Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Untouchables of India

Dalits or the Untouchable caste of India faced a lot of hardships in the pre Independence era; well that’s what most of us think isn’t it? But not a whole lot has changed even with enforcement of the Quota system and other amenities, can we expect centuries of discrimination to fade away with a few laws? I am doubtful about this, which was not the case a mere 3 weeks ago. 
I believed that we were all equals back home in India, because I had a few classmates with the surnames which were of the Dalit caste and we never discriminated against them, it really wasn’t something you thought about and our teachers never treated them differently to us. Isn’t it stupid to think that we still discriminate people because of the surname or caste they were born in? I was oblivious to the sad facts of the life lead by the Dalit class in some parts of my motherland. Event today people are being killed because of their castes, inter-caste marriages are forbidden in some parts till today. In my interaction with Arun Prabha Mukherjee, a Professor of English at York University in Toronto, I came to know of the facts and life of the present day Dalits in India. 

Prof Mukherjee is the author of The Gospel of Wealth in the American Novel: The Rhetoric of Dreiser and His Contemporaries (1987), Towards an Aesthetic of Opposition: Essays on Literature, Criticism and Cultural Imperialism (1988), and numerous books and articles on postcolonial literatures, women’s writing and critical theory.  She moved to Canada in 1971 from Madhya Pradesh, India  as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Toronto. 

She has translated two books on the Dalit into English one is ‘Joothan’  in 2008 which was written by   Omprakash Valmiki. Valmiki deals with the issue of humiliation meted out to the Dalits by Indian society, no matter where they lived. This humiliation stems from the fact that Dalit inferiority has gotten embedded in the psyche of the upper caste, several recollections of calamities faced by the author brings out the scars that the modern day Dalit still has to face. 

 ‘Hindu’  is a novel by Sharankumar Limbale, reflecting contemporary conflicts in India, this novel, translated from the Marathi into English for the first time, is set in a village in Maharashtra, where panchayat elections are due. Under the rules of reservation of seats in politics, the post of the village sarpanch falls to their share, and a Dalit candidate is successfully fielded by his upper caste employers, leaving the upper castes frustrated and angry. What happens to caste relations, the new political consensus that emerges slowly, if violently, are defined intuitively.  

Sharankumar Limbale is a well-known Dalit activist writer, editor, and critic who has worked successfully with several literary genres and is the author of some 24 books and who serves as the Regional Director of the Yashwantrao Chavan Mararashtra Open University, Naashik in India. Omprakash Valmiki has published three collection of poetry – Sadiyon Ka Santaap(1989) Bas! Bahut Ho Chuka (1997), and Ab Aur Nahin (2009); and two collections of short stories – Salaam (2000),and Ghuspethiye (2004). He has also written Dalit Saahity Ka Saundaryshaastr (2001), and a history of the Valmiki community, Safai Devata (2009). These two writers have different flair of writing and different life experiences yet they have the same anger and contempt in their voice against the inhuman practice of caste system.

Dalit literature has come into its own in India and has become a powerful tool of protest. It opens new dimensions of experience, so dark as to be unimaginable for anyone not born into the Dalit community. A vibrant field of Dalit literature has appeared, and some of the works are beginning to be translated into English. The firsthand unadulterated writings of hardship and discrimination by people, who looked down upon them only because they were born into the upper classes, is an eye opening experience. People being discriminated and differentiated not by any merit but merely by birth. The Dalit writers of Tamil, Marathi and Hindi have given a voice to the atrocities faced by their people and translators like Prof Mukherjee has allowed these stories a new audience and a much wider awareness of the present day situation in Post Independent India. 

It’s ironical that this caste was considered untouchable, yet the women were beddable for these so called Upper castes, most of the time they were forced into the beds of these so called upper caste men. What double standards can one have? The wells made by the pain and sweat of the Dalits would become impure if its own creator would touch it! The life of a Dalit is still not easy. If you thought you knew everything about the Indian Society because you’ve lived there for several years, well read these books and come to know ‘Incredible India’ a little bit more closely. India has the good, the bad and well this is an ugly truth that still lingers on almost 6 decades post-independence. 

Our very own Torontonian Prof Mukherjee is one of the voices of the oppressed who have helped get the necessary attention to this atrocity that our motherland continues to cultivate in different regions.
What is it like to grow up as an impoverished outcaste in modern India? Perhaps the best way to find out is through the words and emotions of those who have lived through the experience and who have the education and talent to write so expressively about it.

