& occasionally about other things, too...

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.

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