Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Time in Buenos Aires.......

It is Book Time in Buenos Aires...

Books, authors and literary activities have captured the headlines of newspapers as well as the heads of the Porteños- the inhabitants of Buenos Aires city, these days. The annual International Book Fair going on since 23 April till 11 May is more than just a trade fair. It is a Festival...a Fiesta... a Celebration ...of books and authors, poetry and thought. It is part of the city´s culture. The Porteños, who are perceived as flamboyant in the rest of the country and Latin America, go to this Fair not only for the show... they are ...hmmm...serious. They read, think, analyse and argue. The theme of this year´s Fair is Pensar con Libros which means Thinking with Books.

The Buenos Aires event is the largest book fair in Latin America and one of the top five in the world. It is also the largest spanish-language book fair in the world.

It is not only the long duration of the Fair (19 days) which is impressive; the number of activities during the Fair is even more interesting. There are book readings, poetry recitations, lectures, panel discussions, presentations, signings, workshops and children’s activities. There are also meetings and special events for publishers, editors, librarians and educators. The programme booklet containing the activities of the Book Fair runs into 70 pages. For example, on saturday 2 May,there are 35 activities packed within 1400 hours to 2130 hours. This annual Fair is an event avidly anticipated by the public who visit in large numbers. The number of visitors is 1.2 million . There are about 1500 exihibitors with stalls in the 50,000 sq m venue La Rural.

An International Poetry Festival is held from 29 April to 2 May as part of the Book Fair. Thirty six poets from Argentina and around the world participated in this. Poetry at the Festival is not just for those in ivory towers or within airconditioned Salons. It literally goes to the street. Yes,the poets are going to recite in streets and subways. They go even beyond... to hospitals and jails. Incredible... During this year´s poetry festival, the poets are going to recite at the Hospital General de Agudos "Ignacio Pirovano" and the Cárcel de Ezeiza jail on 30 April. Could this be ....Poetrytherapy ...! An Argentine invention !!

Ah.. there is one more Argentine innovation. The city government of Buenos Aires organises every year a Noche de las Librerias- Bookstores Night. The last one was on 10 December. This is a kind of street fair of books in the famous Corrientes Avenue, the Broadway of Buenos Aires. This large and busy avenue is closed for traffic from 8.30 pm till midnight and the street is taken over by bookstalls and readers. People sit on the sofas and chairs placed in the Avenue browsing and reading in the middle of the avenue. There are also poetry recitations, workshops and cultural activities.

Here is a picture of the Noche de las Librerias:

Buenos Aires is the publishing capital of Latin America. There are about 1000 publishing firms in the City and there are over 2000 in Argentina. They publish about 22.000 new titles every year and 85 million books in total. Two books for each of the 40 million population of Argentina ! Of course, part of the production is for export to the rest of Latin America and Spain.

The number of poetry books published in Argentina is around 1000 every year. In the Book Fair, there is an area called as Zona de Poesia- poetry zone.

Writers from Latin America, Europe and USA participate in the Book Fair which is a launchpad for regionwide publicity. Many Latin American writers have stayed in this vibrant city and written and published their books here. Gabriel Garcia marquez´s One hundred years of solitude was first published in Buenos Aires. Other Latin American writers such as Pablo Neruda of Chile, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala and Ruben Dario of Nicaragua had lived in this city and published their works. There is a book, called as ¨Buenos Aires- a cultural and literary history¨by Jason Wilson, which describes the literary links of the streets, cafes and bars of the city and the romance of the poets and writers with the city.

The Book Fair is not just a one-night stand for the Porteños. It is Amor Eterno. Books are part of the day to day life of Buneos Aires. There are bookshops in every nook and corner of the city. Many bookshops have cafe, bar and restaurants. They are the refuges and meeting points for the bohemians and the bourgeois. The most famous Argentine writers including Borges and Cortázar have frequented them to write and meet. The Porteños sit in these book cafes for hours together browsing books and discussing local and global issues till the end of the world.

Last time when I was invited to a poetry reading, I went a bit late assuming that the event might not start in time and in any case there might not be much of an audience for poetry. I was in a for a surprise. When I reached the venue, I found that it was not only full but was overflowing at the entrance and at the corridors. I could not get anywhere near the reading and had to come back.

