survive, dependent on the originality of those fortunate enough to live at the centre of great civilizations. They must marginalize, weaken, if possible destroy, the local Indian civilization. Christianity, in its various forms, would be a safe, rigid structure to protect these Europeans from this uncontrollable, frightening place. Theirs was to be what Northrop Frye called a garrison mentality – a “closely knit and beleaguered society” existing with a “deep terror in regard to nature.”

Some questions don’t have easy answers, and some answers lead to more questions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hindu - a novel

Before he is murdered, Tatya Kamble, the main character of Sharankumar Limbale’s Marathi language novel Hindu, says, 

“Why do we stay in a religion that does not allow you to enter the temple? Why do you stay in a religion that does not acknowledge your humanity? Why do you stay in a religion that does not allow you even water? A religion that forbids the treatment of humans as humans is not a religion but naked domination. A religion in which touching of unclean animals is permitted but touching of humans prohibited is not a religion but insanity. A religion that tells a group of human beings to not get education, not amass wealth, not carry arms is not a religion but a mockery of human values.”

Arun Prabha Mukherjee’s English translation of Limbale’s novel succeeds quite effortlessly in bringing the reader uncomfortably close to the exploitation that the Dalits of India face every day. It is a remarkable achievement because Limbale’s novel doesn’t follow a linear narrative, it’s a pointillist quilt that darts into different directions. It paints a grim picture of murder and injustice.

Limbale is a prominent Dalit writer and is an activist and his writing is dry and unsentimental. It’s not surprising that Hindu is unrelenting. The novel is set in rural Maharashtra – in Achalpur, but it portrays all that is wrong in India – a country that now boasts of nearly 50 billionaires but despite all the talk of double digit growth and development and prosperity, a majority of the population continue to be denied basic human rights. And this is institutionalised, without any effort to change the status quo.

Mihir Sharma, writing in India’s Business Standard, on Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary (14 April) this year, gave a good perspective to the untrammeled domination of the upper castes in the Hindu society.

He says, “The Indian elite confuse its tiny, mediocre, incestuous world of networks and inherited advantage with true merit, the merit that comes from striving upwards in the night when circumstances are unfavourable. India’s privileged children go to schools where their social assumptions are unchallenged, to colleges where their parents went before them and that most of the country can’t afford, and to jobs where the networks fostered in the exclusivity of those institutions support and nourish them... In post-liberalisation India, that isn’t true at all. Our elite dominate our cultural production, as well, helping it dehumanise everyone else.”

Tatya Kamble’s son Rohit and his activist friends circulate a flyer at a community centre which triggers severe tensions in Achalpur:

“We wanted to convert to Buddhism. We still do. However, converting to a religion related to Indian culture brings about no change in our status in the eyes of the Hindus. It is for that reason that we are converting to a foreign origin religion. It is only then perhaps that the mentality to degrade us will change. We are Indians. We look like Indians. India is our motherland. Preventing our conversion means forcing us to continue living in the confines of the Hindu caste system. The Hindu religion that considers us untouchable is not acceptable to us.”


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Nehru’s Hero Dilip Kumar in the Life of India

Last week we moved into another apartment in the same building – it has an extra room.

My wife and son gifted me with a bookshelf. They worked for four hours to assemble it. It’s my first bookshelf in Canada; I’ve unpacked books I got from India and put them in the shelf, along with some that I bought here.

Bookshelves are like a home within a home.

I arrange my books in an order that only I understand, and when I have nothing better to do (which is most of the time), I gaze at my books longingly, occasionally pulling one out and leafing through it to relive the memory of when I had first read it, or bought it.

I pulled out Lord Meghnad Desai’s Nehru’s Hero Dilip Kumar in the Life of India – quite a cumbersome title for a thoroughly enjoyable slim volume that is a memoir and a biography of one of India’s iconic movie stars.

There are many memorable biographies of Dilip Kumar; Bunny Reuben’s biography being far more comprehensive.

But what makes Lord Desai’s book unique is the linkages it creates between the concepts of nation-building in India in the 1950s, the influence of cinema and on cinema on this process, the phenomenon of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Some factoids in the book are amazing.
For instance, Dilip Kumar played a Muslim character only once in his career – Prince Salim in Mughal-E-Azam.

The bhajan in Jogan (Ghunghat Ke Pat Khol) is actually by Sant Kabir and is often erroneously attributed to Meerabai

Published in 2004, the book’s concluding chapter From Icon to Target describes the changes that have transformed India since Nehru’s death in 1964:

“...One is no longer an India; one has to be Tamil or Punjabi-speaking Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist or belonging to Other Backward Castes (OBC). Each citizen has to belong to a vote bank, have his or her agent who will trade the vote for handouts and mobilize you for morchas and public sloganeering. Paradoxically this fragmentation has deepened democracy in India rather than threatened it.

