& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 20

A number of global legends from diverse spheres passed on into history in 2014, among them were Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Richard Attenborough, Robin Williams. 

All of them contributed to deepening our understanding and appreciation of the arts. Marquez is unquestionably one of the best novelists of all times. 

If you’re interested in reading about what I wrote when he passed away, click here: Marquez

Similarly, Attenborough contributed to a better appreciation of Mahatma Gandhi achievements and contributions to making the world a better place. Attenborough’s Gandhi was a cinematic masterpiece and deservedly swept the Oscars in 1982 (unfortunately, Spielberg’s ET lost out). Gandhi the movie introduced the Mahatma to a global audience especially to a younger demographic. 

Che and Mahrukh
Attenborough was also a consummate actor and admired by the discerning moviegoer for his portrayal of General James Outram in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977).

Robin Williams acted in too many good movies, making it difficult to pinpoint his best. But I believe that he will be remembered for his portrayal of John Keating, the English teacher, who adopts unusual methods to teach his students' poetry and understand life better in Dead Poets Society (1989).

The list also included two individuals who were well known in their spheres and who I could claim to have known personally – Chelva Kanaganayakan and Vasu Chanchlani. Coincidentally, both passed away at a relatively young age of 62 and both were immensely active.

Vasu Chanchlani was among the most prosperous Indo-Canadians and a person deeply committed to philanthropy. His prosperity hadn’t changed his innate decency. He approached me to do a write-up on his nomination for the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award.
Che and Durga

What I found endearing about him was that he never let his wealth determine his relationships, or his identity. He’d happily accompany me to an ordinary Indian restaurant near the Chamber’s office and agreed to take turns to pay.

I got to know Chelva because of my association with the Festival of South Asian Literature and Arts. We were both members of the core group that worked to organize the festival curated by MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz.

Read about him here: Chelva Kanaganayakan

With Mahrukh
Asghar Ali Engineer made a name for himself for his resolute opposition to religious fundamentalism. He passed away in 2013. As a journalist in Bombay, I’d come in close contact with him. On a couple of occasions, I’d gone over to his modest home in Santacruz East near Golibar to discuss current affairs. 

In the mid-1980s, his Centre for Study of Society and Secularism had published a report of the unstated but obvious bias against Muslims in finding jobs in the private sector. I’d taken views of a cross-section of influencers on the report. 

The best reaction had come from Datta Samant, the fiery trade union leader, famous for the textile strike of 1982. Samant looked at me quizzically when I asked him whether employers discriminated against Muslims. “They will exploit everyone. They don’t care about their workers’ religion.”

Engineer continued to be active, but we lost touch when I quit journalism in the late 1990s. 

When I went to Bombay in 2014, I made it a point to visit his Santacruz office. I took Che with me to introduce my son to the significance of a person such as Engineer and his contribution to ensuring that fundamentalism is challenged.

As a matter of principle, I have not told my son what dogma (religious/ideological) he should follow (I'll be happy if he doesn't follow any). I believe every human being has the right to choose, or better still, not choose at all. I believe that every human being has the right to not be indoctrinated, especially by family,  culture, upbringing and rigid family values. 

Where I make an exception is to tell him to be on the side of the oppressed. Engineer and his kind always stood (and stand) with the oppressed.

Unfortunately or fortunately, Che doesn’t remember that we visited Engineer’s office and met his son Irfan Engineer who has continued to do all the good work that his father initiated, and in his efforts, he’s been joined by Ram Puniyani, a former IIT professor, who even during his teaching days, was a resolute activist fighting the good cause of secularism.

Read about Asghar Ali Engineer here: Striving for Peace and Harmony


My journey to discover authors and poets continued and I assisted  Meenakshi Alimchandani in organizing the South Asian component of the first (and last) Inspire Toronto International Book Fair. It was a great event, where the who’s who of Toronto’s literary world congregated to discuss what they know best – reading, writing, and books.

Meenakshi had her favourite South Asian authors for the panel discussion and included friends such as Jasmine D’Costa, Manjushree Thapa, Anirudh Bhattacharya, and the effervescent Pricilla Uppal, who succumbed to cancer earlier this year. 

Read about it here: Inspire

My friends Yoko Morgenstern and Joyce Wayne published their debut novels in 2014. Yoko’s Double Exile was released in July when I’d left for India. Joyce’s The Cook’s Temptation was launched at our common friend Sang Kim’s restaurant Wind-Up Bird CafĂ© (named after Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Joyce’s second novel, Last Night of the World (published in 2018) is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.
With Yoko

Read their interviews:

For a brief while, Sang’s restaurant became a hotspot for literary dos and attracted an esoteric group of people all of whom shared their love for great food and great books. Sang, an award-winning author, is these days pursuing his passion for creating exquisite cuisines. 


Except the last photo with Yoko, the other photos are not connected to the blog. I've just placed them here because they were clicked in 2014, and Che looks smart in them.

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