Many of the book shops in Buenos Aires are more than just buildings. They are elegant and eclectic in architecture and interior decoration with attractive ambience. When you walk by, these bookshops provoke, invite and tease you with their style and appeal. There are some famous and traditional book shops and chains such as Ateneo and Cuspide. One of the landmark bookstores is called “Gandhi”, founded in 1984 with the same concept of book and coffee shop.

My favourite is the El Ateneo Bookshop in Avenida Santa Fe. It is the most beautiful bookshop I have ever seen. According to a survey by the London newspaper “ The Guardian” , El Ateneo ranked second in the list of ten most beautiful bookstores in the world, after the number one in Maastricht. El Ateneo was originally a theatre called as“Grand Splendid”, now converted into a bookshop. It is magnificent with high painted ceiling, curvaceous balconies and ornate carvings. The original stage with the crimson curtains has been made into a café bar. No wonder I felt there like a performer... after a few drinks ! El Ateneo receives 3000 visitors per day.

Here are the pictures of El Ateneo:

After I left the venue of the poetry festival yesterday night, I found that a poem of Daniel Chirom would not leave me and got stuck in my heart....
Solo poseo el habla
solo poesia
mi lengua incierta
para buscarte
porque cantando
quede mudo
y solo puedo
por señales
Here is the translation
I only possess speech
Only poetry
My tongue uncertain
To seek you.
Because singing
I went speechless
And I can only reveal myself
Through signs

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Argentine Singhs

Dante Singh , Monica Singh, Jasbel Singh...
Adrian Singh, Alfredo Singh, Yeeta Singh.....
There are about three hundred such Argentine Singhs… mostly in Salta and other northern provinces of Argentina.

I met about seventy of them in the Gurudwara at Rosario de la Frontera, a small town of 35000 people in Salta province. I joined their Baishaki Day celebrations on 20 April. There were prayers and ceremonies conducted by a Granthi, who has been brought from India. There was a community lunch prepared by the ladies and was served by the men. The Gurudawara is clean, beautiful and inspires divine feelings. They have get togethers on Sundays and there are large gatherings on special religious occasions. Mr Charan Singh who came thirty years back from India is the president of the Gurudwara committee.This is the only Gurudwara in South America.

These Singhs had come in the thirties from India. Some of them came to work in the sugar mills owned by the British. Others got into the ships from Calcutta on hearing that they were going to America. They did not know that the destination was South America. Most of them originated from near Ludhiana. Dante Singh´s father was one of the earliest to come. He was also a political organiser. He collected money from other sikhs and sent it for the independence movement in India. The last batch of the immigrants came about ten years back. But no more are coming due to visa difficulties. Some of the Argentine Singhs have migrated to USA and Canada.

There are a few new Singhs who have come to other parts of Argentina. Lamba, with his flashy red turban, is a traffic stopper in Buenos Aires. He is settled here for over twenty years in handicrafts business. Simmarpal Singh is in Rio Cuarto near Cordoba city managing 15000 hectares of peanut farm for the Non-resident Indian company Olam.

President Zail Singh had visited Salta and met the community during his state visit to Argentina in 1984. Dante Singh was proud showing me fotos of this visit and also the fotos of his father meeting Zail Singh in Rashtrapathi Bhavan in Delhi.

Some of the first generation wear turbans. But when they travel outside the province, they put on caps to avoid curious looks and questions.

All the Singhs have become Argentine citizens and are well integrated into the local society. Among the first generation, some men married Indian women and brought them, while the others have married Argentines. The Singhs are in business or work as professionals. Many of them own supermarkets, corner stores and transport companies. Dante Singh and Adrian Singh are engineers. Jasbel Singh is studying international affairs and wants to become a diplomat. She recalls with pride her six months-stay in Noida studying television and broadcast journalism. One Mr Ruben Singh is there already in the Argentine Foreign Service. I hope an Argentine Singh will become Ambassador to India. Monika Singh is a software engineer working with Oracle in Buenos Aires. Yeetu Singh gives Indian dance classes and has done some Indo-Argentine fusion in dance. The second and third generation, which goes to school and college is keen to know more about India and talk about it proudly with their classmates.

