Timestamped List of Presenters:
Ali Kazimi 0:08
Zool Suleman 1:00
Sherazad Jamal 7:40
Ali Kazimi 12:10
Himani Bannerji 13:45
Chet Singh 34:39
Ali Kazimi 50:30
Ramabai Espinet 51:25
Fauzia Rafique 1:02:39
Steve Pereira 1:18:49
Dance and Musical Performances 1:21:58
Ali Kazimi 0:08
I'd really like to thank all of you for coming out tonight.
We have a great lineup of a variety of authors without whom this wouldn't have happened. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them all.
Before we begin, I'd like to introduce you to the two people who took on the challenge. I think it takes a certain kind of determination and a streak of masochism to do this in this climate, but I'd like to introduce you to Zool Suleman and Sherry Jamal, who started Rungh Magazine.
Zool Suleman 1:00
Thank you very much for coming out this evening.
I think we'd like to start by correcting the misperception, I assure you, it wasn't the two of us who started Rungh Magazine, there's a whole bunch of people who write for it, there's an advisory board of people like Ali Kazimi, Ramabai and Nurjehan Aziz, and others who make the publication possible.
We'd also like to thank Ali and Ramabai, Steve, Khush, and Euclid, and all the others here this evening, and all of you, for coming to sponsor and to support the launch of Rungh Magazine.
I want to speak a little bit about the magazine. And then Sherry is going to speak a little bit about her perspective on the magazine. I hope that some of you have already received everyone who signed up a Desh Pardesh that was sent a copy of the magazine, and others of you will hopefully be getting it this evening, or pages, and get a chance to see what it is that the magazine is trying to do.
It's taken them well over two years, to try to go from an idea to actually having the magazine published.
We were told at that time that it was a silly, frivolous idea. And as the magazine comes off the presses, we sometimes agree, given the lack of support for these sorts of things, I think the only thing we could do, that might be even a tad more challenging is starting some kind of ballet company in this climate.
I guess ultimately, the reason why we worked together to produce our own magazine, with the writers and the advisory group, is because ultimately we saw that there was a need for such a national South Asian cultural magazine that was not restricted by form. And that it was not a literary magazine or dance magazine or film magazine, but was rather interdisciplinary. And that was not based in, say, one South Asian community, but rather based on the many communities that constitute and define South Asian-ness in Canada.
We wanted to make essentially a forum, where ideas could be exchanged, where dialogues would take place, where that which was seen as being on the margins by the dominant, created its own sense of dominance. There was a certain platform where you didn't need to explain, you know, what kaur was, or what Hindi was, or where certain things that were taken as understood, certain codes that you didn't need to go through. And then you could move beyond that, you can move into other levels of discussion. We wanted to have these ideas exchanged. And we want to look at issues of race, of identity, of representation. And most of all, at change. Of what we can all do, as cultural workers to change and create the kind of world we want to live in.
At many points through trying to get the project together when asked the magazine only for South Asian people? Is the magazine essentialist? And I'd like to state for the record and put that to rest. The magazine is not essentialist. But it does have a focus, as most periodicals do. And it does have an identity. And I think clearly that identity is manifested in the very title of the publication Rungh, which means colour, which is going to deal with issues of colour, and people of colour and people in the South Asian community.
We also often get asked, I think, questions about, who's Rungh's audience? Who are you really trying to speak to? And I think that our reality is that in these times no one periodical can only have one audience if it wants to be relevant and so our audiences are varied and we measure them as being layered and multiple. That obviously, we see the South Asian cultural community, as a primary audience for what Rungh is trying to do. We see cultural communities of colour as an audience for what we're trying to do; cultural workers in the dominant milieu, who want to talk, in order to have exchange of ideas with South Asian communities. We see funding bodies and institutions who decide who gets money, who decide what is art? What is literature? What is dance?
The institutions that define those categories, we want them to realize that there are voices out there that also want to play a role in the defining. They no longer want to have definitions set upon them.
And of course there's also the whole group of people out there who are interested in issues of contemporary times: issues of race, issues of representation and identity. And ultimately, if Rungh is to survive, it's those audiences that will determine its destiny. And it's those audiences that are going to either support it or decline to do so.
And that support is what we're partly trying to seek at this point. Whether it is through funding, subscriptions, submissions, or incredible volunteer efforts such as the ones that have put together this evening. We also need healthy criticism frankly so that complacency doesn't start to set in.
When I talk to people about the first issue, and they tell me that it's wonderful while it's kind of a nice feeling, I don't give it the same kind of credence as somebody saying to me, yes, I like certain elements of the publication. But there's more that needs to be done. Or I'd like you to accentuate this or downplay this or go in this direction. That's the kind of dialogue that we need a lot of, and we seek that from you very much. And I must assure you that there's also been healthy criticism of the first issue, which is great, because it means that you, the audience, you the writers, are going to monitor the progress of the publication. And those criticisms are going to be taken into account in future issues that we put out. And to speak more about those issues, and what we are trying to do aesthetically with the publication.
I'll turn it over to Sherry who assists with the editing and the production and design.
Sherazad Jamal 7:40
Essentially, the magazine was put out by three, well it has a design team of three people.
And we have assistance with two more sessions, a team of five. And in terms of the design of the magazine, we're really conscious about pushing towards creating a new aesthetic, we don't want to be duplicating the dominant design aesthetic of the day just to be hip and cool and sell and all that kind of stuff — while selling is important.
And the intention is to create a sort of hybrid aesthetic. And that speaks to sort of the overall conceptual mandate of the magazine so design is very much it's really thought through and layered as much as possible with meaning. Ironically, one of the biggest arguments we have in design is over whitespace.
What to do with whitespace, because basically, it's the design team is, you know, two guys who are trained in eurocentric design stuff, and then me who's coming out of a South Asian base. So we have this constant debate over whitespace and what to do with it.
So it's interesting that, you know, that becomes this point of tension, but the results are really interesting, because we are working towards doing the layering, while still incorporating the need for that kind of thinking, breathing. So that's sort of an example of some of the issues that come up.
