Tag Archives: Canada

Synchronicity, this.

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South Asian Writers Panel- L to R: Kama La Mackerel (moderator), Tara Atluri, me, Kamala Gopalakrishnan, Sabah Haque, Anil Kamal, ASL interpreter. Courtesy: Jade Colbert (Twitter: @cocolbert)

Synchronicity looks like this.

I participated in two queer events – one academic, one literary – in the month of November, my birth month.

It’s no secret that my stories often have queer characters as protagonists, negotiating their way through life in Canada. And, it is also true that a chunk of my doctoral dissertation deals with trans theory and queerness in Canadian novels. But when both of these worlds come together in the most powerful time in my life, my birth month (!), I see it as a message from the universe.

Because believe it or not, I applied to both Queer Canada conference and the Naked Heart Fest on the same day in July. No coincidence, this.

The conference was organized by Natalee Caple of Brock University. My memories: Hugged by Dionne Brand. Meeting up with an old friend. Having my paper heard by Rinaldo Walcott, and then catching up with him after.

queer canada

I presented a paper on Shani Mootoo’s work at the Queer Canada conference (a paper on gender fluidity in Valmiki’s Daughter). The conference also ended up being iconic because of the much needed interview I had with Gwen Benaway on the precarious relationship between the Indigenous writing community and the POC writing community in Canada (forthcoming in The Rusty Toque).

 

The Naked Heart Festival – the largest LGBTQ  literary festival in the world – which came exactly a week after, became crucial for the connections I made. I was on the South Asian Writers panel on Day 2, and then, “Racialized is a Verb” reading on Day 3.

I met other queer South Asian and QTPOC  writers. I read to a packed room. The emcee whose name I forget, quite overcome, gave me a sudden hug right after my reading.

These are things that will stay with me.

The experience not only opened me up to another community of literary artists, but I wondered why I had not been brave enough to apply in the past. Maybe, it wasn’t meant to be, then. Maybe, now it was right.

 

I am grateful. Immensely grateful. If this is an indication of where my life is going, I am happy. This is what happiness looks like, for me; a balance of my two worlds.

Perhaps, synchronicity looks like this.

nakedheart

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story of a single brown canadian woman’s body

 

If you have been following the last few posts, then you are aware of the fact that I have been working on some new stuff. Rather, this “new stuff” has become a marker of everything that I now produce, creatively.

I am not sure what opened up the floodgates, but somehow, all the inhibitions I had as a writer have been shed. I am unafraid to be vocal.

And the words… they just keep on coming.

My poem, “story of a single brown canadian woman’s body,” is a part of Media Diversified’s newly launched Tumblr Poetry Series. Some of the issues I extrapolate in the talk in my previous post are evident in this poem, as well. Go see.

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How, then, to begin, to begin?

If the subject – here, the writer of colour – is unaware of the absence of speech, then where does he/she begin? Or, as Roy Miki asks, “How, then, to begin, to begin?” – an excerpt from the final essay I wrote for Dr. Smaro Kamboureli’s graduate English class at University of Toronto end April 2015.

On 24th November 2015, I was invited by Dr. Jing Jing Chang to give a short talk to her undergrad class on Bollywood films at Wilfrid Laurier University. The talk addresses my existence as a South Asian person/academic/artist in Canada, and negotiating that identity through creative writing and academia.

The talk ends with a performance of my most recent work of poetry, “elephant in the room.”

Since I don’t completely despise how I sound, here is the talk in its entirety:

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Photographing Snow

"Conjoin," Kitchener, Ontario.  Feb 2015

“Conjoin,” Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015

I have always wondered about stepping out to photograph snow, but the comfort of my warm bed, chicken noodle soup (which is the only sensible thing I can conceive of making every time there’s a snowstorm), a queue of movies/episodes of a favourite tv show on my laptop, and just plain fear of being frozen into a popsicle, keeps me inside. Season after season.

Perhaps, the real truth is that snow doesn’t inspire me. I like photographing moments, people, movement. Snow is snow. Singular. Austere. Inactive.

"Austere," Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

“Austere,” Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

But after my mentor, Abhijit Nayak, pointed out that there were possibilities that resided in the unexpectedness of the blank canvas, I had been thinking seriously of branching out. Focus on the stationary. Introspect.

"Crescent," Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

“Crescent,” Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

And, last November, after being gifted a Canada Goose jacket by my amazing parents, I have come to fear winter less. Go out in freezing rain? Pssht! Walk knee deep in snow? Hell, yeah! Head out in a blizzard? Why not!

"Thorns," Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

“Thorns,” Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

So today, after last night’s epic snowfall and school being shut down thanks to an unexpected snow day, I ventured out.

"Smile," Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

“Smile,” Kitchener, Ontario. Feb 2015.

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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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The Femail Project

The Femail Project

I am pleased to announce that two of my photographs, “Bride and Bride” and “Freedom Colour,” have been chosen to be exhibited at The Femail Project exhibition in Birmingham, UK. This is the first time that my photographs are being exhibited in an art gallery and that’s why I am sort of over the moon.

About the photographs:

1. Bride and Bride

Bride and Bride_Sanchari Sur-WATERMARK

Bride and Bride, Toronto Pride Parade, 2010.

Taken at the 2010 Pride Parade in Toronto, “Bride and Bride” represents the freedom to marry the one you love, and the ability to celebrate that freedom. To me, this picture undermines the norm of  compulsory heterosexuality; it embodies the idea that love does not need to be confined within patriarchal norms.

2. Freedom Colour

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Freedom Colour, Kolkata, March 2012.

Taken in Kolkata, India, in 2012, this photo represents the Hindu festival of Colours (or, “Holi”) where “play” using colours allows for a freedom of transgression between caste and class lines in India.

About the project: https://www.facebook.com/thefemailproject

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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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