Valmiki seems to declare his final judgment in the opening lines of the preface to Joothan: "Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by experiences. Experiences that did not manage to find room in literary creations. We have grown up in a social order that is extremely cruel and inhuman. And compassionless towards Dalits"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shopping for Hyderabadi Pearls

Kavitha Nakka has lived in Mississauga with her husband and son for the past 5 years. She hails from Hyderabad, India. Hyderabad is famous for its biryani and its Hyderabadi pearls!

Kavitha is a new Mompreneur, the kind who uses their talent to become enterpreneurs that have to balance work and life on a daily basis. I recently got the opportunity to meet up with her and see her collection before the Grand opening of 'Kavitha's Collection'!

In case you are tired of the lack of selection of jewellery here in the GTA (if it either looks too cheap or it’s too expensive), or if you are into pearls then you will love the authentic Hyderabadi pearls and other collections at Kavitha's Collection! For authentic and beautiful collections of pearls and other jewellery, you're invited to the Grand Opening of Kavitha's Collection! It's affordable and beautiful, straight from the City of Pearls, Hyderabad.

Pearls and Diamonds are two things that makes a woman look so elegant and here is your opportunity to buy some really affordable gifts for yourself and for your friends and family. Wedding season is around the corner. While we might have finished off with Diwali, Christmas is just weeks away.

So what are you presenting your friends this Christmas? I say try out these unique jewellery. Kavitha is having an open house all through next weekend (19th to 21st November) at Unit 7, 115 Bristol Road East, Mississauga L4Z 3P7, between the hours of 2pm to 6pm. So if you are interested, then have a look at the jewellery and get something for yourself and for your loved ones! After that, you can call her for an appointment at 905-919-2277 to view the collection in the future.

Come and have a look at her collection and get great deals on the grand opening! I know I'm going to be there; hope to see you too!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Filmi South Asian Film Festival- Coming soon!!!

A lot has changed in the world of movies. Initially it was the old Zamindaar trying to swindle the poor farmer of his land. Then came the songs shot in foreign locations and Angry young men who would fight off the bad guys, stop drug smuggling and save the day! After which we were introduced to the love stories where the Khans took over romancing the lovely ladies of cinema. These days we are seeing a change in the movies with movies like 3 Idiots, Peepli [Live], and Road. Now there is a wider subject matter and there is something for everyone. Toronto International Film Festival kicks off on the 9th of September, which will showcase movies from all over the world. September starts with TIFF and will end with a BANG with Filmi ishtyle...with our very own 11th Annual Filmi South Asian Film Festival!

Dinesh Sachdev

To tell you more about Filmi, this Film Festival was created ten years ago in response to the absence of South Asian representation in the North American Film industry. Today it has grown to be the largest festival of its kind in North America, and aspires to become the largest outside India. Filmi hit the festival circuit during the summer of 2000, at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, earning accolades from the worldwide film community and audiences alike. Continuing with its success, Filmi is now an annual event committed to cultivating a new audience for films produced outside of India and the Bollywood system. The creation of the Filmi South Asian Festival is further proof that all great things are born from a dream. In 1999, Mohit Rajhans and Dinesh Sachdev founded Filmi and together, they have grown this festival to be the largest of its kind in North America. Mohit is a household name when it comes to television and Dinesh holds the same stature when it comes to the world of stage and movies; both men have given us a platform to honour and recognise Film Creatives amongst our own!

The schedule for the 11th Annual Filimi Festival is available on line at www.filmi.org. The festival kicks off on Thursday September 30th, at Jackman Hall – 317 Dundas Street West. Friday and Saturday Movies will be screened at Revue Cinema – 400 Roncesvalles Avenue. And we end the event with the Grand Finale on Sunday October 3rd at Bloor Cinema – 506 Bloor St. West.

Now South Asian producers, directors and actors have a platform for their stories; these creative people come together to promote their films and we get to see more than the song and dance around the tree! Some of the movies that have been showcased on Filmi in the past have been: Just a Little Red Dot, directed by Mitra Sen; Hyderabad Blues by Nagesh Kukunoor; and the shocking true story Bawandar (Sandstorm), directed by Jagmohan Mundrah.

In ten years, the audience have grown to over 5,000 people and is still growing. If you want to have the opportunity to view the premiere of many Canadian films by South Asian filmmakers as well as South Asian films from around the world, this is the place to be! Come and see the wonderful creative works of these directors, producers and actors. It’s going to be a fun filled weekend in Toronto. You wouldn't want to miss it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Star Buzz EXCLUSIVE!! Chak Jawana: Gurdas Mann in GTA!

