Category Archives: tradition

Great Scot! What You Should Know about Robbie Burns

People all over the world celebrate Robbie Burns Day today. Burns wrote an ode to a mouse (which I blogged homage a few years ago) and an address to a haggis, but what is the source of the man’s immortal appeal? According to a BBC documentary, “Robert Burns achieved more with his poetry than any writer since Shakespeare.” In celebration of his 258th birthday, let’s consider some questions about the freedom-loving Scottish bard.

Robbie Burns, the greatest Scotsman of all time

Robbie Burns, the greatest Scotsman of all time

  1. Is Robert Burns the greatest Scot of all time? Yes, according to a 2009 survey of STV viewers. Not bad, considering he was up against the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.K. Rowling, Andrew Carnegie, Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir William Wallace, Annie Lennox and Sir Sean Connery.
  2. What language did Burns use? Burns said of English, “I have not that command of the language that I have of my native tongue.” Scots, his native tongue, is not “funny-sounding English;” it is a language that developed alongside and eventually separately from English.
  3. Didn’t he play for the Chicago Blackhawks? Yes, yes he did.
  4. With a name like Burns, was he a destructive force? Well let’s see. A few days after his birth, Jan. 25, 1759, a storm tears apart his home. Next thing you know, the composer Handel dies. A few months later, General Wolfe dies on the Plains of Abraham. Less than 20 years after that, the American Revolution. Then the French are storming the Bastille and heads are rolling. But look what happens when Burns dies in 1796, whaddaya know, suddenly the Americans and the Ottoman Empire are shaking hands over the Treaty of Tripoli, and everybody calms down.
  5. What did he wear under his kilt? Burns was forever kiltless, because during his lifetime it was illegal to wear a kilt! You know Robbie Burns would have supported Idle No More!
  6. What’s taking so long for Gerard Butler to get his Robert Burns movie made? Well, come on; they just made a movie about Robbie Burns in 1930. Isn’t it a bit soon to be making another one?
  7. This guy’s good. Where can I see him in Toronto? There’s a statue of “the Ploughman Poet” on the east side of Allan Gardens. If you see people in kilts reading poetry around that area today, that’s where the statue is.

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Shaad, a pre-birth celebration for the Bengali woman

I learned a new word today. I looked up “shaad”, and this blog post is what I found. There will be lots and lots of learning in the months ahead…

Papercuts and whimsical stuff

Image

Currently facing my 6th month of pregnancy, my Mother wanted to celebrate it by having a Shaad, meaning ‘desire’ in Bengali. Traditionally, the Shaad is celebrated along with the pregnant woman’s close friends and relatives, the idea being to surround the woman with as many positive vibes possible. The actual meal of the shaad is supposed to consist of all of the pregnant woman’s favourite food.

That wasn’t too tough for me to decide on what I wanted to eat, since I like almost everything of what Bengali food has to offer! Being a very unfussy person, I didn’t want to have any get together. My cook in Kolkata, Shumi prepared this lovely lavish feast for me. I have never seen or heard of a shaad before, so I had no idea that so much hard work was involved into making one. (If I’d have known earlier, I would have…

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Theatre Review: “Brimful of Asha” Brings You Home to the Theatre

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in "A Brimful of Asha"

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in “A Brimful of Asha”

Toronto’s Ravi Jain is at home in the theatre, and with A Brimful of Asha, at Soulpepper till Saturday during its national tour, he and his mom, Asha, make everyone feel at home, greeting each audience member with a fresh samosa and a “Thank you for coming!” Are they getting into character or just being themselves? “I’m not an actor,” begins Asha. What they present, with more reality than The Bachelor, is “not a play” but “a dispute” over the attempt to arrange Ravi’s marriage.

Asha and Ravi give contrasting perspectives on what happened when Ravi, at age 27, went to his parents’ homeland India to give an acting workshop in 2007 and they decided to come along to find him a bride. On each side of the generational and cultural divide, the question seems so clear cut whether it is for the parents to choose when and to whom their child will be married. But there are points to be made on both sides. As Apu says on the Simpsons, “Mother, come on, you know that 1 in 25 arranged marriages ends in divorce.”

Asha wears a vibrant fuchsia sari; her son wears a traditional Indian shirt with jeans and sneakers. No costume designer is credited, as the two are surely wearing their own clothes. The simple, homey set is a dining table and two chairs on a rug-covered platform, framed by a curtain in the centre of which is a wide-screen monitor where Jain periodically refers to family photos, maps, and video clips (set designer, Julie Fox; lighting and video designer, Beth Kates).

Ravi Jain is the director of this show he created with his mother primarily through improvisation, and he is an experienced, thoroughly trained actor and award-winning director (2012 Pauline McGibbon Award; founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; an artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre Company; inaugural artistic director in residence at The Theatre Centre), but while it is sometimes evident that Ravi is stepping in to keep a scene on track, it is untrained Asha, a self-described “dedicated housewife and abused mother”, who steals scene after scene. This is the role Asha was born to play.

Although the duo has performed this show many times in many cities since its premiere at Tarragon in 2012, it does not feel over-rehearsed, in fact it feels perpetually spontaneous, and it probably is a little different every night. The show is primarily humorous but with an undercurrent of tension always ready to pull you in. There is little by way of overt action and the simple production looks easy, an occasionally heated conversation as mother and son sit at the table drinking tea, but the story they tell is a rollercoaster ride, a contentious and intimate conversation to which they welcome us as witnesses. Asha very much seems to be enjoying being herself, and yet the two of them are going over a lot of emotionally charged memories and it must be a taxing experience to relive such painful and personal conflict in front of a packed audience night after night.

As early as age five, Ravi regularly entertained the “extended family” that was his community by mimicking India’s legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan. Asha teases that, by pursuing a life in the theatre, Ravi is not allowing himself to move on from the first of life’s four stages, establishing a “real” profession, onto the next stage of finding a wife. The debate is real, but so is the love. At least in the context of the Jain family, the intent of arranged marriage is not to dictate but to ensure a secure and happy future for the child. Fittingly, the name Asha means “hope”.

 

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Filed under cross cultural understanding, documentary, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, theatre reviews, tradition

My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Half-Irish Blues

I grew up believing I was Scottish (which is a bit daft because I was born and raised in Canada, as were both sides of my family for three generations) but when I was 30-something (probably years of age) my maternal grandmother was ranting about my Irish heritage. What does this have to do with me? “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, Evan? The ancestors of both of your grandmothers were from Ireland.”

Proud to Be Irish, flag

Suddenly a deep dark family secret came to light: I was not simply, as I’d always been told, a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on oats and whisky in the northern part of the island of Britain, I was every bit as much a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on potatoes and whiskey in the northern part of the island of Ireland! In an instant, my self-image was tossed in a raging wind of uncertainty!

In my bewilderment and rage, I went ’round the pub and drowned my sorrows in beer after beer. At closing time, as the bartender was rolling me out the door he said, “What are you, Irish?” And suddenly I understood. I’m a double Celt half-breed.

irish yoga

Now, instead of being woefully ignorant of Scottish Gaelic, my burden is doubled by my ignorance of Irish Gaelic. I’ll have to fill my sporran with potatoes. And it won’t be easy playing the bagpipes with one arm and the bodhrán with the other. Half the time I would otherwise have devoted to trying to comprehend Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis must henceforth be devoted to trying to fathom James Joyce’s Ulysses. And now my options seem to be limited in religious matters, much as in Canadian politics, to only two possibilities: the orange or the green. But what is presented as black and white is all grey to me.

Only sometimes can I distinguish whether an accent is Irish or Scottish, or whether a foxy redhead is a bonnie lassie or a pretty Colleen. And I’m less expert in matters of Mc and Mac than people have come to expect of me.

Fortunately, there is an easy way out of my dilemma. Based on my appearance, people often ask if I’m German. Since I speak more German than Gaelic anyway, henceforth, I should just reply, “Ja”.

Am I Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Whatever you consider yourself to be, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!

Please also read my brief and rather silly St Patrick’s Day article http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/March-2013/Seven-things-all-Torontonians-should-know-about-Ireland-for-St-Patricks-Day/

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Who Needs International Women’s Day?

Who needs International Women’s Day? Didn’t Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth take care of all that two centuries ago? “Women can vote. What more do they want?” Hmm…

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012. She can’t be stopped; but she can be supported.

If you are unaware of the continuing practices of female genital mutilation, the forbidding of education for females, acid attacks and ironically-named “honour killings”, your ignorance must be blissful.

And if you think these are all problems of faraway places, not here in safe and civilized Canada, you must be avoiding mainstream news even more vigorously than I do.

Perhaps you are unmoved by the frequency with which Canadian Aboriginal women are murdered or go missing, but don’t imagine such crimes are limited to one group or community.

Statistics Canada declares, “violence against women in Canada continues to be a persistent and ongoing problem.”

Who needs International Women’s Day? We all do. Learn the facts, and let women have their day.

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January the Two-Faced Month Looks Back and Forward

 

Photo: Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Vatican City. photo by Fubar Obfusco.

Janus (sometimes depicted beardless on one side), Vatican Museum. Photo by the charmingly named Fubar Obfusco.

 

As January comes to a close, let us consider that January means “the month of Janus”.

Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of gates and transitions. He is the god with two faces (aren’t they all?), one looking back and the other to the future. He represents the transition from youth to adulthood, and from barbaric to civilized.

In ancient times, when Rome was at war the gates of the temple of Janus would be open, in times of peace the gates were closed (the origin of the “status update”; only one side closed meant “it’s complicated”). Ancient Romans held, as one might, that the way things begin bodes how things will continue to unfold, so as the new year began they would wish each other well and give figs and other little gifts.

So this is the end of the beginning of 2013. I am going to endeavour to keep both my Gemini sides less Janus-faced. I am going to try growing up a bit more (in my own Bohemian way), I am going to strive to more closely approximate my definition of civilized, I am going to close the gates on belligerent impulses, wish well to all, and generally give a fig.

 

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