Tag Archives: Toronto

A November evening that led to The Unpublished City

The Unpublished City line-up

The Unpublished City (Toronto: BookThug, 2017).

Where to begin? Some things, I believe, happen for a purpose, a reason. Happenstance, I like to think. Se-ren-di-pi-ty.

Last November, I had the privilege of being a part of a small group of writers sharing living room space with Dionne Brand. Discussing our current projects, our aspirations, our roadblocks. It wasn’t the best time in my life, but I am glad I made space for that evening. Something about that evening and its conversations opened a floodgate in (the writer) me. I came away, alive.

Line-up

17 of us (minus Katheryn Wabegijig) being introduced by Dionne Brand, Harbourfront Centre, 22nd June 2017. Photo: Catherine Coreno/@cthrn_c, from Twitter.

A part of the privilege came with knowing Phoebe Wang, who has been/is/and possibly will be nothing short of invincible when it comes to creating a much needed community for BIPOC writers. I don’t say this lightly. I don’t say this because I have come to value her friendship. I say this because it’s true. Because very few can do as much as Phoebe does in filling the much needed gap in the Toronto lit scene when it comes to recognizing multiplicity of identities; or, as it’s more easily understood, creating a space for “diversity” to thrive.

And so it was my knowing of Phoebe that led to that evening in November, and that evening that led to an opportunity to submit to an anthology curated by Dionne Brand, The Unpublished City. The anthology is an initiative of IFOA (International Festival of Literary Authors)/ Toronto Lit Up to promote diverse writing in Toronto. The anthology features 18 writers from the Greater Toronto Area.

I have a short flash fiction piece in it, “Mars in Scorpio”, a piece just shy of 600 words. It was the first creative piece I wrote this year. It was the first piece I wrote in a long time. It was the first piece of fiction that poured out of me. I credit it to that evening in November. (I also credit it to my partner who suggested I use a personal story to write this one, and the more I say about how lucky I am to have someone like him, it will never be enough. It is also happenstance in so many ways, our meeting, our being together, but that’s another story for another time.)

5 questions with IFOA

Self explanatory.

Now, almost six months into this year, I have more such pieces since. Pieces that have similarly poured out me. My friend, Heather Olaveson, says, they were waiting. All I needed was a push.

Here’s a toast to that November evening.

My five questions about writing with IFOA can be read here.

A little something on the anthology in Quill and Quire can be read here.

The anthology is available through BookThug here.

Doyali and I.

Before the event at Harbourfront Centre. With Doyali Islam, whose poem “43rd Parallel” is also in The Unpublished City. June 22 2017.

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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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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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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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Nuit Blanche 2011: Art for Art’s Sake

Ride the Rocket, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 6th October 2011 (print version).

This year was a cold Nuit Blanche. If you think about it, it almost sounds morbidly romantic. The Cold White Night. You know, the whole shindig about the blank canvas painted with the creativity of art. Yes, that. Except, it was très cold.

So, another year. Another Nuit Blanche. My fourth year. I was excited. Honest. It was the first Saturday since I had handed in my M.A. thesis. My mind was devoid of academia and free to take in the sights and sounds of the novel art fest that I look forward to each year. Last year was disappointing, no doubt. But this year took the cake… in disappointment.

My night started late. I joined a couple of people (friends and friends-of-friends) at around 9:30 on October 1st in Zone A, at Bloor and Yonge. After trying to figure out the map for a while, we ended up walking west on Bloor. The night was young. So were we. Spirits were high (literally, since some of us were surreptitiously drinking). Conversation was flowing. Kind of. And then, bang, at the corner of Bloor and Bellair Street, we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of couples dancing to classical music.

Dancing Couples (unoffical exhibit), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

“Wait, guys,” I said. “This must be an exhibit.”

One of the guys sniggered. I wanted to smack him (as I will for most of the night, but that comes later).

After two minutes of checking them out, we walked on (later, I pored over the list of exhibits to locate what/who they were. Finally, I must conclude that they were an unofficial exhibit.).