We're trying to, basically, because the magazine is featuring visual artists, basically we're trying to be as true to the artist's vision as possible. And you know, it's really important to us, that given the restraints that we may have, that we do that.
The initial response to the aesthetic quality of the magazine has been really positive and very gratifying for the design team. But again, as with the content of the magazine, we're also looking for criticism around that. So if there are any suggestions or any ideas that we would just love to hear them, and it would really help us — help feed the ongoing debate that goes on with design.
In terms of upcoming issues, our Fall issue is the film and video issue. It will be featuring the work of Leila Sujir and Gita Saxena, as well as reviews and interviews of Masala yet again — yes I know, Masala is being reviewed yet again — and interviews on the set about The Burning Season which is a South Asian quote unquote film being shot in Vancouver.
The winter issue is on the Body. And it will focus on racial, political, sexual, spatial, et cetera, representations of the body in popular culture. So, specifically on those viewpoints, Rungh is sponsoring actually with Basic Inquiry Studio, an artist run centre in Vancouver, a series called The Body Project. It's a series of performances and art activities and flyers are available on the table. So we are looking for submissions for that issue. So if you have any smart kind of things you want to write about around the body, and how race is represented in popular culture through the body, for example, we would love to receive stuff.
In terms of future issues, we'll be focusing on class and culture, the built environment, and sexual identity, as some of the themes coming up.
Rungh is very busy. Rungh is also a media sponsor of Asian Revisions, which is going to be at Harbourfront, end of October.
And we will be sponsoring films at the Vancouver Film Festival. So you know, there's a lot going on, we're really busy, and we really need your support, and your ideas, and your subscriptions.
Thank you once again for coming out, and enjoy the evening.
Ali Kazimi 12:10
Well, we can start now. I'd first like to introduce you to an artist who is not here. Although his work is here. His name is Vipin Sharma. And he'll be with us a bit later in the evening. And his oils are hanging out in the lobby. And you might want to see them on your way out, or when we have a break. He's a visual artist and experimental filmmaker from India. He's been here for the last two years, I believe. And this is the first time he's exhibiting his work.
We'll have a series of three readings, and then there'll be a short break for five minutes. Then after that, Deepti will perform a kathak piece for you. It's wonderful. We just went to rehearsal and I saw it for the first time and it's quite, it's quite a beautiful piece. And then we have two musicians, Ravi and Ian, who played at WOMAD at this summer. And they will be playing a jazz fusion piece for you on the tabla and bass guitar.
So I'd like to begin with Himani Bannerji. Himani has been around in Toronto for a long time. And she's a writer of short stories, and a poet, and she teaches sociology at York University; especially a course on race, gender, class, within the context of imperialism.
Himani Bannerji 13:45
The light is very strong. I can't see a single person. It's hard to read poetry when you can't see who you're reading to. While the lights are being brought down I'll use this as shade.
I want to say I'm very happy to be here with you today, for Rungh. I knew about the inception of this magazine. They had incredible trouble to get money, support, a base set up, actually across the continent and these two people who spoke to me wanted to be enthusiastic, young, and able, in doing what they have done. And I'm one of the very, very minor figures who they turned to in the hope of getting some support, and I've been always more enthusiastic than able to produce. But I want to thank them for bringing out this magazine for all of us.
And I also want to say how nice it is to be reading here for a South Asian magazine, because when I first came to Canada in 1969, I never thought that I would be in a position to stand in front of a group, in the context of South Asian writing in Canada, there was hard — there was nothing around.
And then after this was in the very late 60s, early 70s, and then came Moyez Vassanji, nowadays better known as a novelist, but he midwifed a lot of writers here among South Asian community. And there's the Toronto South Asian review he and [Nurjehan Aziz] produced together, which I think is one to remember, because some of the path-breaking work was done by people like him. And then there is Fauzia Rafique sitting here with her little group and her ability, put together Diva. And that was the voice of South Asian women living in Canada, and also, I think, very significant to remember. And nowadays, Rungh.
Now when I know that we haven't scaled any Everest yet, and you know, we have not really come in very big numbers. And not many people know or are yet very involved are interested but I think certainly it's a rising voice. And I've always gone with the rising group, rather than the established one. So I want to thank particularly Zool and Sherry for Rungh and the people who helped them. But also I wanted to remember two other groups of people who have done the work before. So saying that, and acknowledging my debt of gratefulness to people who make it possible for us to write who are not ourselves, organizers. And with that, I would like to read you a few poems.
I have a few poems that are old. And it's interesting to see how writing changed, and as politics evolved in Toronto. And when I first came here, you know, I had a lot of trouble, in the streets and renting places in the university. And the first while, because I came from a very different world that was already in my late 20s, when I came from India, Teacher's College. And already having grown up quite a bit through a different kind of left political tradition. I had never really thought about racism as an issue. I grew up in mostly post-independence Pakistan, East Pakistan first, and then India later.
And the word race, really the only context in which I knew was about sports, you know, like three-legged race, and you know, really never, never used the word race as a really real valorized, meaningful word for me.
Then I came to England, before I came here, and stayed in it a while, and I got treated in a very strange way. And none of which I had a way of making sense of. I just felt that there was something being done to me. And I had studied English literature before, you know, and we get told when you study this, in all different parts of the colony, that literature is universal and time transcending. So we studied Shakespeare and Dickens and all kinds of things.
And then you know, we were told it was our Shakespeare and our Dickens and so on. But wandering around in London, and being looked at in a certain way and feeling sort of distinctly kind of cut out and separated or something, I didn't quite know the word marginalized yet.
I began to realize that Shakespeare wasn't our Shakespeare at all, nor Dickens was our Dickens, and that they had countries, histories and peoples. And whereas I had grown up thinking of it as our literature. Actually, you know, Shakespeare wouldn't have recognized me on the street and said “Our Himani”, even if I said “Our Shakespeare”.
