& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Tanya Tagaq at Literature Matters 2019

The fifth edition of the Literature Matters The third annual Literature Matters – the Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature Lecture Series featured Karen Connelly, and Tanya Tagaq. Connelly is a renowned novelist, poet and a travel writer, and Tagaq is a Canadian Inuk throat singer, novelist from Nunavut. Smaro Kamboureli, the Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature, moderated the program. Connelly read from Handwriting Memories and Tagaq spoke about Unknown Bones.

I have participated in all the five Literature Matters readings and interviews since 2015 when it was launched, and without any doubt, I’d like to say, as emphatically as possible – and without belittling the contribution of the all the authors who have participated in this series to Canadian literature – that Tagaq’s chat with the audience was the most original.

All authors who have participated in this series have all made original presentations that often also included an A/V component. Dionne Brand (2018) and Madeline Thein (2016) were expectedly amazing, and Tagaq this year has set the benchmark higher.

I am producing an extract from her chat below:

I am from Cambridge Bay. I am Inuk. My father is English. He was the product of two World Wars Two veterans. He immigrated to Canada when he was three years old. He was born in England. He immigrated to BC. He went looking for work and ended up doing geological service work for the Government of Canada off an island in Halifax. They offered twice the pay to work in Resolute Bay, which is where my mother was relocated. My mother was born and raised in an igloo upon an island.  And this is what a lot of people don't understand about the colonial processes that the very high Arctic affected people in many ways. So, like notoriously now, Inuk women give birth very quickly, because we have unassisted birth to millennia. And my mother, being raised in an igloo was pockmark until she was 12 years old has full access to the land and the sophistication that comes from that knowledge. She's a magic person.

I love her so much. So, she was relocated by the government along with the people from Northern Quebec, because the Canadian government needed to establish mineral and water rights throughout the Northwest Passage. Without that, we would have been overtaken by other people. So, they needed Inuit or Canadian citizens to be placed into communities. And they did that through the relocation. They did that through killing our sled dogs. They did that by forcing us into Christianity. They did that to ensure their capitalist benefits, which seems to be the demise of society right now.

With our ecological crisis and climate change, this attachment of us from ourselves from our land, who we are, how reluctant are you to turn around to a stranger tonight and bury their heart and confess your mortality? And to ask for help and love? How scared are you to accept yourself? And I think it's this disassociation from the land that has caused us to be living in a state of anxiety and lack of self acceptance.

My mother went on to lie and say she had a high school education and get a Bachelor of Education from McGill University. Fucking badass woman, she is so awesome. And my father moved to Nunavut when he was 19 or 20 and he had lived there ever since.

And this is what I mean about what we're, well what I'm going to monologue about basically is like, how do I cover all this? Talking about blood, and culture, talking about literature, art, talking about how we associate with each other, right now, talking all the time, about reality and how we live and how people judge each other. And what the dominant culture considers sophisticated and help people and Being a replication ultimately of how the universe expands and evolves.

I recently watch a documentary about galaxy – there’s a massive black hole that's sucking all the life back and use it to. And I was just thinking about the inhalation and exhalation of the universe of Big Bang. And what we're all doing here and how we're just this beautiful, perfect extension of the energy of the universe, and how foolish we are to squander it and how ridiculous we are not be thankful of our breaths.

How ridiculous we are to not realize that every single person in here has felt self-hatred, extreme desire, love, shame. Everybody refuses to lean on each other cuz we're just so dreadfully embarrassed of our bodies. Well, you know what? Not me. I'm not. I was put here to eat and birth and come and not be ashamed of my size of my age of myself of my thoughts. Nobody can take this from me because I'm not going to go into the grave ashamed of who I am.

And I was not born in sin and I refuse to think that there's anything wrong with me other than why most ridiculous novels. I am ridiculous. But I love myself so deeply and completely. And if anything, by the end of the night, if I could give you one thing, please just do your best to accept yourself and love yourself and leave this place knowing that you're so very lucky to be alive right now. And knowing that no matter how hard it is, your ancestors didn't survive for you to be ashamed of who you are.
Anyway, I sound like a fucking preacher.

