& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, October 31, 2014

The realm of tomorrow

Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel
The present dispensation in India (articulated by the head of the ruling party) has sparked an unseemly debate by making counterfactual historical claims that India’s first Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would, in fact, have made a better Prime Minister than Jawaharlal Nehru. 

Of course, the real reason for instigating the "debate" is the deep rooted hatred that the present dispensation harbours against India’s first Prime Minister.

Jawaharlal Nehru doesn’t need to be defended. He will be always be taller than the tallest statue that may be built for anyone anywhere in India.

Here’s an extract from B. R. Nanda’s (1917-2010) The Nehrus (originally published in 1962 and then updated in the 1980s), describing Nehru.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s was a rich, varied and complex personality. Though born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and reared in the nurseries of the British aristocracy, he was destined to spend the best part of his life in railway trains, public meetings and prisons. He was no orator; his speeches were calculated not so much to impress or humour his admiring audiences, as to instruct and re-educate them. Over his countrymen he came to exercise a magnetic influence; as he says in his autobiography, he took to the crowd and the crowd took to him. But he was an intellectual with a deep strain of loneliness, the compassion for suffering humanity. He could abstract himself from his immediate surroundings even in the midst of a formal banquet or a state reception, and was most relaxed in the company of children and animals. Mountains with their snows and solitude fascinated him. He loved beautiful things, paintings, sculptures and books. In prison he had time to reflect on the five thousand years of India’s past, and to connect it with her present and future. As the American journalist Norman Cousins, put it, Nehru’s intellect was rooted in the Enlightenment but his spirit was in the Vedas. He was a writer of distinction. All his major works, the Glimpses of World History, An Autobiography and The Discovery of India were written in prison when he was still engaged in the battle for freedom. They all have autobiographical flavour, and bear the mark of a passionate, albeit humane, nationalism.

Drawing upon nineteenth century British liberalism, Fabian socialism, Marxist dialectics, Soviet economics and Gandhian ethics, Nehru’s political philosophy was eclectic. Not the least important ingredient in this philosophy was Jawaharlal’s own perception of India and the world….

Nehru had too great a sense of history to imagine that he could find final solutions for the numerous and complex problems which beset India and the world. He himself claimed neither omniscience nor infallibility. “All of us,” he once said, “are liable to err, and I rebel against the notion, that an organization, an idea or a country can be infallible.”

Nehru spoke in an idiom which had a worldwide appeal. Several of the young radicals of Asia and Africa who were destined to lead anti-colonial revolutions in their countries, were fascinated and inspired by Nehru’s writings. Indeed, his role in the fight against imperialism in India and abroad was so important, that if he had died in the summer of 1947 and never taken office, he would still have occupied a high place in history. As it was, he became the chief architect of post-independent India, and led her in the difficult years of transition from colonialism to democracy, from traditionalism to modernity and from stagnant to a developing economy. In a period of deep cynicism and doubt, Nehru was an incorrigible idealist, but his idealism was, as he once put it, “the realm of tomorrow.” 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three poems: Kavita Mahajan, Sitanshu Yasaschandra, Dawn Promislow

Transitions often transform lives, and even when they don't, they always make life infinitely more interesting. At least that's been my experience. Life has been charitable to me. Every time I appear to be settling into a dull routine, something goes wrong (right?), and I'm pushed into uncertainty, either personally or professionally, and occasionally both.

Generally, this has happened twice in a decade ever since I can remember.

My recent professionally transition came as a surprise, and has taken a while for me to get accustomed to. It has had a fortuitous fallout - my commuting time has suddenly shot up by an hour. And that's given me an opportunity to read during my bus rides to Brampton.

At present I'm reading MG Vassanji's And Home was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa. It's a book that makes you pause and think every ten pages or so because in the midst of describing his journeys across his homeland, the author suddenly makes an observation that at once makes you uncomfortable and forces you to reflect deeply on what he has just said. 

At home, while celebrating Diwali (with flame-less diyas, and excessive sweets) I also read some poems, three of which I liked, and am sharing them here. 

The first one by Kavita Mahajan published in डिजिटल दिवाळी २०१४

मरून गेलेली आई



मरून गेलेली आई
घरात फिरत असते सगळं कसं चाललंय बघत
पलंगावर पडलेली साडी घडी करते बेडरुममध्ये
स्वयंपाकघरात ओट्याजवळ उभी
डायनिंग टेबलवरच्या जेवणार्यांकडे लक्ष देत
संध्याकाळी परसात बदामाच्या झाडाखाली
खुर्चीवर बसते थोडावेळ
माहेर मरून जातं आई मरून गेल्यावर
हे आईला माहीत नाही
ती तिच्या आईच्या आधीच मरून गेली म्हणून
घर बदललं आहे
पण आई बदलली नाही
ती बोलत नाही अजूनही काहीचशांत असते
घरभर फिरून पाहते सगळं कसं चाललंय.