So the locality, the history, the particular sort of location of this literature that we had been taught was great literature, the great tradition and time-transcending, sort of retreated into some kind of local thing for me. And then I came here [to Canada], and there was also the same kind of regressions (?) and problems.
And yet I don't think that it was, it took almost a year before which I could actually recognize and begin to sort of relate to the notion of racism. And that happened by trying to make sense of certain events, talking with people, but particularly through reading Franz Fanon. And reading Wretched of the Earth was like a revelation for me. It made sense of the world that I was in, the experiences I was going through.
And in those days, we saw ourselves and I started to write a little bit with Dionne Brand, with Lillian Allen, with Krishanpur _______ we did in different rallies and stuff and sort of added on five minute things at the end. But we saw ourselves then politically, metaphorically speaking, as Black writers.
And that was the first kind of awakening. And I still retain, within the content of my notion of being a South Asian writer, also limited, that notion of being a Black writer, in a kind of meaningful political metaphoric elision, joining of the two. So the few poems that I wrote in those days, and it's sort of retrospectively interesting to look at, were very directly participatory in the Black experience. And I felt then that whatever is not white, whoever is not white here, is Black.
So I went to hear one new artist who was a Black musician. And this is a poem, on a black entertainer. I saw him at the Ontario Place which had an auditorium, which is sort of like an amphitheatre, and he was performing there.
And it goes like this.
Suppose a black man sings, suppose he sings standing in an arena, with thousands looking on. Suppose he's afraid, surrounded by curious eyes, waiting for the red circle of his mouth to crack to let the sounds escape. Suppose now he moves back in time, a Christian among the Romans his stance, and the amber eyes of the lion are one with the eyes of his audience. Cold, expectant, leisurely, sure of the end. A magnificent sensual lion basking in the sun. What must a black man do now? But of course he must run, he must flee, covering his tracks, spiriting away his black smell. He must charm this lion, lull him to sleep, conjuring up the grand vision of the lioness at her mating time.
Agony, fire, ecstasy must pour out of him. He must bare his guts, pull out the length of his intestines, let the serpents crawl about him, emanating dreams and distraction.
He must sing on and never stop, must never stop, until he reaches cover. He must then, sing to live, sing for a living, and live only in the song, last long and the magic moves. Alone, Black, in an arena, surrounded by curious eyes, to the music of whips, suppose a black man sings, and suppose he sings for you.
I also became aware of Africa after I came here. It is a shame that one must confess, that third world does not know itself to be the third world. Does not relate to other parts of the world that are designated by that term.
I discovered Africa and struggles in Africa to liberate themselves, and the struggle of South Africa when I came here, as much as the struggle of black people in this North America. And here again, I wrote a poem upon hearing Beverly Glen Copeland, a black physician who was drumming at International Women's Day in Simcoe Hall.
Last night, she drummed me Africa, and brought darkness stars and the wet greenery of the night forest into this Prison of Stone. Civilization of Greece and Rome, the England of Hawkins and Victoria, fell from us. A heap of soiled clothes discarded in the new age of history. Wind blew from the savannas from the clear scent of the waterfalls, southern plantations opened their gates and the vision of a black mother, child in arms, framed by the circle of a dim light, and the furrowed face of a man intent on fathoming the dark.
Jamaica, Haiti, Martinique, burst into flames, broke chains, fists, fires and fleeting falls into the night, agitation, cries of victory filled the center, the still center, the still torso of the drummer, rooted like a palm into the earth, and the drum, of the world calling, gathering, reminding last night she drummed me Africa.
Then in 1973, Chile happened. Allende was murdered. Bombs fell on the presidential palace, the Moneda. And we all felt personally that a dream and hope was crushed for me.
So I wrote this small poem on our experience of Chile.
It's called “Chile 73”.
Your voice falls on our conflict and tears to pieces its rotten fibers. Underneath other voices, broken faces, hairs below. Order and pleas loud and strangled smoke to the sky. Wind brings dust, scatters ashes on our books and songs. Colours turn gray in the failing night and death creeps in through the geraniums.
From my own poems I'll read one more poem. I went to Cuba. And I really loved it. It was in the 70s. And I saw it as a Black country. This poem is called “Revolution in Cuba”.
In Cuba, dark Cuba, glistening in the sun was born a child. They named her Revolution. Her mother was Justice and her father Poverty.
All day on the beach in childish play, in the street marches in Havana, in the working hands of cane fields, in the bounding voices of children, revolution grows. Every man, woman, child, unite in a grand Parenthood. In Cuba, they tend a child. Her name? Revolution.
Now in the context of the blockade, the besiegement, the encirclement and impending destruction of Cuba it seems a very poignant poem to me, even now. I don't know how long it will be there as a socialist country.
Two other poems that I'll read from my second phase have to do with my living here and experiences that are very direct and personal.
From England came a term called Paki. And I was, I guess, one of the many people that was recipient of that term, and the insult that goes with it. It's called “Paki, go home”, which was a slogan written quite often, particularly in England, on walls.
Three PM. Sunless winter sleeping in the womb of the afternoon. Wondering how to say this, to reason, or scream, or cry, or whisper, or write on the walls. Reduced again, cut at the knees, hands chopped, eyes blinded, mouth stopped, voices lost.
Fear, anger, contempt. Thin filaments of ice and fire wire the bodies: my own, of hers, of his, the young and the old. And a grenade explodes in the sunless afternoon and words run down like frothy white spit. Down her bent head, down the serene parting of her dark hair as she stands, too visible, from home to bus stop to home, raucous hyena laughter, Paki, go home.
The moon covers her face pockmarked and anxious in the withered fingers of the winter trees. The light of her sadness runs like tears down the concrete hills, tarmac rivers and the gullies of the cities. The wind still carries the secret chuckle, the rustle of canes as black brown bodies flee into the night, blanched by the salt waters of the moon. Strange dark fruits on tropical trees swing in the breeze gently.
