& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 35

With Dr. Lakshmanan
Is ideology nothing more than belief? Often, I have not been able to distinguish between those who fervently swear by an ideology from those who are religious. There is a deep sense of fanaticism about both. They are unwilling to question their belief and are deeply suspicious of any point of view that differs from their own.

I’m no exception. I’m not religious, but nearly everyone who knows me will say that I’m ideological.

Ideology is problematic because it reduces complex and multifaceted issues into binaries of left and right. It precludes the possibility of reaching a better, and a more holistic answer that would include all opposing viewpoints in finding solutions.

Most challenges have straightforward administrative solutions that don’t require ideologically driven approach to resolving them. In fact, ideology-based approach to resolving these challenges unnecessarily complicates the situation.

But there is no denying the centrality of ideology in nearly all human endeavour. Ideology is rooted in our lives and is the main cause of our societies riven with division and friction.

In 2018, I developed close working relationship with several people whose ideological orientation was diametrically opposite to my own. It was at once a strange, enervating yet enlightening experience. This happened with I joined the Canada India Foundation.

My tenure at Simmons da Silva had reached a dead end by early 2018. I could continue working there forever, if I was happy with the limited responsibilities that had been given to me.

With Pankaj Dave
I was looking for alternatives and that came my way when I met Anil Shah at a get together that was organised by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. At that time, he was the National Convener of the Canada India Foundation, and the foundation was looking for an executive director.

I met Anilbhai (as he’s usually called) along with Pankaj Dave in February 2018 and discussed the possibility of my joining the foundation. They didn’t show much interest but asked me to start freelancing for the foundation. I started doing that in March and by May, the Foundation offered me a job.

Leaving Simmons da Silva was not easy. I had strong emotional bonds with some of my colleagues. But more importantly, leaving would be perceived as betraying Puneet, who had stood by me and offered me a job when I needed one. It was with a deeply forlorn feeling that I walked out of the law firm’s Brampton office late May 2018 to join the CIF.

To me, the decision to join and work at the foundation was based on my professional competence and the foundation’s requirements – these matched perfectly. Not for a moment did it occur to me that I would be working for an organisation that had a distinct ideological mooring which on many occasions would be diametrically opposed to my own. I suppose that is true in most such relationship.

As an employee, one is required to perform all assigned tasks professionally and competently irrespective of one’s own way of thinking. And that is what I did throughout my brief tenure at the foundation.

The foundation is a public policy think tank formed in 2007. It has some of the most distinguished Indo-Canadians as its members, individuals who have contributed time and money to hasten the integration of Indo-Canadian community into the Canadian mainstream and improve Canada India bilateral relations. It is a non-partisan organisation and has consistently raised many issues that are often not discussed out of a strange adherence to political correctness.

I interacted closely with the core team comprising Anilbhai, Satish Thakkar and Pankaj Dave, and developed close ties with them. I also developed close working relationships with Ajit Someshwar, Ramesh Chotai and V. I. Lakshmanan.

Mayur Dave, who’d been introduced to me a couple of years ago, became a close friend.

During my brief tenure, and thanks in a great measure to the dedicated team of members, I was able to work towards a positive transformation of the foundation and increased its membership and programs.

I worked at Anilbhai’s Ni-Met Metals Inc. office in Oakville and was again in the midst of a multicultural environment, although the staff was predominantly Gujarati-speaking.

My tenure there was enlivened because of my constant interactions, arguments and debate with the members of the Foundation on many contentious issues.

It also offered me an opportunity to examine my own views on many issues that are important to me; issues that form the basis of my existence, belief and behaviour.
Issues such as secularism, the role of religion in public life and in the life of an individual, the responsibilities of the state toward the protection of the minorities, and similar other matters.

Examining my views on all these matters was an unusual experience because I had to evaluate the veracity of my opinion and consider the validity of opposing opinions.

I discovered that if one is able to build and maintain a level of trust with the person who holds a differing point of view, it is possible to conduct a civilized debate that can lead to a better understanding of the issue under debate.

It helps narrow down the differences to one or two core issues that are purely ideological.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 34

Creativity - what is it? What isn't it?

