& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Castro-NAM-Delhi-Nellie massacre

Indira Gandhi & Fidel Castro
Too many obituaries will be written about Fidel Castro. So, I won't use this space for another obit. Let me just recount a vignette about the great revolutionary's India visit, more than 35 years ago.

Castro visited India to participate in the 1983 Non-Aligned Movement summit in New Delhi. Indira Gandhi was at the peak of her imperial (and impervious) reign of India. Following her triumphant return to power in 1980, after the post-Emergency debacle of 1977, Mrs. Gandhi was eager to acquire a global image. 

To help build that image, India hosted the Asian Games in 1982, and later that year (1983), after the NAM Summit, India would host the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Goa.

Indira Gandhi was aspiring for a prominent place in history, comparable to the one her father had, and was not going to settle for anything less.

However, the Indian print media, experiencing a grand resurgence and an awakening after its censorship during the Emergency (1975-1977), had different ideas. 

Arun Shourie, a World Bank economist, who was emerging as the enfant terrible of Indian journalism, had already changed the rules of the game for a media. His grand expose of Abdul Rehman Antulay, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, (Indira Gandhi as Commerce) had set new benchmarks in investigative journalism in India.

The NAM Summit in Delhi was telecast live, and for the first time, one saw world leaders from the movement, led by the charismatic trio of the movement – Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat and Mrs. Gandhi.

NAM was happening live on TV. It was a moment for all Indians to be proud. Arun Shourie had different ideas. Coinciding with the NAM Summit, Shourie (and Shekhar Gupta) pieced together the story of the Nellie massacre in Assam. 

India Today published it and timed it to coincide with the NAM Summit to create maximum havoc. The Summit was inaugurated on March 12 and India Today's cover on Nellie hit newsstands on March 15. Globally, the media gave precedence to the Nellie massacre and not the NAM Summit.

One wonders whether the Nellie massacre was discussed at the NAM Summit (it’d have been unlikely). I remember the Summit for the bear hug Castro gave to his “sister” Indira, and for his long speech (six hours or thereabouts).

I’m reproducing a paragraph from a piece by K Natwar Singh, a foreign service veteran, an Indira lackey, and India’s foreign minister a decade ago, wrote in the Hindu remembering Castro (The one and only Fidel).

“The opening day of the summit produced a crisis. S.K. Lambah, the Deputy-Secretary General, came to me during the lunch break. “Sir, we have a hell of a problem on our hands. Mr. Yasser Arafat is most upset — he says he felt insulted by being asked to address the opening plenary session after the leader of the Jordanian delegation. Mr. Arafat has already alerted the crew of his aircraft and will leave New Delhi this evening.” I immediately informed Indira Gandhi. I also told her that President Castro, till the afternoon session, was still the Chairman and that she should take him into confidence. She acted promptly. She arrived at Vigyan Bhavan in a few minutes. She had also spoken to President Castro. 

The great man arrived in no time. I narrated the melancholy tale to him. He asked Mr. Arafat to come to Vigyan Bhawan to confer with the outgoing and incoming Chairmen. To watch the Cuban leader handle the temperamental PLO leader was an education. Mr. Arafat reached Vigyan Bhavan in record time. Mr. Castro asked him if he was a friend of Indira Gandhi. The response was something on these lines: “Friend, friend, she is my elder sister and I will do anything for her.”

Mr. Castro: “Then behave like a younger brother and attend the afternoon session.” It was over in two minutes. Mr. Arafat did as he was told.”

In 1983, I was just out of college. I had graduated in commerce, just because those days the conventional wisdom was that a college degree in commerce would get one a clerical job. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. Journalism was developing into a keen interest, and I avidly followed MJ Akbar’s Sunday magazine every week. It became a vocation soon after I abandoned my futile attempts at becoming a chartered accountant. My father Meghnad’s trade union activism, and my home in Teli Gali, had made me by then into a committed secularist, if not a leftist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Interactive session on Belief on TAG TV

Interactive Session on Belief at TAG TV anchored jointly by Haleema Sadia and Tahir Aslam Gora. Several participants in the discussion also spoke about the novel and the issues that it deals with, especially immigration, multiculturalism, youth alienation and radicalization

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sairat - A bird and a fish may fall in love, but where will they build a home?

Bitargaon is like any other village in Maharashtra, the western-India province that has a long coastline along the Arabian Sea. Insular, hierarchical, and segregated along caste and class divide. The economy is agrarian, and has been for centuries.

What has changed in the last century is the rise of sugarcane. The cash crop has given rise to an omniscient sugar lobby that controls every aspect of people’s lives. Sugar economics is the lifeblood of Maharashtra’s hinterland, integrating it upwardly with the powerful political centres of the state. The population is a mix of all castes, no different than any other village in India.

It is a society where an accident of birth into a specific caste determines (even in the 21st century) one’s status. The Maratha caste – a middle caste – is predominant in these villages and also in the state, wielding unmatched political power. This is true for other provinces of India, too, where middle castes have seized political power through democratic means.  