Now and then and again we must organize. A woman wiping the slur's spit from her face. The child standing at the edge of the playground, silent, stopped; a man twisted in despair, disabled at the city gates. Even the child in the womb must find a voice; sound the munition, organize. Like a song, like a roar, like a prophecy that changes the world. To organize, to fight the slavers' dogs, to find the hand, the foot, the tongue, of the body dismembered; organ by organ rejoined, organized, soul breathed in, until she, he, the young, the old, is whole; until the hand moves acted by the mind and the walls, the prisons, the chains of lead or gold, tear crumble wither into the dust and the dead bury the dead until yesterdays never return.
This is about my experience of aspects of the white left in Canada, but particularly male.
It's called “Love in Black and White”.
Don't push me. I'm on the edge. I'll be very very angry, says a six-feet-four white male to me, who doesn't want to answer a question I have asked. I'm looking at him. His arms are full of Marx and Mao, his pockets are bulging with pennies for the guise of the Guy Fawkes Day of the Third World Revolution. He's ready to give you pennies, knowledge, high tech advice on revolution, everything, even love, to the brown, black revolutionary women, everything. But watch out. Don't ask for it though. For anything. He will give, at his own time, at his own pace, at his own demand. Master, craftsman, white man, sahab. Referee of the world's struggles. Don't ask him for an earlier instalment of the love the eight the advice. Above all, don't question him about it. That pushes him too far. And he will be very, very angry with you. And the white man's anger, you know, can launch a thousand ships, destroy a Granada, if not the world, or deport a black woman, or anything else you care to add.
Ali Kazimi 33:52
The next poet we have was quite reluctant when I asked him first. And he protested that he'd never really read anything or rather performed his poetry in Toronto. So we have the privilege of listening to Chet Singh who is an anti-racist educator. He's worked with the North York Board of Education and at the moment is the Race Relations Coordinator at York University. So could you give him a hand?
Chet Singh 34:39
Thank you for the introduction, Ali, and I'm glad to be here supporting this very important initiative.
The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy have said that peace is not the absence of war, but the active striving for justice. And it's unfortunate that in the last 500 years we have lost that kind of wisdom as Western civilization continues to wage all kinds of wars, wars against each other, poor people, third world peoples, women, and so on. This is just a simple comment on that situation. It's called “Dread in a Babylon”.
It dread, but it dread, it dread in a Babylon, y'all.
Survivin' the war, war, wars.
Survivin' the destruction-tion.
I said it dread, but it dread, we're sitting in a pit of confu sion
watching the light of illu sion, just riding the storm of confu sion
But it dread. I said it dread. This dread in a Babylon ya.
Is women them a murder in New York City,
is women them a murder in Quebec city,
is women them a murder in this ya city,
is women them a murder in a that ya city
and I'm selling more guns the same way,
but them selling more guns to save we
It dread, but it dread,
We're traveling in the path of disaster.
Just stepping in the path of disaster.
Sisters living on the edge of disaster,
i said it dread but it dread
Children hungry in New York City
children hungry in this city.
Children hungry in a Quebec city
and them building more bombs the same way.
But them building more bombs the same way.
And I can't get no job in New York City
can't get no job in this ya city.
I can't get no job in a that ya city
and them building more bombs the same way.
But them building more bombs the same way.
But where you're going to run Mr. General,
is where you're going to run
when the fire it burn
is where you're going to run when the blood, it run
is where you're going to run when there is no sun.
This is a form of personal responsibility. I'm appealing to all people to be more conscious about our actions and inactions. It's called “I'm just another statistic”.
My name is John Doe and I live in New York City. I watch TV and I get confused.
Children them a holler, and children them a bawl, and children them a suffer in Lebanon.
I vote for the president but don't you look this way, is what you say.
I'm just another statistic, but I'm just another statistic.
We're talking about equal rights.
We're even talking about justice and women still have fight; them can't get no right,
you see I like nice legs, don't pay for much brains, read Penthouse and go to porno movies.
But don't you look this way is what he say. I'm just another statistic, but I'm just another statistic.
My name is Joe Complicity, I go to York University. I drink Carling O'Keefe and smoke the
Rothman cigarettes and I bank at the Bank of Commerce
and the children them a suffer is children them a murder in South Africa -
but don't you look this way, is what he say. I'm just another statistic but I'm just another statistic
We writing all the inflation, and reading about the recession, don't bother mentioning
depression. You see I have two cars and two point five children. I work for Bell Canada and I
live in suburbia. Just workin' nine to five, to stay alive, but don't you look this way, is what you
say, I'm just another statistic. But I'm just another statistic.
Take a walk.
We talking about peace, peace. Now we even talkin' green, green. And we can't change that, we have to change the system. And it's dollars and cents are the motive. It's dollar and cents are the motive
So why can't we see what we doing to we, working nine to five, just to stay alive.
Is Rothman's cigarettes we smoke and we take it for a joke. And still we have the gall, to holla at the system, they cheats them, they cheat them, cheats them is a fraud. But it's you and me are the system and think about it, because it's you and me are the criminal, I said is you and me are the criminal, but is you and me are the criminal.
This is a poem about I guess the white left as I'm any term. It struck me when I was a student at Trent, and used to organize protests and student activism.
When we organized action around things that were highlighted and immediate, like South Africa, hundreds of people come out. But when we organize activities aimed at local conditions and doing some serious work, no one came. I remember in the summer of 82, there were 42 Nigerian students who were verbally and physically assaulted in Peterborough and no one really did anything. And so this is a moment of that.
Yes, you. Yes, you, you with the protest sign drunk with civilized society, media junkie looking for a fix. Yes, you, have you tasted my black brown skin, like I taste hatred, bitter, like bile? Yes, you with surplus fat in your pocket. When violence blows down my bony neck, spine-chilling terror, running for cover? Will I be your brother? Or will I be your sister or will you hide behind your protest sign, hiding your bulging pockets? I need to know, friend, cause I was walking down blind street near the Bronx, a dead woman touched me with her skeleton hands. She said, Tell them not to forget us. We have black and beaten too, you see, I would like to be on the national news, or Ronald Reagan start then.
