KAMA, KARMA & THE BRIDGES OF ROME

I couldn’t have imagined her. Her voice echoed a distant past from an island far away- wind rustling palms over fields of burning sugar. Mauritian born, Kama La Mackerel, took center stage at Glad Day Book Shop’s Festival of Writers- The Naked Heart 2017- and I’ve been speechless since.

The French-Creole lilt in her voice contrasted her steely prose, mining a relationship with her father who had built the family house, by hand, over the span of twenty years on an island where I had only known abundance. She, a mix of Africa and India, stood in front of me, a stranger. Yet, when I closed my eyes her voice conjured young women, cousins, who made fun of my Canadian accent, sharing gateaux patates while walking the sandy beaches of Flic en Flac.

The walls Kama spoke of, the ones between her and her father were familiar. She described his new interest in the ingredients list on a salt container, longing for him to look up, longing for acceptance. Kama is trans, which today seems far less shocking than when I was a boy. Then, this realm was for white folks living in a parallel world- on TV. This fiction wasn’t written in the language of my parents. Ours was a narrow life that defined man and woman, duty and profession and as I look back- race- on a speck of vacationland no larger than the GTA.

As I watched Kama’s arms in passionate gesture, she etched a door and as she stepped forward, it opened. Of course I noticed her dress first. It was one I had drawn so many times. I could recite the details by heart: pleated neckline- fitted at the waist- above the knee- made of double knit. This knit or Ponte Di Roma was ground breaking when it emerged in the sixties. Used by the French avant-garde designer, André Courrèges, it quickly made its way to luxury retailers and now is as ubiquitous as a mochaccino. As I held pen to paper, scribbling down a key line from her epic poem, ‘Building Walls’, I imagined drawing the dress again. I could feel the two layers of simple knit, pliable in my hands, recalling that Ponte Di Roma translates as bridges of Rome– the looping structure of needlework mirroring these ancient monuments. And it was on a bridge forged by Kama, forged by Glad Day, that I walked over to meet the person behind a wall built by my forefathers.

“I could smell sugar in the air,” I said, stumbling between rows of chairs to greet her, “my mother is Mauritian. Qui manière? ” I explained that my creole had dwindled from childhood.

“I’m so glad you were here, it means so much more when a Mauritian is in the audience,” she beamed, pushing a stack of ebony locks to one shoulder, extending her hand to me. “Are you a writer?” I paused, imagining that one day we would sit across from each other; Chicken pima confit and satchini pomme d’amour filling my kitchen with familiar scents from a shared time and place.

*I was going to wait until I could reach out to Kama before I posted this but yesterday I heard that she had lost all her documents on a trip and is making a very difficult journey back to Montreal. Details Here. I encourage you to meet the artist and activist, Kama La Mackerel and hope that this post is an incantation for her speedy return.

*Thanks to Glad Day Book Shop for continuing to forge ahead with meaningful programming, I learned a ton!

Diana Ross in Courrèges 

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What if Darjeeling Dahling was an Intervention?

I wanted to take a step forward and test if Faritrade could be a vehicle for Culture Punch and therefore for the Pink dollar. In the shadow of Black lives matter and Toronto Pride, we picked a product that has significance to me (and my partner in this venture, my sister), representing a voyage that our forefathers have taken and matched it to Western queer symbolism- The Drag Queen- a connection to Stonewall and the Sisters who fought the police tooth and glittering nail half a century ago for our Northern collective rights. I also wanted to pair the product to a charity (like so many ethical companies do) and chose The Rainbow Railroad, with the subtext that Canada is a safe haven (imperfect yes) for the newly minted LGBTQ2 diaspora.

As I continued on this path, I hit up a school that had built a new facility in the centre of a once marginalized area in Canada. This ethical/source local program had publicized a course for newcomers to Canada. A place to learn essential sewing skills. When I asked if the sewers would stitch the silk pouches that wrapped our tea boxes, for training purposes, I did not get a reply. During this time, I read the CBC article Toasting To Roasting that spoke of an Inuit-owned Coffee coffee shop buying their beans directly from indigenous Peruvians. Is this shit getting real or what? Even our tag line, ‘The Gayest Tea In The World,’ a clear detournement of the derogatory term, ‘that’s so gay,’ could not ward off the reality.

