Tag Archives: Queen Street

Doing the Bharatnatyam to Jazz on the Hyphen

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 14th April 2011.

A better life and

all that jazz;

isn’t that why we come here,

crawling on all fours, begging

for that permanent resident card,

begging to be let in?

All that jazz is

                                    wondering

when all that jazz could become

learning to dance

to an erratic tune,

and making it your own. 

– “All that Jazz,” a poem in progress by yours truly

Every time I think about who I am and where I belong to, I always come up with a big, fat hyphen. On one side of the hyphen, it says Indian, and on the other side, Canadian. Yes, that’s my label: Indo-Canadian.

Labels are not easy to live with, especially hyphenated labels. There is a sense of disorientation when it comes to choosing one side or the other. There never is only one side. Parts of me are fragments of Indian-ness and Canadian-ness, with no clear lines that distinguish the two. I have to live a perpetual balancing act, careful to negotiate my space on this hyphen.

Imagine this. You are at a social function [in Canada]. You meet somebody new. And you get asked:

“Where are you from?”

“Canada”

“No, where are you really from?”

For me, it’s easy to point to my origins, being an immigrant myself. But I have a friend who was born and brought up here, whose parents were migrants from Pakistan, but who has never, ever in his life stepped outside of the borders of Canada. He cannot speak Hindi/Urdu, speaks with a thick Canadian accent, and indulges into all of the normal “Canadian” guy activities. Of course, he won’t watch baseball, but that’s just him.

It’s tricky, though, to decide what activities are strictly Canadian, and what are not. What/who is Canadian? Canada is an amalgamation of countless different cultures. To be Canadian, is not to be “white Caucasian”. In fact, Russell Peters’ proclamation that “white Canadians” are a minority is probably true! No, no. What Canada really is a “tossed salad,” with its July 1st (Canada Day) and O’Canada (national anthem). If you haven’t realised how problematic that image is, let me point it out. Even tossed salads have distinguishable borders.

So, yes, I understand, that it makes it easier (for you) to pin down a label onto someone you have just met. It’s easy to say, “oh, so-and-so is a South Indian, so she must be a vegetarian, or so-and-so is Russian, so he must love vodka!” But even with simple labels, there are problems. Some people contend themselves with a broad term, like immigrants, or South Asians. Both are like brand names that signify a separate category. Immigrant signifies newness or, the perpetual “other”. While South Asian signifies a marginal community; again, the “other”. Do you see how there is a tendency to separate “Canadians” from the mainstream by the virtue of their (our) labels?

And, what about those who have multiple identities? Like Canadian author, M.G.Vassanji, who is an Indian who lived in Kenya and now lives here in Canada. Or, Kwai Yun Li (author of The Palm Leaf Fan and other stories), who was a Chinese born in India, and then moved to Canada. How do we categorise them? Or, should we even attempt?

The Palm Leaf Fan and Other Stories by Kwai Yun Li

There’s more to somebody than where they are from. And belongingness cannot be narrowed down to one area or place; take me for example. I am from India, and I have lived in Dubai for nine years, and recently I became a Canadian citizen. I am not just Indian or Canadian. I am not completely any one of these things, because there is more to who I am and what I identify with. My cultural identity cannot be pinned down to a category or label. Labels are after all static; while one’s cultural identity is dynamic. It’s ever changing.

Let us again imagine a conversation I had with X. X represents all those people I came across over time (and still do) in Canada:

“From Calcutta? You are Bengali, right? So, you must love fish!”

Yes, I am a Bengali from Calcutta, but much of Calcutta is made up of non-Bengalis. Also, I don’t love fish, although I grew up eating it.

“You people love sweets!”

No, I don’t possess a sweet tooth.

“Rabindra sangeet?”

Puts me to sleep.

This imaginary conversation can go on, but why bother? All the stereotypes will fall flat on their faces.

What I want to point out is, our hyphenated labelled existences are expected. We are expected to respond positively to these kinds of annoying and ignorant statements.

