StephenGill, Dr. PO. Box 32, Cornwall, Ont. K6H 5R9 Canada (Tel. 613-932-7735)
THE YEAR TO BREAK SILENCE
Normally, I forget numbers, especially years and dates. In spite of this
weakness and a lapse of substantial time, the year 1999 is secure in the locker
of my memory. One reason for its security is Shrine that was released by World University Press in
1999. Even in 2008, after nine years, Shrine resurrects traumatic feelings,
touching the spots of deep pain from the
days of the partition of India. This collection of my poems of social concerns is the
turning point in my pilgrimage as a poet, because it received encouraging
reviews and is still receiving encouraging. The year 1999 is unforgettable
to me for this
reason and also because the poems of this collection have appeared in more than
one hundred publications and several have been translated in other languages,.
The year 1999 is unforgettable also because of my
visit to India after a long absence, and my return to Canada with weird experiences. For nine years I carried these experiences in
the womb of my soul, debating whether to share or not to share, and when and how to share. Whenever I write about
India, 1999 is there in the museum of my mixed feelings. When I plan to visit India, its ghost emerges. It is now my shadow.
In 1999 the
BJP (the Bhartiya Janata
Party) was in power in India. The BJP is
the political wing of the RSS (Rashtriya Sewek Sangh). The RSS is the
ideological parent of the BJP, the Bajrang Dal and a host of other organizations. It runs along the
lines of the Nazi Party of Germany and is based on almost the same gospel.
I was invited
by the Indian Association For Canadian Studies to
present a paper on “Canadian Blueprint for Peace” at Himachal Prades University in Shimla. I was also invited by the Sahir Academy to receive an
honour. Other invitations included a talk at the
Meerut University; Khalsa College in New Delhi;
an interview on Jalandhar Radio Station;
and tea with a prominent writer,
Dr. Shiela Gujral, wife of
a former prime minister of India.
something wrong with the Indian Embassy in Ottawa when it kept
silence for issuing a visa to me. To break this odd silence, I kept reminding
the embassy through the office of my local Canadian parliamentarian. Before
issuing the visa, a gentleman from the embassy phoned to tell me that I should
visit only those places where I was invited and should not give talks in
churches. I found both these warnings unusual. They were unusual because I have
never been active with religious groups and normally I am not invited by them.
They were unusual also because my movements were restricted in the country of
my birth without any reason. These warnings sounded as if I was not allowed to
attend even a Sunday Service in any church.
and the ideology of the BJP were sufficient to alert me. I applied also for a visa to visit Pakistan. The Pakistan
Embassy issued me a visa promptly, though I did not mention any special reason for my visit and in spite of the fact that I have written a
number of articles against the discriminatory policies and laws of that
land. I planned to go to Pakistan badly because
I wanted to collect material for a book. Yet, I did not go because of my weird
experiences in India.
at the Jalandhar Radio Station was really weird. The
interview was arranged and conducted by Mr. Joseph Freddy, chief editor of Masihi Sansar, a
publication from Jalandhar.The title of the Panjabi
poem that I was going to present can be translated as “If We Were Free.” I was
asked more than once by the person who was recording the interview to make the
title of the poem clear. I told him that the poem is an explanation by itself.
There has to be something left for the reader to imagine and think. He objected
to the poem though the title suggested freedom from futile traditions and
superstitions. The interview was interrupted several times by the same person
to let me know that I could not say what I was saying, though I said nothing
against or in favor of the BJP, ruling party, extremists or any creed. After three or four interruptions, that
person took the matter to the head of the Radio Station. He first offered
us tea and then told me that they would prepare a list of questions for me to
answer in writing. On their approval, I will be asked to read out those
answers. I told them that would be a mockery of the interview.
presented my poems at the same radio station in my previous visits and was interviewed
without problems. For the first time, I realized the value of a poet. Nobody
cares for poets in Canada. A poet is
free to say whatever he or she likes. But in India, a radio
station was afraid of a poem that neither attacked anyone nor used obscene
words. I felt as if I were
surrounded by police or military and my activities were watched closely. There
were moments when I had felt like walking out of the interview. On my assurance
that I would answer those questions differently, we were back to the interview.
