Saturday, 27 December 2008

White Christmas

As I have done a few times now, I would like to apologise for my long silence. The end of the semester is a busy, stressful time, and that (combined with a computer that gave up the ghost) made writing a blog a little difficult. And as a result it didn't get done. But, here I am, and I will try and do this long over due post justice.

I'm writing from Kingston, Ontario. I'm here with family friends. I was to fly from Halifax to Toronto on Monday evening but instead, I spent all of Monday sitting in the Irving gas station in Sackville waiting for a bus that never came. The snow storm had made most things grind to a disconsolate halt. At around 2:30 the woman told me to go home and come back tomorrow. I did go home, only to find that the power was out because of the storm. I read by natural light as long as it held out and then I lit the three little candles that I had, ate Green Giant corn out of a can, and slept and read in spurts, hoping the night would go by quickly. Eventually the power did come back and I was very grateful. I was warmer in the living room and I felt safer there, so I spent a rather uncomfortable night on the couch.

On Tuesday the bus was an hour late, but that meant I had one less hour to spend at the airport waiting for my flight. I got to Halifax at 2:00ish, checked in my bag, found something to eat, and read for two hours till it was time to go through security. They made us take off our shoes and our belts and empty our pockets. I stupidly left my Swiss army knife in my bag and they confiscated it. They offered to let me out so I could go and mail it to myself, but that would have meant going through security again and taking off my boots again and I didn't think it was worth it. I'll order a new one. It can be a Christmas present for myself. Anyway. The flight left an hour and a half late but, apart from a slightly hairy landing in Toronto, it was a good flight.

Let me step back in time for a moment and talk about school. The term ended in a whirlwind of studying. My exam schedule was this: 11th morning, 12th afternoon, 13th night, 17th morning, and 17th night. With my first exam only on the 11th, and classes ending on the 4th, I had almost an entire week before I had an exam to write. I didn't have enough time in between to do any studying, so I forced myself to study for four of five exams before I'd even written the first. I wasn't sure if my tired brain would be able to hold it all in as I desperately tried to cover all the material, but it was the only choice I had. I felt like my exams went well and so far, it looks like they did. I'm more than happy with the grades I have and they're certainly making for a much more enjoyable Christmas.

Now back to Toronto.

I spent the 24th morning in bed, and the afternoon wandering the subway. I was to meet the daughter (Cydney) of the guy I'm staying with (Bill) for a movie. Bill told me to get on the westbound train which I did, only to find that it was taking me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. I considered getting off and getting on another train, but I didn't want to get myself lost, so I stayed on the train and rode the few stops to the end of the line, and then the train turned around and went back the way we had come. Apart from Cydney having to wait nervously for me thinking I was lost, it was fine. I got to people watch and see the sights, so to speak, and it was fine.

We watched Slumdog Millionaire. A fantastic movie that I would recommend to everyone. It's a mostly truthful window into what can be the difficult rawness of life in India. One of the most violent scenes in the movie is not disturbing because of the nature of the violence - because we see lots of that in all the television we watch - but because of the fact that it could very possibly be true. And I think that's a good thing. If we're going to spend time and money to sit in front of a screen, I'd rather be faced with raw reality that makes me think and ache and grow. There were random points in the movie I was overwhelmed by love for India. It's not just the beautiful things, but the ugly things too, that make me love my country. Now and then, I miss it desperately. It'll be good to be home in the summer.

In the evening we had a lovely Christmas dinner, opened presents, and watched the tail end of 'It's a Wonderful Life'. It was a really nice evening and I was glad to be there.

Yesterday, on Christmas day, Bill, Julie, and I drove up to Kingston to the house that Julie owns here. It's a lovely house with two lovely cats (Harvey and Clarence) and the plan is to sleep lots and read lots. I'll be here till the 29th morning. It's nice not to be on my own. I was planning to spend Christmas by myself in Sackville and this is a much, much better alternative. I would have been very unhappy to say the least.

It's after midnight and I have sleeping to do. Here's to a white Christmas that seems to have blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) the entire country. Here's to friends and company and overeating. Merry Christmas!

And this is a song I heard for the first time while I was writing this blog. It sounds like the mood I'm in. Matt Nathanson - Come on Get Higher

Friday, 5 December 2008

What the fuck? Ye Nahin Chalta Hai ...

Here’s my question for the World today: What the fuck? I don’t often feel the need to use obscenities in my writing, but sometimes there just aren’t any other words that work.

This is the deal: Terrorists are bombing India, Obama might be turning into a disappointment, Canada almost had a (democratic) coup, the Israel-Palestine thing is a mess, and no one seems to give a damn about the way their thoughts and their actions have an impact on all of it.

