& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, June 08, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 31

With Mahrukh at
The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD)
May 2017

I return to A Decade in Toronto after a long gap. 

The story of my decade has reached the ninth year - 2017 - and life in Canada became predictable, routine, mundane.

The publication of my debut novel in 2016 was a turning point. I was invited to many readings and the one that I enjoyed the most was chatting with Saima Hussain at the Mississauga Central Library. Saima edited a collection of personal stories by Muslim women The Muslimah who fell to earth, which Mawenzi House published in 2016, along with Belief.

I bought table space at the Word on the Street in the hope that I’d be able to sell my book, but – unsurprisingly – didn’t sell enough copies to justify the steep price I paid. Undeterred, I also took a table space at Brampton Book Bash (organised by FOLD) and sold nearly two dozen copies.

In 2017 spring, after I was featured at the Festival of Literary Diversity, my friend Gavin Barrett – who came to nearly all my readings, and who couldn’t make it to FOLD – wrote to me about an idea he had of organizing a reading series. Without a moment’s hesitation, I agreed.  

Gavin named it the Tartan Turban Secret Reading Series (Tartan Turban is the logo of the advertising agency Barrett & Welsh – where Gavin is the co-founder, partner and creative head) and we started in May 2017 (18 May 2017).

Gavin had obviously put a lot of thought into what he wanted the series to be and evolve into. In his own words, “The Tartan Turban Secret Readings celebrate and support writing by multicultural/visible minority Canadian writers with a special focus on those who self-identify as black, indigenous or people of colour, who have few such platforms.

“At the same time, all writers who want to celebrate Canada’s multiculturalism, diversity and indigenous heritage, and have talent to share are warmly welcomed. Please feel free to bring any of your friends of every minority whether "visible" or otherwise - non-minorities are warmly welcomed too.”

When we launched the series, we planned to do a few readings during the summer of 2017 and then when the season changed, to bring down the curtain. However, the series caught on with the literary community and there was no way we could just stop.

Two years later, it continues to grow. I believe the main reason for its popularity is that Gavin invites an author/poet to curate the series, and then she invites six other authors/poets to read. This brings variety to the series.

I must shamefacedly admit that I share the credit for an immensely impactful, relevant, and popular program for which my only occasional contribution is to suggest names of authors who may be invited to read or curate.

Gavin does everything – including arranging for wine and samosas – and all I do is just show up for the readings.

Our lives are strange in many ways and the strangest is the way we make friends. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, someone becomes a friend and even when one doesn’t meet or interact with this person for long periods of time, or even consistently, s/he remains a friend that one thinks of first on a special occasion or when something important happens in one’s life.

Gavin Barrett is that friend. I have written extensively about him here and if you are interested, you may read all about Gavin on GAB here:


2017 was an important year because it was the seventieth year of India’s independence. It was the centenary year of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia; also, the centenary of Indira Gandhi (To read the post, click here: She knew India’s heartbeat).

It was 50 years since Che Guevara was murdered in Bolivia (and 20 years since his remains were discovered); also, 50 years of India’s Maoist Naxalbari movement.

Many who contributed to our culture passed away into history. Among them were actors Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, and Om Puri. All great actors and stars. Shashi Kapoor was a bit more special to me than the others and I couldn’t help but blog about him (To read the post, click here: Shashi Kapoor).  

Musicians Girija Devi (Hindustani classical vocalist), Gord Downie; journalists Gauri Lankesh (murdered by Hindutva terrorists) and Piroj Wadia (a dear friend. To read the post, click here: Piroj Wadia). Poet Eunice de Souza, who I had the privilege of knowing briefly when I worked at the Indian Post with Veena Gokhale, among others, and Eunice was the editor of the literary page.

We also lost authors Robert Pirsig and Bharati Mukherjee. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (To read the post, click here: Zen) is an important book that I read two times – first when I was in my late teens and then in my late twenties – and it was only upon the second reading that I understood it.

Winter morning in Brampton 

In 2017, I gifted the book to my then colleague, who in jest told me she needed Zen more than Yoga.

I want to briefly segue into an issue that is misinterpreted often deliberately by newcomers to Canada. Nearly all newcomers to Canada feel that their qualifications and experience are ignored because they lack what is euphemistically termed as “Canadian experience”.  

Now let me narrate the experience of my former colleague’s husband (the colleague to whom I gifted Pirsig’s book). He is a Caucasian Canadian, born and raised in Canada, studied to become an engineer, and served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the Balkans and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One would imagine than upon his return to civilian life, he would be welcomed by our people and would easily get a job matched his engineering qualification and incredible experience of having served the nation.

However, that is not what happened. Neither does his present job reflect his qualifications, nor his abilities and experience.

If our system cannot take care of our veterans, there will be many who will legitimately ask, “Why should then Canada give favoured treatment to refugees and immigrants?”

Until we don’t have a satisfactory and logical answer to this question, the issue of immigration will continue to be polarising and it will always turn ugly and emotive.

During my days as a journalist, I’ve seen exclusivist political formulations demand protection of the rights of the native people (sons of the soil). In today’s context, the forces that oppose immigration globally represent the same values.

However, unless there is a real solution to securing economic opportunities for the native people, the ire against immigrants and refugees will rise, not dissipate.

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