& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 29

Tahir Gora and Haleema Sadia have been successfully running the multicultural television channel TAG TV now for nearly five years. I have had the privilege of knowing them ever since I was involved with the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts; Munir Parvez introduced me to them.

I found Tahir to be a soft-spoken, decent human being with strong convictions on human rights and civil liberties. He openly supports the Conservative Party of Canada and holds hawkish views on religious radicalisation and is critical of those he considers are apologists for such forces in developed societies of the west. However, he is also a thoroughly professional journalist and never lets his personal political views come in the way of the news coverage on his channel.

In 2015, at a get together that I organised when Kumar Ketkar came visiting, Tahir suggested that I should do a program on his channel. He suggested a name, Living Multiculturalism, to the show and said I should interview authors and poets in Toronto who live and create in the multicultural milieu. It was exciting and I at once agreed. 

I figured I could run the show at least for a year just talking to my friends. And that’s how it turned out – I did most of the interviews in 2016 and then took a prolonged break before recommencing in 2017. Unfortunately, my health concerns prevented me from doing more than 25 interviews.

I interviewed the following creators

  • Diana Tso, playwright, actor
  • Dawn Promislow, author
  • Danila Botha, author
  • Amatoritsero Ede, author, poet, editor
  • Sang Kim, chef, author, curator, tutor
  • Farzana Doctor, author, curator
  • Katherine Govier, author, activist, Rasha Elendari, Camila Uriona, Shoe Project participants
  • Loren Edizel, author
  • Mehdi Rezania, musician, professor
  • Jael Richardson, author, curator, artistic director
  • Michael Fraser, poet
  • Haniely Pableo, musician
  • Lisa de Nikolits, author 
  • Banoo Zan, poet
  • Jasmine D’Costa, author
  • Ali Adil Khan, curator
  • Andrea Thompson, spoken word artist
  • Safia Fazlul, author
  • Meena Chopra, poet, artist
  • Ravi Naimpally, musician
  • Sid Sawant, actor
  • Tahir Gora, author, journalist
  • Daisuke Takeya, artist
  • Tushan Unnadkat, curator
  • Mariam Pirbhai, author

Through these interviews, we attempted to create space for voices that are generally ignored by the mainstream Canada. In retrospect, I think it’s attempts such as these that truly make multiculturalism in Canada meaningful and while I don’t claim that Living Multiculturalism was able to encompass Canadian multiculturalism in all its complex facets, it was a small step in that direction.

The entire series is available here: Living Multiculturalism

My interviews on TAG TV assisted in creating a buzz around the launch of my debut novel Belief. Mawenzi House quietly announced it in July 2016 on twitter. TAGV TV and Tahir created a special program for the launch of my debut novel Belief on TAG TV and invited prominent authors and poets from the South Asian community to discuss the novel.

Haleema, who’d actually read the book, conducted the interview and asked incisive questions. Then, she opened up the session for discussions. Many participants discussed several aspects of the theme of the book – the turmoil that a family experiences when their son is involved in what the west describes as a terrorist plot.

It was important for me to have this platform that Tahir created for me because I was able to reach out to a religious minority (both in Canada and in India) that is stigmatized and often ostracised for no other reason except that they belong to a religion.

And to my satisfaction, I realized that I’d succeeded in portraying a recurring phenomenon in our societies from a different perspective that at least compelled some readers to look at it more as a human tragedy rather that from a binary prism of good or evil.

In 2016, the same year that my debut novel was launched, there were a number of great books that I read. Three that stood out were Andre Alexi’s Fifteen Dogs, Tahir Gora’s Rang Mahal, and Ruchira Gupta’s Rivers of Flesh.

Alexi’s novel was published in 2015, but I read it only in 2016. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best novels of this decade. At a particularly poignant moment in the novel, Majnoun, one of the 15 canines who has developed humanlike faculties of thought and speech, thanks to a wager between Hermes and Apollo, describes to Nira, his female human friend, what to a male canine is a perfect dilemma: to choose between two compelling desires of sex and hunger.

– Do dogs have stories? Nira asked him one day.
– Of course, said Majnoun.
– Oh, Maj! said Nira. Please tell me one.

Majnoun agreed and began.

There – There is the smell of bitch, but I am before a wall. The smell is strong, and I am going mad. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. The wall is too thick to knock down and it goes for miles in this direction and for miles in that direction. I dig under and I dig and I dig. The master cannot see my digging, so I dig until there is air beneath the wall and the smell of the bitch is stronger than it was before. I call to the bitch but there is no answer. But there is air beneath the wall. Should I go on digging? I don’t know, but I dig even though I can smell the master’s food from his house. The smell of bitch is stronger and stronger. I call out, but now I am hungry.

Here Majnoun stopped.

– Is that it? Asked Nira.
– Yes, said Majnoun. Do you not like it?
– Well, it’s…different, said Nira. But it doesn’t really have an ending.
– It has a very moving ending, said Majnoun. Is it not sad to be caught between desires?

Tahir’s Rang Mahal is equally pathbreaking. I read the Hindi translation of the original Urdu; it deserves to be translated into English and other languages.

Rang Mahal challenges common precepts of fiction on all its fundamentals – there is no plot, there is no linearity, no continuity and no conclusions; there is a cinematic depiction of the external surroundings that at once stimulates one’s senses – the reader experiences smells, colours, taste and touch in all its sensuousness as well as its coarseness.

The narrative also dwells deeply into the thought processes of the characters, revealing a subliminal depth and liminal uncertainty. The characters are sophisticated and yet raw, uncouth, seething with passionate anger. Their anger is directed more against themselves rather than at the world. This anger has its roots in the utter hopelessness that they experience as individuals (not necessarily as immigrants) who find themselves in situations that they help create but also wish to quickly and permanently escape from forever.

Activist Ruchira Gupta compiled a collection of Indian short stories on the theme of sex workers. Rivers of Flesh and other stories: The prostituted women in Indian short stories. The unifying theme of all the stories is the inherently exploitative relationship that prostitution imposes on the woman.

Ujjal Dosanjh’s memoirs Journey After Midnight was also launched in Toronto in 2016. It narrates the harrowing attack on him for speaking out openly against Khalistani terrorists. I also read the phenomenal The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It is quite simply a masterpiece.

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