Thursday, October 17, 2013

Children of Air India: Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections – Renee Sarojini Saklikar

Today's book of poetry:  Children of Air India:  Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections.  Renee Sarojini Saklikar.  A Blewointment Book.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2013.

This book is a sustained and articulate banshee scream, a well written wail against injustice, silence and indifference.  Saklikar brings together all the research concerning Air India Flight 182 and imbues it with the emotional toll, the frantic pull of the heart, of a parent, a sibling, who must face the unthinkable horror and loss.


This is a work of the imagination.
This is a work of fiction, weaving fact in with the fiction,
merging subject-voice with object-voice, the "I" of the author,
submerged, poet-persona: N––
     who loses her aunt and uncle in the bombing of an airplane:  Air India Flight 182.

This is a sequence of elegies.  This is an essay of fragments:
     a child's battered shoe, a widow's lament ––

This is a lament for children, dead, and dead again in representations.  Released.
This is a series of transgressions:  to name other people's dead, to imagine them.
This is a dirge for the world.  This is a tall tale.  This is sage, for a nation.
This is about lies.  This is about truth.

Another version of this introduction exists.
It has been redacted.


Saklikar is relentless and fearless as she forces aside the multi-layered curtains of a world that doesn't want to know.  There is a deft tenderness to many of these poems but it always girded within the fist of hard rebuke.

Exhibit (1985):  fourteen, eleven.

His brother excels––French, English, math, science––
                            he takes a paper route,
buys milk when an old woman offers two dollars
                   with the coins he fetches a carton,
holds it, high––

Father:  You took her money?  She's an old lady.
Son:  But Dad, she gave me, she gave––
                    I ran all the way.
Father:  Take the money back.

He slow-walks
to the woman's house.


Before the car drives away, before the plane takes off––
                  this paper-route boy
lags behind in his home––
                  everyone is waiting––
he touches each piece of furniture,
                  goodbye sofa, goodbye lamp––

His arm brushes
against a locked door.


Status:  It is his brother's body, found.


When she hears the news about her paper-route boy, the old woman––
                  the woman, old,
when she hears the news––


Renee Sarojini Saklikar lost family in the tragedy and you feel the personal loss, that hole that never gets filled.  But Saklikar is never saccharine or maudlin, instead she moves forward with her voice in full song as she tackles the litany of sorrows.

These poems are sometimes lists, legal documents with redacted, crossed out sections.  Saklikar melds all these fragments, the fractured data, the emotional girth, and gives us an indictment, a Kaddish, a funeral prayer, a howling denial of what is represented as the truth.


"...a twelve-year-old boy, darling of the house, so pampered ... suddenly turned
into an orphan with very few good and honest relatives ...  very hard for me ...  to
explain all these years ... grew up learning how mean this world ... none of the
governments ... ever cared to ask ..."

          Witness No. [redacted]––Name [redacted]
           Air India Inquiry

This is brave stuff to be sure and Renee Sarojini Saklikar is as fearless as she is frantic to justice served.  As a debut collection this is dazzling work.  Children of Air India should become a book we are all familiar with.

Exhibit:  "Yes, that's what I said.  It didn't sound like a bomb."

          Look, I've taken early retirement.  Ask my lawyer.
          Sorry, don't mean to sound rude.  It's just––
          haven't we been over this enough times?
          I was doing my job, proud of my work.
          Yes.  Yes.  How many times have we gone over,

this, sitting and then,
just rocked me
                 I mean the force,
the thing exploded and I fell out
my seat, the whole car jolted.
                   Was there any smell?  There may have been.  I can't recall.  Not anymore.

           I was one of the few women hired, you know, it wasn't always easy.
           Of course I took it seriously. Followed him all the way from Vancouver, right?


Wade Compton, Joanne Arnott
Michael Turner and Renee Sarojini Saklikar discuss poetry.

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