The Indian Mirror Purse
Saturday, October 21, 2017
|Dipti Mehta - Vancouver October 20 , 2017
It was not until 1950 that India finally became the Republic
of India. Shortly after, India opened a brand new embassy in Buenos Aires and my
journalist father moonlighted as a
translator (English to Spanish and Spanish to English) at the Embassy.
I may not remember all that well but it was about then that
my mother would sport the Indian mirror bag when she went to parties. It was
her favourite purse. Perhaps my father gave it to her as such a purse would be unavailable in Argentina.
But India as a concept and country was exotically alien to the then
8 year old me. My grandmother often told me the story on how on a ship from Manila
(to the eventual destination of Buenos Aires) in 1938 they purchased a couple of
items when the ship docked in Durban, South Africa. The bought them from a man who was selling them out of a small boat. Since that day
those two items were called Abue’s (Abuelita) camphor babies. They have been
everywhere and are now in our Kitsilano home.
One of the pieces of furniture is a lovely Chinese camphor
chest. The other is an octagonal, foldable and highly elaborate end table. It
was only yesterday that I looked it all up in Google and found out that the
table is an Anglo/Indian rose wood table.
India has been in my life all along!
After enjoying a couple of viewings of Honour - The Confessions of a Mumbai Courtesan
(one a dress
rehearsal where I was the only guest) I had the idea that I would want to
photograph Dipti Mehta with my mother’s Indian purse.
During the short (one exposure) session in the Cultch
dressing room Mehta told me that her mother had one just like it.
Mumbai's Zona de Tolerancia
Friday, October 20, 2017
|Dipti Mehta, October 19, 2017 Vancouver
I visited my friend Licenciado Felipe Ferrer Junco in the
90s to write an article about him
for Vancouver Magazine
. At the time Ferrer was the Federal Police Chief in Acapulco.
From the beginning he told me, “I am going to show you
everything I do here. But you must remember to be careful in what you write as
it could cost me my job,”
He wasn’t kidding. I saw everything even a suspect who
was made to talk by fizzing up mineral water and Salsa Búfalo (very hot chili)
up his nose.
But the most shocking but at the same time rewarding
experience (besides being allowed to shoot off a few rounds on an AK-47) was Ferrer’s
very modern interpretation on how women were to be treated.
A lovely young woman in tears was shown into his office. She
told Ferrer that she had been raped by a young man who had promised to marry
her but now had reneged on his vow and was marrying someone else that coming
Saturday. Ferrer asked her to tell her in what church the ceremony was going to
Using some rather nice Mexican epithets I will water down he said, “If that f…..SOB thinks he can get away with this in the
sanctuary of a church he is mistaken!”
A few days later (not quite Saturday) Ferrer took me on a
tour of the darker side of Acapulco. Mexicans have a neat word for red light
district. They call it a “Zona de Tolerancia
stopped his car at the infamous Acapulco house of ill-repute called La Huerta
and took me inside. Some of the women inside who had loads of makeup reminded
me of the famous photograph of a pair of Tijuana prostitutes taken by Cartier- Bresson. Since
Ferrer was known in the house by his position of authority we were offered rum cokes.
As we left, not far from La Huerta I spotted our jilted
woman. I pointed her out and told Felipe, “She is a common whore. And you plan
to nab that guy?”
Felipe stopped the car and very seriously (and again using
language I cannot place here) said, “Do you think that just because she is a
whore that she is not a woman with rights. That man promised to marry her. I am
going to put him in jail.”
|The Acapulco groom
This he did. Later Ferrer took me to the local clink and I
was able to photograph the young man behind bars who was wearing a rather nice
The above lesson I learned from my friend the police chief
has served me well. Not too long ago I photographed some exotic dancers dressed
as London Bobbies. The photograph (the only time I ever used a 4x5 camera) was
used to decorate the then rather famous strip joint called the Cecil Hotel.
The location for the session was an old warehouse in East
Vancouver that reeked of rotting onions but that had a white painted brick wall
that was one of the necessary features of our photograph. I had brought a large
sheet and draped it over a rope which became the area the women could change
into the uniforms. My assistant told me, “Why do they need a changing area?
They are strippers and they are used to taking their clothes off.”
Thinking of Felipe I immediately answered, “They are women
and we have the obligation to respect
The show Honour: Confessions
of a Mumbai Courtesan which opens tonight at the Vancity Culture Lab (an
intimate theatre for such a delicate subject matter) at 8pm deals with many of
the subjects I raised above. The play is written and performed by Dipti Mehta
and directed by Mark Cimigliaro.