Somehow the session was completed. To the best of my knowledge, the interview
was never aired. Later, the same poem in Urdu/Hindi version, was sung to music by Mr. Shad, a prominent singer from Pakistan.
incident took place at Khalsa College in New Delhi where I
presented my views on a democratically elected world government. The audience
that consisted mostly of the college teachers was receptive. I was honoured with a garland and a bouquet. It was decided that
questions would be
asked after the tea break. Soon after the break, a person came and started
putting my books, that I had displayed on a table,
into my briefcase, saying that the second session would not be held and the car
that brought me was ready to take me back. The principal of the college was
extremely polite to say thanks, asking me to come again. I was almost forced to
run from Khalsa College. It was
abnormal. My books were not even packed properly in my brief case. When I came
out, the same car was ready to pick me up, and in no time I was out of the campus. Why this hurry? Why was the second session
postponed? Who was at the back of all this? Such questions still linger in my
experiences I would like to add my invitation by the Indian Association of
Canadian Studies. This organization was going to have an international
conference at Himachal Prades University in Shimla. Shimla, at an altitude of
6988 ft (2130 meters), was the summer
capital of the British Raj in India. I arrived at the railway station of Kalka
where, as per instructions from the conference committee, I was to board a
train for Shimla.
This railway line was the main, comfortable and cheap link to Shimla. It was a hot morning. At Kalka Railway Station I was flatly refused
a ticket on the pretext that the seats had been booked. I went to the train,
not far from there. I could see several empty seats. I knew there was a quota fixed for visitors
from abroad. Moreover, there was no point in going to the conference on the
last day. There was a
question of my stay at an unknown place that did not appear to be
friendly. I wanted badly to share my
concerns with the main person at the booking office. No one seemed to be in a
mood to talk to me. I was getting tired and nervous due to my travels from Canada and the dry
scorching heat. After a few trials, I
began to shout in rage. My shouts drew a small crowd. A man indicated to the
clerk through signs to issue me a ticket.
coach, I met delegates from other cities of India. I felt
humiliated because of the treatment I had received at the ticket counter and relief at the
same time when I found a seat. Shortly
the train began to move and at times halted, before ascending the hills.
It was a small railway track for a toy train that consisted of five or
six coaches. From Kalka, the train moved
at an average speed of thirty kilometers per hour, passing through bridges,
lush green valleys and breathtaking tunnels. At times, it became fearsome when
the train moved between the ravines but not that fearsome when it moved between
the high walls of rocks on both sides.
the conference received us cheerfully at the Shimla
Railway Station. They took me in their wagon to a hotel. After a couple of
days, I presented my paper that was chaired by Dr. Waterfalls, assistant
Canadian High Commissioner in New Delhi. He
congratulated me for handling the session successfully. However, a female, who did not appear to
be a regular delegate, asked me weird questions that had nothing to do with my
subject. I had never seen her before or after in any
session or during the breaks.
Back at the
hotel, the management asked me to fill-up a form for the government. I was the only one from abroad in that hotel, who was attending
the conference. The management told me that they had never asked their guests
before to complete such forms.
At Meerut University, another
gathering where I was to speak, government officials came to interrogate the management of
the conference when I was at the podium. The management had to step out. The president of the organization told me
that he could not be present in the hall to listen to me. He told me further
that they were not prepared to answer their questions because government officials
usually do not enter the campus without permission and he had never been asked those types of
other incidents that I am not mentioning here to be precise, confirm that there
was Intelligence behind me. A question arises, why Intelligence after a Gandhian in the country that claims to be Gandhian? A possible answer is the tragedy that happened to
an Australian medical doctor Graham Stains, who worked for thirty years to
eradicate leprosy from Orissa. One night, Dr. Stains and his two sons, aged 9
and 7, slept in a wagon. A mob of about one hundred people stoned the vehicle
before setting it on fire. The mob formed a ring around the vehicle to prevent
helpers from coming out of their houses. When the children tried to come out of
the burning wagon, they were pushed back. The bodies of Dr. Stains and his two
children were reduced to ashes.
It happened on
the 23rd of January of 1999 in Orissa, India, and these
small children were on a short visit from Australia to see their
parents. The only crime of Dr. Graham
Stains was that he worked zealously to eradicate leprosy from that region. What
had those innocent visitors of 7 and 9 years done for which they had to be
burnt alive in such a merciless way? That scene of pushing children back in the
burning vehicle when they themselves were burning and crying shall remain alive
in the museum of any cultured human. My heart cries when I think that how such
brutes breathe in any civilized nation to commit atrocities in the name of any
Dara Singh who
burnt Dr. Graham Stains and his two sons alive was arrested after a year or so,
and condemned to death by a court. The widow of Dr. Stains and his daughter,
the only surviving child, forgave him.