This next poem I wrote when I was working with the public schools, and it's about children of domestics. In many cases these kids have nothing to deal with the adjustment with a new society, the racism of the school system, the curriculum, the teachers…the odds are so stacked against them that it's incredible that some of them succeed in life. Most of them don't, unfortunately.
This was written in the form of a letter.
Most of these kids, by the way, the mother would come and work as a domestic as many of you might know, and grandparents would raise them for many, many years until the mother can eventually get money together to bring them over. It's called “Mikey's Letter”.
“Dear Grandpa, I hope you're keeping well. I miss you. Looking through this high-rise window, watching the sun hitting the ground and disappearing like magic. Ma doing all right. She work all day. And she gone all night. She taking night school. I tell you, it does get real lonely.
The other day in class, a youth call me nigga. Well, a rage take over my body and I lose control. I grabbed him by a neck and him started to scream. I choke on the ground and they're starting to squirm. I lick him on the belly and it turned like jelly. I couldn't take it no more.
Teacher sent me to the office and I get suspend. And since that day, the teacher mark me with eyes that cold like ice. He mark me with words that slice like a knife. And that not all. Them youth still call me paki, nigga. Tell me, go back where I come from.
But grandma, now I make some friends. Only thing, some a dem carry a knife and smoke a thing called crack. Some carry malice and lick chalice. Some skip class, but lick some grass. Oh grandma. You know I'm not like that. Besides, friends is friends. And like I promise, when I finish school and get a good job, I will send for you.
Until then, I remain your faithful and loving grandson, Mikey.”
I wrote this poem after yet another black male was killed in the city. It's called “Jane-Finch Blues”.
The night was dark, freezing cold.
Inside the music was beating, pulsing. Well heart.
Brothers and sisters rockin ganja mystic mists dancin
Far over, Bob Marley blarin, shakin, consolin.
Delroy was watching, three mouths to feed.
Have to sell some weed. No job. Kicked out of school for him blackness.
Freedom stained with might.
Delroy's head was pounding. The blues, them was resounding.
Bittersweet and black, like the night exploding.
Knocks on the door. Police, open up! Delroy didn't move.
Silence creeping up his spine. Gunfire! Delroy didn't move.
Silence stained with blood. And outside the night was freezing cold.
Three mouths was waiting, waiting in vain, freedom.
I wrote this poem last year and it's interesting looking at it now, in terms of what happened with the riots in Los Angeles, and here. I was talking about that whole idea of youth.
I no longer wait for the tide to dance around my feet. Instead, my boots slip on winter's heart. Your eyes threaten like a gun in the subway. Follow me in the elevator eludes me on the TV. I turn to my mirror for consoling. My new country, you have turned me from a sun-drenched heart to a carrier of stones and daggers, even in my sleep. Since what I feel is surer than my pen, I should bleed on paper and hide my scars, a costume of your mockery. Since we destroy to build, we should destroy museums as a sacrifice to this aboriginal graveyard, and destroy the art of rhetoric, in homage to the logic of injustice. The agony of this tragedy is our ability to make love to injustice while it hides under our beds rotting. Our common tragedy is sealed in the garbage bins of white his-tory, that will one day unleash a generation of anger that will not forgive. A generation of anger that will set fire to the horizon.
This is the last one. It's one of the first dub poems I ever did actually, it's called “Too Rude”.
What's that you say? Walking down the road. Lookin me. So rude. You're too rude now. What's that you say? Walking down the road and wailin your words, so rude. What you're too rude, man. What's that you say? Walkin down the road, flingin your words so rude. What's that you say? Hey, nigga. Hey, paki. And where'd you get that negative vibration? Politics and religion causing more division? Where economic shifts dem causin confusion. And what's that you say? Walking down the road? Lookin me so rude. Well don't say that. Don't say that. You see I ain't wanna deal with no racism and sexism; you see, I ain't wanna deal with no ism and a schism we've got to live as one, or we all gonna die. We got to unite and solve this situation. It's getting shitty. And what's that you say, runnin' comin' to tell me that I'm a — well don't say that. Don't say that. Please, cos, I have to keep walking down this road. Strictly positive. Excuse me while I keep walking down this road. I'm not here to be justified by you. Excuse me while I keep walking down this road, hoping that one bright day you're going to realize that some minds been messing with your mind. Excuse me while I keep walking down this road, cos I got work to do.
Ali Kazimi 50:30
It's certainly a privilege to listen to this wonderful poetry.
One of the intentions for us to hold this evening was to try and bring in people from all the South Asian communities that we have in the city, and certainly the Indo-Caribbean community. And we have another writer, novelist and poet Ramabai Espinet. Ramabai, by the way, was one of the people responsible for this evening tonight. And she was involved in this conspiracy.
Ramabai Espinet 51:25
Orthodoxies. I hate orthodoxies. They are an imprisonment of essence into tight little knots. Orthodoxies and strictures, definitions, guidelines, categories, dogma, classification schemes, working codes, manners and mores, ideologies and so on. Are you a feminist? Or simply a person person? A Marxist feminist, a Marxist Leninist feminist, an old communist socialist, feminist, a radical feminist, a lesbian feminist, a dog-eat-dog feminist, a bluestocking, suffragette, man-hater, stone crusher, ball breaker, bumpy rider people person? No, person person, black feminist, Carribbean feminist, Asian feminist, African feminist, Indian feminist, single parent feminist, man-loving feminist, nurturing feminist, cook is woman, Superwoman is not a feminist, all these orthodoxies be damned.
The day we want to make real change, to make it new, we'll throw these boundaries through thewindow. We shall search for non-archy, no hierarchy, no law and order. Only harmony, no binding categories, only states of being, of becoming, of searching. What do women want? Only total freedom in living like others, only honesty and human relations for us and others, only no manipulation of us, by others, and vice versa. Only no restrictions for us and our daughters, only a burning need for us to take our places under the burning sun.