Grassroots democracy has transformed these villages in a small but important ways. While hierarchies are enforced rigidly, there is enhanced social interaction between different castes. Cricket, popular cinema and satellite television bring everyone together albeit temporarily and help forge an identity that is pan-Indian in its outlook, even as it stays firmly local in its behaviour, habits and attitudes.

Even today, it is inconceivable in such a milieu that a girl and a boy from different caste would fall in love. It is impossible that if perchance they did, they would be allowed to live a life together. A bird and a fish may fall in love, but where will they build a home? 

In such a social setup, Nagraj Manjule's Sairat's Prashant (Parshya, Ajay Thosar), a young man from the Pardhi community, falls in love with the haughty daughter Archana (Archie, Rinku Rajguru) of the village’s Patil. The Patil, a Maratha chieftain, is directly linked to the sugar lobby, and is the richest man in the village. He has deep political links and strong political aspirations.

Such a love story will naturally be fraught with uncertainty and perennial tensions. Sairat (meaning: wild, passionate, frenzy; take your pick) is an unlikely love story set in a rigid caste structure that doesn’t have the patience for young lovers who are willing to risk everything just to be with each other forever.  

It is narrated in a simple and straightforward manner. The lower caste boy knows he has no hope in hell to do anything about his infatuation for the girl. Fortunately for him, the girl, raised to be independent by her family, more than reciprocates, and love blossoms.

Parshya is a regular guy who is good at his studies and great at cricket (known as the Dhoni of the village). He whiles away his time like any regular teenager with his friends Langadya (meaning: cripple) and Salya (Salim). Archie is an arrogant, self-confident young woman who has little qualms being assertive, thanks to the intangible power her caste status gives her; but she is innately earthy and a rustic trying hard to appear sophisticated.

The film narrates with charm and innocence the growing love between Parshya and Archie, but then they are discovered and have to face the wrath of Archie’s father. The Patil knows only two ways to deal with the situation – beat the boy and get his daughter married. 

The boy’s family, dismayed and unable to comprehend their son’s wanton transgression of the caste divide, just can’t take the pressure and leave the village. The boy and the girl don’t give in and elope – not to Pune or Mumbai, which are larger cities, but to Hyderabad, a city that is culturally better connected to southern Maharashtra and the Marathwada region.

Post-interval, the story picks up with the boy and the girl now living together in a sprawling Hyderabad slum, slowly but determinedly moving ahead with their life together, more assuredly after they overcome their initial discomfort of their new situation. 

After all the buildup, the audience’s expectation is belied unexpectedly and shockingly in a horrific dénouement.

Sairat is to date the highest grossing Marathi language film (having earned the Indian benchmark of US$15m at the box office). Released in April 2016 in India, it became a sensation for its songs (music Ajay-Atul) and the lead pair of first-time actors. 

The song Zingat has captured India’s soul (just as Why This Kolaveri Di had a few years ago). The frenzied lezim beat is mesmerising 

Sairat was screened at the 20th Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto earlier this week to a near-full house comprising mostly non-South Asian audience.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Revival of Dastangoi (the Lost Art of Story telling in Urdu ) in Oshawa East of Toronto

“Master craftsman Jawaid Danish is giving this art a new lease on life.” - Pasha Mohammad Khan, (Assistant Professor McGill University – Montreal)

Rangmanch-Canada in Association with OSSC-Oshawa proudly presented the 16th century lost art of storytelling Dastangoi and a grand Mushaira on 21st October 2016.

Bad weather and pouring rains could not prevent the curious patrons to  attend this historic event.  Celebrated theatre artist and playwright, Jawaid Danish is well known among theatre lovers. He is recipient of The Civic Arts Award-Pickering- Canada, with 12 books to his credit. 

He is the Artistic Director of Rangmanch-Canada.   This is the first time ever that Dastangoi was presented in Canada by an Indo-Canadian Artist.

During the performance the audience were shocked, amused, cried and burst into laughter with the captivating voice and dramatic presentation of various characters with their ethnic dialects. “Dastan Hijraton Ki” is the saga of problems and pleasures of immigrants in the west – a narration with chaste Urdu Poems and prose, at which Jawaid Danish is par excellence.

The second half of the program was a Grand Mushaira, with Ashfaq Hussain presiding, and Irfan Sattar as chief guest. Prominent poets of GTA and Durham recited their creative poems.  This program will be remembered for years to come. 

The World in One City

Colin Boyd Shaffer explaining his project

In 2013 I participated in Colin Boyd Shaffer’s Cosmopolis Toronto project where Colin photographed Torontonians from over 195 countries to portray Toronto’s diversity. It was a staggering project that Colin crowdfunded and executed in a record time. I represented India. In 2015 he published a book on the project, which is when I wrote about the project here.