Another in Gujarat by Sitanshu Yashaschandra posted on Facebook by ગુજરાતી સાહિત્ય અકાદમી (યુ કે)

વળાંક પાછળ વિશ્વામિત્રી
સિતાંશુ યશશ્ચન્દ્ર

દુનિયા આખીને પોતાની દોસ્તી આપવા જે દોડ્યા
પોતાને જેની ગતાગમ નહોતી જરીકે તેવી ગણતરીઓ કરવામાં પડેલા જગતે
જેમની ઉપર ઠાલવ્યા અવહેલનાઓના ગંધાતા ગંજાવર ઢગના ઢગ
એવા કોઈ વિશ્વામિત્રની નીમાણી કન્યા
મારી વિશ્વામિત્રી.
એને કોઈ એવા ઓવારા નથી, જ્યાં પનિહારીઓ પાણી ભરવાને જાય,
એને કોઈ એવા ઘાટ નથી, જ્યાં પ્રવાસે નીકળેલાં વહાણ પોરોખાવા લાંગરે,
એને કોઈ એવા કાંઠા નથી, જ્યાં લોકો સાંજુકના ટહેલવા નીકળે.
એનાં પાણીમાં કમર સુધી બૂડી અર્ધ્ય આપતા બ્રાહ્મણ કે બાપ્તિસ્તા થાપતા
પાદરી, કોઈ કહેતાં કોઈ મળે.
એમાં પાણી કહેવાય એવું પાણી મળે.
ઝૂમાં જીવનભર પૂરેલાં પશુઓ અને બાગમાં બે ઘડી ફરતા લોકોની વચ્ચેથી
તો ચુપચાપ સરકી જાય છે, ખબર નહીં કયું પ્રવાહી લઈને,
જૂના રગતપીતવાળી કોઈ બાઈ જેવી, શરીર સંકોડીને.
નદીને પરવડે નહીં
લાજ, વેદના, આશા કે આછું હસવા જેવી એકે સાહ્યબી
મેં જ્યારે જ્યારે એની આંખો તરફ નજર કરી છે
ત્યારે ત્યારે ગરદન ઢાળીને જતી રહી છે વળાંક પાછળ.
જો કે એક વાર યે હતી એક નદી.
જેમ ગંગા, સ્યેન, વોલ્ગા, ટેઇમ્સ, હોઆંગહો, એમેઝોન, નીલ અને મિસિસિપી,
બધી નદીઓ છે
એમ યે હતી.
ભલેને ઘણી નાની એમનાથી.
તો નદી.
વહેતું પાણી, જેમાં જળચર જીવતાં હોય, ચંદ્રનું પ્રતિબિંબ પડતું હોય,
વહેલી સવારે શિંગાળાં સાબર ને મોડી સાંજે ચળકતા દીપડા
જેની સામે વિનયથી માથું નમાવી પાણી પી શકતા હોય,
ને ભરબપોરે બચબચ બચ્ચાં જેવાં ધાવી શકતાં હોય જેને
ઊનાળુ તડકાએ તરસ્યાં તરસ્યાં કરી મૂકેલાં, એની અડખે પડખે પડેલાં,
વીઘાંના વીઘાં ખેતરો, 
એવી નદી.
આવું આવું જ્યારે એની ઉપરના પૂલમાં ઊભો રહીને હું બોલું છું
માત્ર વિશ્વામિત્રીને સંભળાય રીતે
સાંભળ્યું સાંભળ્યું કરી,
આંખો જોરથી મીંચી, મેલો સાડલો શરીરે થોડો વધારે વીંટાળતી
ઉતાવળી ઉતાવળી ચાલી જાય છે, તરતા કચરાના પાલવમાં મોં ઢાંકતી,
વળાંક પાછળ.
રહેવાય ત્યારે
ચોમાસાની રાતે
ઉભરાઈ ઊઠે છે નદી
આંધળી છોકરીની આંખો જેવી, ચુપચાપ
વળતી સવારે, વહેલી વહેલી, પહોંચે છે, કાંઠા ઓળંગી, પુલ પર થઈ,
ઉતાવળી ઉતાવળી, પગના પહોંચા ઉપર ઊંચી થઈ થઈ,
આવે છે,
કાળે ઘોડે બેઠેલા, કાળો પોશાક પહેરેલા, પથ્થર થઈ ગયેલા, એના એક વારના હેતાળ
રાજાના પગ સુધી છેક,
એકદમ અચકાઈ, અટકી, ખમચાઈ, જરીક જીભ કચડી, હોઠ બીડી, આંસુ
જાતે લૂછી નાખી, ઓસરી, અવાજ કર્યા વિના ચાલી જાય છે,
મૂંગીમંતર, કાદવ ખૂંદતી
પેલા વળાંક પાછળ.

