& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, April 19, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 30

In November 2016, my novel Belief was published and launched at Toronto’s Gladstone. I’ve written rather extensively about it in different places (including here) and so it’d seem bit of an overkill if I repeat myself. But I do want to acknowledge the contribution of MG Vassanji to making Belief what it became.

Although I’d taken several years to work on the various drafts, there were a number of loose ends in the final draft. Vassanji rejected the conclusion of my draft – which he felt was heavily influenced by Hindi movies – and suggested that we leave it more open ended; he also made Jameel, the son-in-law, a rum-swigging Caribbean. In addition to these major modifications, there were a number of minor ones, as well. He made me work on the first chapter more than a dozen times and even then, he continued to say that he wasn’t satisfied with it.

It’s mistakenly believed that writing is a gift one is born with and that it cannot be taught; my experience with Vassanji was different. His observations, comments, opinions on my drafts helped me improve my story, my characters, the pace at which the story developed. He did all this almost always patiently, often imperceptibly; occasionally sarcastically and at least on a couple occasions quite sharply.

The day my novel was launched was one of the most important days of my life; in retrospect, only a few days match up. For me, it was important that Mahrukh, Che and Durga were with me at the launch event, and my sister Sonal enthusiastically ordered a dozen or so copies online from Barnes and Noble; other members of my family in India and the US also went out of their way to buy a copy, as did many of my friends.

The novel received a great reception. The national media – CBC and Toronto Star –covered the novel; Quill and Quire reviewed it; Dana Hansen’s review, though not lengthy, was good. South Asian media gave it prominent coverage. All this assured the proverbial 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol guaranteed every human being would have in the “future.”

Thanks to all my friends, I was also invited to a number of readings and book events between 2016 and 2018, including at the prestigious Harbourfront, and at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton.

The FOLD festival participation in 2017 was a grand experience. Mahrukh and I were provided a hotel room in Brampton for a couple of nights. It was the first time in many, many years that we were in a hotel room together. Since his birth, two years after we were married, Che had accompanied us everywhere we’d gone. Now, although only 19, he decided that he was too old to be with us.

At the FOLD festival I met many outstanding authors and creative people, the most memorable was, of course, Eden Robinson, the much-awarded novelist with a hearty laugh. Mahrukh and I had lunch with her at a Thai restaurant on downtown Brampton. Her novel Blood Sport (the only novel that I’ve read) is raw, gritty, violent.

FOLD Festival is in many ways similar to the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts (later renamed Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts) that Vassanji and Nurjehan conceived and organised once every two years between 2009 and 2015.

But FOLD is a better funded effort, and Jael Richardson, the founder of the festival is able to attract a wider participation from local Canadian authors. By focusing on authors whose works are freshly published, the festival has an immediacy that gives it a buzz.

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Che with braces; I never wore braces
because I had no front teeth 

By 2016 December, my dentist in Toronto Dr. Anant Seth convinced me that it was time for me to remove all my teeth and move from partial to complete dentures. That transition would occur in early 2017.

When I was in my 20s, I remember reading a book which had a sentence, “as common as a 13-year-old wearing dentures…” I don’t remember which book that was, but I do recall, my eyes moistening. I was 13 when Dr. Chouhan extracted most of my teeth except the molars. He then put plastic teeth both on the upper and lower jaws. For the first time in many years, I was finally able to bite and chew properly.

Me and my dentures have a long back story. After my milk teeth fell, the new teeth that emerged were ill-formed, spirally, crooked, sharp and uneven. My parents tried all sorts of medicines for it, including homeopathy, but nothing changed the deformities in my mouth. Then, finally, in 1975, exasperated with the situation, they consulted Dr. Chouhan who recommended partial dentures.

I’d lived with partial dentures through my adolescence, teens and youth. Periodically, I’d have to get them changed as I grew up and the size of my mouth changed. When I was in my early 20s, Dr. Mohan changed the removable partial dentures to permanent, fixed dentures. And then when I was in my late 30s, Dr. Rajiv Khanna, a young man, recommended gums tissue graft surgery because constant wearing of dentures for so many years had resulted in gums reversal.

Dr. Anant Seth is the fourth dentist in my life so far. All of them have had an affable personality. Dr. Seth recommended, with all gravity he could muster, that if I didn’t change to a complete set of removable dentures, it could well have dangerous consequences. I didn’t think much about it before agreeing because dentures had (and have) always been a part of my life.

However, something significant did occur in 2017 when I began wearing full, removable dentures – I no longer felt it necessary to hide that I wore dentures. I’d not necessarily hidden this fact; after all I’d been wearing dentures since I was in my teens, but now I was talking about it more openly and more frequently. Sometimes, I see the look of disbelief on some of my friends and acquaintances when they realise that I wear dentures.

I take time to explain to them that it was because of the strong antibiotics that I was administered as a six-month-old when I got pneumonia which most likely caused my teeth to grow deformed leaving no choice but to wear dentures. Another, perhaps more dangerous outcome of the pneumonia was the swelling on my kidneys, which five decades later, developed in a full-blown kidney disease, requiring constant monitoring.

If all the years in the last decade (2008 – 2018) were significant in some ways, 2016 was the significant for my debut novel and for my kidney disorder. 2017 began with me losing all my teeth.

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