& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee - 1

Gladstone Hotel

Colonial mindsets and in postcolonial times

Recently, I was with a group of writers at Gladstone’s Melody Bar, waiting for a book launch event to commence. Although all of us now live in Toronto (or in the GTA) none of us at the table had been born here. All but I had vivid memories of the city – during their visits as children, as adolescents, as young adults – of its architecture and the people.

Then one of them said something that struck a chord: these were memories of a colonial city. I could relate to that instantly. My memories of Bombay – of its architecture and its people – are largely memories of a colonial city.

That evening, I brought home a business card of Gladstone’s sale person. I was planning to hold a small get together for friends later this month, but have since abandoned that plan. The business card is beautifully designed and has a two-tone image of the hotel’s edifice; the blue backdrop gives its an old-world, ammonia-print look and feel to it.

Gladstone’s architecture in many ways reminds me of so many buildings in Bombay’s Fort along the Hornby Road between Flora Fountain and Victoria Terminus (Dadabhai Noroji Road from Hutatma Chowk to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus).

My son who has been forced to accompany his parents on their meaningless meanderings both in Bombay and in Toronto, picked up the card and exclaimed, “This looks like some place in India;” when I asked him why, he said, “India has such buildings, too.”

Despite valiant efforts of heritage conservationists, the turn-of-the century (19th -20th) architecture in Bombay is crumbling into oblivion, as I’d imagine it is in Toronto, too. But even as colonial architecture gives way to freer forms of design, I often wonder whether colonial way of thinking has changed, or indeed, can change.

The eager and unabashed celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years of ascension to the throne, with full participation of the state, clearly shows that in Canada, where the British monarch has a constitutional presence, there is little evidence – or even a perceived need – to move away from the elaborate and antediluvian constructs of colonialism.

Despite centuries of struggle against the British rule, has Indian thinking succeeded in casting away the colonial constructs, especially in fiction. There are many examples of the residual colonialism in Indian writing in English.

In India, there has always been a general consensus (even if it isn’t articulated often nowadays) that this is because an alien language forces an alien idiom that doesn’t – cannot – describe the Indian sensibility in all its nuances, even if it succeeds in depicting the quintessence.

But how true is that?

V.S. Naipaul wryly notes in An Area of Darkness, “The feeling is widespread that, whatever English might have done for Tolstoy, it can never do justice to the Indian “language” writers. This is possible; what I read of them in translation did not encourage me to read more.” (quote taken from Salman Rushdie’s “Damme, This is the Oriental scene for you!” 1997).

The two novels that are the two sides of this discussion of the colonial and the postcolonial narratives are Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children succeeded in pulling Indian writing in English out of the miasma of colonial thinking by twisting, turning, bending and maiming the English language to an Indian idiom, an Indian way of thinking. Equally, it also substantially altered Indian sensibilities.

I’m reproducing passages from two critical studies of Rushdie and Kipling that give a deeper insight and a different perspective to our understanding of these concepts.

(continued in the post below)

Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee - 2

(Continued from the post above)

In an interesting analysis of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children from a postcolonial perspective, Cathy C. Miller (Salman Rushdie’s ‘Stereoscopic Vision:’ Postcolonial Environments in Midnight’s Children) says, 

“In his literature, Rushdie grapples with this issue (of authentic representation of national culture) and resists being pigeonholed to one particular culture.  He refers to authenticity as “the respectable child of old-fashioned exoticism”  which  “demands that sources, forms, style, language and symbol all derive from a supposedly homogeneous and unbroken tradition” (Imaginary  67). 

“Rushdie insists that his purpose is not to create “authentic” Indian literature but validates his position as a postcolonial writer by stressing the valuable qualities of having two countries to draw from.  Growing up in a country that was greatly influenced by British rule, attending British schools, and migrating to England in his midtwenties inevitably westernized Rushdie’s perspective.  But instead of viewing this “double identity” as a negative spiral into the clutches of Western colonialism, Rushdie uses it to his benefit as a form of decolonization – quite possibly he is able to see the pitfalls of Fanon’s national consciousness and culture. 