Thank you. I'm very happy to be reading here for Rungh tonight. I celebrate the launching of this magazine with them. When I first talked to Sherry and Zool, it was in the middle of the Gulf War. And Sherry, by the way, is an architect, and I remember we talked about the destruction of Baghdad and the destruction of all of those monuments. And I wrote this poem called “Instruments of love and war”.
Hearts beating at the sandy border, dry white moondust in the shadowless glare of moon land. This is the season for attack. For no faltering gaze and songs of no orchestra for demolition.
Make me a shield, a coat of mail, forged for the heart of my brother. Tides in the desert red running parting the watering wails of dread. If my blood runs weak in the rum-hot night, a big gun on call flashing like a bloody Fourth of July. Bombs are raining on Baghdad. The snow whitens this side of the mountain sepulchre. In the village a band of jazz musicians sing of avarice, of tell me why, why. Tell me why when I sets in iron-blue eyes, the full lines of factories makes armour. In the shops bending sideways, a curve of lovely cheek.
My mother, my aunt, buying pots of flowers: cyclamens, hydrangeas, early Easter lilies, sunshine fences of morning glories. As shells clear through tongues rising from desert dust curling in arches of smoke, of flame. Ordinary uphill sack in the theater of war, over miles of desert dead, oil slicks and boys. Fleshless trees with blood trunks and no yellow bellied ribbons for masking instruments of war, love past hearing, verisimilitude of mother grief, and no morning glories.
I'm going to read a poem called “An Age of a Woman”. It's a celebration of my Caribbean identity. But it's also a form that was written in great rage because it was written around the time when we need after being vanquished after the dream was vanquish. In 1985, the Reagan team visited Grenada to celebrate that country's independence and so called freedom. I met George Schultz for the sunrise and renewed it he said what a lovely piece of real estate on the support with a different age for a woman.
“This Caribbean is mine, not because I've bought it or bought it or because I sell, trade or use it, or find it to be a lovely piece of real estate. This carving is mine because when somebody my back and pain cut my legs and chiggers bore holes through my rice planting feet. I wait for evening, and the sun goes down and the night is full of crickets frog song and the man of Carib soil. And when the blue in marauders come I see how we can't wait. destiny lies covered and the turquoise sea and how long how long my son and daughter can we wait to part the waves to where the barn is to fish for the jurors waiting in the sea. I do what I can old now weak and strong. I wait for the young to recover from sleeping until much political dreaming. I wait for the Warriors of a new mind the small moves and boys to bear the banners we made them for from our blood and bone and are at the age of the woman now. Think of times come and columns will fall and blue waves covered in as the cycle comes on. When the young now sailing in coconut boats through calm lagoons of memory will breathe with fiery breath or aging Swan songs or visuals of people's truth came to live in the cities and then we return home buried in green mountains without caskets of guilt. Running through the internal silver of rock rivers and breathing the freedom of an earth not called under awakened sepulchral not subdued, not stripped bare and pillaged, won by new warriors and old gods black and brown breathing and fearless learning to discourse of a new war. As ageable but strong. I sing a song for our own, for healing, and the earth delivered from falsehood, laden with new colours for all.
My final poem is called “Lost Cargoes”. It's a poem which speaks to the Indo-Caribbean identity, specifically in Trinidad.
Shadow on the rim of a rusting island sea. An old man shells his last days into cupfuls of sea water, sand dollars, bottle of messages. My grandfather, grieving through distances impossible to measure. Mourning lost places his tongue rolled double over black sage words. The old man sifts sand for buckets of chip-chip. The older India in pictures behind his granite eyes. After sea storms, ________ bhai, barracks, cane-slashed legs, sore hands driving a cart fast, fast, through the backroads of Malgré-Tout, sending cargoes of pain to drift downstream. Past the pond at Usine-Sainte-Madeleine, past rolling greens and blond children, white ladies picnicking on blankets.
Walking through the night, reaching ___________ in daylight, my grandfather bringing on his back, wrapped in burlap, aloos, bhaingan, tomatoes, rice cakes, berries, gifts, gifts.
My grandfather was a big man, dressed in a white crushed suit, waistcoats, polished shoes, drinking rum, at a little table on concrete outside rum shop, watching for lost times, for the times when, and a small man, eating piles of rice and salt making order out of sticks, earth, scraps of newsprint, pepper trees, ghosts. In that isle, on these shores, no beachings were satisfactory. And love lifted from the salt waves to the black night stars. The pond and phosphorescence came on the corner nine proud trudging through the mud, some on trees, pastures cane and sugar burning. All he owned he rolled into a small flour bag sack. He rolled his tongue double said words I did not know, and leave me.
Years later I found it, washed up on an alien shore, in a dawn pinched grey and rose, deep in a rusting city centre, past the industrial archway where ruined suns fall at evening, a bundle of rags, thin flotsam and jetsam knotted with seaweed, but inside the bleached casing carried a blue bottle of different dreams, a message unwritten and clear. It printed itself in a jumble of letters, to be sorted another time. All the letters of several alphabets were there, in different glyphs, mathematical symbols, raised signs, sea-dyed colours, cloth, and stones of crystal. The message said, take these ragged sights, born and re-dipped in the sea's long washing, and make a whole, a life. Lighten the water, plant flowers, gather the sea, lace the land.
Ali Kazimi 1:02:21
We have one final writer. Please welcome Fauzia Rafiq from Diva. She's a short story writer.
And she's going to read to you, an excerpt today.
Fauzia Rafiq 1:02:39
Hi, good to be here. I remember last year at Diva we received suddenly in the mail an envelope from Vancouver, we opened it, and it was the first issue of Ankur. And we were so excited to see that because it was just each new publication which has some kind of politics or some viewpoint in it kind of shows us as if it's another sign of the development of our community, that we are becoming larger, which I think is the only way we can survive, in here. So I really welcome Rungh, very much, and I think and I have a feeling that it's going to go a long way.
This is one of the stories that I wrote in 1988-89. And that was a few years after we had arrived in Toronto, and the three-four short, short stories in that period. Me and a friend of mine, we like to call them horror stories. Though the horror here is not defined by Hollywood. It's defined by us, meaning, a South Asian woman.