I was able to attend a dress rehearsal yesterday Thursday
and I can tell you that this is a play that reveals the travails of young women
in Mumbai (and of course in many other parts of the world) who are pressed into
prostitution by economic, by their parents or simply because they have the
ambition of someday being able to go to New York.
Mehta not only plays the young girl in question but her
mother and other nefarious creatures of Falkland Lane.
Somehow the brilliant colours of the set almost compensate
for the tragic story revealed in 65 minutes.
This play is part of the ongoing Diwali in BC project that
(with lovely Indian dancing but again with a serious subject)
simultaneously showing at the Cultch’s York Theatre.
Cero Kilómetro - Not - An Engine Flush
Thursday, October 19, 2017
|Doctor Colin Horricks
In my Buenos Aires youth Doctor Imperiale was our family doctor. I
had many problems with queasy stomachs. He would come and prescribe apple
sauce, queso fresco and soda water. I almost do not want to even think of the horrible unbuttered melba toast that was part of the terrible diet.
Here in Vancouver we had Doctor Eliot Mintz who once
hypnotized our eldest daughter then around 11 who had numerous warts on her
knees and legs. She told Ale to rub each wart with a penny and to then dig it into
the ground in our home garden. The warts were gone in a fortnight. Doctor Mintz died so we had to find another doctor.
We now have Colin Horricks
, only the second family doctor we have had since we arrived in Vancouver in 1975. He is a warm (always smiles)
gentleman whose practice is on 16th
I recently went to him for what I call a service check. In
Argentina we call brand new cars “cero kilómetro”. Unfortunately I know why
most new cars in Vancouver do not have a zero in their odometer. Some years ago
while working for Canadian Pacific Limited I had to photograph the unloading
from ships at our ports brand new Japanese cars. These came down from the ship
at prodigious speed by what anywhere else you would have deemed the drivers to
be of the reckless kind.
At age 75 I can never be cero kilómetro. But Dr. Horricks
does do some important tune-ups. One of them is to flush from my ears all that
built up wax. I do this twice a year and the result is to know that I still
have very good hearing. I got my flew shot and Rosemary had her corns removed.
No, he is not a podiatrist but he will do in a pinch!
An Encounter with the Exotic at the York Theatre
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
|Sunil Kumar Thankachan (note scary sun glasses), Shivani Thakkar, Leah Vincent, Aparna Sindhoor, Anil Natyaveda, Pratheesh Sivanandan, Mathew Valdez & Edward Carrion. October18, 2017, York Theatre, Vancouver
Today I went to the Vancouver East Cultural Centre’s York
Theatre for a production, Encounter
by them and by Diwali in BC which featured the Sindhoor/Natyaveda –NavarasaDance Theatre (India/USA).
I had no idea what to expect and the only word that would
come to mind was that I was going to witness something exotic. I was not wrong. But at the same time I found
that I found parallels with my own experiences in Argentina including living
under a military dictatorship in which life was cheap.
Del lat. exotĭcus, y este del gr. ἐξωτικός exōtikós, der. de ἔξω éxō 'afuera'.
1. adj. Extranjero o procedente de un país o
lugar lejanos y percibidos como muy distintos del propio.
My Real Academia Dictionary of the Spanish (I am an
Argentine by birth ) defines exotic as something coming from another country of
faraway place and seen as different from one’s own.
Because I am 75 I am a person born and raised in another
century. In that mid 20th century Mexicans lived in Mexico (and
slept with big hats under a cactus) Germans lived in Germany and wore short
leather pants, Americans were either cowboys or wore funny uniforms to play a
game they called football.
Of India, China, Japan
and la Cochinchina (the old word for
Vietnam and still used in Argentina as a place as far away as can be) I knew
nothing. I had in 1950 never seen anybody from the East with the exception of
Filipinos as my mother was born there.
One day, in that year of 1950 my father brought four of
his friends from his job. He worked (besides being a journalist for the Buenos
Aires Herald) as a translator at the brand new Indian Embassy. His four
friends, all with beards and wearing turbans got out of a Hillman Minx, a car
as strange as anybody from India, China or Japan. I had never seen a Hindu
although my father corrected me (and confused me even further) that they were
My father was a very good cook so he treated his four
friends to curry. I spent a whole week attempting to explain to my friends who
the visitors had been.
I believe that sometime in that mid-century Hindoos
Around the year 2000 I figured (!) that nostalgia is
something we feel only when we are not in the country we have that nostalgia
for. By that dictionary definition above it would seem that the exotic is
something from a country one has not been to.