Read the earlier post. Cosmopolis Toronto

See my profile on the project site here: Mayank onCosmopolis Toronto site  

See the short film about the project here: CosmopolisToronto on YouTube

Participants of the Cosmopolis Toronto project with Colin Boyd Shaffer
Earlier this month, Colin unveiled a mammoth exhibition of his project Cosmpolis Toronto: The World in One City in collaboration with the Toronto Reference Library and Myseum of Toronto. The exhibition is a city-wide photo exhibit exploring the journeys of newcomers to Toronto.

“Through photographs exhibits and programs, Cosmpolis Toronto: The World in One City is being displayed at select Toronto Public Library branches across the city, Themes that emerge revolve around the power of family, faith, food, music and the things that remind us of the past as well as the places that feel like home.”

I participated in the inauguration of the exhibition at the Toronto Reference Library. Colin informed the audience that I had been photographed at the library. The panelists who discussed the project at the inauguration included participants from Ghana (Bernice), Macedonia (Vera), England (Eileen), and Guatemala (Eric).

An important aspect of the project was to showcase a part of the participant’s past. I had chosen a photograph of Bombay’s Eros cinema at Churchgate shot sometime in the 1950s.
The exhibition at different libraries deals different themes. 

Here’s a list:

Albion: A Matter of Taste
Brentwood: Water is Lief
Richview: Make Yourself at Home
York Woods: More than Just A Game
Barbara Frum: All in the Family
Don Mills: On the Job
Fairview: Keep the Faith
Maria A Shchuka: Weaving Tradition
Northern District: The Power of Art
North York Central: Cosmopolis Torontp
Bloor / Gladstone: Finding Refuge
Lillian H. Smith: Every Picture Tells a Story
Toronto Reference Library: Cosmopolis Toronto Hub
Agincourt: School in Session
Albert Campbell: Iconic Toronto
Cedarbrae: Welcome to the Neighbourhood
Malvern: Nature Revives Us

LRC's 25 Most Influential Books

October 13 I attended the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the Literary Review of Canada (LRC). The LRC is a “forum for discussion and debate about books, culture, politics and ideas.” The evening began with a discussion between David Frum and Gary Doer on the implications of the US elections on Canada.

It seems rather strange that just about three weeks before the elections, both the liberal and the conservative elements in Canada seemed certain that Donald Trump couldn’t possibly win. Frum, a neocon, ridiculed Trump (not without justification), but didn’t anticipate any substantive transformation in the relations between Canada and the United States, and neither did Doer, a former Canadian Ambassador to the US. Heather Hiscox of the CBC moderated the discussion.

The discussion was followed by a cocktail reception and silent auction. Then the program began with opening remarks by Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, OC, Ontario Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. And, then the LRC 25 (Most Influential Books) of the last 25 years was unveiled.

In her publisher’s note Helen Walsh of the LRC explains, “We limited our selection to the books the LRC would have typically reviewed in that time frame, rather than the much larger selection of books published each year: approximately 70 percent were serious, general-interest, nonfiction titles, and 30 percent were literary fiction. All were published in English.”

Walsh emphasizes, “The LRC believes strongly that books are the architecture of society. Writers who grapple with the long-form exploration of ideas – in fiction as well as nonfiction – provide a fundamental and irreplaceable function. We salute them, and thank them, for enlivening the public debate and helping us create the kind of society in which we want to live.”

Mohamed Huque has edited the 25th Anniversary edition, and eminent authors have introduced each of the 25 books. Here’s the list:
  1. A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright introduced by Charles Foran
  2. Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway introduced by Margaret Atwood
  3. Generation X by Douglas Coupland introduced by Adam Sternbergh
  4. Citizen of the World and Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau introduced by Michael Valpy
  5. Boom, Bust and Echo, David K Foot & Daniel Stoffman introduced by Michael Adams
  6. Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire introduced by Thomas Axworthy
  7. Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk introduced by Niigaan Sinclair
  8. Shooting the Hippo by Linda Mcquaig introduced by Bruce Campbell
  9. Sisters in the Wilderness by Charlotte Gray introduced by Alissa York
  10. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry introduced by Rashi Khilnani
  11. Nation Maker by Richard Gwyn introduced by Patrick Dutil
  12. Fire and Ice by Michael Adams introduced by Dimitry Anastakis
  13. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinked introduced by Erna Paris
  14. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill introduced by Grace Westcott
  15. Paris 1919 by Margaret Macmillan introduced by Jane Hildreman
  16. No Logo by Naomi Klein introduced by Derrick O’Keefe
  17. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood introduced by David Staines
  18. The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul introduced by Bronwyn Drainie
  19. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell introduced by Ibi Kaslik
  20. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge introduced by Lawrence Scanlan
  21. Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs introduced by Suanne Kelman
  22. Blood and Belonging by Michael Ignatieff introduced by Nahlah Ayed
  23. The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro introduced by Judy Stoffman
  24. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King introduced by Lee Maracle
  25. A Secular Age by Charles Tylor introduced by David Cayley