According to intelligence reports, he was alleged to have connections
with the Bajrang Dal and
supported the BJP (Bhartiya Janata
Party) that ruled India in 1999. Mr. Dalip Singh, president of the BJP during those days,
announced that they would
make Dara Singh a national hero, because
he was a fighter for the freedom of the lepers of the lower cast.
of the land of Gandhi and Gautama
was awakened when this horrified account appeared in the media. In Canada, I was
invited for an interview onTV. The solution that I still suggest for India and for other
nations was tolerance and coexistence. I emphasized that it was a lack of
tolerance that led to the division of India, and the
division has worsened the situation. It was again a lack of tolerance that led
to the division of Pakistan and formation
of Bangladesh that has also
worsened the situation. India always needed
tolerance that was preached by the Buddha and again by Mahatma Gandhi. India should follow
these prophets of peace; otherwise, there will be further fragmentation of the
It so happened
that the high commissioner of India, alleged to
be a BJP man, was also interviewed separately. He stressed that India is a tolerant
society. The media edited my interview, putting my comments after the comments
of the high commissioner when he said that India is a tolerant
society. It gave the impression that a dialogue was going on between me and
the high commissioner. This clipping from the Canadian TV must have been passed
on to the Intelligence, which
may have led them to be cautious of my presence in India.
be the reasons for putting Intelligence after me, the fact is that the
salvation of India or any nation
is not in burning children in the name of any creed. There have been incidents
of bombing Hindu
temples, killing more children, as well as women and other innocent lives in India. Maniac
messiahs have their agenda for destruction and regression. They do not know that God is peace and peace
comes through peaceful means.
present plight when the world is in the jaw of self-extinction, educational
institutions provide the rainbow of hope. India is also the
land of the University of Nalanda, where
thousands of years ago, scholars frequented from far and wide. India has thirst
for knowledge and adaptability that have formed the granite for its strength.
The nations that own this strength survive and progress in diversity. India needs this
strength today more than it needed it before. It is in the tradition of Nalanda University that Indian teachers
are thirsty for knowledge. The government of India should invest
more in educational institutions, particularly universities, to make them
genuine centers of research. I visualize the spirit of Nalanda University resurrected
in creative arts.
compelling evidences that Nalanda University enjoyed the
support of royal
families. With the destruction of Nalanda Library by
invaders, there began a destruction in Indian thought, including astronomy,
mathematics and coexistence. There are compelling evidences that artists also
enjoyed royal patronage in ancient India. Monarchies
have been replaced by democracies. It is
important for Indian governments at all levels to take care of artists and
teachers. University teachers should be given incentives, including
departmental promotions, as it is given in the USA where most of
the research in literary fields is taking place and where publish or perish is
a familiar precept within academic circles. Institutions of higher learning and
libraries should create positions of poets and writer-in-residence. Benefits from such measures would be far more
than those institutions would expect.
India, where I
passed my early days, is a land of astonishing contrasts. Imagine any creed and
taste and its contrast is there in every form.
It is a land of more than one hundred languages, including their
varieties. It is a land of
cultured and humble persons, and at the same time it is a land
that is beset with the extreme of violence. It is a land of castles and
mansions of unimaginable sophistication and also a land of most deadly engines
of destruction. It is a land
where tribal life still exists in certain areas where bows and
arrows are used. India is a land
where a majority of the population cannot read and write. It is also a land
that has produced Nobel Laureates. It has produced wise people, including Buddha and
Mahatma Gandhi. It is a land where Apostle Thomas came soon after the
crucifixion of Christ. It is speculated that Christ had lived in India and read the
local scriptures before starting his ministry.
coexistence that embodies tolerance provides the required strength to manage a
nation of diversity. This is an Eastern thought that has been successfully
adopted by the West. Its implementation forms the granite that gives strength
to open the steel doors to peace and peace is the way to prosperity. The modern
trend for globalization needs this strength. I mused in the boat of this
strength when I wrote the poems of Shrine.
I am musing more securely and with more confidence in the same boat when I
revise Shrine after nine years.
Revision is my forte. However, except
for minor touches, most of the body of Shrine
did not need any revision.
There is no
doubt that my interview in Canada regarding the
burning of Dr. Stains and his two sons had impacted my visit to India and also my
relations with the Indian Embassy in Canada. Before this
interview, I used to receive regular communication from the Indian Embassy in Canada about
important events, including information about the visits of dignitaries from India. This all
stopped. What hurt me the most was the
poetry readings. The Embassy invited questionable poets from other
cities to read poems. On the other hand, I, who lived within a short distance,
was ignored. It happened
again and again. One day, the high commissioner was transferred.
Yet, the situation did not improve.
replaced by a female, another alleged to be a BJP affiliate. I sent emails to the new high commissioner to
bring my grievances to her notice. Those emails were never responded to--unusual in Canada. I thought of
another way to
let her know about me. I sent a couple of my books to the high commissioner
through a journalist, a friend of mine, who was going to see the high
commissioner at the embassy. She did not
even send a thank you note—again unusual in Canada. I phoned her and others without any
results. I met her at two gatherings
where I was introduced to her by organizers.
I told the high commissioner that the organizers of poetry readings had been ignoring me,
even though I lived not far from her embassy.
