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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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FIFA World Cup 2018: Indian Cuisine becomes the most sought after in Moscow

Indian cuisine in FIFA World cup
Indian dishes available in Moscow during FIFA World Cup 2018, representational image, wikimedia commons

June 17, 2018:

Restaurateurs Prodyut and Sumana Mukherjee have not only brought Indian cuisine to the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018 here but also plan to dish out free dinner to countrymen if Argentina wins the trophy on July 15.

Based in Moscow for the last 27 years, Prodyut and Sumana run two Indian eateries, “Talk Of The Town” and “Fusion Plaza”.

You may like to read more on Indian cuisine: Indian ‘masala’, among other condiments spicing up global food palate.

Both restaurants serve popular Indian dishes like butter chicken, kebabs and a varied vegetarian spread.

During the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

The Mukherjees, hailing from Kolkata, are die-hard fans of Argentina. Despite Albiceleste drawing 1-1 with Iceland in their group opener with Lionel Messi failing to sparkle, they believe Jorge Sampaoli’s team can go the distance.

“I am an Argentina fan. I have booked tickets for a quarterfinal match, a semifinal and of course the final. If Argentina goes on to lift

During the World Cup, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia
FIFA World Cup 2018, Wikimedia Commons.

“We have been waiting for this World Cup. Indians come in large numbers during the World Cup and we wanted these eateries to be a melting point,” he added.

According to Cutting Edge Events, FIFA’s official sales agency in India for the 2018 World Cup, India is amongst the top 10 countries in terms of number of match tickets bought.

Read more about Indian cuisine abroad: Hindoostane Coffee House: London’s First Indian Restaurant.

Prodyut came to Moscow to study engineering and later started working for a pharmaceutical company here before trying his hand in business. Besides running the two restaurants with the help of his wife, he was into the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

“After Russia won the first match of the World Cup, the footfall has gone up considerably. The Indians are also flooding in after the 6-9 p.m. game. That is the time both my restaurants remain full,” Prodyut said.

There are also plans to rope in registered fan clubs of Latin American countries, who will throng the restaurants during matches and then follow it up with after-game parties till the wee hours.

“I did get in touch with some of the fan clubs I had prior idea about. They agreed to come over and celebrate the games at our joints. Those will be gala nights when both eateries will remain open all night for them to enjoy,” Prodyut said.

Watching the World Cup is a dream come true for the couple, Sumana said.

“We want to make the Indians who have come here to witness the spectacle and feel at home too. We always extend a helping hand and since we are from West Bengal, we make special dishes for those who come from Bengal,” she added. (IANS)