A passionate arts reporter, Aparita Bhandari poses with a public art installation in downtown Toronto.
Bangkok-born, of Indian heritage, Aparita Bhandari is a well-known culture reporter, published in leading Canadian dailies and magazines. Bhandari talks to Canadian Immigrant about life, culture and journalism in multicultural Toronto.
Tell us about your background as a journalist.
I came to Canada in 1998 because my father was posted here as the Consul General of India. I managed to get into the Toronto Star’s year-long internship program, and that started me on my journalism career in Canada. After working at the Star, I started freelancing for a variety of outlets, including the Globe and Mail and the CBC, and have also since contributed to magazines such as Toronto Life, Today’s Parent and Maclean’s.
As a culture reporter, what do you write on?
I love covering stories that show how Canada’s various cultural communities, who are so well-represented in Toronto, express themselves through their artistic endeavours. These may be cultural celebrations, but more often are plays, books, musical performances and the like, which showcase the community’s heritage, but also what their experiences have been like as immigrants in Canada.
Give me an example of a story that focused on culture as well as the immigrant experience.
I remember I once did a series of stories for the CBC Radio show Big City, Small World, which looked at subway musicians. I spoke to a Chinese musician, who played an instrument called the yangqin, which is like a hammered dulcimer. This musician was a classically trained musician, and she told me about her initial hesitation to play in the subways.
Back in her home in China, people who played at subways or train stations were considered beggars. But she was amazed at the amount of respect she got playing at the subway stations in Toronto. I immediately understood the sentiment behind her thought process, and also understood what an immigrant struggle meant to her.
How do your own experiences as an immigrant help you add texture to your stories?
I have been lucky to have had a fairly privileged life in Canada. But I can certainly empathize with people who come from racialized or marginalized communities because I recognize some common elements in their experience and mine. Sometimes it’s just those shared experiences that speak loudest. It’s funny the number of times someone I am interviewing has looked at me and said, ‘You know what I am talking about, right?’”
What are some must-do cultural activities you would recommend to new immigrants in Canada?
Get yourself a library card. That’s one of the first things. There is a wealth of information and knowledge there, and also libraries are incredible hubs of cultural activities — from writing groups to cultural performances.
Next, visit the museums in the city. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we take our cultural institutions for granted.
And look at the arts listings for your city. On any given weekend, there are a number of plays, performances, book readings, poetry sessions and so on happening. It may not seem like the most important thing to do as new immigrants are busy with jobs, getting their kids in school, but the arts are an important way to connect with the city.
You are clearly passionate about experiencing culture in your city.
Yes, I love that I can watch a perfectly executed thillana (a part of Carnatic music) or thumri (a genre of Indian classical music) one night, watch Bollywood or Korean films in the cinemas the next day, and hear authors from across the world read at the Harbourfront the following evening.