& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 13

Che - quiet, shy & handsome
I’ll continue with 2011 because when I look back at the year, I realise that a lot of things happened. And while it’s not possible to capture everything into this series, I do want to ensure that I don’t miss some important occurrences.

My involvement in the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts enlarged my circle of acquaintances in the creative world. I realized that the suburbs of Toronto – Mississauga, Brampton, and Oakville had a thriving cultural scene buzzing with events and programs and that South Asians were organizing most of these events.

I was invited to an exhibition of Hindi film posters – Picture House – organized by Ali Adil Khan and Asma Arshad Mahmood at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. It was a painstakingly put together exhibition, where Ali and Asma put a stamp of originality on a subject that could easily have become a sentimental and lachrymose, not to say banal, depiction of a dying art. 

I blogged rather animatedly about it, and my journalism teacher-turned-friend Teenaz Javat read it. She got me invited to the CBC’s Metro Morning show for a brief chat about the exhibition. (Read the blog: Picture House)

At IIFA, photo by Mariellen Ward
In late June, I was invited to participate in the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards at the Rogers Centre with Mahrukh, Che and Durga who was with us. The invitation was from my friend CP Thomas, who was doing the public relations for the event organizer Wizcraft (co-owner Sabbas Joseph used to be a colleague).

Thanks to CP, a serial entrepreneur and the publisher of Indian Voices, we got some of the best seats at the awards venue. The show belonged to Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, and a bunch of film stars from the yesteryears. (Read the blog: IIFA in Toronto)

Farzana Doctor, the author friend who organizes the immensely influential Brockton Writers’ Series invited me to read at the September 2011 edition of the series along with Jessica Westhead and Pratap Reddy. She was greatly amused by the emails I exchanged to finalise my reading at the series and quoted from it verbatim while introducing me.

With Pratap and Jessica at Brocton Writers' Series
I have tremendous admiration and respect for Farzana. She gave key inputs to improve my manuscript and make it more “Canadian,” when I was struggling with it. Of course, by the time the manuscript emerged as a novel, a lot had already changed. At different stages of my writing process, she was willing to assist, suggest, promote and otherwise help in whatever way she could. Being a star author that she is, she’d forgotten my name by the time her third novel was launched.

Later that month, at the Word on the Street, I participated in the “Adopt a Writer” program with Jessica Westhead at the Word on the Street festival. Books and books-related events had become a major preoccupation. The Munk Centre in midtown Toronto became a regular venue to participate in such events. (Read the blog: Parallel Histories) It was to continue for a few years until recently when I began to consciously slow down my activities in view of my deteriorating kidneys. 

Marshall McLuhan’s centenary was celebrated globally in 2011, and in Toronto, his hometown, he was remembered at a panel discussion organized by the McLuhan Legacy Network. It was an important discussion.

McLuhan remains prescient about the future of the media. He’d predicted the Age of Internet long before it became a reality. He said, “The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function, and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”

My blog was being noticed and I began to get offers from publishers for book reviews. I’d prefer to write mostly about authors, book events and about books without doing reviews. Calypso Editions in the USA sent me a new translation of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘How much land does a man need’. It’s a simple, straightforward folklore of human greed. I blogged about Tagore and Translation in two parts. (Part 1, Part 2)

Che - getting ready for the
school concert
At work, I was doing all that needed to be done to give back to the ICCC – the organization that had made life possible in Canada for me and my family. I enjoyed the work, and what I loved more was the constant interaction with people who were deeply involved with the organization. 

Under Satish Thakkar's leadership, the organisation took off and successfully scaled peaks of glory never before attempted in the three-and-a-half decades of the organisation's history. 
Harjit Kalsi was another stalwart – an unassuming, soft-spoken, hands-on manager, who made the most menial tasks pleasurable. Together, Harjit and I created a short documentary on Hindi film songs with the railway motif for the ICCC’s year-end gala that had the Indian Railways as its theme.

At home, Che was in his final pre-teen years and was turning into a handsome young man. The next three years would be hard on him; years that’d change him forever.  I’ve often thought about these years and often wondered whether I did the right thing in getting us here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 12

Che at his school concert
2011 turned out to be a momentous year in many ways. Some of India’s biggest and most enduring cultural icons left us – Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, and Maqbul Fida Husain. Each had carved a special niche amongst Indians with their achievements.

