It was standing room only for Descant’s latest launch party at No One Writes to the Colonel, in Toronto.
Production Editor Melina Giannelia knew that “Masala,” which explores ideas of Indian identity, called for some sumptuous extras. Guests were treated to a buffet of Indian food and, before our readers were introduced, a sitar player filled the room with the unmistakable sound of India (and the Beatles).
It was clear that the readers had cheering sections made up of friends, spouses, moms and kids. And of course all the staff and co-editors at Descant cheered for… everyone! We were so pleased to see such a beautiful issue get such an enthusiastic turnout. Guest Co-Editor, Pradeep Solanki, who chose the individual pieces for the issue, was evidently pleased with the results.
I asked Evadne Macedo, a contributor to “Masala,” and a reader at the launch, if she’d like to write a blog post about her experience that night. I could have asked anyone, but Evadne was the one I ended up chatting with; her joy was evident and catching. Not happiness, actual joy.
Evadne sent me her post, written shortly after the launch, and then emailed me shortly thereafter with sender’s remorse. As a writer, she knew it was an emotional piece, maybe even over the top? she asked me. She offered to write something else, something “more objective,” she said. She gave me free range to edit the post, to “tone it down.”
I thought about Stephen King’s warning that, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” and the ubiquitous use of the words “economic,” “unsentimental,” “sparse” and “spare” in positive book reviews since the late 20th century. I pictured Samuel Beckett, Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway. And then I pictured Evadne, and remembered the feeling I had when I stood beside her that night.
So here is her unexpurgated version of the launch for “Masala.” Because sometimes “spare” just doesn’t cut it.
Perfection does not exist, some would say. They most likely missed the launch of Descant: 162 Masala at No One Writes to the Colonel last Wednesday (October 16, 2013).
The spectacular evening kicked off with sitar music by Ram Vakkalanka, tasty catered food (including baked samosas!) and the coziest venue in which to celebrate a launch. I was first to read and was profoundly moved by the experience of holding this gorgeous book in my hands and telling my story to a silent room packed with people (including many of my loved ones) all rapt with attention.
Speaking on stage, it surprised me to realize how important it was to me that these very words had been published and that my personal essay about trying to blend in could be a story worth telling and listening to. But people listened and, in that silence, that speaking and hearing, there was power—the power to think about and understand worlds, such as my own, that would not normally be worthy of consideration.
In the midst of reading my own words aloud, they took on a deeper level of commitment than I’d anticipated. My final statement, it occurred to me as I paused before speaking it, was something akin to a wedding vow, to love and honour my own culture, whatever heritage I might claim back from a history of childhood racism and deliberate self-assimilation. In that moment, I felt scared to be held to what I had written and to commit verbally to what I had already put down on paper. But I did.
After my turn, it was time to feast on sumptuous words by Visha Sukdeo, Saad Omar Khan, Sheniz Janmohamed and Eisha Marjara. Eisha Marjara’s raw, beautiful reading was the most powerful work I have had the privilege of hearing read aloud. To accompany the artwork and author statement in the volume, she’d composed a letter to her mother and seventeen-year-old sister who died in the Air India bombing, explaining to them what happened. There was what happened, and then the evidence and remnants of what happened which Eisha received in numbered plastic bags and her poignant memories about the people it happened to. Eisha wove these elements together in the artwork in Descant 162 and incorporated them into her magnificent reading. My heart aches just recalling this reading.
This night touched me, as I’m sure it did many others, and I thank Descant (and in particular Melina Gianellia, Pradeep Solanki and Vera DeWaard) for giving space for us to tell these forgotten or invisible stories. The courageous act of publishing and sharing this collection of voices brings us all closer to the ideal world we dream of where love never dies and equality is real.