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MG Vassanji prides himself in his contradictions

DESI MG VASSANJI. Giller and Governor General award winner M G Vassanji for story and interview in Desi Life. ATTN SHREE B. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) rpj

A novelist and non-fiction writer, a person of Indian origin who feels at home on three continents, MG Vassanji, 65, prides himself on his contradictions. These have served him well in his writing, which has won him numerous awards, including a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his first novel The Gunny Sack (1989).

Through his eight novels, two short story collections and two travel memoirs, Vassanji has made a signal contribution to the literature of the Indian diaspora, acquainting several generations of readers in Canada, the US and India as well with his magical yet little-known corner of East Africa. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q. One of the themes in your work is the invisible boundaries that divide people, such as caste, faith, and race. How did that come about?
Because I existed on the edges of all of them, being brought up in Africa among Asians, blacks, and whites. Those interactions leave a deep impact on you while growing up. There were a lot of things that went unsaid but which you felt as a child, and which you then want to explore as an adult—as a novelist, it’s automatic to try and explore those phenomena.

Q. Where, or what, is home today?
Home is many places. Toronto is where I come back to, where I have the security of a bank account and a house. When I’m in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I feel at home, I speak the language and people don’t think I’m from elsewhere. It’s the same in India, there is an ease of communication and I feel that these are my people.

Q. Would you say that your own history is the primary influence on your work?
I am writing about people who live on the margins of global culture, and that requires a lot of work. You can’t look at my writing the way you look at [that of] a white Canadian writer. The problem for many of us is that we are pioneers, telling stories that have never been told, naming things that have never been named—even the names themselves are hard to pronounce!— and all of those things are on my mind.

Q. What is the reward for all that hard work?
To reach an audience whom you never thought in your imagination that you might reacH, that is satisfying.

Q. Do you feel you’ve been received as an Indian writer by Indian audiences?
Indians in India have a very dual relationship with the West: On one hand, they emulate it, and on the other hand, they put it down. Indian writers who live abroad face that too. The level of serious criticism is a bit low; people don’t engage with the writing as such.

Q. Is there a particular message you want to add to the public conversation around literature in general?
Stories are important. We have to be part of a global culture. You cannot be a nobody. That creates an insecurity that turns into problems for the following generations. When I speak in Africa this is what I say: If you don’t write about yourself, someone else will write about you and you will not like it.

The interview was first published at

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How advertisements in India are defying gender cliche

Ads playing an effective medium in moulding opinions of society

How Indian advertisement industry is breaking the gender stereotype

Feb 27, 2017: The most important part of advertisements is the story line and it gives a spur on the social media when the lessons from the story line are timeless. Needless to say, every time a free-spirited ad is released, it not only sparks conversations over the internet but also leaves a viral trail of debates. Just in the same way, some of the Indian advertisements did when they strove to change the mindset of people with regard to gender difference. We often tend to slur women not realizing the essence of being a woman, it takes strength and an indomitable spirit to be a woman. This article will talk about how advertisements in India are leading by example and discarding gender difference.

Let’s recall some of the advertisements that did away with gender difference.

Nike’s recent ‘Da Da Ding’ ad starring Deepika Padukone as one among other female athletes is a powerful ad which got the people talking about giving importance to female athletes as well. It showcased females of a real athletic figure which is not animated and has got nothing to do with ‘legs and butts’.

(A still from Nike’s Da Da Ding advertisement)

The ad portrayed women as fierce and passionate about sports. Once upon a time, Nike’s product catered almost exclusively to marathon runners and then, a fitness craze emerged –and the folks in Nike’s marketing department knew where to mark their next move, an applause for Nike for initiating a spellbinding effort.

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Whisper, Touch the pickle ad

(A still from Whisper Touch the pickle advertisement)

Whisper, Touch the pickle ad is another exemplary of breaking taboos surrounding women’s menstrual cycle. The whisper #Touchthepickle campaign makes an attempt to purge the baseless superstitions owing to Dos and Dont’s in menses. The ad showcases a young girl who dares to touch the pickle while she is on her periods. It conveys a sensible meaning to its viewers to break away these taboos. The ad was lauded internationally and awarded ‘Glass Lion Grand Prix’ award at Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Many advertisements over the years have sold the cosmetic product but fewer have tried to change the societal conception of beauty. Even fewer have tried to do both, Joy Cosmetic is the brand that did it in India.

(A still from Joy beauty advertisement)
The ad begins with showcasing a well renowned oversized comedian, Bharti Singh asking the viewers “What did you expect, 36-24-36?”, and shuts down body shamers who presumed it to be an ideal body size. The ad conveys effortlessly that an Ideal beauty has nothing to do with body and shape.The advertisement has a sensitive message and is meaningful to its consumers.

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While there is a lot of chaos regarding section 377 in India, Ebay India took an audacious stance through its ad titled “Things don’t judge”.

(A still from Ebay India advertisement)