But it has also changed the nation inevitably and not necessarily for the better. Bombay, where Dilip Kumar has lived much of his life, and which is the headquarters of Hindi films (hence Bollywood) was a cosmopolitan city in the 1940s and 1950s. No single elite dominated Bombay as the Bengali cultural elite dominated Calcutta, or the Tamils dominated Madras. Bombay had as its lingua franca a bazaar-type Hindi, a vulgar tongue, much influenced by Hindu film dialogues which the local Marathi and Gujarati speakers adopted when they talked to each other or to the hundreds of Punjabis, Telugu and Tamil and Malayalam speakers, or the Kannadigas and Konkanis. There was a lively Western and Anglo Indian culture in Colaba and in Bandra. A double decker red bus would flaunt the name of its destination as RC Church. (It took me many years when I was a teenager to decipher that as Roman Catholic Church). There would be western music concerts and tea dances at the southern tip of the islands, while Gujarati Navratri celebrations in Bhuleshwar and Marathi Ganesh puja would be rampant in Girgaum and Sewri and Dadar. I watched Kathakali dancers in Matunga past midnight during South Indian festival as well as an exhibition on Bauhaus architecture in a downtown art gallery in my teenage years.

But I, like many others, agitated and marched for Bombay to be the capital of a unilingual state of Maharashtra. That was a populist, indeed a democratic decision. But the setting up of linguistic states, which Nehru fought against, but had to concede reluctantly, changed Bombay. It also changed India. We had all thought that making Bombay the capital of Maharashtra will not change its cosmopolitan character. That all of us would belong to Bombay as Bombayites and as Indians. But in Bombay and across India, identities could not remain cosmopolitan. Very soon after the creation of Maharashtra in 1960, there was the launching of the populist Shiv Sena. It claimed that Bombay belonged to the Marathi-speaking citizens of Bombay. South Indians – so-called Madrasis – were targeted first as undesirable aliens and then Muslims and sometimes Christians and so on. Shiv Sena was able to have Bombay’s name changed to Mumbai in the 1990s."

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Insanity - beyond understanding

Insanity – Beyond Understanding is an eye- opener to what goes on in the world of those who are hooked to euphoria ….what takes them high, what brings them crashing down… A very descriptive “in their own words” narrative of their emotions, their lives, their fantasies, their failures…. Makes you sit back and think. At times, it is humorous and makes you have a hearty laugh. Chapters are short and self-contained making it an easy read.

Within these pages, you will learn the anatomy of the selfish behavior and distorted thinking that causes the euphoric to believe that they cannot live without euphoria. You will find out, directly from the author’s experiences as a counselor, about the tragic consequences these souls inflict upon themselves and others around them. Casts of unforgettable characters are your tour guides into some of the darkest areas and compulsive behavior of an addict’s mind.

Insanity – Beyond Understanding takes readers closer than ever before into the gut wrenching, chaotic world of addicts.  Author Bajeerao Patil possesses an enormous wealth of knowledge on the subject of human behavior & addiction from his over 20 years of work as an addiction counselor.

Insanity Beyond Understanding has many characters with addictive personalities. It highlights the selfish behavior, distorted thinking, the “my way or the highway” attitude of people who believe that the world revolves around them.  How they refuse to be happy and how they love misery.  How they are programmed to believe that they cannot live without sex.  Drugs come before anything else in their lives.  Once in a recovery situation how they frequently focus on developing a relationship with a “higher power” but fail to understand that without developing a relationship with themselves they cannot develop a relationship with anyone or anything else including a “higher power.”  How they want to be accepted by others but refuse to accept themselves for who they are.  They place their happiness in other people and material things.  Immediate gratification is their sole goal.  How easily they forget the consequences and pain that comes from the use of mood altering chemicals.  How they live in the past or in the future, never in the present.  How they worry constantly about their lives but do nothing to improve their situation.  How they refuse to take responsibility for their own behavior and their tendency to blame others.  How they look for shortcuts, for quick fixes, even though there are none.

Bajeerao Patil
Insanity Beyond Understanding is about plight of people who use mood altering chemicals, their struggle, their frustrations and their hardship.  How some of them give up in the middle of their struggle.  This book also has some characters who never give up, never quit and they become winners.  The wide spread materialism in the world.  How the change in family structure from close extended families to individual nuclear families impacted social life.  How children grow up without good role models.  How they are shunted from foster care to an orphanage, to the home of a distant relative, back to foster care, etc.  Many grow up on the streets after running away and never even complete eighth grade, let alone high school or job training.  A disproportionate number are physically, emotionally and sexually abused and don’t know where to turn for help.  The end result, all too often, is a belief that this is normal and they inflict the same damage on their own children.  It talks about never ending cycle and finally hopes for the better future.