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Novel Skeena was hailed as a unique, artistic and prideful contribution to Punjabi literature by the members of Punjabi Lekhak Manch, one of the oldest BC Punjabi writers group.
Ten people shared their views about Skeena including both the coordinators of the Manch while four members took part in the discussion about Punjabi publishing. The meeting was held at Newton Library in Surrey on July 10, 2011.
The discussion was initiated by Sukhvant Hundal who had earlier requested the Manch to give time to Skeena.
Sukhvant Hundal said he values Skeena because of the many unique aspects of it. Unlike most other novels, Skeena depicts patriarchy in the class context. It acknowledges the oppression of Skeena’s own family whereas most other novels typically highlight the oppression of the ‘other’ family. The novel also artfully reveals the layers and layers of violence in our social systems. As well, Hundal was moved by the depiction throughout the novel of ‘sanjh’ or ‘togetherness’ of women across class, ethnicity and religion. ‘The storytelling is picturesque,’ remarked Hundal ‘once begun, the novel is hard to put down.’
Sadhu Binning said that Skeena is a work of such depth that more discussions need to take place on it. He said ‘I am happy and proud’ to have this unique novel in Punjabi literature where the style of writing is such that it seems the story is the reader’s own life, and the events are happening to him or her. The novel also shows the values of the jagirdari system through its effects and impacts on people rather than through socio-political speeches. The literary style of expression allows the readers to form their own conclusions about various aspects, characters and situations. Sadhu also appreciates that Skeena faces all kinds of difficulties in her life yet her desire to live remains strong. ‘Skeena is a prideful addition to Punjabi literature’, he said.
Sadhu asked Fauzia to speak about her experience with Punjabi publishers in Pakistan with reference to the Punjabi Shahmukhi edition of Skeena (Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2007).
Randeep Purewall said he liked the novel for many reasons but would limit himself to the mention of just two. First, the ways in which the novel references themes related to First Nations in the Canadian context from the very beginning; and second, the novel’s illustrations of people having different sexual orientations such as the two lesbian couples, in both its social contexts. He said that it is rare to find Punjabi or South Asian literature that integrates such themes into its projected social environments.
Amrik Duhra said that he enjoyed reading the novel, and was especially taken by its usage of different Punjabi dialects, and of the beauty of its language and expression.
Inderjit Kaur Sidhu said that she had just found a copy of the English edition of Skeena lying on the table, and when she opened it, she came across the following passage:
‘This is my third house arrest. First at my parent’s, second at my in-laws, and third in my own home. Seven months. Nine years. One week. Punishment, compromise, investigation.’
She said, ‘For sure, I will buy it and read it’.
Surinder Kaur Sahota said that she enjoyed reading the novel because of the beauty of its language and expression. The story deals with family values, social systems, and the hold of religious ideologies. She said, it is constructed from many ‘fictions’, events that cannot be true. Surinder gave two three examples of such untrue things including the one where Skeena is shown assaulted by an ‘educated doctor husband’. ‘But…’ she said, ‘I was most shocked to find that Iqbal Singh was Gamu’. Surinder said she was irritated by the spelling mistakes in the Gurumukhi edition of Skeena.
Ranbir Jauhal said that she also was not as happy with the fourth section as she was with the rest of the novel. As well, she said, she wanted the novel to be a lot longer but it finished too fast. Responding to comments made by Surinder she said that one of the things she most appreciates about ‘Skeena’ is in the ways it bursts various societal myths, like the myth that wife assault only occurs in ‘un-educated lower class’ families and that middle class ‘educated’ men do not assault/abuse their wives. She also affirmed Randeep’s observations about the integration in the novel of various taboo subjects such as sexual orientation.
Jarnail Singh Sekha, Co-Coordinator, said that he likes the name of the novel. The language is beautiful, characters have depth, and the story wins the reader’s heart where the reader does not want to put the novel away until it’s finished. There are however, conversion problems with the script, and they should have been taken care of before the publication of the Gurumukhi edition. He said that he has read Skeena in both Shahmukhi and Gurumukhi scripts, and Shahmukhi flows wonderfully well but Gurumukhi stalls time and again. Also, in the fourth section, the novel stoops to a low-level filmi plot when Iqbal Singh is revealed as Gamu. ‘In my opinion’ remarked Sekha, ‘Iqbal should have stayed Iqbal.’