Here is Dante Singh at the entrance of the Gurudwara:

Here I am, giving a speech holding the a microphone in hand, with my head covered. But a microscope is needed to recognise me....

In my speech, I spoke about how proud India is to see the Singhs speaking in Punjabi and worshipping in a Gurudwara in this part of the world. While recognising the suffering and sacrifice made by their parents and grand parents, I mentioned that in the India of today and tomorrow, there is no need for Indians to go out for a better life. Foreigners come to India for working in Bangalore.

Here is Kanwaljeet Singh with his son Gurdeep, who has asked for an Indian flag for his school and books in spanish on India.

community lunch
All the Singhs in Salta region speak fluent Spanish. Besides the first generation, even some young people from the second generation speak Punjabi enthusiastically. Virtually no one speaks English. I had to give my speech in Spanish. Hmm....A Tamil from India communicating with the Punjabis in the Gurudwara in Argentina in Spanish !

Thursday, April 16, 2009

El Pato and El Gato

El Pato- the duck - is Angel Cabrera, the 2009 US Masters Champion and the 2007 US Open Champion

El Gato- the cat - is Eduardo Romero, the US Seniors Open champion 2008.

I was invited to play a ProAm with El Pato in the Cordoba Golf Club, Villa Allende, on 15 April as part of the Central Zone Championship of Argentina. But at the last minute, P was changed to G and I played with Gato instead of Pato.

Both El Pato and El Gato had started off as caddies in Villa Allende Cordoba Golf Club. Both are very modest and unpretentious, despite the incredible heights of their success. They display comradeship with their friends who continue as caddies in the club. El Pato, in fact was for sometime the caddy of El Gato, who became his mentor. Both live a few blocks from the Cordoba Golf Club.

Credit should be given to the Cordoba Golf club members who encouraged and supported the two caddies to become the Champions. The Club and the whole town cheered and celebrated the victory of El Pato, who had just returned on 14 April after receiving the Green Jacket. Villa Allende in Cordoba has now become the place of pilgrimage for golf tourists.

El Pato and El Gato are the pride of Argentina and Latin America. No golfer from the other Latin American countries have won any majors so far.

Of course, Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina had won the British Open in 1967. He had a chance to win the US Masters in 1968. But a silly mistake in the score card and a sillier Golf rule deprived him of the honour. On the par 4 seventeenth hole, Roberto De Vicenzo made a birdie, but playing partner Tommy Aaron inadvertently entered a 4 instead of 3 on the scorecard. Roberto had signed the card without checking the score, and according to the Rules of Golf the higher score had to stand and be counted. If not for this mistake, Roberto would have tied for first place with Bob Goalby and the two would have met in an 18-hole playoff the next day. Golf rules could be worse than Government Rules !

El Pato Cabrera was born as the son of a handyman and a maid who split up when he was three or four, leaving him in the care of his paternal grandmother. He stayed with her until he was 16, when he moved in with his girlfriend, Silvia, 10 years his senior. When Cabrera was 10 he became a caddy at the Córdoba Country Club, which became his home. In sixth grade he quit school to take up the job full time. He learned golf playing against other caddies for money.

Cabrera used to smoke in the golf course and did so at the US Open in 2007. When he was asked about this by American journalists after he won the tournament, he responded ¨you guys go to the shrink but I take recourse to the cigarette.¨ He has now given up moking and has started chewing gum.

El Pato is here in this picture accepting my Taj Mahal gift and felicitations.

El Gato got his nickname from his grandmother when he was five because he was always climbing trees and sitting on roof tops. His father was the pro at the Cordoba Golf club. El Gato turned professional at a late age of 28 but has 77 career victories so far, from around the world.

El Gato is a lively person with a sense of humour. He has played in Calcutta and Delhi. He remembered the peacocks of Delhi Golf Club. He knows Jeev Milkha Singh, who was the playing partner of Tiger Woods on the first two days of Masters Open. El Gato practises yoga and is keen to visit India with his family.

I wanted to impress El Gato with my game. But I played like El Burro ( the donkey ). I had one of the worst rounds. Someone asked my score. I quoted to him from the book ¨the food of love¨ in which the Italian hero tells the American girl after seducing her with lot of wine ¨In Italy, we dont count three things: number of years of one´s age, number of glasses of wine imbibed and the number of lovers.¨