In spite of living in a multi-cultural Vancouver,
Encounter was indeed exotic and unpredictable. I did not know what was going to
happen next in this theatrical play with dance and song, in which the most
important persons (and not on stage) were Beth Kelley and Sonia Bologa who are
listed in the program as Costume support.
Missing from cast was Rinu Janardhanan who was denied a visa as well as Liji Krishnan.
In Vancouver we traditionally call them fast dressers
. This troupe of seven,
Aparna Sindhoor, Anil Natyaveda, Prateesh Silvandan, Leah Vincent, Sunil
Kumar Thankachan, Shivani Thakkar, and Matt Valdez on stage was constantly
changing from the costumes of scary soldiers to the more traditional ones. That
they were able to do this so quickly and seamlessly attests to the efficiency
of the fast dressers.
|Aparna Sindhoor & Anil Natyaveda
The choreography and direction of performers Aparna Sindhoor
and Anil Natyaveda included stuff I have never seen before but I did note a wee
bit of hip-hop and yoga. A number featuring the soldiers and that scary Major
General played by the usually pleasant and happy Sunil Kumar Thankachan, all
carrying what looked like heavy replica rifles, was outstanding.
The reason for the soldiers is that encounter in Indian
(South Asian) has a different meaning. It is about a planned (seemed to look
like a chance) encounter between the military and those that they want to get
rid of (arrest and summarily kill) so as to take away their land and livelihood
so that large companies can then exploit those resources. Because this, unfortunately, may
sound familiar to many, Encounter is dedicated to all indigenous people
around the world who suffer that fate.
The show is really that of the two principals Aparna
Sindhoor and the remarkably agile dancer and choreographer Anil Natyaveda. The play was written by S M Raju and Aparna Sindhoor and based on a short story by Mahasweta Devi.
A lot of the action happens on and around a tall pole on
stage left that was described by Aparna Sindhoor as the centre of all activities
(including spiritual ones) of the village featured in Encounter.
At one point Anil Natyaveda starts on the top of that
pole. Only someone of my age (75) will remember those Ripley’s Believe It or
Not rectangles in newspaper comics of the past century. There were quite a few
(besides those of sleeping on beds of nails) that featured Yogis who if we were
to believe it had never come down from that pole!
And so a play that was full of exotic wonder, action and
violence which included an extraordinarily choreographed rape scene by four black hooded men
with Aparna Sindhoor being the victim, was enough to dampen the evening with
thought and a purpose to action. Not all plays have to have a happy ending. This
one has a wallop of an ending. Some of us were too shocked to clap.
Encounter is on at 8PM until and including Sunday.
Lauren & Casi-Casi Met Up
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
|Casi-Casi & Lauren - 2011
I picked up
Lauren at the end of her Arts Umbrella Dance class today. She is 15. She has a
sister 20, a father Bruce and her mother Hilary. Today she did not object to my
question ("Who is the most efficient member of the Stewarts?") and immediately raised her hand accepting my opinion that she is the
most efficient (perhaps the only one) of her family.
Casi-Casi go up our stairs. He does it gingerly. I believe that like his two
masters, Rosemary and yours truly, he must suffer from arthritis. Casi-Casi
is 12 years old.
you see here I took around October 14, 2011. Looking at it made me think on how
we go back and forth interacting (as in passing by or passing through) with
people (and animals) and never give it a thought. Would either of them know or remember this?
I may have
been 7 or 8 and my mother organized my birthday party on an August 31st
in our Melián 2770. People came, a piñata was broken, a tail was put on a
donkey and a cake was eaten (I passed on that as I have always disliked
birthday cakes, even others’). And yet of one of those parties there is an
image that is seared in my memory.
had a very long but narrow garden. A tiled path was on one side from the gate
at the street to where it went on to form an L when It hit the outside wall of
our bathroom which was next to our kitchen.
seeing this beautiful young woman greet me at that bend. She was Inesita O’Reilly my first cousin
and godmother. She was I know
now 19 years older than I was. We had met 19 years before (of this meeting I have no
recollection!) when she was present at my baptism.
second meeting I remember nothing except for that L-shaped incident.
years after, beginning around 1965, Inesita was one of my most loved woman in
my life. She died this year.
about it has made me attempt to recollect all those inateractions between us that
may have included a kiss, a hug, a chat, a laugh or sharing a pizza on Avenida Cabildo.
I have no
idea if Casi-Casi is able to delve into this process of transfer. I think that
in this picture the cat was at his young peak while Lauren was a child about to
Today as we
were eating our breaded chicken breasts Lauren felt something at her feet. She
said, “Well, hello Casi. How are you?”
which memory transfers are being seared in her memory?