Life’s a Riot

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February 1996

I met the late Qadri Ismail, Sri Lankan journalist turned literary scholar, in New York in 1995 while he was a graduate student at Columbia University and I was wondering aimlessly through life. It was on the same trip to North America that I met Shyam Selvadurai (and his partner – both possessing a kind of fragile beauty) at the Desh Pardesh Festival in Toronto. It was a fleeting meeting in the corridors of the festival venue. I am sure I made no impression on him but I later decided to review his first novel. I had written to Qadri for his response to the book and he gave a formulation about identity and politics that was as simple as it was rich. I had come to meet a friend, Sanjay Krishnan, now a literary scholar at Boston University who I had met at the National University of Singapore and who co-edited an issue of Commentary before leaving for the USA for graduate studies. Together with Sunil Agnani, Sanjay and I went on a road trip that took us from New York to the Niagara Falls to Toronto for the festival. I linger a little longer but eventually caught up with Sunil and Sanjay in Chicago. An American-born South Asian, Sunil invited us to his family home in Chicago – he had ‘warned’ us about the pink flamingos in the yard – while regaling us about his ‘fears’ of small town America and his commitment to pursue what he called “critical Disney studies”. Sunil’s boundless humour served us both well when we tasked to accompany the renowned Indian historian, Ranajit Guha, to MOMA. Perhaps it was simply Columbia which allowed me to bump into Sanjay’s teacher, Edward Said, and on another occasion, the writer Amitav Ghosh. I met Ghosh later in Kuala Lumpur when he conducting research on the Indian National Army (INA) of Subash Chandra Bose.

I met many young graduate students, some of whom whose I never met again – like Joseph Massad – and others whose paths crossed mine again years later like Jyotsna Uppal who I am forever grateful for her simple act of generosity towards me in Toronto.

These are photographs of that trip. [To come]

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