Her answer was that I should invite her for talks to my city. Her answers were the same at both the occasions
This slim high
commissioner was a social butterfly. She liked to give talks and be
interviewed. She looked more like a film star than a high
commissioner. It was rumored that she
had divorced her husband and was in a hurry to go back to India to marry a
second time. Even after she left,
the embassy was not without
the ghosts of the previous two high commissioners.
However, my visit to India was fruitful
in some ways. I was happy to be in the land where the bones of my
parents and the bones of my parents’ parents were buried, and where for the first time I opened
my eyes. I always forgot the Intelligence part when I met poets and writers of
different generes. They have enriched my life. Normally, I make
it a point wherever I go
to meet other creative artists. Writers of every language and
culture have the same aspirations and frustrations. I have found out that all
writers belong to the same tribe. It is more true when
I meet one from the land of my birth.
conference in Shimla, I met Dr. Dominic Savio from Madurai Kamraj University who had
research papers to his credit. He later evaluated my poetry for a book. I also met Professor Dr. Parameswari,
head of the English
Department & Comparative Literature at Madurai Kamraj University. She later
wrote a research paper on my novel Immigrant
that she presented at a conference at Cambridge University in England. This
research paper was
published widely. I met her later in Ottawa when she came
for a research project. Whenever I needed information for my research, both were there to
person, editor of Kafla International and president of Writers
Club, Dev Bhardwaj from Chandigarh, proved a
friend of lasting value. I stayed with him for a week. He and his wife were
genuinely hospitable. Whenever I wanted
to know anything about India through
emails or over the telephone for my writings, he was there to discuss them with
me. He arranged a couple of literary
gatherings for me and introduced me to other literary figures of Chandigarh.
During my stay
in India, it became obvious to me that Dalit Literature was coming fast to limelight. Te word dalit referred to Scheduled Casts, who
suffered for centuries under the yoke of cast-ridden society of India. It was coming to limelight because of the
awareness due to
democracy and education. During my discussion, it became clear that Dalit Literature, including poetry and novels, drew
inspiration from the black literature of the United
Literature provided and is still providing insight on the enigma of Dalit identity.
I met a
prolific dalit writer Jai Prakash
Kardam, a Hindi novelist and poet. He has participated in a number of seminars, conferences and
workshops on literature in various colleges and universities, presenting
papers, poems and short stories.
More than fifteen research works for M.Phils
and Ph.Ds. have been completed on him and some are
going on at different universities in India and
abroad. When I came back to Canada, I
translated some of his Hindi poems into English.
prolific and prominent poet and novelist is Nerrinderpal Singh and his wife Probjot
Kaur from Delhi. Both are
prominent poets of the Panjabi language.
Nerinderpal translated my novel Immigrant into Panjabi and also
published it with the cooperation of The Canada Council. In Panjabi, the novel is called
Perwasi. They often included my poems in their
respectable monthly By Word. Nerinderpal Singh is
no longer in
I have mentioned the name of
Joseph Freddy, editor of Masihi Sansar from Jalandhar. He was the one who interviewed me at Jalandhar Radio Station. He had a wide historical and
political knowledge of India. I did not agree with everything that he held
and wrote, yet we never clashed. We agreed to disagree and that formed the base
of our friendship.
A writer of
value that I met at Shimla is Dr. Kanwar
Dinesh Singh. I did not inform him of my visit, presuming he would be at the
conference. He was away at his college for
teaching. His mother and sister were extremely polite and hospitable. When I
met him after two days, I felt my stay in Shimla and
attendance at the conference became more productive. I interviewed him for an article that I lost
and still feel sorry for that loss.
would remain incomplete without mentioning the name of Dr. Shiela
Gujral, an award-winning writer of Hindi, Panjabi and
English. I knew her from her writings. She had invited me for tea at her place.
I found her down to earth. There was no pride that came with her position and
fame. I met her children and her husband, The Honourable
Inder Gujral, a former
Prime Minister of India. I went to see her with Romeo James, a prominent name
among athletes and the sports lovers.
One of the
persons who made my stay in India enjoyable was
Romeo James, his wife Ratna ( a
daughter of my brother), and their three children, Rebecca, Romario and Rachael. His car was always there to take
me from Noida to Delhi whenever I
was invited by writers. Romeo was a coach of the national Indian hockey team,
and later he
was appointed as a selector. Before this, he was a goalkeeper. Romeo has, and still is,
carving his name in the niche of golf also. He usually represents Bharat Petroleum. His son, Romario, is also becoming famous in the field of sports. He
has already won national trophies.
Ansted Poet Laureate Stephen Gill has authored more than
twenty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems. His poetry and prose have appeared in more than five hundred publications. He has received recognitions, including honorary
doctorates, and appears in prestigious
national and international reference books. He was born in Sialkot, Pakistan, where he passed his early childhood and grew in India. He believes in a
democratically elected world government and peace through peaceful means. (Websites: www.stephengill.ca;