& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 26

Let’s continue with the film theme for the last post for 2015. I saw The Best of Enemies at Bell Lightbox; a documentary that’s a feast for political junkies and students of journalism. It’s a documentary on the epic television battle between the conservative William F Buckley Jr and liberal Gore Vidal; a debate that shaped television journalism for the next five decades.

Pico Iyer has moulded global consciousness in many ways, and it was an absolute delight to hear him speak at the launch of Ratna Omidvar’s Global Diversity Exchange. Iyer gave us The Global Soul, a treatise that has shaped our understanding of the immigrant culture that is slowly taking over the world, even if the phenomenon is causing tremendous heartburn in large swathes of Europe and North America, causing political upheavals that has brought the extreme right wing to power in many countries in the developed world.

But the inexorable decline in the population in these parts of the world, and the continuing rise in Africa and Asia will see the "great unwashed" showup at the airports and on the shores, and it’ll be difficult to stop their flow for long.

Pico Iyer believed then that Canada, and especially Toronto, understands immigration.  
He says,

“I came away with a sense of possibility I hadn’t felt as I’d traveled to other of the globe’s defining multicultures, whether in Singapore or Cape Town or Melbourne, on the one hand, or in Paris and London and Bombay, on the other. On paper, at least the logic was clear: Toronto was the most multicultural city in the world, according to the UN’s official statistics and it was also, statistically, the safest big city in North America and, by general consensus, the best organized. Put the two facts together, and you could believe that a multiculture could go beyond the nation—states we knew and give a new meaning to that outdated term, the “Commonwealth.” Add further my sense that Toronto had the most exciting literary culture in the English-speaking world, and you could believe that it not only offered an example of how a country could be even greater than the sum of its parts, but presented visions of what that post-national future might look like.”

Two performances that I saw that year stay etched in my memory – the Swatri Group’s Gujarati play કાય પણ ઍક ફૂલ નુ નાં બોલો તો and the other was a two-part dance ballet Woman: A Search by Mrudanga Dance Academy. 

And in addition to Akshya Mukul’s important book Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India, I read MG Vassanji’s masterly memoirs, And Home was Karikoo. It’s an insider’s perspective that has an outsider’s objectivity.

Here’s a passage that is especially relevant to most first-generation immigrants:

“…I left the country after high school; therefore, I missed the hardships that others endured in the years that followed. What right do I have to show this outrage? It is easy for me, the comfort of my situation in North America, to condemn the nation’s reliance on foreign aid. To which I answer that leaving a place does not sever one’s ties to it, one’s feeling of concern and belonging. We are tied to our schools, our universities, our families, even when we’ve left them – then why not to the place of our childhood, of our memories? Surely a returnee has some claim to the land which formed him – which is not in some godforsaken corner of the globe but in the centre of one’s imagination. And surely distance lends objectivity, allows one to see a place as the world see it.

The series Literature Matters was launched in 2015 by Smaro Kamboureli, the Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature. The first program featured Thomas King and Naomi Klein, and the subject was climate change. Klein’s epic This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate Change is a book that will continue to remain relevant for a long time, and will become the basis of policy when young people (such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal) take power away from the three generations that have destroyed our home planet’s environment.

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