Jarnail Singh Artist, Co-Coordinator, said that Skeena is a window into the cultural milieu of Pakistan and the status of Muslim women. He enjoyed the novel, but tends to agree with Mr. Sekha that at the end there is filmi-style plotting. ‘Nothing is added to the novel by turning Iqbal Singh into Gamu.’ Also, he said, the lesbian issues have been touched but in a superfluous manner since the lesbian characters do not move the plot. Artist affirmed that script conversion problems are irritating for the Gurumukhi reader.
Surinder Kaur Brar said she just loved the novel. The author’s ability to express delicate feelings, concepts and situations is amazing. The language and style of writing is beautiful. It has strong subject matter but then every novel has subject matter but not every novelist can fulfil it or do justice to it. The depiction of reality is subtle and realistic even ‘natural’. ‘I like everything in it, if you ask me, i can not find anything wrong with it. Skeena is a great addition to Punjabi literature’.
Fauzia Rafique thanked Punjabi Lekhak Manch and its members for giving this special time to Skeena, for reading the novel, and for sharing valuable insights. She also thanked Sukhvant Hundal for requesting the Manch to discuss Skeena. She said, she will take the feedback on Gurumukhi conversion issues to the publisher, Libros Libertad, so that the next print run is free of typos.
As suggested by Sadhu Binning, Fauzia shared her experience of publishing Skeena in Punjabi Shahmukhi script from Lahore in 2007. She said that like East Punjab, West Punjab also has three main publishing houses, out of which one had asked her in 2006 to convert Skeena into Shahmukhi. Once the manuscript was ready, the publisher was discussing printing details but no mention was made of any royalties for the author. Fauzia said, she had to withdraw Skeena, and then offer it one by one, to the other two publishers. Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications came through; he signed a royalty agreement with the author, invested their own money, and published not the standard 200-350 books but 750 (hardbound= 500, Paperback=250). Sanjh also acquired funding from South Asia Partnership (SAP) to launch the novel in nine cities in Pakistan. With that, ‘Skeena may be the best-selling novel in modern Punjabi literature,’ Fauzia said.
The situation of Punjabi publishing is such where in most cases, she said, authors fund the publishing of their own books or they have to buy-back a large portion of the print-run; plus they have to do their own promotion without much support from the publisher. This situation necessitates that the Punjabi Canadian writers find better solutions for the publication of their works. The formation of a Punjabi writers cooperative to publish, promote and distribute the writings of Punjabi Canadian authors is one way to go.
She said, at this time, author royalties and rights are less a matter of money and more a matter of principle. There is not much money in publishing of literature in any language and especially not in the publishing of Punjabi literature, but it ‘torments me’ she said, to find that when a Punjabi book is published, each and every contributor is paid BUT the author. In addition, the author is powerless and held at bay by the publisher with ‘Punjabi books don’t sell’ oxymoron. Nothing sells without promotion and distribution, she said.
Satish Gulati of Chetna Parkashan, visiting Canada from Ludhiana India, outlined the many problems faced by Punjabi publishers. He said that it requires consistency and dedication to continue to publish Punjabi books, and it is a difficult path to tread. He explained the process of book publishing and selling, and outlined the many barriers to its success.
The discussion brought out the need to further brainstorm on the different aspects of Punjabi publishing to make it a more beneficial and respectful experience for Punjabi Canadian authors.
Nedeem Parmar, Treasurer of the Manch, was of the opinion that there is no need to discuss this subject as Chetna Parkashan is doing a wonderful job in serving the publishing needs of Punjabi Canadian authors.
Fauzia, however, has made a request to the Manch to make some time to hold discussions on different aspects of Punjabi publishing as it impacts Punjabi Canadian authors.
Punjabi Lekhak Manch was established over 35 years back. The first meeting was attended, among others, by its initiators Surjeet Kalsey, Gurcharan Rampuri and Ajmer Rode.