It's called, “The Position of Her Power”. If you have heard, it's the best time to go have a coffee now.
She was the kind one normally sees in an Avon brochure. Light brown hair with a tint of gold. Blue kinky eyes straight nose, full lips, wide mouth and a dimpled chin. A woman she had come across years ago she remembered to this day by the name of quote unquote that classy bitch. once called her the ideal woman of Anglo Saxon lower middle class quote unquote. The bch taught this to be insulting. It was not not to her. The only thing she objected to was the word load with a ton of middle class. She was not only an ideal woman, she was also a vice. She had made it a point to enhance and preserve this image. And now after about 25 years, she had reason to be proud of her efforts. Little things she had started doing then, but now habits that she hardly noticed or paid attention to. Every four to six months, she would change the style of her hair to the most appropriate one at the time, never too conventional never too wild. What she did not change was its golden colour. Like the deep blue of her eyes, the golden brown remained in thing in the kind of conventional fashion magazines do anything that caused her some concern was her skin, it might like the belly of a s, as time passed by the blue veins under her skin became more and more prominent. She never found time or money to keep it tanned. But only her first boyfriends might have noticed that it was too white. She hadn't got the useful method of delicately applying the correct combination of foundation cream and oil of Olay on her body after a morning shower. It not only provided a thin transparent veil to her blue, it also gave her a healthy and somewhat tanned look to her skin. None of her boyfriends, not even her ex-husband knew she had hair on her upper lip, on her arms and legs. The only noticeable here was on her head and between her thighs, and she took good care of both. She liked looking pretty, it made life easy on her and pleasant, except that she was unable to figure out why she had lost three men and was about to lose the fourth. She had wanted each one of them to stay. She knew she boosted their ego just by being with them. She knew they were all proud of having her. So then why did they always leave?
The man she was going out with was finding more and more excuses to spend spend less time with her. She recognized the symptoms. Last night he was to come and pick her up to go dancing. She wore her black dress with burning red jewellery and matching shoes, a real sizzler. No one would help but look at him. But he never showed when she called his place there was that fucking machine that tasteless loud, loud music saying I'm unable to come to the phone right now. Please leave in an hour. She almost drove to his place to find out why the hell have you been able to come to the phone. But then she felt tired, tired of keeping them in line, tired of feeling outraged, tired of the fear of being abandoned, died of the thought of dancing, of love, of music, of attracting men, of encountering women. She went to bed and quietly slept all night. Sleep is a great remedy. In the morning she was herself again and aghast at the fact that she had slept with her makeup on. She called him again from her workplace. He was ever so ashamed of his behaviour last night, but it was unavoidable. And great news! Wait tell you heard this one. He had found a job of his dreams in the States and was leaving within a week or so and then out give it another week and totally unenthusiastic. How about coming along? She said she was absolutely thrilled. And yes, she would think about it. He said he was in an awful hurry and would really appreciate it if she told him by tomorrow at the latest. She said she would. She met him. She knew there was no job and then the bastard was taking the easy way out. She still would have swallowed her pride and would have gone to the States with him but she wasn't as free to do so. She had a mortgage to think about. She was still paying for the furniture. It was difficult to contemplate quitting her job. It paid well and was so easy. She was quite a success at it as well. Her ability to control people was not only used at work, it was also appreciated. She liked controlling people, she did it almost effortlessly. She would sit every day in front of one of the doors leading to the office where officers conducted pre-arranged interviews in tiny cubicles.
Files were constantly fed to the computers and office clerks busily walked back and forth. She loved this office. No alien could enter it without her consent. She unceasingly guarded the offices, offices, files, computers, cubicles, and all. She always sat in a high chair behind the counter that encircled her and the door leading into the office. She had a phone, a ballpoint pen and a register. Her world was made perfect by a good sized smiling portrait of the Queen of England. Though she was quick to see deficiencies in women who somehow never thought like that about this one. She has a built-in sense of power and respect for the Queen that she never found any reason to challenge. She was dismayed at the Royal choice of Diana and Fergie as daughters in law of the crown, but she also understood the fact that there were some things that even queens were unable to control. She kept her cool in that regard. She kept her cool at all times, she never allowed any of them more than 60 220 seconds of her time. If there was resistance to that unspoken rule that she would simply sit and keep on repeating her standpoint without listening to what was being said. She knew what they were saying.
If someone was dumb enough, which incidentally, most of them were not to get the message. By that time she would start punching her lines on the phone and get busy elsewhere. But the method she most commonly used was the one where she would unilaterally finish the conversation with one and would turn to the other with the Manhattan I did flawlessly to me, What the hell do you want.
