The tragedy of Air India Flight 182 and its aftermath has left much unresolved grief for the families of the victims. All 329 passengers—including 280 Canadians—died in the 1985 terrorist attack and then a bungled 20-year investigation resulted in the acquittal of the accused. One of the people struggling to make sense of it all is Vancouver-based poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, who lost her aunt and uncle on the doomed flight.
Saklikar has recently written a long form docu-poem about the 82 children who perished in the bombing, called the Children of Air India. It’s a powerful and haunting work about the nature of personal loss in the midst of public trauma written in a lyrical poetic style called elegiac sequences. The work also references imagined details about the lives of the Air India dead, and ultimately acts as a tribute to them.
On March 27, Saklikar will be at Okanagan College in Kelowna where she will read from Children of Air India and participate in a discussion about the work and process she used to create it.
“I did not intend to write about this subject—too painful, too controversial. But, it called to me,” says Saklikar.
“Once I accepted the call, I spent hours inside the archive with incident and coroner’s reports, books, newspaper articles, legal proceedings, inquiry reports, and family letters. That’s when the voices of the dead rose up—one either runs away or responds,” she says
A lawyer by training (and married to B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix), Saklikar turned to writing and poetry later in life and currently writes thecanadaproject blog, a life-long poem chronicle about her life and all the places she’s lived in from India to Canada. Children of Air India is Saklikar’s first book and it has been shortlisted for the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
Event organizer and Okanagan College English professor Sean Johnston is thrilled to have Saklikar participate in a reading at the College.
“We were lucky to have an excerpt from Children of Air India appear in the English department’s journal Ryga, A Journal of Provocations, before it was published as a book,” says Johnston.
“What is amazing about this work is that it combines the objectivity of documentary with the heart of lyric poetry.”
Saklikar will also be joined on March 27 by retired Okanagan College English professor and former regional dean John Lent. An accomplished author of 10 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, Lent will read selections from his upcoming comedic novel, The Kitchen Sessions.
The literary event takes place on March 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Room B112 on the Kelowna Okanagan College campus. Admission is free.