The meeting was attended by Jarnail Singh Sekha, Jarnail Singh Artist, Sushil Kaur, Surinderpal Kaur Brar, Kirpal Kaur, Gurcharan Singh Gill, Inderjit Singh Dhami, Krishan Bhanot, Khushhal Singh Gloti, Pritpal Singh Sandhu, Fauzia Rafique, Hrjit Daudhria, Joginder Shamsher, Barjinder K. Dhillon, Hari Singh Tatla, Narinder Baia, Jagdev S. Dhillon, Pavinder Dhariwal, Harjinder Singh Cheema, Inderjit Kaur Sidhu, Shahzad Nazir Khan, Nirmal Kaur Gill, Jasbir Kaur Maan, Satish Gulati, Nedeem Parmar, Davinder Punia, Gian Singh Kotli, Ranbir Jauhal, Sukhvant Hundal, Sadhu Binning, Randip Purewal, Amrik Duhra, Surinder K. Sahota.
(Note: The list may not be comprehensive.)
Punjabi Lekhak Manch meets every second Sunday from 1-4 PM at Surrey’s Newton Library. Contact Punjabi Lekhak Manch: firstname.lastname@example.org
This report uses valuable input from Jarnail Singh Artist, Parvinder Dhariwal, Jarnail Singh Sekha and Randeep Purewall.
By Ranbir Johal
It has been many years since a novel has entranced me from the very first sentence. One from my childhood, is the children’s classic, Anne of Green Gables, another from my youth is Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy; and now, another to add to my list is Fauzia Rafiq’s Skeena.
From the very first moment that I began to read it (when picking it up in my friend’s car), Fauzia had transported me into that room in the village where Skeena was having trouble concentrating on her homework due to the noise of the children playing outside. At times it seemed to me that I even became Skeena, seeing what she saw, hearing what she heard, feeling what she felt.
This was one of those rare novels that made me neglect my duties at work and at home – leaving all other deadlines and priorities aside as I devoured the novel, journeying with Skeena through her life.
I do wish to give Fauzia’s novel full justice with a written review, but those duties that I neglected while reading Skeena have caught up with me again. I hope this little post will suffice in encouraging everyone to purchase and read this book, until I have time to dedicate to detailed written response to the novel.
– any excuse to reread it!!
First published by Ranbir Johal as a comment on Sadhu Binning’s review of Skeena at Uddari Weblog, July 8, 2011.
Ranbir is a teacher, researcher and a cultural activist working in part with Kwantlen College in Surrey BC. Contact Ranbir at email@example.com
Reviewers of both English and Punjabi editions of Skeena agree that there is nothing like it in Punjabi or in English literature, that it is a work of art, a must-read, a best-seller…
Invitation to attend
Punjabi Lekhak Manch discussion on
‘Skeena’ by Fauzia Rafique
Sunday July 10, 2011
Surrey Public Library, Newton Branch
More on Manch meeting
Regarding Skeena: Punjabi Lekhak Munch, Surrey June 19
Skeena by Fauzia Rafique
Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011
I want to thank everyone for coming out today. For me it is a great day for many reasons. I am happy to see the shift of celebration from Vancouver to Surrey. Vancouver being the heart of culture has a lot of events happening that pertain to arts, culture, books, and other literary nuance. Surrey is popular for different stuff, mainly loud music on the streets, good bargains at Punjabi market, and lately, lots of police and street regulations. So, today as we celebrate two writers, and their books, in my opinion we are making a statement here. Surrey too holds what it takes to be the heart of culture. Somehow, I feel that it is my duty to be a part of it, and just seeing so many faces today, I feel confident in saying that everyone in this room is enabling this shift to take place.
The second reason that pleases me is that we are going to talk about two very important books today. The first one is ‘Vernal Equinox’ by Manolis published by Ekstasis Editions from Victoria, and with this, I will introduce our first speaker who has written the book that I hold in my hand. After working as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker in Canada to support his writing, Manolis now lives in White Rock where he spends his time writing, gardening, and traveling. He has written three novels, over ten collections of poetry, and has published short fiction and non fiction in Greek and in English. Toward the end of 2006 he founded Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company in Surrey BC with the goal of publishing literary books. Eduardo Bettencourt Pinto has said this about the poet and the poems:
‘Book of tenderness, Vernal Equinox is also the Adam’s apple mythology whirling in the eyes of the far away lover, the body’s appeal, desire and ardency, which are the unavoidable delight of carnal fire. Eloquent and sensitive, the poetry subjects crossing the pages of this book are vivid metaphors of beauty, poems of a lifetime. I mean: of a mature poet giving to the world a transcendent memory of the senses on its purest form.‘
This is the beauty of Manolis’s poetry. And, I’d share some of it with you before I invite him on stage. It might not be Manolis’s favorite poem, but I connected with it on the level that the above quote testifies to. It says:
She stored his pictures in the album
dusted the chest carefully
hid her sighs inside an envelope
placed it on the side of her heart then
sat mesmerized by the memory of him
lingering in her mind as a crystal laughter
like when he used to take her hand saying: love you
For our second book Skeena by Fauzia Rafique, I have a list of many strong speakers from both the academic and the literary world. This event will see us discussing Skeena from various eyes, each pair just as literary attuned and intellectually distinctive as the other. I am very interested in seeing how this event opens up and where it leads us to. So, before I begin to call upon my speakers for today, I want to set forth a few questions that we should always attend to when we are discussing literature like Skeena.
