Buoy the population of the soul
Toward their destination before they drown
~ Robert Pinsky
January 2018
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Friday, 23. February 2007

On Overheard Conversations (& Local Literary Gods)

After a false start earlier this evening - it must the feeling of being cutoff from humanity that arises when my work team (with whom I work twelve-fourteen hour days in the week) leaves town every weekend, which leads to bathos - my evening took a surprisingly cheerful turn. Armed with a book of short stories by a compelling Canadian writer, Alice Munro, and an old Atlantic essay on the Toronto-based Indian school of writing (an archived txt file here: [Unhandled macro: param.text] (plain, 18 KB) since The Atlantic Monthly now sits behind a subscription great-wall), I walked to this desi restaurant situated right behind the hotel where I am put up, for a large helping of comfort food. Spices and Kingfisher beer always do their mood-lifting trick on me.

But as the title of this post indicates, I didn't much reading done as I was too busy eavesdropping on the conversations adjacent to my table. At Table A, on my left, was this large group of Vietnamese or Thai folks eating with a single regular (i.e., white) Canadian family. And the Canadian man, say Joe, proved to be a expert raconteur, who told these tales of adventure as he knocked back Kingfishers. The most brilliant of his stories involved nearly flying off a cliff as his taxi in Ecuador took a super fast hairpin turn closely followed by his adventures in rural Virginia when his Bermuda - Toronto plane was abruptly diverted and grounded on September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, at Table B, on my right, a painful first date was in progress between an articulate and intelligent (a more visually astute observer might have also added "really good lookin'" to these adjectives too) Canadian desi lass, and a poseur desi chap. Let's say that someone who thinks the best source of unbiased news in the whole wide world is the rag known as The Times (or Slimes?) of India seriously needs his head examined. Also dude, what's up with asking a girl a zillion times what she is planning on doing after dinner even before the food is served?! Kind readers, let me confess that there were many occasions this evening when I felt that I would have added to my rather small pile of good karma by chasing that pest away, and rescuing that damsel in distress with some Nerdua, or since it is dear Auden's centennial, with some Auden. O, only if my well concealed Baand, James Baand panache didn't vanish just then!

Also some of you might be wondering, how does a part of this post's title, in particular "local literary gods" do anything with what has been written in this post so far? The answer is that it doesn't. I am merely throwing it in because after a cursory look at Buoy's webcounter (which moves slower than a glacier), I just discovered that this mind-dump of mine has been nominated by a mystery bunch of folks over at The Indian Bloggies for, get this, "Best Humanities Indiblog 2006"!!! Dear judges, please FedEx whatever you were smoking when you made this decision to the Park Hyatt @ Toronto ASAP!


Now few literary-type matters - ignoring that momentary swing of the desi blogdom's spotlight over this dark corner - that I have been been thinking about this past week, exactly for fifteen minutes before I jump into bed:

1) Everyone should go find themselves copies of W.G. Sebald's novels quick. His writing is arresting, and the way he weaves words-photos with black and white photos in the novel "The Emmigrants" is simply brilliant - I sacrificed much needed sleep every night to read this novel. Sadly, the novelist passed away a few years ago, very young, in a car accident. Tomorrow I am going back to that bookstore and buying his final novel "Austerlitz".

2) Back to The Atlantic essay, txt-ed above; a central question from it, on which I have been masticating on this past week, as I walked back to this Toronto hotel, late at night from work:

"When I began reading these novels, starting with A Fine Balance, I was baffled: How was it that this vivid evocation of Bombay had been written in Toronto, of all places? It would be hard to think of two cities more antipodal: hot, smelly, boisterous Bombay, one of the oldest cities on earth; cold, pleasant, orderly Toronto, where almost everything is shiny and new.
Many of the people I met on a recent visit to Toronto made a great fuss about how Canada's multiculturalism differs from the multiculturalism of the United States, invoking metaphors such as the mosaic and the salad bowl as opposed to the melting pot. As Bruce Meyer put it to me, "When you come to Canada, you don't have to leave the other country behind."
The weakest work by M. G. Vassanji that I have read is No New Land, in which he describes how immigrants from Dar es Salaam have re-created their African life in Toronto and attempts to discern exactly what has been lost. Their Dar, however close they tried to make it to the original, was not quite the same. Rushing to mosque after work in your Chevy, through ice and slush, for a ceremony organized in a school gym, dumping your coats on a four-foot mound of other coats and throwing your shoes and boots among the several hundred other pairs-and then afterwards scrambling to retrieve them-was not the same as strolling to your own domed, clock-towered mosque fresh after a bath."

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