Husain’s death was tragic. The artist who had shaped aesthetic sensibilities in post-independence (and post-colonial)  India had to live his last few years in exile, fearful that if he continued to live in India, he would be apprehended and imprisoned for hurting the Hindu religious sentiments because he had preferred to paint Hindu goddesses (and Mother India) in the nude. One should bear in mind that all this happened before Narendra Modi changed India irreversibly and forever in 2014.

Bharat Mata by MF Husain
On May 1 2011, American soldiers killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The man redefined our world and his ideology of terrorism divided (divides) people as nobody else has since perhaps Leninism did in the early 20th century. The manuscript that I was working on was primarily based on the ideology of hatred preached by Laden and his foot soldiers in the Islamic world.

The year began with the Islamic world suddenly seized by an urgent need for a revolution. Led by social media, the youth of Egypt took to streets and demanded democracy; young people from across the Middle East joined in. Briefly, with the ouster of Mubarak in Egypt and the brutal street lynching of Gaddafi, it seemed that after all these years of being under brutal dictatorships the region would see the birth of democracy.

It appeared that perhaps George Bush Jr had been right all along – that invading Iraq had been about ushering democracy in the Middle East. Of course, that was not to be, and aided and abetted by the United States of America (then under Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State) throttled democracy and reinstated a military dictatorship in Egypt, leaving most of the Middle East smouldering.

Also in 2011, the world’s population crossed 7 billion, and the seven billionth baby was born in India, and India won the World Cup, fulfilling Sachin Tendulkar’s dream.

However, this is not the place for a detailed discussion on global sociopolitical and cultural issues. This blog is about Mahrukh, Che, Canada, and me. For all of us, the year was turning out to be immensely important. Che graduated from the middle school and decided to go to the York Memorial Collegiate for high school. He had become an independent-minded young adult who took his own decisions.

Che's graduation from Middle School
In school, he learnt to play the clarinet and was included in the school’s concert choir. It was probably a routine matter, but for us – immigrant parents – it was an amazing achievement and we took pains in ensuring that he was dressed appropriately. Che’s transformation had been the quickest because he went to school and there is nothing better than grassroots education to ensure comprehensive integration.

Read about Che at school here: Losing accent

Mahrukh, who had completed her program in social work from Medix, was courageously working as a volunteer with different settlement agencies across Toronto. She was gaining tremendous experience and was acquiring firsthand knowledge about the intricacies of the settlement process. However, she remained singularly unlucky because while everyone admired her abilities and skills, nobody was willing to offer her a regular job.

I’d continued to work on my manuscript and an extract of my unpublished manuscript was published as a short story in the Indian Voices Vol I published in India by CP Thomas and edited by the formidable Jasmine DaCosta, who had already included another extract from the manuscript in the Canadian Voices Vol II. I was one of the readers at the launch of the collection at Toronto’s Supermarket Bar. I was delighted that MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz were among the audience. The hugely talented Farzana Doctor was the other reader.  This was my moment under the spotlight (literally) and I enjoyed it every bit.

At the launch of Indian Voices Vol I
Jasmine DaCosta introduced us to Mariellen Ward, a travel writer of repute, who did an interview with the group (Jasmine, Farzana and Niranjana Iyer) about new Indo-Canadian writing in Toronto and got it published in the Maple Tree Literary Supplement edited by the versatile Amatoritsero Ede. Read about it here:  Defining Indo-Canadian writing

My association with MG Vassanji had continued even after I completed my program in Creative Writing under his guidance at Humber College and he included me in the core group of the organisers of the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts (FSALA). Along with the other committee members, I was to organize the second edition of the festival. I’d participated in the first edition in 2009 and had gone to the Robert Gill Theatre Koffler Centre at the U of T (St. George) at the reading of Bapsi Sidhwa (Ice Candy Man / Earth); Anosh Irani and Tahira Naqvi also read at the event.

Read here about FSALA 2009

For 2011, the program was perhaps a bit more ambitious with over 30 authors participating, including the iconic Girish Karnad, the Jnanpeeth award-winning playwright of groundbreaking plays such as Tughlak and Naga-Mandala. The festival also acknowledged Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s centenary. Ananya Mukherjee of York University performed an amazing skit in Bengali based on Tagore’s writings. For an academic, it was truly a jaw-dropping performance. I told her she’d have succeeded as an actor, too, had she tried.  

Read about the festival here:

The festival was remarkable in many ways. I had the privilege on meeting two of the best playwrights in India – Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani. Dalbir Singh, at that time a student, interviewed both of them at a scintillating session. With Karnad, I managed to have an exclusive chat as I walked with him back to the hotel. He was more concerned that I’d be cold because I wasn’t wearing any warm clothes.