To hear more, click here: Tanya Tagaq at Literature Matters

Monday, October 14, 2019

Late bloomers

I don’t want to come across as an ageist, but one of the most striking and disturbing phenomena about writing that is unique to Canada is the late age when authors begin to write and get published. I know many authors who are my contemporaries and who have published their first work at an age when it is assumed that creativity peaks or has begun its downward trajectory.

I don’t have empirical evidence, but I believe that the perception that creativity (especially among authors) is at its best during the twenties and thirties, and the best work an author produces is during that period.

In Canada, I have met many authors who began late – in some case three or four decades later, when according to traditional beliefs, authors are past their peak. My first novel Belief was published when I was in my mid-50s. ‘Late bloomer’ is a term often used to describe someone like me; it is imperfect and does not fully encapsulate their achievements. But I don’t want to be detained by semantics at this stage.

Joyce Wayne, Ian Thomas Shaw, Tahir Gora, Veena Gokhale, Dawn Promislow are among my friends and acquaintances who have produced works that are of extraordinary brilliance, relatively late in life. There are many such examples of authors or for that matter artists engaged in a creative pursuit of some kind, who have begun late and not let that hamper their creative process.

Joyce Wayne’s second novel Last Night of the World is a masterpiece that has not received the recognition it deserves. And that is perhaps because its subject and theme are part of Canadian history that most Canadians would like to forget. Ian Thomas Shaw’s Quill of the Dove was a major success, translated into multiple languages, with a movie in the pipeline.

Anubha Mehta’s Peacock in the snow, Aparna Kaji Shah’s The Scent of the Mogra and other stories, Mariam Pirbhai’s Outside People and other stories, Veena Gokhale’s Land for Fatimah are among the countless examples that come to my mind of authors who started late.

I suppose a reason some authors begin late in Canada is that nearly all of them are immigrants and most of them have no choice but to devote a number of years to settle in Canada. Economic pursuits dominate the lives of all immigrants. The Canadian system while professing multiculturalism and welcoming newcomers with open arms, falls short when it comes to economically integrating newcomers.

Most immigrants must do two jobs to make ends meet. Hence, creativity is a luxury that not everyone can afford, and by the time it becomes affordable, it’s a bit late.

The other reason – again applicable to newcomers – is the intense urge to record (either in form of a memoir or fiction) the phenomenon of displacement and the resultant upheaval that immigration wreaks on their lives.

In the case of non-immigrants (such as Joyce Wayne and Ian Thomas Shaw), the reason for starting late could well be preoccupation with an extremely engaging career, which did not leave them time to do what they had always wanted to do, but didn't have the time - write. 

Monday, October 07, 2019

Bloody Boats - Akshata Naik

Akshata Naik’s Bloody Boats was part of 2019 Nuit Blanche. The installation comprised red paper boats pasted across the walls of a meeting and performance space at the Gladstone Hotel. Bloody Boats “symbolize the journey of every individual in different capacities, their geographical displacement, and their migration, both emotional and physical. The installation is activated and expanded through the collection of stories from visitors, who are encouraged to draw, write, decorate and fold the paper into a boat to add to the installation.”

“This installation aims at exposing the audience to a complex question of “where is the safe space?”  The work proposes socio-political concepts and conversations, reinforced by the visual experience of hundreds of boats dominating the white space.

Akshata Naik is a contemporary visual artist who has shown her works in the UK, Canada and India. She was recently awarded the newcomer artist mentorship grant by Toronto Arts Council and is known for her interactive community-engaging socio-political art installations. She has received a Master of Visual Arts in Painting from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India.

Q&A with Akshata Naik

Bloody Boats was conceived in 2016 as an artistic response to the Syrian crisis and was showcased in the UK. How is the theme still relevant?  In 2016, the Syrian refugee crisis was an unfolding tragedy that had an immediacy. Today, three years later, it is no longer that immediate. So, why the Red Boats show now.