The maquette that was Darjeeling Dahling was building on an existing blue print. You know the one I’m talking about. I was re-creating the past and this part of the Culture Punch ideation was over- it had fulfilled its purpose. Now, Darjeeling Dahling will sit here- product, verbiage, and video to be interpreted by you. Thank you Sis, for accompanying me on this part of the journey. We’re just getting started…

Best,

Sujeet

P.S.We would still like you to buy your tea and coffee from JustUs! and donate to Rainbow Railroad with the caveat: don’t knock it until you can do better. And if you can- let us know!

FYI: Brexit tea anyone? Read more

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Brock U- Ideating A Culture (Punch)

Since we are in the ideation stage of Culture Punch and Queer lives are to be an integral part of the agenda, I hit the QEW, last week, heading for the Queer Canada Conference at Brock U in Saint Catherine’s Ontario. Trucks whizzed by at warp speed as I braved the rain-slick highway at 5 am. Had I made a mistake? After all, this was an academic conference and my dip into academia ended decades ago, with a detour to Paris and design.

The conference started at a fresh 8am and I was already turned around in the interconnected complexes of the university campus. I was out of my league, lost, and thinking that I should have just stuck to what I know. Why not skip the gathering and go hunting for Linda Evangelista? I wondered what type of house she had built and if she still only got out of bed for a cool ten thousand as I crossed a courtyard to yet another building.

Dionne Brand at the Niagra Artists Centre

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Culture Punch- Irish Twins

Here in a small town on the Canadian Shield lived a brother and sister. I am the one in front, looking left (even then). Nice sweat-palazzos, hunh? This was just the beginning of my love affair with fashion that drew bullies from miles around, drawn to me like glitter to RuPaul’s brow. But who cared? Not me. I was pro-tec-ted. My sister always had my back. Rushmee’s the one looming behind, the one with the Farrah Faucett Feather. Nice hair Sis!

“Rush and I were both born in Ireland- not even a year a part. We’re technically Irish twins.”

These days, it’s raining trouble. The world seems to get scarier by the minute. I learned this the hard way when I started to map out a plan to create a high-end atelier in Bangladesh (drawing from my Parisian Haute Couture roots). The news of the killing of Xulhaz Mannan (an openly gay blogger and intellectual) opened up old rooms in my head where I had left my bullies under lock and key. My plans to open up the atelier were put on pause as I tried to come to grips, for the second time in my life, of who I actually was in this picture. I overthought, like usual, and axed everything until Rushmee and I decided to go to a Fairtrade conference in Nova Scotia. Continue reading

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Culture Punch- The Prequel

A few years ago, I heard of the demise of a supplier that I had once worked with. My thoughts went out to my primary contact there. He is a soft-spoken man at least twenty years my senior and had worked for the company most of his life. We never spoke of his homosexuality, he was of another generation and the complexities of gender in India was out of my purview (I am learning more these days) .

What we had was a friendship and when he rang and asked if I had anything to work on (he was going it solo), I really had to think. I was busy with a full time job and as those of you in the clothing industry know, full time means heavy overtime. But, I honed in on something small, perhaps a bowtie, an object that did not require sizing. In the bizz, SKU numbers are killer and concentrating on accessories seemed to be manageable. I had a website designed and targeted the wedding industry, purchasing a table at the WedLuxe event in Toronto. I even scored a small blurb in NOW magazine by the present style editor of The Globe & Mail, Andrew Sardone. Of which I am very grateful.

Then, as you know, I got involved in worker’s rights and ditched everything. Now that I look back, we were already on the path to an authentic venture. Arunava’s (not his name) and my story are very different but the space that we inhabited when we worked on the project was ours to share.

As we enter phase one of Culture Punch and after all the compliments I have received for our bowties, I am re-launching the accessories but with a third of the proceeds going to Rainbow Railroad. Continue reading

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