In coversation with Gurdas Mann
I had the privilege to recently meet the God of Punjabi Entertainment: the singer, songwriter, director and acclaimed actor Mr. Gurdas Mann. He was in town for the release of his latest movie ‘Chak Jawana’, a movie based in a village in Punjab where the youth have fallen prey to drug addiction. The turmoil of the parents seeing their children wasting their life and affecting the village atmosphere is portrayed in the movie. Then shows up Captain Gurjeet Singh (played by Mann) of the Indian Navy to save the day and put the disillusioned youngsters on the right path. ‘Chak Jawana’ has been scripted by the debutant director Simerjit Singh with Rupinder Chahal and has music by Jaidev Kumar.

I asked Mr Mann about why he wanted to make this movie, and what message he wanted to give to the youth with this movie. To my question he quickly corrected me by saying that this movie isn’t merely for the youth but for everyone, as the parents and loved ones of an addict are all together involved in both making an addict and helping the addict to leave the vice. The movie gives a message to everyone and their roles are important. The problem of the drug Doda that affects the GTA has deeply saddened Mr Mann and he urges the GTA community to go watch his film. Mr Gurdas Mann says that ‘Chori, yaari, nasha chupaya nahi chupda.’ (even though one might try to hide addiction and bad deeds, no one can really hide it for long).

I don’t follow Punjabi but I doubt there is anyone who doesn’t know Gurdas Mann and his catchy songs like ‘Dil da Mamala’. Mr Mann has popularised Punjabi music and songs from the early 80’s. He introduced us to his vibrant melodies, enriched with the soil of Punjab in every word. This Punjabi munda was born on 4th January, 1957 in Giddarbaha, Muktsar District, Punjab, India.

Gurdas Mann was educated in Malout and gained a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. He competed in many athletic events and won medals including a bronze at the National Championship. He is also a black belt in Judo. Mann took part in youth festivals and it was here, upon seeing his performance in a play, a producer of a Jalandhar TV station approached him for a TV recording of his song ‘Dil da Mamala’, which Gurdas reluctantly agreed to. When the song was aired on December 31, 1980 it stormed the nation and Gurdas Mann became a household name. The overwhelming success of the song grabbed the attention of HMV who wanted to record the song and from this came his second album in 1981. He starred in the hit film ‘Shaheed Udham Singh’, and ‘Des Hoyaa Pardes’.

Gurdas has produced over 27 albums and has written over 200 songs. He also wrote and directed TV programs like POP Time for Doordarshan Delhi. The ever-popular "Apna Punjab hove" track has surpassed all other songs by Gurdas Mann. This track has received awards for The Best Song, Album & Best International Artist of the Asian Pop and Media Awards held in Birmingham in 1998. This song was originally written by Makhan Brar, who lives here in Toronto. As Gurdas Mann was performing in his concert in Toronto, Makhan Brar handed this song to him. It became a hit at that concert. Later on Gurdas Mann added a last verse to this song "marjaane Maana kion Punjab Janda khind da" and included it in his forthcoming album.

When I asked Mr Mann about his 30 year career in entertainment and the struggle he had to go through to achieve what he has now, he simply states that “Struggling is a part of life. It doesn’t matter what profession you are in; what matters is how you deal with the situation you are in at that particular time. If one is bold and has the ability to fight he shall overcome any situation he is put in; all you need is confidence in yourself and a little faith in the almighty.”

I asked him about the different caps he has worn through the years and which cap he finds the most challenging. To this he very eloquently said “I love to be on the stage and have that one-on-one interaction with my audience. With the mood of my fans I change and decide what songs to play; at times I change the line up on-the-spot because what’s important is that my fans enjoy their time with me. To understand them and please them during live performances is what I find most satisfying.”

Well, it was a pleasure for me to meet this wonderful gentle man who was kind enough to sing me a song from Chak Jawana before I took my leave. Not only did he sing it, but knowing that I don’t follow Punjabi completely he explained it to me as well. Do make sure you watch Chak Jawana and listen to his music. I know I will! A pleasure meeting a legend of Punjab! Here is to another 30 years of Gurdas Mann entertaining us! Click here to hear a song from Chak Jawana
Singing a song from Chak Jawana

A1 in Sweets....A1 Sweets!

Some work took us to Oakville last weekend and on our way back to Mississauga we came upon this restaurant: a1 Sweets. Having never said no to an opportunity to eat good food, Karthik and I decided to check the place out. a1 Sweets is located at 2345 Trafalgar Road, Oakville (http://www.a1sweets.com/); it’s like any other restaurant from the outside. The ambience is like the typical Desi restaurant we see here, with Yash Raj Songs playing on the TV, but the customers aren't. Being a Desi restaurant in Oakville, I assumed not many people would know the place...but was I wrong! As you entered you can see a variety of faces seated and enjoying their samosa or thali. This isn't just a restaurants for Desis... because I think Karthik and I were the only Desi customers they had at that particular time!