This work was first triggered when I heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and several people fleeing their country in a boat and those boats drowned in the middle of the sea. Hundreds and thousands of people were losing lives each day and this got me thinking as I was myself traveling from India to UK on an artist residency at De Montford University.

Although, this situation is not immediate anymore, this piece has evolved since I moved to Canada out of my personal journey and experience that of my artistic subject matter. I truly understood what an immigrant life is, what it means to start your life from scratch and to prove oneself each day despite of having a record of decent achievements, skills, education back in India.

However, I also learnt that this was not just my story, but it resonated with all those several hundreds and thousands of people who once migrated here and are still migrating each day. Each person who helped me supported me in my journey so far or even criticized me at every stage has left a unique experience and stories which became a learning in disguise and I have learnt a lot from each one of them and am still learning each day as I get to work in the community through my job as Programs and Gallery manager at Arts Etobicoke. Arts Etobicoke is 48 years old local arts service organization and is City of Toronto’s arms length funded organization that serves people in Etobicoke through arts.

Canada responded to the crisis with alacrity not shown by any other country and permitted thousands of Syrian refugees into the country. Hence, the question - what is the relevance of an artistic reminder to a country and its people who rose to resolve it unitedly.

Although, Canada did respond well to this crisis by offering safe space to thousands of Syrian refugees into the country, this work is not just a reminder to this courteous act of humanity that Canada as a country has set an extraordinary example to rest of the world.
It is also a statement to remind its people of the promise that they have made to these people as I have also come across a lot of racist remarks myself though I am not a refugee but an immigrant who has made this conscious choice of moving to this country and bring in my skills, education and will to learn and excel in Canada.

This was shocking to me as I hailed from a so called third world country to this first world nation. This is a reminder to all those fortunate lives (including myself) that there is a lot that we owe to a lot of people/ community/ humanity who struggle each day for a basic thing called, ‘right to live’

What is your artistic evolution if you are still regurgitating something that you did three years ago.

As an artist, it is challenging for myself to contextualize this piece as it is constantly evolving and I think I have reached a stage in this journey where this work is less of me or about me but more about people who interact with it and make it theirs in the most unique ways.
I am trying to improvise through visual art and let the audience interact with it in most fluid ways. I am open to receiving their love, hatred, disappointment and all kinds of experiences creating a safe space for them to explore and express their stories. I am keen on hearing all these stories which is a crucial thing in my art practice at the moment.

To be a part of Nuit Blanche is commendable. You are also the Manager of Arts Etobicoke. You have managed to find your way into the arts community. How difficult has the journey been?

My journey as a newcomer artist and as a women of colour (as Canadians categorize me as) has been difficult in many ways as I did not have any family when I moved here, I had fairly achieved a stable career as an assistant professor and was given in charge dean position at an early age.

I was only 26 years old when I handled Fine Arts department at Parul University, I will credit this to those who made the decision and put in trust in my skills and education. I have been a good student in my opinion and graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree from India’s renowned Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat and was awarded two gold medals for my performance and final display of art works.

It often is difficult especially for those who have had a great career in their home country and move to Canada as in my opinion Canada still lacks of how they integrate newcomers and the disconnect between their process of accepting international education even when they are evaluated as per Canadian equivalencies and the industry/ job market. It was then when I was offered a job of Programs and Gallery Manager at Arts Etobicoke which is more of my home than just a workplace.

The people who I work with here are not only colleagues but also great family to me now. There have been several organizations that have shaped my career so far in Canada as an artist, arts educator and arts administrator, to name a few, Neilson Park Creative Centre, Art Ignite, Vibe Arts, Cultural Pluralism of Arts in Ontario, Gladstone Hotel, Nuit Blanche, City of Toronto, Toronto Arts Council and Humber College where I studied Arts Administration and have been appointed as Program Advisory Committee Member. I have also been awarded the Newcomer Artist Mentorship Grant by Toronto Arts Council in 2019.