Next we ended up at Avenue and Bloor, and entered Church of the Redeemer that hosts an exhibit without fail each year. We were greeted by a smiling old lady who went “welcome”. And then, we were face-to-face with static-y televisions. “This is art?” the same annoying guy started again. “Open your mind,” I said, tersely. The church atmosphere was awe-inspiring. You have to admit that there is something about a holy place that demands reverence. And, silence. But some giggling teenage guys (perhaps, drunk, too) kept yelling out obscenities. The tiny candles, however, along with the choral music, kept the ethereal atmosphere of Compostela alive.

Compostela, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We moved on, and out into the cold. Where to now? We wondered. “Can we go to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum)?” one of them asked. “No baby, they are not open today.”

“Actually, they might be,” I ventured. “They had an exhibit last year too.”

We wandered upto the ROM, only to be greeted by milling people, but no sign of any exhibits. There were no welcome Scotiabank info tents to help us either. Wow, we must really be in the midst of a recession, I thought. As we were walking away, I saw people heading out of the side entrance of the ROM. Then, I noticed pictures of Bollywood flicks plastered on the side, announcing the Bollywood Cinema Showcards exhibit. “Guys, they are open!” I yelled, happy as a clam. For those who are not in the know, this exhibit had made its appearance at AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) a while back, and now it was being recycled for Nuit Blanche. The reason for my happiness was that I had missed it earlier (read: working on my thesis), but now I got to catch it. For free!

The exhibit had us climbing three flights of stairs. “They must really want to discourage us from catching this!” I said out aloud. The exhibit, however, was every bit worth it. It was interesting to watch non-brown people reading out the names on the hand painted showcards, and not getting what they meant. There was one that cracked me up. Ek Sapera, Ek Lutera. One Snake Charmer, One Robber. It had a figure of a very lust ridden Feroz Khan gazing equally lustfully at a helpless half-naked wide-eyed damsel, while in the process of robbing her honour. And there was a snake charmer too in the corner, but it was unclear what his role was. I surmise she falls in love with the snake charmer, who saves her from the Lutera. Oh, well.

Our steps took us to a Niagara Falls exhibit next. Slow Falls Rising, located on the University of Toronto campus, was a video installation of Niagara Falls rising upwards. In slow motion. Don’t look surprised. Yes, that’s all it was. “Je-sus, if this is art, I am entering something next year!” one of my friends called out. “Hey, look at me! I am walking backwards in slow motion!”

Slow Falls Rising, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We sniggered and tee-heed and went to look for something meaningful in this melancholic night of disillusionment.

We ended up in the middle of Queen’s Park and spied a large exhibit in the distance. We walked, without inspiration. And then, we were silenced. Because The Feast of Trimalchio did just that. Subliminally sexual, the images created tension (all kinds of tension, if I may add). We were silenced, as were most of the crowd. Most of them were open-mouthed and unable to walk away. Reminding myself that the night wouldn’t last forever, and there were many, many more exhibits to catch, I reluctantly moved away. The annoying guy, however, put a damper, as usual, “My evaluation: this sucks”. I had to retort to shut the prick up, “My evaluation: you have no imagination” (He ignored me for the rest of the evening. Not that I care.). We lost him and his friend momentarily in their quest for washrooms (thank god!) and headed to Hart House. There were atleast four exhibits there.

The Feast of Trimalchio, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

The first three inside the building are nothing to write home about (and I won’t even bother). But the one in the courtyard should be applauded for its innovation. Known as Medicine Walk, and organized by the Aboriginal Studies Program at UofT, it was a group exhibition on (quoting from the Nuit Blanche booklet) “aboriginal knowledge, artistry and language”. I made out a beehive made of wood and big enough to accommodate atleast 10-12 adults in it. There was this one guy handing out a drink of some sort. I refused, well, because I had my own drink. There were also rows of pod-like capsules that were filled with crickets. A man at the exhibit explained how crickets needed a certain amount of warmth to stay active (the pods had some kind of heating), and they went into hibernation once they lost that warmth.