And here's the final one by my friend Dawn Promislow
published in Muniyori Literary Journal


in the Moroccan restaurant
there are tagines

earthenware dishes with dome-lids
in earthen colours
rust, sienna, burnt brown

and when the dome-lid lifts,
steam wreaths,
and earth-like tones, again

orange, yellow-saffroned, browned
lamb deep-stewed

and you have never eaten Moroccan food before
this gilded night

and the green-earth tea is silver-lidded
silver-flecked cloth covering

and hot the deep-glint tea and sweet,

and the reason you are here is your daughter was in Morocco

and she knows about Moroccan tagines
so you are here in this warm-gold restaurant

with her

and she is deep-brown haired and honeyed
and rich with ochre, ambered tales

and honey-eyed, gold-lidded
softly lashed,
and glints her ruby-mouth

in timbered tones

she is twenty-one
and you have known her for twenty-one years,
so far

and rising from the crimson-threaded
the etchéd glass
the silver-glinting bevelled tray

you leave the restaurant

with her
and walk home
down the far dune
of Avenue Road
turning left at the light
and onto your Toronto street

where on this warm
evening the lights are gold and garnet
like they are in Marrakesh

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Preparing for my theatre debut has been terrifying & exciting: Lata Pada

Guest Post: Lata Pada

Globally renowned danseuse Lata Pada, the artistic director of Sampradaya Dance Creations, is making her first foray in theatre this week, when she debuts in Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like a Man. In this first person piece, Lata, who has the rare distinction of being honoured with both the Order of Canada and the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, describes the thrill of acting on stage 

When Jasmine and Nitin first asked if I would consider auditioning for the role of Rathna in Sawitri Theatre’s DANCE LIKE A MAN, I was impulsive and readily agreed. After all, I could completely relate to the role of Rathna and the ‘world of the play’ certainly resonated for me. I thought this would be a piece of cake!  But little did I know what I had committed to.

Preparing for my theatre debut in Rathna’s role in DANCE LIKE A MAN has been both terrifying and exciting!  You might ask why a seasoned dancer like me would feel this way. After all, I have been on stage for the past forty years and should have grown accustomed to quelling my nervousness, taking a deep breath and holding my own in dance performances for a range of audiences – intimate salon type to large outdoor stages with thousands of spectators.  Why should a new but similar medium of theatrical expression challenge me?  Ah, that is the crux of the matter.

Dance and theatre share many techniques and devices. In bharatanatyam, I have been trained to be a soloist, interpreting the many characters in the poetry and lyrics we portray. We are trained to understand the spirit of the character, embody the emotions and gestures that are specific to the situation or role, hold the ‘sthaayi’ or dominant mood that the poetry suggests.  Essential to our training is projecting the delicate and nuanced expressions to large audiences without caricaturizing the role. Not different from theatre one would say.

Working with Mahesh Dattani and Christina Collins has been such an uncharted journey, filled with new learning and surprises, about myself and my co-actors. For the first week, Mahesh worked with us in Chekhov's ‘archetypal sensations’ like falling, floating, balancing and internalizing and veiling  ‘intent’ such as push, pull, smash, lift, reach, penetrate, gather, throw and tear.

What a powerful way of embodying the characters we were playing! For me a dancer, whose gestures and emotions are our tools of expressions, learning to literally ‘tie my hands behind my back’ and work with the intent alone was frustrating, but had to be done.

Decades of training with my dance gurus have polished the art of improvisation and exploring the ‘sanchari’s in the composition. Knowing that I had a responsibility towards not ‘tripping up’ my co-actors with forgetting a line or phrase felt like a huge weight to carry.

But I surprised myself.  Gradually my confidence grew, I learnt to ‘lighten up’ and be in the moment.  A huge thank you to Mahesh, Christina, Anand, Sid and Navneet for your generosity and support in holding my hand through this exhilarating new journey. I've had so much fun and learnt so much. Thank you Jasmine and Nitin for believing in me; I will do my best not to let you down. 

Dance Like A Man – Three performances. On Thursday, October 16, Friday, October 17 and Saturday October 18 - 8 pm, at Meadowvale Theatre, Mississauga, 6315 Montevideo Road, Mississauga, ON, L5N 4G7

Directorial Vision – Mahesh Dattani; Co-Director – Christina Collins; Set & Lighting Design - Joe Pagnan; Music – Deepak Sant; Stage Manager – Heather Bellingham

Cast Lata Pada, Anand Rajaram, Sid Sawant, Navneet Kaur

Tickets: $50, $30 & $20. Go to

Website www.sawitri.ca

Monday, October 06, 2014

Mahesh and I

Guest Post by Jasmine Sawant

(First published in Desi News October 2014)

It was shortly after SAWITRI was born, that I met Mahesh Dattani through Where There’s A Will. As I was reading the play, I laughed so much that I nearly fell off the couch! And then, when I was done, I sat silent for a long, long while. This man had effortlessly described the father-son relationship that I had witnessed in my community; the Gujarati community. Maybe it existed in other communities as well, but there it was, out in the open. Someone had taken the time to write about the patriarchal stranglehold. Intelligently, dramatically, incisively and poignantly, someone who had perhaps, suffered as did his ‘Ajit’ in the play, had penned down the pain.  And then there was the treatment of the women. The way the character of Hasmukh Mehta treated his wife and his mistress was funny, wacky, but deep down there was a systemic manipulation and marginalization of the women of his household. It was a cleverly constructed play that resonated strongly with us on many levels.