How shall I put it? I am… me. I am able to sing the Indian National anthem without a fault, while I still fumble on “O Canada…”. Yet, I feel more comfortable on Queen Street in Toronto than at Chowringhee in Calcutta. So, what does that make me?

But don’t misunderstand me. I am not confused. I know who I am. But, I don’t see why I have to explain who I am to a stranger I just met. My identity is my own.

Let’s start over. Hi, I am Sanchari. I belong to me. What about you?

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Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch Party, sans the G20 madness

I had been warned. Not once, but several times. 

“Are you mad?!”

“What if something happens?”

“Can’t you go after the G20 is done?” (My ever worried mom.)

“You know, they arrested 1000 protestors in New York last year.” (A concerned friend who claims he was not trying to scare me. Right.)

“You are so irresponsible. When will you grow up? Anything can happen down there.” (My dad. Obviously.)

However, being a little lusty for a first time experience, and reminding myself that a professional journalist wouldn’t bat an eyelid, I took off yesterday to attend Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch party in the heart of downtown.

Held at Woody’s and Sailor (465-467 Church Street), in the midst of the LGBTTIQQ2SA* community in downtown Toronto, the event marked the kick-off for the Pride Week this year.

Gia Heart Cox

Gia Heart Cox

Being a newbie attendee, I quickly attached myself to a nonchalant man with a huge camera hanging down his front sitting quietly at one of the corner tables. He turned out to be David Marsden of Marsden Global. The Mars Bar. I didn’t know who he was yesterday, and now I mourn my ignorance. Over my vodka tonic and his large red drink, we discussed homosexuality in the South Asian community. We were soon joined by Igor, his assistant (?) and a freelance photographer (who is a business analyst by day but didn’t like talking about it).

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Marsden enlightened me with nuggets of information about the history of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community in Canada. For example, it was Pierre Trudeau who first abolished Canada’s sodomy law that allowed for the decriminalization of homosexuality. He is fondly remembered for his famous quote, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. Marsden was surprised to hear that such a law was eradicated in India as recently as last year.

Christian Jeffries

Christian Jeffries

Miss Conception

Miss Conception

Dubbed as being worse than an Indian wedding by a fellow newbie attendee due to the lateness of the starting time, the show kicked off by a performance by Miss Conception, who had the crowd roaring at her depiction of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”.  Other performances included Gia Heart Cox, Christian Jeffries and a choreographed dance by Scott Fordham.

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce, the emcee, kept asking the audience to throw toonies into her “vagina”, aka the white bucket between her thighs, in return for free drink tickets. Her sarcastic wisecracks kept the livewire ecstatic atmosphere alive.

 
 
 
We were also joined by Glen Murray (the former mayor of Winnipeg (1998-2004) and the first gay mayor in North America) as well as, a mother who was proud to support her gay son. Murray was slightly miffed about the Pride Week Toronto being pushed back a whole week due to “20 assholes”. 
Glen Murray

Glen Murray

I left the party happy, glad to have attended despite all the many warnings. Until I heard the news on the radio this afternoon.

 Apparently, a bunch of “G20 protestors” dressed in black and with ski masks, vandalised parts of Queen street in downtown Toronto by breaking windows and setting police cars on fire. Known as Black Bloc (tacticians who disrupt peaceful protests instead of an actual organization), they forced many places to go under lockdown such as hospitals, Eaton Centre and the Union Station. The Yonge-Bloor subway line (the same one I used yesterday) was shut down as a result of their violent behaviour. Some peaceful G20 protestors were hurt in the rampage, while many shopkeepers watched on helplessly as their shops were vandalised.

I wonder if the violent reaction had anything to do with the raids and arrests of many peaceful protestors last night

In any case, only one more day of this G20 madness.

In the meantime, happy pride week?

Launch party pics: Copyright Sanchari Sur

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited and Allies

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