This has been my journey so far, as an artist in Canada.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

"Hindu-Muslim unity has been my life’s mission." - Mahatma Gandhi

Extracts from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi

A question has been put to me:

Do you intend to start general civil disobedience although Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah has declared war against Hindus and has got the Muslim League to pass a resolution favouring vivisection of India into two? If you do, what becomes of your formula that there is no swaraj without communal unity.

I admit that the step taken by the Muslim League at Lahore creates a baffling situation. But I do not regard it so baffling as to make civil disobedience an impossibility. Supposing that the Congress is reduced to a hopeless minority, it will still be open to it, indeed it may be its duty, to resort to civil disobedience. The struggle will not be against the majority, it will be against the foreign ruler, If the struggle succeeds, the fruits thereof will be reaped as well by the Congress as by the opposing majority. Let me, however, say in parenthesis that, until the conditions I have mentioned for starting civil disobedience are fulfilled, civil disobedience cannot be started in any case. 

In the present instance there is nothing to prevent the imperial rulers from declaring their will in unequivocal terms that henceforth India will govern herself according to her own will, not that of the rulers as has happened hitherto. Neither the Muslims League nor any other party can oppose such a declaration. For the Muslims will be entitled to dictate their own terms. Unless the rest of India wishes to engage in internal fratricide, the others will have to submit to Muslim dictation of the Muslims will resort to it. I know no non-violent method of compelling the obedience of eight crore of Muslims to the will of the rest of India, however powerful the rest may represent. The Muslims must have the same right of self-determination that the rest of India has. We are at present a joint family. Any member may claim a division.

Thus, so far as I am concerned, my proposition that there is no swaraj without communal unity holds as good today as when I first enunciated it in 1919.

But civil disobedience stands on a different footing. It is open even to one single person to offer it, if he feels the call. It will not be offered for the Congress alone or for any particular group. Whatever benefit accrues from it will belong to the whole India. The injury, if there is any, will belong only to the civil disobedience party.  

But I do not believe that Muslims, when it comes to a matter of actual decision, will ever want vivisection. Their good sense will prevent them. Their self-interest will deter them. Their religion will forbid the obvious suicide which the partition would mean. The ‘two-nations’ theory is an untruth. The vast majority of Muslims of India are converts to Islam or are descendants of converts. They did not become a separate nation as soon as they became converts. A Bengali Muslim speaks the same tongue that a Bengali Hindu does, eats the same food, has the same amusements as his Hindu neighbour. They dress alike. I have often found it difficult to distinguish by outward sign between a Bengali Hindu and a Bengali Muslim. The same phenomenon is observable more or less in the South among the poor who constitute the masses of India. 

When I first met the late Sir Ali Imam I did not know that he was not a Hindu. His speech, his dress, in whose midst I found him. His name alone betrayed him. Not even that with Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah. For his name could be that of any Hindu. When I first met him, I did not know that he was a Muslim. I came to know his religion when I had his full name given to me. His nationality was written in his face and manner. The reader will be surprised to know that for days, if not months, 

I used to think f the late Vithalbhai Patel as a Muslim as he used to sport a beard and a Turkish cap. The Hindu law of inheritance governs many Muslim groups. Sir Mohammed Iqbal used to speak with pride of his Brahmanical descent. Iqbal and Kitchlew are names common to Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims of India are not two nations. Those whom God has made one, man will never be able to divide.

And is Islam such an exclusive religion as Quaid-e-Azam would have it? Is there nothing in common between Islam and Hinduism or any other religion? Or is Islam merely an enemy of Hinduism? Were the Ali Brothers and their associates wrong when they hugged Hindus as blood brothers and saw so much in common between the two? I am not now thinking of individual Hindus who may have disillusioned the Muslim friends. Quaid-e-Aza, has, however, raised a fundamental issue. This is his thesis:

Nawab Sir Shah Nawaz Mamdot presenting address of welcome
at the All-India Muslim League session,
March 1940, with Jinnah at the left.