She had also discovered the benefits of knowing in advance if anyone standing in the line proposed problems. She was a good judge of character. She would know at a glance if they were irritating, or aggravating. This way she was always repaired. The only problem she faced at work was that she could never find any time to think. The line in front of her remain long no matter how efficiently she dealt with them. And the lunch break gave only enough time to eat. She was provided with coffee at her counter. Most of the time she liked this. Who needed time to think? But sometimes like today she wanted to think she had to decide by tomorrow. No time. Yet she had to make a decision by tomorrow. This demo 610 seconds or longer she decided and down to the next in line with me I have Yeah, yes. Good morning miss it. What is it work permit you have to pay fifty dollars, new rules. Yes, I wanted to know if if my open work permit is here yet please, miss, please. Have you passed your medical? Yes, yes. I want to know if the result or is my file and if we don't answer quick queries about the medical use. You have to find that out from the Ministry of Health in Ottawa she turn to the next mayor Hancock But Miss number is in the form of upset she was still looking at the next one in line. He did not hesitate to come forward. Yes, sir.. Me Me the opposite 930 He offered her a piece of paper she was opening her register to check the validity of his claim when her eye fell on a thin woman who stood in the line the local non face verify and said your name and file number, sir? Here this here this she took the piece of paper and to this particulars in the register but remind me David, take a seat. You nailed it. We got she turned to the next. Now the woman was second in line. You need an interpreter which language it leads me it's okay to me. She indicated an open space for her to wait. Why did they come to Canada when they couldn't say a word in English? she wondered several times every day. May I help you? The woman was next after this one. What was it?[This is going to be my last paragraph]
The woman was next after this one. What was it? She looked at her? Yes it was the look on page the same look here Her eyes were clear and she stood as if she was standing in a line waiting for the bus to arrive. Yes, she knew that. It was aggravating. In fact, she was disgusted with people like no stupid food standard. No, it was not a bank or bus stop. Standing in this line was not a right it was their goddamn duty. But some are stupid. In fact, they're all stupid. She suddenly hated them all. so many of them looking at her with expectation, with submission like dogs. She hated dogs, especially the ones that had no bedding. She hated them. Her heart pounded and she wanted to be away from them, away from Toronto. She wanted to be in California absorbing all the sunshine that her body would need lying side by side with him cooking together, working together. She might even have a baby. Your file number in Montreal, sir? She did not have to listen to his groveling speech to find out that he wanted his files to be transferred from one job to here is your appointment bring this paper with you when you come next time. Thank you ma'am. She did not call the next in line. It was her. The one with brown skin and brown eyes. She absorbed herself with the appointment register. She needed a minute to set the ball rolling. She felt thirsty for coffee, but it wasn't time yet. People in this line had apprehensive disturbed fidgeting or agitated eyes. Not the calm that this one had. It did not seem proper. No, it definitely was not proper. She can't be a citizen. This is not a place for them. Maybe she's not even a landed. Let me see what her act is then. [This paragraph is a little long I'm sorry]. May I help you, ma'am? At that very moment in young children came running towards the woman and then the woman did something that was never done in this office. Instead of coming forward when she was called, she started talking to her children. She made her wait for a full forty seconds. This was something she never took from anyone, especially aliens. And this one was not just an alien. She was an alien from Asia.
Good morning. I'm here for a work permit. She said it as if she was asking for panty hose in a drugstore. Your job offer, please? She did not look at her. She had the paper ready in her hand. Her hand remained extended for a while before the peoples day. Okay, here's your appointment. I need it today. The nearest space I have is for the same day next month, next month. Who will hold a job for me for a month? May I help you? She dismissed her. No, you have got to listen to me. I have children and if I lose this job, I have to go on government assistance. I cannot wait that long. Punjabi or Urdu? she asked, dialling a number on the intercom. What? What is your mother tongue? Punjabi, but — I've got you now. She felt like smiling. Oh, hi, Cindy. Can we have a Punjabi interpreter out here? Great. Thanks. She put the phone down. So the bitch doesn't want to go on welfare. Too good for it, eh? She even called it government assistance. Why did you ask her Punjabi interpreter? I can speak a little English. She gets scribbling on the paper in front of her. Too good for it as well. You asked for a Punjabi interpreter? the double integral design was white. Yes, could you please tell this lady we are booked onto the same day next month? This is when she has to come back. Suddenly the integrated woman said in English, “We are booked under the same day next month. That is when you have to come back.” But who will keep this kind of job? We are booked until the same day next month. That is when you have to come back. I have children. We are booked until the same day next month. That is when you have to come back. But you can't do that to us. We are booked until the — the woman suddenly turned, gathered her children and started walking towards the door. And that is when she looked back towards the counter. Her eyes were full of water. By the time she was out the door, her cheeks were all wet. So much for parenting skills. Crying in front of her children, the woman disappeared behind the door but she could see her crying in the corridor, in the elevator, in the huge main lobby, onto the university avenue. Hundreds of people looking at her, watching her. She felt an unexpected urge to run after her and tell her about the other office where she could get a work permit the same day. No, she was not that soft. The creature asked for what she got. People watching the woman crying, and then they think they have self-respect?
It was only proper to do what she did. Whenever she did something that was proper, she felt good. This was proper, it was good. That is when that is what she liked in herself. She always did what was in her power. Suddenly there was no dilemma. She was strong and she had power. No, she did not need him. She could survive without him. The decision came like an inspiration: quick, easy, and enlightening.
Steve Pereira 1:18:45
Desh owes a debt to Rungh Magazine. Because Rungh documents the second Desh Pardesh which meant that we not only got publicity. But also Desh became accessible to a whole bunch of people who would not have otherwise had access to us as long as the plasmid like Desh. There are lots of great for us, those of us who were also involved in Desh that we didn't get a chance to see or do anything. And suddenly we've got tons of material to look back on. This was the documentation for all of events like this is very important for us and which is why magazines like Rungh are so important. Because we're a community that is growing and evolving. And we need to know where we're at and where we're from. And with things like Rungh Magazine, documenting Desh, we have points of reference to go back to and, you know, we can go back and look at it and see where we're at and see where we're going. So a big welcome to Rungh Magazine, and I hope you're going to be around for a long time. Desh is happening next March 23rd to the 24th. For those of you don't know anything about Desh, please pick up a copy of Rungh Magazine as it gives you a great deal of information about it. It's a multidisciplinary festival slash conference that takes place over five days. We have videomakers, films, poetry readings, performance artists, theatre, conferences, workshops, we're multi everything. Desh is committed to presenting world class South Asian artists in the disapora meaning work that is presented in Canada, England, the States. What that examines our identity, work that seeks to discuss where we are, where we're at. Come up to that, we have a good time. Beside the conferences besides the event, the performance at night, we have a dance, and last year we had a fabulous bhangra dance at the Rivoli, lots of parties. A good time was had by all. I think. Anyway, what we have coming up, we've got a dancer, and we've got a couple of performances. First up, I'll have to read here, is Deepti. Deepti is going to be performing Kathak, classical dance from Northern India, which blends exciting rhythms with subtle storytelling. Deepti is a disciple of Guru Shukla, and I know I'm mispronouncing this, of the Lucknow Gharana. She will begin with an excerpt from Jeb taal, variations on the ten-beat rhythmic cycle.
Please welcome Deepti.
Dance begins at 1:21:58