“This double perspective gives him “stereoscopic vision” which allows him to simultaneously look at two societies from both the inside and the outside.  Rushdie states that postcolonial Indian writers who have migrated away from India “are capable of writing from a kind of double perspective: because they, we, are at one and the same time insiders and outsiders in this society.  This stereoscopic vision is perhaps what we can offer in place of ‘whole sight’” (Imaginary 19).  Because of their multiple backgrounds and experiences, writers in Rushdie’s position are able to recreate reality in a way that is directly related to their postcolonial identities. These plural identities provide them with various angles to analyze and [re]create reality within their fictions.”

Edward Said’s analysis of Kipling’s Kim (in  ‘The Pleasures of Imperialism’ Culture and Imperialism) is masterly.

Ruydard Kipling
“The conflict between Kim’s colonial service and loyalty to his Indian companions is unresolved not because Kipling could not face it, but because for Kipling there was no conflict; one purpose of the novel is in fact to show the absence of conflict once Kim is cured of his doubts, the lama of his longing for the River, and India of a few upstairs and foreign agents. That there might have been a conflict had Kipling considered India as unhappily subservient to imperialism, we can have no doubt, but he did not; for him it was India’s best destiny to be ruled by England. By an equal and opposite reductiveness, if one reads Kipling not simply as an “imperialist minstrel” (which he was not) but as someone who read Frantz Fanon, met Gandhi, absorbed their lessons, and remained stubbornly unconvinced by them, one seriously distorts his context, which he refines, elaborates, and illuminates. It is crucial to remember that there were no appreciable deterrents to the imperialists world-view Kipling held, any more than there were alternatives to imperialism for Conrad, however much he recognized its evils. Kipling was therefore untroubled by the notion of an independent India, although it is true to say that his fiction (as opposed to discursive prose) incur ironies and problems of the kind encountered in Austen or Verdi and, we shall soon see, in Camus. My point is this contrapuntal reading is to emphasize and highlight the disjunctions, not to overlook or play them down.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

TOK 7 Writing the New Toronto

Diaspora Dialogues released TOK 7: Writing the New Toronto yesterday at Gladstone. 

TOK 7: Writing the New Toronto
below covers of TOK 1 to TOK 6
This is the last TOK of the series, and has short fiction and poems from a new bunch of emerging writers and mentors. Helen Walsh, president of Diaspora Dialogues and the editor of all the TOK books, moderated an interesting panel discussion between three mentees – Zalika Reed-Benta, James Poputsis and Yaya Yao – and two mentors – Olive Senior and Moez Surani – who are among the contributors to the new collection. The discussion was interspersed with readings by Zalika, James, and Yaya. 

The TOK launches annually also serve as an alumni reunion with several mentees, some mentors, and Diaspora Dialogues staff in attendance. The indefatigable Natalie Kertes, working quietly to make sure that the launch was perfect. 

The launch It’s time to get and give updates, and share notes. Leslie Shimotakahara, Joyce Wayne, Brandon Pitts were among the many friends who were at the launch. 

I was in TOK 5 (in 2010) and therefore is the best of the seven books.

From 2012, the Diaspora Dialogue’s mentoring program will focus on full-length manuscripts. For more details, click here: DD 2012 Mentoring

Yaya Yao recited her poem 'where you’re going'
It’s reproduced here:

where you’re going

one ocean one
from the place you were
born you are
dying, suspended
over university and elm
in February

with expert hands
chang ping aims into flesh long
the tip connects to
the point opens
into the pathway and you
follow, she drapes a thin silk scarf
over your trunk
leaves the room for a
tea from timmy’s
she says to family, 3 to 5 a.m. the body
is weakest, it will happen
then, he is
tired his body is not
holding water call me

the path
you have taken:
shanghai to hong kong
hong kong to montreal
montreal to

parkdale to little portugal
little portugal to university and elm
university and elm to

3 a.m.
to 5 a.m. tides withdraw
from each meridian, that ocean
here to claim you, now as always in