It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality. This misconception of one Indian nation has gone far beyond the limits and is the cause of most of our troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time.

The Hindus and Muslims have two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They neither intermarry, not dine together, and indeed, they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects on life and of life are different from different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes are different, and they have different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single State, one as a numerical minority and the other as majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a State.

He does not say some Hindus are bad; he says Hindus as such have nothing common with Muslims. I make bold to say that he and those who think like him are rendering no service to Islam; they are misinterpreting the message inherent in the very word Islam. I say this because I feel deeply hurt over what is now going on in the name of the Muslim League. I should be failing in my duty, if I did not warn the Muslims of India against the untruth that is being propagated amongst them. This warning is a duty because I have faithfully served them in their hour of need and because Hindu-Muslim unity has been my life’s mission.

Sevagram 1 April 1940
Harijan 4 June 1940

Above extract is taken from 

Themes in Indian History
India’s Partition Process, Strategy and Mobilization
Edited by Mushirul Hasan

Friday, October 04, 2019

Reminiscences, ruminations, remembrances

Death has taken away a number of my friends and dears ones. In March, my cousin Madhavi’s husband Bhushan suddenly passed away. He had just crossed 50. Then, in May, my friend Satish Thakkar’s wife Rimple passed away after a brief but valiant battle against cancer. But August was just a ceaseless march of death. Deepak Obhrai, whom I met on 5 July (his birthday), passed away on 2 August. He was a pillar of the Indo-Canadian community, and an important Canadian politician. My dear friend Satish Kamath, with whom I spent some of my best and worst years during my career in journalism, passed away on 7 August. Pradeep Khurana, my friend Mini’s husband, passed away on 21 August. I met him just once, and he came across as a jovial person; and then on 25 August, Keyoor Shah, an affable, affectionate man, who I wished I’d known better, passed away. In life, we see death frequently. It’s easy to philosophise about death, but it is devastating for members of the family. 

My cousin Belu lost her husband several years ago, when her children were young. In her personal essay, she remembers vignettes of her life – right from the carefree rides behind a horse cart to the deadening responsibility of bringing up children as a young widow. English is not Belu’s first language, but the essay brings out her cherubic character. From her I have learnt to keep smiling irrespective of the circumstances, and especially in adversity.

Guest Post by 

Bela Patel

One day I just thought of writing about my life. And thanking you all for being there for me. And I ended up writing this.

Today, when I am going to be 60 (though I can't believe it) I would like to evaluate my life. Gains and losses.

To begin with I was born in rich family. My grandfather was a film distributor. But he was not happy to see me since I was second girl child after my elder sister. (And the family's riches didn't last).

He passed away when I was one. We have grown up in joint family, my siblings, my half brother and sister, my cousins, and their children who are almost of my age. Though we were deprived of many things none of us had (or have) any regrets, since we were enjoying whatever we got; knowing our family circumstances.

When I was of the age to join school, I was admitted in The Unity High School, in Khetwadi 10th road. With me Kartik (his mother passed away at young age so both brothers Kartik and Jatin stayed with us for few years) my nephew (my cousin’s son) was also coming to same school. We would walk to school, as it was not very far. But sometimes we would hang behind horse carts to cut our walking.

For 5th std I got admission in the Chandaramji Girls High School. Where my elder sister Meena was already going, since My aunt, Meera Masi, was teacher and it was a girls’ school we got admission there. (I think).

It was supposed to be best school for girls.

When I was in 8th std. Our father suddenly passed away I was 12 at that time. I think because of living in a joint family and being young, his passing away didn't affect me much, or so I think, though I missed him especially when I saw children my age with their fathers. Our relation was not close but I missed him then and I miss him now.