I want to know as a reader how such a book, that can be read as resistance literature, ethnic literature, political literature, minority literature, feminist literature, and even like a travelogue, should be treated? How do we shelf it? Do we call it, to remove the strain of literary canons, simply Canadian literature?
It gets complicated to know that a Pakistani immigrant woman writes this book. Pakistan, that arouses in the readers’ minds a distinct map, a different region, a different race, and most of all, her politics. So, does it become a Pakistani novel, when we have many writers from different races in Canada writing about places that are not Canadian, and yet, it is Canadian literature?
It is here that I want to also mention how in Pakistan, when Fauzia went in 2007 to publish this novel, the Literary Society of Lahore Press Club, who had insisted on holding the launch, backed out 24 hours before the launch after reading it. Academy of letters, Islamabad did not allow it to launch at their premises.
So, we have a history of reactions attached to Skeena. While Skeena continues to challenge, it does so with grace and perseverance. Fauzia’s book is going to challenge the norms that we comfortably attach to the literatures of Canada and Pakistan, and perhaps even the market of global literatures. I use the word literatures to emphasize the importance of heterogeneous quality of literature, because in doing so, I want us to remember the distinctions in literature. No two novels are alike, and the tradition of transformation and canons tells us that labeling is never easy. That a single novel Skeena, that is written in two languages Punjabi and English simultaneously, can be canonized into two different locales. That Skeena can belong in Canada, as much as in Pakistan. That it too can take the condition of the very woman who writes it, the condition of being here and there. English Skeena and Punjabi Skeena, the twins that were conceived together, but born at different times, are like the face of the earth, West and East, South and North. Here, i quote a reader of English edition of Skeena.
‘It is a simple novel, yet the control of vision with which it targets the literary nuance speaks to the condition of clarity. It is an issue-oriented book. The form is simple, the content is not. Here, we question the old question: does form follow function? Yes (for Skeena). The ‘function’ (of Skeena) is to stimulate our minds, and to bring us out of the comfort we attach with speaking about women’s issues in an Islamic state, and in the western state(s), and the book makes us do that by remaining simple and transparent ‘in form’.’ (From ‘Skeena Brings fever to the Mind’ by Rajkumri Fehmida)
As for the writer, Fauzia Rafique, I want to congratulate her for conceiving this novel that beautifully unites the world, and then separates it with dignity. I present to you, the novel ‘Skeena’.
Parveen Malik: Review of Skeena presented by Dr. Saif Khalid.
Surjeet Kalsey: ‘Skeena: SarhaddaN toN paar de aurat, a woman beyond borders’
Sadhu Binning: ‘Skeena’
Ajmer Rode: ‘Fauzia Rafiq da novel Skeena’
Fauzia Rafique: Reading from Skeena
Launch organized by Libros Libertad, uddari books and Sanjh Publications
Valerie B. -Taylor
Author Fauzia Rafique’s highly acclaimed novel ‘Skeena’ is a compelling story of a young Muslim Canadian woman’s transitional evolution which spans 30 years from the land of her birthplace to the land of her rebirth.
Skeena’s journey is set in a framework of a life of oppression caused by cultural, religious, racist, patriarchal, familial, political, and societal conditions. Although told in a narrative based on Skeena’s Muslim identity and birthright the story transcends all cultural boundaries of violence against women. The story is layered in memorable characters and details so rich you will want to savor every word. The novel documents yet another personal account of a powerful voice that breaks the code of silence in the world of violence against woman and oppression of all peoples.
A page turner from beginning to end. A potential best seller.
Essential reading for high school and university students.
Aurhor/Presenter Valerie B. -Taylor is the President of New West Writers group. More information here: http://newwestwriters.wordpress.com/.