You begin to seek creative avenues of self-expression when you develop a sense of belonging to a place. But the economic reality of being a relatively recent immigrant doesn’t permit creative self-expression because you are tied down to an office routine. In such a scenario, the only available option is to enjoy the creativity of professional artists who are able to find time and energy and the motivation to stay committed to their art.
By 2017, I was a confirmed Torontonian, or at least that’s what I felt. My sense of belonging to the place was, as they say, all-encompassing.
My debut novel was published, I was now a co-founder of an immensely interesting reading series (although I didn’t next-to-nothing for it), and I continued to stay engaged with people who were actively pursuing avenues for creative expression. That included finding time to go to see plays, movies, performances and occasionally writing expressionistic pieces about my no-longer-new life in Toronto.
Jasmine Sawant’s play GRAMMA, staged by the SAWITRI Theatre Group, was a remarkably original attempt at combining the past with the present and memoir with fiction. Moreover, the play marked a clear departure for both the playwright and the group – it was probably the first time that both had worked on Canadian material. Had this play been produced and staged in a mainstream milieu, it’d have got more attention than it otherwise did; but then that’s the reality of Canada.
I bought tickets to Broken Images (a play written by Girish Karnad in 2004) because Shabana Azmi was to perform the roles of Manjula and Malini. The tickets I could afford were for the second floor balcony, and much to my annoyance, the organisers had invited a number of people who occupied prime seating, while those who’d paid for their tickets (like I had) were scattered on the balconies of the spacious  Living Arts Centre in Mississauga.
But leaving aside pettiness, Shabana Azmi’s performance was a tour de force. There are few who can match Shabana Azmi’s histrionic abilities, and those who were privileged to see her perform on stage should consider themselves fortunate.
At the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, I went to see Hansal Mehta directed Omerta, a film that narrates the life of Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British national who took to jihad, killed Daniel Pearl, the American journalist, and nearly caused a war between India and Pakistan. Rajkummar Rao’s performance is chillingly perfect.
A program on WB Yeats, the Irish poet, organised as part of the Spur Festival in 2017, turned out to be deeply insightful and surprisingly entertaining thanks to the biopic by Alan Gilsenan (Vision: A Life of WB Yeats).
That year, the third edition of Literature Matters featured poet Karen Solie and novelist Esi Edugyan, both renowned, multiple award-winning writers. Solie is a poet, and Esi Edugyan is a novelist. Smaro Kamboureli, the Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature, moderated the program.
I blogged:

"Solie spoke about ‘On Folly: Poetry and Mistakes’ and Edugyan on The Wrong Door: Some Meditations. She her talk by quoting from Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam), most famous work The Praise of Folly, where the humanist theologian and one of the pioneers of the Protestant Reformation asked: What is more foolish? The poet or the poetry?
"Solie’s tongue-in-cheek answer: People are generally happy when they see a tradesperson – a plumber or an electrician; that is not often the case when they see a poet.  That, she added, had to do with more people agreeing that they hate poetry than on what poetry is.
"In a talk that was peppered with quotes from many poets and writers, Solie made the case that follies and mistakes are integral to creativity and that everything that a writer does is no more natural than other things in the world. A writer’s responsibility, therefore, is to remain open, vulnerable, and basically write down everything that’s inside the head on paper.
"Solie observed that the definition of word folly has evolved to become narrower; in its pristine sense, it also meant delight, fakery, a dwelling place, in addition to failure or a mistake. She said fear is a necessary ingredient for good writing, and that fear, too, had many shades and connotations, just as mistakes are essential to creativity.
"The subject of Edugyan’s talk was The Wrong Door: Some Meditations. She began with the example of the proverbial person from Porlock, who disturbs Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic era English poet, while he was penning Kubla Khan (A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment).
"The story goes that Coleridge, in an opium-induced haze, was writing a poem that apparently was flowing naturally and was practically getting itself written, was disturbed by this person from Porlock, who had mistaken knocked on Coleridge's door. By the time this person left, the poem has evaporated from his mind, and mere fragments were of it left.
"Edugyan said every writer needs a metaphorical wrong door that intruders may knock on to disturb someone else and leave the writer alone to create. Every writer fears the sudden, thought-scattering disturbance that ruins her work. She said solitude and silence are essential requirements for a writer because only through silence can she cut out the external to hear the internal."
I wrote a piece on Weston Village, which is five minutes walk from home. It’s a poor neighbourhood that reminds me of my very own Teli Gali, where I grew up and lived for three decades. Diaspora Dialogues selected it in 2018 and Donna Mitchell St. Bernard interpreted it for the Hello Neighbour program. And another piece that addressed the growing protest against cultural appropriation (Whose voice is it anyway?). My piece, published in the New Canadian Media, focused upon my dilemma of writing about a Muslim family in my debut novel Belief.
2017 ended and the tenth year of our life in Canada began. It’d be a year that brought many changes.