Wooden beehive (part of Medicine Walk), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

After having exhausted Hart House, we walked to meet up with the annoying guy and his friend, and went to catch a train from Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, I was informed in hushed whispers that the annoying guy had decided to head home (again, thank god!). The train took us to St. Patrick, and hence, to Zone B.

The first thing we saw was Ride the Rocket, a multimedia video installation that transformed a street car into a virtual ride through video. It appeared to be a popular exhibit, judging from the long line, so we moved on, after taking pictures for posterity.

Next, we walked into The Heart Machine. Termed as an “interactive fire sculpture” in the booklet, the exhibit was too crowded to get a clear glimpse. However, I think the heat from the sculpture may have something to do with that. Cold night. Hot sculpture. Freezing people. You make the equation. I did catch some shooting flames in the air, but it wasn’t enough to keep me around.

Egerton Falls, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Our next stop took us to Dundas Square, again too crowded to move about in. We headed towards Ryerson University, and stumbled upon Egerton Falls. The fog, music and the lights around the water had me transfixed for a few moments. But the increasing cold (and a desire to empty my bladder) pushed us along. Looking for a restroom, we ended up at Atrium on Bay. After my business, we headed to the underground parking to catch a sound installation known as Border Sounds. The novelty of the exhibit was that it was in an underground parking. The exhibit had different makeshift stations with tons of headphones at each station. Each station played music that referred to a particular area. I caught Israel, Pakistan, India and finally, Canada. And, if you like dubstep, then this was probably your scene.

Border Sounds, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Later, we caught Paparazzi Bots on Yonge Street. The bots moved around and took your photos and then displayed them on a screen. Brownie points for another inventive project. After this, we stumbled upon Shannon’s Fireflies that had strings of LED lights that react to people’s whispers and convert them into light. Sure, it was “pretty,” but it was also similar to Ning Ning on Bond Street last year. Another case of recycled art? Bah. (Apparently not. Check comments section below.)

Paparazzi Bots, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We meandered into Zone C, after I filled my belly with some yum yum from one of the food stations in front of Nathan Phillips Square. No, I didn’t see the flying human birds at the Square. Maybe, I was too tired and cold to care. Also, hungry. Hunger makes me blind. The first exhibit that caught my eyes in Zone C was Cardiac Combustion Chamber.  It was a bunch of guys playing drums in the center of car parts suspended into space. The music was mesmerizing, and I wanted to stay. But one of my companions (and, my ride back home) was cold and wanted to leave. It was probably minus 1 at this point, and I wanted to catch Bone Dump, before we called it quits.

Cardiac Combustion Chamber, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

On our way there, we passed by I just know that something good is going to happen. People were standing in lines to grab an umbrella and experience rain. Yes, rain. In the cold. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. Sometimes, people are crazy, or too drunk, to care. We also passed by New Dawn Fades on 100 Yonge Street. It was a row of cyclical rings lit by blue lights. There was a line to get in. Again, I don’t know why. It didn’t look very interesting from outside. Not in my opinion, anyway.

I just know that something good is going to happen, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

I just know that something good is going to happen, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

And finally, we came upon Bone Dump in the Financial District, in an alley between 10 and 18 King Street. It was a dump of porcelain bones. At this point, my friend gave me a look that said, “This is what you made me walk in the cold for? This?” “Oh, come on,” I said, “this is better than most of the crap we saw tonight.”

Bone Dump, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

“True,” he nodded. And, we headed back home.

(Interesting stuff seen that night that was not a part of Nuit Blanche: a man in a green skin-tight suit, two guys vomiting together and a man in Snuggies.)

Man in the green skin-tight suit, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Two vomiting guys, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Man in Snuggies, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

At two-thirty, when we left, downtown was pretty crowded. This was new. People were genuinely out to enjoy the fest, despite the insipid “art”. But hey, that is a good sign. For artists. For the city. And, to an extent, for the economy. Smile, Rob Ford.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur (if it wasn’t obvious, already).

Crickets in pods (part of Medicine Walk), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Shannon's Fireflies, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

New Dawn Fades, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

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