Tag Archives: Bilan Hashi

seven years strong: an ode to survival

On April 22nd of this year, WordPress kindly sent me a notification reminding me of completing seven years of this blog business. Little did it know (or, acknowledge) my intermittent growing silence. I have been quiet, most often than not, on and off in the past two and a half years. My closest friends, allies, even some foes, know why. The past two and a half years have been spent in a cloud of anxiety and depression, both triggering the other, more often than not.

My tongue has been in exile in the process. I kept telling myself if only I could convince myself to survive, I could conquer anything. Isn’t it sad how much more difficult it is to admit our fallibilities?

Finding my writing (and political) voice took letting go, took recognizing my limits, took giving up in order to move forward. The desire to sprint hasn’t left me, but the older, wiser, survived-a-battle (both inner and outer) me knows better. This reborn me knows that recognizing limits is not failure, that recognizing failure is not giving up.

It took me seven years to find my writing voice. For the first time in my life, when anyone asks me, “are you a writer?” I hesitate a little at first, and then say, yes.

I started this year with a flash fiction piece that poured out of me, “Mars in Scorpio,” which will be published in Toronto Lit Up’s The Unpublished City anthology; a project curated and launched by Dionne Brand. I will be reading this piece with 17 other brilliant writers on June 22nd at Harbourfront in Toronto. These are big deals for me. Giant leaps for little me.

I also had a provocative essay that questioned the problematic and debatable canon of Canlit published in FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity)‘s Program in early May. The essay was accepted almost two years ago by a big publication in Canada and then revised a million times, and then rejected on some dubious reason (they wanted me to rewrite the whole thing minus the discussion of Writing Thru Race conference held in early 2015 in Toronto because it was apparently “dated”). I didn’t respond and instead submitted it to FOLD when I saw their call. It was a good decision. It was the universe sending me a message.

Finally, I have been writing a lot this year. I wrote a short story in February which is currently under consideration at a Canadian magazine. I am also working on a short story at the moment (which is taking on the length of a novella). And, I am inundated with story ideas, one of them as a children’s book. I am buzzing with creative energy, a thing that was not possible as recently as December. I hear voices that speak to me, that tell me their stories, that lead me to unknown places. I am no longer questioning whether I am a writer. I just know.

There is another part of me that is excited for the academic project I have undertaken, my big fat dissertation. My own idea, developed by me alone, with necessary input from a fine committee. The best possible committee I can have for the project I have undertaken. I am blessed. So very blessed. Sometimes, there is a negotiation, a conflict between my two worlds, but that is a negotiation I have to engage with as I go forward.

And finally, there has been this new desire in me to give back to the community. Curating and running Balderdash Reading Series has been a part of that desire. I was fortunate enough to receive a Graduate Enhancement Fund for the next year to run the series. There are other initiatives I am looking into as well that will allow me to engage with the larger community outside, perhaps even build a bridge between those in school and storytelling? I don’t know. I am exploring possibilities.

A large part of this has been possible because of a few generous people in my life. To name a few: Doyali Islam. Phoebe Wang. Jing Jing Chang. Beth Marie. Bilan Hashi. Heather Olaveson. Samah Katerji. Maggie Clark. My mother, Jharna Sur. And my love, my heart of hearts, Krishnakumar Sankaran. Thank you for giving me so much, and asking for nothing in return. Thank you for helping me survive.

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Shades of Pink

COMPLEXionE-flier

I have a photograph, “Shades of Pink,” from Toronto Caribana 2010 that will be a part of the COMPLEXion exhibition in Toronto in October. Details below.

WHAT: “COMPLEXion” – a multidisciplinary collaborative exhibition presented by 3MW Collective and Refuge Productions addressing shadeism in communities of colour.

Local artist collectives join forces to bring awareness to the issue of “shadeism” within communities of colour through their multidisciplinary exhibition “COMPLEXion”. This spectacular exhibition will feature painting, photography, installation, film, music, dance, and spoken word, all addressing issues of “shadeism”.

“Shadeism” (i.e. colourism) is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on a range of social meanings attached to the shade of their skin colour.

In collaboration between the 3MW Collective and Refuge Productions, COMPLEXion will share multiple stories related to shadeism, from a wide spectrum of people of colour expressed through a variety of mediums including, visual art and installations, music, film, and poetry — together producing a complex and powerful visual and emotional experience.

