Vancouver poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar has a hankering for including gaps and interruptions in her work. And her new book of poetry, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections, reflects this predilection.
Last night in front of a capacity crowd at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward's, Saklikar characterized the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 as "such an interrupted story".
That's because the lives of those affected were so shattered—indeed, interrupted—by the world's worst case of aviation terrorism prior to 9/11.
"Every time I talk about Air India outside the language of poetry, it feels blunt," Saklikar said. "It feels clichéd. It feels staged."
She lost her aunt, Dr. Zebunnisa Jethwa, and her husband, Dr. Umar Jethwa, in the tragedy, which also killed all 327 other passengers and crew. In 2010, Saklikar wrote a lengthy feature in the Georgia Straight reflecting on the legacy of this mass murder and the inquiry that followed.
The crime was planned in B.C. and the only man convicted, Injerjit Singh Reyat, was an electrician from Duncan.
Reyat tested a bomb in the woods outside the Vancouver Island community.
Last night, Saklikar pointed out that the nearby town of Paldi was once home to a thriving South Asian community, whose livelihood came from the forest industry.
"Reading all these pages of documents, over 17,000 pages of documents from the Air India inquiry alone, I begin to see this phrase repeated all the time: in the woods outside of Duncan, in the woods outside of Duncan," she said. "And that phrase, still to this day, fills me with dread—in the woods outside of Duncan. And it took me a long time to realize that the woods are outside of Paldi."
Saklikar, who grew up in New Westminster, acknowledged that Paldi has long exerted a "kind of gravitational pull" on her.
She told the audience that she first learned of the community from Paul Minhas, owner of the Heritage Grill in New Westminster, whose family came from Paldi.
"I do feel it's a kind of sacred place," she said.
At the event, Saklikar paid tribute to numerous local poets who've inspired her over the years, including Michael Turner, Wayde Compton, Rachel Rose, Betsy Warland, and Ray Hsu.
"My husband [NDP Leader Adrian Dix] says I make too many referrals to all the poets," she admitted at one point, "but, I mean, I stand in the legacy of all this work. My work is informed by all these poets."