The menu is not too elaborate, but the food is good. I liked the aloo parathas, while Karthik loved the Malai Kofta. Make sure you try out the freshly made selection of sweets here...kalakand was amazing! Having met Vikas and Ritu Saini, who own this restaurant, we came to know that it’s been merely 7 months since they opened this restaurant in Oakville. This is the second branch of the a1 Sweets chain. The original one is located in Scarborough and has been serving Desi food in that location for the past 10 years and is now run by Vikas's elder brother Vishal. Before a1 Sweets this Desi duo helped their father run Albion Sweets before moving to their Scarborough location.

Talking to Vikas I realised how dedicated he is in taking our Desi restaurants to the next level. This 27 years old’s passion is visible when he talks of all the things he has included in his restaurant, like the ability to deliver orders from any part of the world to people in the GTA. His catering services are available for parties from 20 people to 2000 people, and let’s not forget the on-site catering and his moblie tandoor that he as planned to offer.

What I like best about this place is that it has vegan food as well; also worth mentioning is that most of their food is made without garlic so people like my mother-in-law who are limited to dishes without garlic can most definitely enjoy having a meal here. The restaurant also serves Jain-style food.

If you are a vegan, or if you like garlic-free food, have a sweet tooth, or just love and appreciate good food, then a1 Sweets on Oakville is the place to visit!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Remembering CK Nayudu...

Recently I met up with Sangeeta Kanjani and her husband Ram who own ARTeFAC Inc. Sangeeta’s mother is such a wonderful lady; having spent some time with her I knew what my next article would be about! Mrs. Leela Vidyasagar (Sangeeta’s mom) moved to Mississauga with her late husband ten years ago. Meeting Leela ji, I realised how important family and their legacy means.

Talking to Leela ji I come to know of her fond memories of her father - Cottari Kanakiya Nayudu, often known as C.K. Nayudu, who has the honour of being the first ever captain of the Indian Test Cricket team. He is also famous for being the first Cricket player of India who was bestowed with the Padma Bhushan award.

Nayudu was born in Nagpur, Maharashtra on 31st October 1895 where he spent his childhood as well. It was here that he first started playing cricket and also went on to captain the cricket team of the Hislop Collegiate High School, Nagpur. C.K. was selected by the Modi Club and later on became its captain. In 1916 he debuted in First Class Cricket, playing for Hindus against the Europeans. In 1923, Nayudu was made Captain of the army of the ruler of Holkar; he went on to hold the position of Colonel and made Indore, Madhya Pradesh his home.

C.K. Nayudu will always be remembered in Indian Cricket history for he lead the Indian cricket team in its first test cricket match, played against England in 1932. Even though in this match C.K. injured his hand while fielding, he still managed to make the highest runs of the innings. Overall, he scored 1,842 runs and grabbed 65 wickets during the whole tour.

Nayudu was blessed with a tall and well-built physique, and was quite good at driving the ball as a batsman. Apart from this, he was also an accomplished fielder and slow-medium paced bowler.

Nayudu played his last Ranji Trophy cricket match for Uttar Pradesh in the year 1956-57 at the age of 62, wherein he scored 52 runs. He died a graceful death on the 14th of November 1967 in Indore.

Sipping tea in their warm home, Mrs. Leela recollects the life of her father. “Nana (Telugu for Father) always taught all of us children to be humble and that no work should be measured to be big or small…whatever you do, just do it with all your heart and dedication.” Leela ji herself was very good in sports, having represented her state and college in badminton and table tennis, and her shelves of trophies are witness to those glorious days of her life. Leela’s sister, Chandra Nayudu, went on to create another first for India by becoming the first woman cricket commentator! Chandra also wrote a book, ‘C.K. Nayudu, a Daughter Remembers…’.

Way before the IPL or T20s there was test cricket and C.K. Nayudu, and way before Mandira Bedi there was Chandra Nayudu! Leela ji has lived on the principles of her father and carries his legacy with her. She tells me that she used to go watch all her father’s matches as she does her grandsons Rohan’s and Rishi’s these days. She has immense hope for her grandson to carry on the legacy of her father. The Nayudu Family has given a lot to Indian cricket history…here is hoping Rohan and Rishi will enrich the Canadian cricket history! To the Kanjani family, thank you for opening your doors to me and our readers and sharing your story.