& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 9

Becoming Canadian, and showing it!
2010: I return to what is turning out to be a sanitized version of my memoirs, after a long gap of nearly three weeks. I say sanitized because I’ve focused only on the positives of the last decade, and also, I’d rather not dwell upon the many unpleasant experiences that I’ve encountered during that time.

I’m sure all newcomers have such unpleasant experiences that may vary in their content but not much in the form, but when one looks back, one realises that such small irritants don’t amount to anything significant, and shouldn’t be given undue importance. This is because the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives.  

Confidence & contentment
2010 began on a positive note for all the three of us – I finally had a secure job and Mahrukh was doing great at her social worker program at Medix. Che was out of middle school and into high school, having chosen York Memorial at Keele and Eglinton. With a secure job, I focused on my writing, and meeting and making friends with the community of authors and creative people in the Greater Toronto Area.

I began participating in reading sessions in Toronto and Mississauga. My circle of friends grew rapidly and I continued to develop my manuscript. I met Farzana Doctor, who significantly influenced my writing; and a couple of years later, she read my manuscript and recommended substantial modifications. I also participated in Meena Chopra's book launch in Mississauga. Meena is an artist I admire; she's also a poet, Her husband, Bhupinder, has a wry sense of humour, both are family now.

My attempt at writing fiction was turning out to be rather challenging and difficult. To write continuously and to develop a story are not among the easiest of things to do. I’d never done anything like this before and there were many missteps.  I didn’t have a name for the novel – that came four years later when I was rewriting the passages about Rafiq’s religiosity.

All I had was a first chapter, which started as a short story, and then I decided to continue working on it because it seemed adventurous to something that I’d never done before. I was in that sort of a state of mind – to boldly go where I’d never imagined I’d go, and writing fiction was definitely adventurous and challenging. I was elated that Diaspora Dialogues had accepted my short story and it was to be published in the fifth edition of their annual collection TOK: Writing the New Toronto.

But the journey from writing a short story to writing a full-length novel was not a natural progression even if it seemed so. I tried to adapt the story to an earlier attempt at novel writing (A decade in Toronto – 7) but soon realised that my characters were based in Canada and what I’d done earlier could, at best, be a back story and that, too, of just one of the four main characters. I didn’t know how to develop characters, build a narrative, and was too dependent upon dialogues, which tended to dominate the narrative.

I knew I needed guidance and when I learnt that MG Vassanji, who had been my mentor at the Diaspora Dialogues program, was a writing coach at Humber College’s creative writing program, I wrote to Antanas Sileika and started the program to work on my manuscript under Vassanji’s guidance. 

It was not easy working with him. He was painstaking, methodical and thorough. I think I must have worked on my first chapter over two dozen times and yet he remained dissatisfied. In July, when the creative writing program’s term ended, I continued for another six months, preferring Vassanji’s guidance rather than venturing on my own. I learnt the hard way that all writing was rewriting.

There was a slow build up in excitement as the launch of TOK 5 approached. But nothing had prepared me to e invited to participate as a panellist at a discussion during the launch event. I was overwhelmed when I got an email from Julia Chan of Diaspora Dialogues in April 2010 asking me whether I’d be interested in being a panellist and also read from my story at the launch event that was scheduled in May 2010 at the prestigious Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library.

Marjorie Chan moderated the panel discussion and the panellists included Shyam Selvadurai, Emma Donahue, Marni Van Dyke, Michael Fraser, and me. The discussion was interspersed with five-minute readings from each remaining writer.

Reading at the Toronto Reference Library

I was overawed to be participating in a panel discussion with such prominent and talented authors and was justifiably nervous. I think I gave adequate responses to the questions Marjorie asked me, generally thanking the Canadian immigration system to be so generous and well attuned as to give a newcomer like me an opportunity to be an author. Shyam who was sitting beside me had a diametrically opposite view and was resolutely critical of the system. I read the first part of my story – from the beginning to the passage from the email that ends with Rafiq’s mentor seeking war on Canada.

Chan, Fraser, Donahue, Van Dyke, Selvadurai and I
Dawn Promislow and Leslie Shimotakahara, who were also featured authors in the volume, were present at the launch. Mahrukh, Che and Durga were excited to be at the venue, as were Joyce and Yoko; others who participated became great friends subsequently – Sanjay and Rizvana, and Pratap (who’d been a mentee in the program). Gavin Barrett was, of course, there. He managed to make it to nearly every public reading that I gave since this one.  

Following the release of the book, Diaspora Dialogues arranged for a joint reading by all the emerging authors featured in TOK 5 at the rock at Yorkville. It was an unusual experience, more of a photo-op than a real reading, but a few bystanders did come forward to hear us read. 

Niranjana Iyer reviewed TOK 5 on her blog (Brown Paper) and found my story “well-written but predictable.” I wrote to her protesting slightly, but she became a good friend and subsequently invited me to the Karma Reading series where I heard and met Rohinton Mistry (the only time I saw and heard the reclusive author read a short story).

All the emerging authors of TOK 5 with Nala Hopkinson
Jasmine D’Costa, whom I’d met in 2009, now announced the launch of Canadian Voices Volume II that she’d be editing and Robert Morgan’s BookLand Press would publish in 2010. I submitted a chapter on Ruksana, the mother, in my work in progress. She accepted it and even accepted another chapter for Indian Voices that she was editing and that CP Thomas, a former colleague turned publisher would publish under the 42 Bookz banner. 

Jasmine continued to play a significant role in my efforts to build my profile as an author. She published my work and also introduced me to authors and editors, among them  Fraser Sutherland, who edited my work initially and with whom I'd spiritedly argue over small and big issues. As an editor, he was softspoken but firm and generally succeeded in convincing me to come around to his point of view.

Canadian Voices Volume II was launched in September 2010 and Indian Voices was launched in 2011. I had the honour of having MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz participate in the launch.