Participating Artists:

  • Angelot Ndongmo, Storytelling
  • Sun the Real Sun feat. The Students of Lost Lyrics, Musical Performance
  • Ayan Siyad, Photography
  • Nadia Alam, Visual Art
  • Lelu Angwenyi, Visual Art
  • Tavila Disha Haque, Photography
  • Sanchari Sur, Photography
  • Luxshanaa Sebarajah, Visual Art
  • Joanna Delos Reyes, Visual Art
  • Jade Lee Hoy, Visual Art
  • Sedina Fiati, Musical Performance
  • Shaina Agbayani, Visual Art
  • Bilan Hashi, Audio Installation
  • Marie Sotto, Visual Art / Poetry
  • Jeni Hallam, Photography
  • Dre Ngozi, Visual Art
  • Muna Ali, Mixed Media Installation
  • Nayani Thiyagarajah, Mixed Media, Installation /Film
  • Ilene Sova, Visual Art
  • Rema Taveres, Photography
  • Jordan Clarke, Visual Arts

WHEN: The exhibition runs from October 3 to October 7, 2013, by appointment only 647-­725-­0896

The exhibition will also be part of Nuit Blanche, Saturday October 5th from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The opening reception will take place on Thursday, October 3, from 7-­11 p.m.

WHERE: Brockton Collective 442 Dufferin Street, Studio A Toronto, ON M6K 2A3

http://www.brocktoncollective.com

WHO: 3MWCollective and Refuge Productions

WEB: http://www.3mwcollective.org, http://www.shadeism.com

I won’t be able to make it to the exhibition itself, but it will be worthwhile to catch it if you happen to be in Toronto. Also, some of the works will be on sale.

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Author Thomas King and I

Thomas King and I, Luminato event, Toronto, June 2013.

Thomas King and I, Luminato event, Toronto, June 2013.

This is a photo I should have put up earlier.

He said something about his wife being tiny, but me being tinier than his wife. Sigh.

Taken at a Luminato event featuring Trillium Book Award finalists at the Toronto Reference Library.

Photo credit: Bilan Hashi (friend / poet / photographer)

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Breakfast with Teju* (Cole)

Teju Cole, author of Open City (2011)

*Because we are on a first name basis now. 

Yes, it’s true. I had breakfast with Teju Cole.

But of course, like every life changing event (because yes, it is indeed a life changing event for an aspiring writer to have a meal with a world famous writer), this one had a series of causalities that led up to it.

For one, I happened to be in Kingston this year because I am a student at Queen’s University.

Two, I am at Queen’s because I decided to do a second Master’s. I mean, how many people do you know who willingly signs up for a second Master’s? Exactly.

Three, I am friends with Bilan Hashi, whom I had met with as a consequence of her being a student in my program at Queen’s.

Four, Teju Cole happened to be in Kingston this particular year for the Kingston Writers Fest.

And five, both Teju Cole and Bilan happen to follow each other on Twitter.

Of course, Bilan may have never actually messaged Mr. Cole to meet with aspiring writers like herself and her friends (like me) if one of her acquaintances hadn’t done the same with Junot Diaz. Which had worked. Because not all famous writers were stuck up people and actually cared about meeting other writers-in-progress. Hmmm. Who knew?

So, this was the morning of 27th September. Bilan and I are in the lobby of Holiday Inn on the waterfront. We have a breakfast appointment. With Teju Cole.

It’s 9:30. We are on time. I haven’t had more than an hour’s sleep the night before on account of Foucault but had dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 because you didn’t miss these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities unless you were stupid.

We are contemplating whether to approach the lady at the reception, who is eyeing us suspiciously anyway, when the elevator doors open and Bilan goes, “There he is!”

Teju is all smiles.

There is a round of hellos and handshaking and introductions.

We are about to head into the hotel restaurant when we are stopped by none other than Michael Ondaatje.

Was that a sharp intake of breath? Hold on. There’s more to come.

“Teju. We are leaving at ten,” he says. He is talking of their drive to Toronto that morning. Teju leaves on a plane to New York later that day.

“Ten? Can we leave at 10:10? Or, 10:15? I was going to have breakfast with my friends,” and here, Teju introduces us, “Sanchari and Bilan”.

We shake hands with Mr. Ondaatje (while slightly in awe, if I may add).

“You can have 10:20,” Mr. Ondaatje smiles.

We walk into the restaurant, take our seats, and order coffee and breakfast. While Bilan goes for pancakes and I for a garden omelette with fries, Teju settles for a croissant.

The conversation is organic. We discuss our research interests. Bilan talks of her experience of living the underground life in Jeddah, to which Teju makes up a first line of a possible short story where the narrator finds herself snorting coke with a mother of three in Jeddah. We laugh. He shows us Variations on the Body by Michel Serres, a book he is reading at the moment. He tells us about how he quit his doctoral degree halfway through just to finish his novel. We talk of (Jhumpa) Lahiri, who he’s friends with, and whom I admire.

Then he follows me on Twitter right in front of me. And soon, the half an hour is up and I have forgotten the questions I had planned to ask him. He had not at all been what I had expected. Friendly but not superficial. Intellectual without being pretentious.

Before we can protest, he has paid for our breakfast and scampered away with an impish smile.

For a few seconds, Bilan and I are in a daze.

We solemnly agree that yes, we can now successfully cross ‘having breakfast with Teju Cole’ off of our bucket lists. Like it’s no big deal. Yup, none at all.

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