children of air india – thoughts
Title: children of air india
Author: Renée Sarojini Saklikar
Publisher: Nightwood Editions, 2013
Price: $13.68 (CDN)
This is not a book review because I am faced, for the first time, with something that cannot be reviewed in the usual way.
Typically, I would read a book and then write a review to discuss what I liked or disliked about it: was the story was good and engaging, the characters relatable, the world immersive and detailed… Even with poetry, I can usually say if I liked a given poem or not, or whether or not it spoke to me in some way. children of air india did more than merely speak to me, it drove the raw edges of grief, anger, sorrow and unspeakable loss right through the heart of me.
Air India Flight 182 was destroyed by a bomb at 31,000 feet off the southern coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. It was the deadliest terrorist attack Canada has ever known – 329 people, a large number of them children under 13, were killed. 268 of the dead were fellow Canadians.
At the time of the bombing, I was 9 years old and utterly ignorant of the event that had just taken place. I was probably wandering around my neighbourhood feeling pleased to have the whole of the summer laid before me with no end in sight. Air India Flight 182 wasn’t on my mind that day, or in the days that followed as I did not follow the news – and my parents probably did little more than watch the reports on TV.
I learned of the bombing later, as a teenager, and even then – I failed to understand the significance; I failed to connect those lives with my own.
Renée Saklikar’s book of poems, along with other reading, has been the beginning of connection, knowledge and some understanding.
For me, the poems seem like fragments from which small pieces of picture emerge: the morning’s activities before the flight, the thoughts of both passengers and their families as they got ready to leave for the airport and all the small moments that string together to make a life: the goodbyes, the squabbles, the worry of being late. Among these moments are the clinical words that describe death: the vocabulary of coroners and lawyers and investigators; the language and words that piece together what happened, even as they cut apart the soft unprotected parts of those left behind to hear them.
Toward the end of the book, the poems explore the feelings of being left behind: the reporters, the questions and the futures that will go unlived.
This is where attempting to review this works falls apart for me. I cannot say, “good” or “bad” – I only know that I have been sitting at my desk for a long time with an uncomfortable lump in my throat that I can barely swallow around, eyes tearing up, and the feeling I have is one of having too many feelings to describe any of them properly.
What I can say, with absolute certainty, is that if you don’t know very much about Air India Flight 182, go read about it. Listen to the words of those left behind. Visit one of the memorials – if you’re in Vancouver, visit the memorial in Stanley Park – and read the names carved there in stone; they deserve to be remembered, to have someone speak their names aloud and not forget them. Read Ms. Saklikar’s book and let her words paint pictures for you of the lives taken so violently and needlessly.
When you are done, sit with the feelings awhile, and find the small moments in your own life that you can take grateful joy in.