On the 26th of November, a group of terrorists attacked 10 different locations in Bombay – one of India’s greatest and most vibrant cities, the heart of the country even; close to 200 people were killed. Among the places bombed was the Taj Mahal hotel. My dad told me a story about the hotel that I didn’t know before. In the early 1900s, Jamsedji Tata, the grandfather of Ratan Tata (the head of one of India’s largest and most well known companies) walked into the Watson’s Hotel in Bombay. The hotel was run by the British and Jamsedji was turned away on account of the colour of his skin. The fact that he, as an Indian, was being denied rights in his own country was absurd. He didn’t start a revolution … but he did build himself his own hotel: The Taj Mahal hotel. In India today, the Taj Mahal hotel, built in 1903 – well before Independence – is a symbol of Indian sovereignty, of our fight for freedom from the British, and the magic that is India. Other places bombed were the Cama hospital, the Oberoi Trident hotel, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (or Victoria Terminus – VT, as it was called during the time of the British) that was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The point of this slightly long ramble is to say that the attack means more than the number of people that were killed. I don’t intend to say that the deaths are meaningless, but the attack touched the heart of the country; Indians have been left feeling very wounded. What’s frightening about the politics of the Sub-continent is that every time someone blows something up in India, Indians point their fingers at Pakistan – without the slightest pause for thought. And any time a bomb goes off in Pakistan, India gets blamed. This seems to be the standard approach. But after these attacks, the common Indian citizen has not taken up arms against Pakistan – we have taken up arms against our government that let us down yet again. We are shaking down our government and throwing people out. My mum sent me pictures from some of the protests happening in the country and some of them are pretty funny. “We would prefer a dog to visit out house than a politician!” said one sign. “U.S politician from Yale; ours from Jail” says another. My favourite is a series of signs listing different things that some of our worst politicians have done, and at the bottom of each sign are the words: Nahin Chalta Hai! Which is a transliteration of Hindi, and it means ‘This won’t work’ or something along those lines. It sounds better in Hindi. Anyway, I’m proud of India. I’m far away, and there’s not much I can do from here … but India’s making me proud. Condoleezza Rice visited India this Wednesday. She represents what is happening on the political end of things. I worry for the politics of the region. If India gets the backing of the U.S and then decides to go to war against Pakistan, India’s attack will have legitimacy by default of Washington’s support. This is bullshit. Nahin Chalta Hai. I worry for the politics of the region if the US is allowed to get involved. What I would love to see is the Indian and Pakistani governments turning to the US and asking them to kindly butt out. I would like to see India and Pakistan mount a joint effort against the terrorists – regardless of which country is harbouring them – and make a decisive step towards peace between our two countries.

On to other things: Barack Obama seems to be making people unhappy. He’s being called out for putting the old guard back into his cabinet. I think maybe it’s a little too soon to start condemning him. The man is assertive, intelligent and it seems like he doesn’t bugger about. I think we need to give him a chance. Put our accusations on hold and wait and see. Maybe he will be a total disappointment, but maybe not. I think accusations are premature at this point.

Steven Harper is a two-faced liar. I have only been in Canada for a year and a half, but I have managed to learn this much. A week or so ago the opposition in Canada’s parliament decided to oust the conservatives and establish themselves as the new government in the form of a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the support of the Bloc Quebecois. This was a gutsy move. The deal with Canada is that the voting system is a bit of a mess. On Election Day on October 14, a third of the country voted for the Conservatives, and two-thirds of the country voted for the Liberals, or the NDP, or the Bloc, or the Green Party … or whoever else. But because the voting system does not have popular representation, the Conservatives won the most seats in parliament with only something like 37% of the popular vote. A week or so ago, the opposition decided to form the coalition that would give them the majority in parliament. Coalitions are common practice in India that has a very similar voting system to Canada. The most people in Canada did not vote for the Conservatives and so the most people in Canada should have the government they voted for. This is what democracy is all about. Steven Harper, in what Nathan so very aptly described as a cowardly move to ‘save the impending collapse of his self-serving, dishonest government’ requested the Governor General to porogue parliament (which means shutting it down until January 26th so as to avoid any further confrontations with the opposition). Nathan’s question was: “How can he lock out the parliament just to preserve his own pathetic political career?” Well … because he’s a cowardly, dastardly (Nathan’s word), evil man. And the Governor General let him do it. This is not democracy.

Israel and Palestine are a mess. The U.S and Britain have waded too far into the situation to give anyone a fair chance. The U.S wants an 'in' into the Middle East. Israel is sitting fairly comfortably on the land that they are claiming, inch by inch, while the U.S watches their back. Palestinians are watching a wall being built between them and their land, their farms, their jobs, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Neither party is truly right, nor is either side truly wrong. The situation is delicate, extremely complicated, and could possibly be seen to go back to the time of Abraham and his sons Ishmael (Ismail) and Isaac.

I didn’t pick these few examples because they are the most important … but because they are, among many, many other things that are wrong with the World today.

So, I say it again: Dear World, what the fuck? Where is justice? Where is democracy? Where the people that claim to have all these wonderful ideals? Why do we not see more people – ordinary people – standing up for what’s right? This won’t do. Nahin chalta hai. Dear World, let’s get our shit together and stand up for what’s right.

This is a video that always makes me cry. It’s called ‘Where the Hell is Matt’. This man, Matt Harding, through one silly dance, has managed to connect to hundreds of people all over the world. I think there’s a lesson to be learned here … (you might be better off following this link to Youtube: