Toronto International Festival of Authors full of richness and diversity

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(L-R): Shree Paradkar, Arif Anwar, Amulya Malladi, Manjushree Thapa, and Rahul Varma.
(L-R): Shree Paradkar, Arif Anwar, Amulya Malladi, Manjushree Thapa, and Rahul Varma.

nita balani

TORONTO: The 39th edition of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA), Canada’s largest and oldest festival of words and ideas, runs this year from October 18 to October 28 at various locations — from Toronto to Thunder Bay. It is free for students and youth under 25 years.

The festival is an important showcase of multicultural voices through non-fiction and fiction novels, poetry, panel discussions, and presentations. It brings together the best writers of contemporary world literature for 11 days of readings and discussions.

This year of special interest was Sunday’s session – Safar: Journeys to South Asia – to give voice to writers from South-East Asia, curated by Meenakshi Alimchandani and hosted by Teenaz Javat (CBC). The panel discussion led by Shree Paradkar (Toronto Star) included authors Arif Anwar, Amulya Malladi, Manjushree Thapa and Rahul Varma.

Arif’s debut novel, The Storm, is about an immigrant from Dhaka studying in the US and his life experiences. It is an inspiring story partly autobiographical and in Anwar’s own words “characters are wonderful ways to explore the paths that (the author) may not have taken.”

Amulya’s novel The Copenhagen Affair deals with the important theme of depression, the leading cause of disability in N. America. The novel written through a woman’s point of view is one that many women can relate to particularly since the pressures of marriage, career, being a mother and trying to be a superwoman is one that is universal no matter where you come from. As Amulya says “Depression is something we don’t want to talk about; we can talk about headaches, pains, and other health issues but not depression. I never thought it would be published.”

Manjushree Thapa’s All of Us in Our Own Lives, set in Nepal (her country of origin) is about the murky world of global aid and the complicated structure of the donor agencies and power struggles. She examines the theme through the eyes of her female protagonist and says “the ones who receive aid are the most powerless people”. She explains “life is suffering and how to alleviate it is through personal discoveries of creating characters and stories of interrelatedness”.

Rahul Varma’s work, Truth and Treason, is actually a play trying to establish a revelation of perspective other than the Western peers portray. His main focus through his plays are “to fill the bookshelves of Canada with more than what they are – represent more ethnic voices and issues- not marginalized writers of colour”. Rahul is an artistic director of Teesri Duniya and sees himself as a contemporary contributory writer.

The panel was an interesting one which brought out the underlying theme of why authors write and create characters. Novels are a way to explore paths not taken or can be a cathartic journey, or even can be to answer burning issues and questions. The authors brought home the importance of diversity and within that revealed the threads of human emotions which link us all together.

The second part of the afternoon was an interview or rather an in-conversation interaction with author Vikas Swarup by Anirudh Bhattacharyya (himself an author and journalist).

Vikas Swarup is author of Q & A (2005) the novel which was adapted to film under the title of Slumdog Millionaire. The film was critically acclaimed in India and abroad and went on to win numerous awards including ten Oscar nominations of which it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Vikas Swarup is also an Indian diplomat currently posted in Ottawa as the High Commissioner of India. Bhattacharya skillfully steered the interview to reveal a dignified diplomat who has a penchant for writing his signature society thrillers with a hook and twist and an iconic sense of humour.

Swarup was pleased to be invited to the festival and said “Toronto needs this inclusiveness in events like these. IFOA is a great place to have multicultural voices to be heard especially given that Canada is one of the most welcoming countries for people from all over the globe. You can be comfortable in your own skin in the communities here with no glass ceiling and can achieve success in all walks of life.”

Swarup’s contribution to contemporary literature cannot be overlooked. His book Q & A is part of the optional literature reading list for high school students around the globe. His second novel in 2008, Six Suspects has been translated into more than 40 languages as has Q & A. And the third novel Accidental Apprentice (2013) explores corruption and greed in India.

Despite all the progress in technology, the festival reveals the popularity of reading and role of libraries in Canada. Books and voices in words bring communities together and the voice of multiculturalism is getting stronger and bolder. Contemporary writers are not afraid to approach bold themes and flavour their books with palettes of their countries of origin for a whole new literary world.

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