A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Anosh Irani's Father's Fiat
Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Friday night, I was driving to the Vancouver Dance Centre. CBC's As It Happens was on the radio and they were interviewing Mumbai-born Vancouver author and playright Anosh Irani. I have photographed Irani and I have sat next to him at the theatre. I can attest to the fact that he is a gentle and quiet spoken man. He was talking to the folks at the CBC from his home. He was working on his next novel so the reporter (Carol Off, perhaps?) inquired if he was going to insert the situation in Mumbai in his novel. Irani answered that he was working on a journalistic piece (the essay below, perhaps?) and that he was having a hard time grappling for objectivity and trying to supress his emotions. He stated that this was most important. Did he succeed?

Flowers for the Taj
Mumbai, India

AS I watched the Taj Mahal hotel breathe fire, I remembered my grandfather, Burjor. For more than 30 years, he was the florist at the hotel, ordering roses flown in daily from New Delhi.

Like the Taj, his black Fiat, a broken dinosaur of a car, was a landmark in itself. Filled to the brim with cane baskets for his flower shop, and home to several brown cockroaches, he parked it in the same spot every day — right in front of the hotel’s main entrance.

I essentially grew up in the hotel. And I would have been there on Wednesday night, browsing in its bookshop, and at the Leopold Cafe nearby, if it were not for the last-minute distraction of a soccer match in my neighborhood.

My family lives about 4 miles from the Taj, in a Parsi colony called Rustom Baug. The colony was developed exclusively for members of the Zoroastrian religion — the same religion that J. N. Tata, the man who built the Taj, belonged to.

It is one of the quietest and most picturesque locations in Mumbai. It can feel like it’s a world away from the city. Except when it’s not, like when the attacks started.

The morning after the siege began, I read the following story in one of the papers: Moments before the terrorists opened fire in the main lobby of the Taj, a 10-year-old boy had entered the hotel to use the washroom. When he heard the shooting, he stood paralyzed in the center of the lobby until a man whisked him away and they hid in Nalanda, the bookshop in the Taj. They switched off the lights and sat in the darkness for nearly three hours.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have been that boy. Nalanda is my favorite bookshop in Mumbai. My grandfather took me there every Sunday when I was a boy. While he cajoled me into buying books on science — though he was a florist, nuclear physics was his passion, and he was also fluent in Japanese — I sheepishly picked up copies of the Tintin and Asterix series as well as Amar Chitra Katha comics, full of fables and magnificent illustrations of demons and celestial beings from Indian mythology.

Thankfully, the boy’s story, like the Amar Chitra Katha comics, had a fairy-tale ending. He was reunited with his parents.

On Saturday, when the siege ended, I stepped outside our gates and took a taxi to the Taj. The driver let me off nearby at the Regal Cinema and I walked toward the Leopold Cafe. The smell of disinfectant was overpowering. The cafe was closed, but through the shutters I noticed that two ceiling fans were on. There was a flier on the outside wall with “Good News” written on it, an advertisement for plumbing and carpentry.

The makeshift stores selling old gramophones were empty. A store called R. Dadavji’s Ladies and Gents Under Garments was open. Florists also were open because a tragedy like this always means business. But everything else was closed. I came in view of the Taj’s entrance and the spot where my grandfather’s black Fiat was always parked. There was a police barricade flanked by fire engines. The hotel’s windows had been smashed, like teeth that had suddenly gone missing. Above, crows circled.

I thought of all the weekends when I would come to the Taj bookstore with my grandfather. I thought of how for so many years he bejeweled the hotel’s rooms with flowers. Today, I thought, his store would be closed. The last thing he would have wanted would be to use his flowers to decorate the dead.

Anosh Irani is the author, most recently, of “The Song of Kahunsha.”
The New York Times, Tuesday December 2, 2008

I agonized a bit about posting Irani's essay instead of placing a link to the NY Times. Most people are perhaps a bit lazy about getting the free access to the NY Times on line and the link would not open for those people. It is such a shame for Vancouverites not to see good local writing in international publications. I consulted with my friend Christopher Dafoe (expert in litigation, media and defamation), associate at a prominent local law firm. He told me with that pleasant calming voice of his, "Alex the NY Times have bigger fish to fry. I would not worry. At the most if they ever find your blog they will tell you to take it down."

When possible I like to write my own blog stuff. I don't want to be an aggregator (what an ugly word!) which seems to be an exploding business. Our local aggregators seem to stress food, the Canucks and the BC Legislature in somewhat that order. I don't have the heart to comment on the food ones that it is very difficult to make food appetizing and that is why we used to have professional food photographers. My friend John Lekich might not agree with me when I can say one can fudge with writing but not with food photography. For the latter you have to know what you are doing.


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