In school, I made friends with Jaya Lata Harshada and seven more, we formed a nice group. I got 65% in my 11th std. After finishing school, I went to K C College.  I got admission in Siddharth College of Commerce but since my friends took admission in KC I went in to Arts.

In second year, was known as Inter, I flunked due to two or three reasons, one of which was obviously, that I didn't study. I had taken Psychology as major and History as second subject for BA exam.

In my family, all sisters including cousins, got married in second year of the college, but I am always different from all I didn't find anyone. So, everyone in family was worried about me. 

After graduation, I applied in employment exchange, from there I got a job in Bombay Telephones. I worked in the testing department where I was testing certain numbers which were not in use, we were around 10 of us in that department. I had fun in that place. While checking those numbers I would call my family in Baroda and Surat.

My grandmother passed away on 17th December 1977. That was again a big loss for me. I would read religious books to her. She called me (wagto ghunt - clanging bell) because I was lively, and if I was at home, everyone and even neighbours would know.

I worked as apprentice for a year, and when I was about to get confirmed in job I got engaged to Rajiv – it was 1978 March 21st when I officially got engaged. And marriage was planned for 14th July.

Those four months were magical.

And the day arrived - I was going to stay in joint family. Father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother and bhabhi.

I got best gift from God in August 1980 in the form of my lovely daughter Chandni. After four years our Prince Charming came in our lives; we named him Chirag. Both my kids were (and are) well behaved. Chandni has always been quiet and sincere in everything she does; Chirag was talkative and hyper.

Belu and Rajiv with Chandni and Chirag

We stayed with my in-laws till August 1989; thereafter, they went to stay in Andheri West.

Then we four were staying in that house. We made new furniture, and a new fridge, mixer, ghanti, everything. including crockery.

Those days flew past fast. We would visit Ba Kaka (my in-laws) once a week. They would come to our house. 

And suddenly we got a shock on 5th of August 1990. 

My husband Rajiv suddenly passed away, it was raksha bandhan day, we were to go to tie rakhi to my brother, 

I was ready and Rajiv went for shower after having a cup of tea, I went down to do puja in the temple in our building, I came in less then 15 minutes. 

I opened the safety door, and entered in the house, and what I see, Rajiv was flat lying in the bathroom. I was thinking fast what to do as I was alone in the house. 

I ran to neighbours to seek their help, they came running, we brought him out of the bathroom. Other people from building came to help me. I called my family doctor Sushilaben, and my mami Durgaben, but before they all came game was over. 

Doctor declared he was no more.

I was blank – no feeling, my neighbours called my family. They all came running, to find that Rajiv had left this world. He was 42 and was a healthy person. It was unbelievable for me and for everyone in family or who ever came to know.

Chandni was 10 and Chirag was 5 at that time. They were my pillar of strength and reason to live.

Days went by, I was busy with my kids, family and friends. Everyone was trying to support me in their own way. 

I thank them all to be with me during those days, where without support of everyone it would have been difficult for us to survive.

Chandni gave her 10th and 12th and got good marks. She got scholarship from Singapore government for her further studies. And she went there to pursue computer engineering from one of the best colleges there.

After finishing graduation, she had to work as it was part of the bond we signed. She took up a job in same university to start with. And she wanted to do masters, so she joint evening college.

We went for her graduation. We all were proud of her.

Chirag did his graduation and post graduation in statistics. While doing post graduation he also stated working.

They had to fill form where I was assigned as their dependent. I was thinking how time flies once they were dependent on me, and now I am. I think that is life.

While studying in Singapore Chandni found her soulmate Rohit. They decided to get married. They got married in 2007 June.

I’m past 60 now, and I am thinking how time went by, with all its ups and down of life.

When Rajiv passed away, our children were young and I was busy with them all the time. Now, nearly a quarter of century later, they are busy in their lives and I don't have to help them as they are mature enough to decide about their own lives.

I hope rest of my life will pass by smoothly with help of family friends and of course God.

Thanking everyone once again to come in my life and support me in my 60 years of life.

Lots of love. And hugs to all.