SAWITRI Theatre Group wanted to produce the play right away. We even got Mahesh’s permission; I still have that email. But our theatre group was new. We had just started. We thought it would be good to collaborate with an established like-minded theatre company. We saw it as mutually beneficial. We knew we were bringing passion, talent, a different perspective and a new market segment to the table. But the start up is usually considered an upstart, an interloper! We needed to prove ourselves to be taken seriously, and it was the usual chicken or egg syndrome. Ten years later, when we finally produced Where There’s A Will in 2012, it was the realization of a long standing dream!

Whether one is in Mumbai or in Mississauga, there’s always a ‘mainstream’ to deal with. Its composition may differ, but there’s this ‘push out’ from ‘mainstream’. Feeling strongly about marginalization, producing Mahesh Dattani’s Seven Steps Around the Fire was next. If we felt so pushed out, then how much more difficult it would the for the LGBT community here. In India, the ‘hijras’ suffer social discrimination, social deprivation, poverty and mental torture. Their birth is seen as a curse of the Gods. Being transgendered should not mean they cease to be human without potential or human sensibility. The legal acceptance of the LGBT community in Canada has not automatically ensured their social acceptance, and the South Asian community in the Greater Toronto Area is no exception. We hope that this project has led to a better understanding, or a gradual acceptance of this community here.

Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like A Man, is like the grand finale to the theme of marginalization. It deals with the marginalization of the male dancer in South Asian society. Once again, it’s a family setting, the home is the ‘battleground’ in this inter-generational conflict of gender discrimination and patriarchal manipulation. It is a brilliant study of human relationships and weaknesses; the age-old battle between father and son, between tradition and youthful rebellion. In the world of classical Indian dance, especially bharatanatyam, there is a curious reversal of gender discrimination. It is the male dancer that is being sidelined. There is a wide-spread perception that dance is a frivolous indulgence and not a job for a man, that it is effeminate and suitable only for the female body. Dance is also perceived as a form of entertainment and not an art form, and the biggest roadblock to Indian male dancers is the silent issue of sexuality. A dancing man is automatically presumed to be homosexual! As the number of second and third generation South Asians increase, examining this South Asian mind-set and finding acceptable solutions becomes increasingly important.

Dance Like A Man is a richly layered play and it boasts an exciting cast. Lata Pada, Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations plays the role of the older ‘Ratna’. This marks Lata’s stage acting debut. Anand Rajaram plays the role of the older Jairaj. Today, Anand is indisputably one of the finest South Asian actors we have here. Emerging actors, Sid Sawant, as Viswas and Navneet Kaur, as Lata complete the cast. SAWITRI Theatre is proud to be presenting the Canadian premiere of one of Mahesh’s most successful and celebrated plays. And to have Mahesh here during four weeks of rehearsal and production is going to enhance the creative vibrancy of the piece.

Interestingly, the other two Dattani plays were also Canadian premieres. Why Mahesh Dattani? India has many excellent plays and some phenomenal playwrights, but none who write in English. They write in their mother tongue, and some flavours are definitely lost when you translate. I also attribute this affinity towards his works to how closely I probably identify with him in regards to the two worlds that exist within us. These worlds invariably collide, but eventually compromise and work out a co-existence. Both of us are an urban phenomenon. We are raised in one language at home, Gujarati in my case, and his too. But we spend our entire life learning, thinking, feeling expressing and dreaming in English. There is often a feeling that we are neither here nor there, and yet at the same time we straddle two worlds and create a new identity.

Additional information:

Dance Like A Man – Three performances. On Thursday, October 16, Friday, October 17 and Saturday October 18 - 8 pm, at Meadowvale Theatre, Mississauga.

Directorial Vision – Mahesh Dattani; Co-Director – Christina Collins; Set & Lighting Design - Joe Pagnan; Music – Deepak Sant; Stage Manager – Heather Bellingham

CAST: Lata Pada, Anand Rajaram, Sid Sawant, Navneet Kaur

Meadowvale Theatre, 6315 Montevideo Road, Mississauga, ON, L5N 4G7

Tickets: $50, $30 & $20. Go to http://sawitridlam.bpt.me