Author Tags: Fiction
In April of 2011, Gurjinder Basran was awarded the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her first novel, Everything Was Goodbye. Mother Tongue Publishing subsequently sold Canadian rights to Penguin Canada and Everything Was Good-bye was re-launched in the spring of 2012 as a Penguin paperback and e-book.
Gurjinder Basran of Delta, B.C. studied creative writing at Simon Fraser University and The Banff Center for the Arts. Her work was shortlisted for Amazon.com’s 2008 search for the Next Breakthrough Novel and earned her a place in the Vancouver Sun’s annual speculative arts and culture article, “Ones To Watch.” A 2006 graduate of Simon Fraser University's Writer's Studio, Gurjinder has read her work at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and has been both a panelist and facilitator on writing at the 2007 Writer's Studio alumni symposium. In December of 2009, Mother Tongue Publishing of Salt Spring Island announced Basran was the winner of their Search for the Great BC Novel Contest for her manuscript Everything Was Goodbye, to be published by Mother Tongue Publishing in the fall of 2010.
The final judge of the contest, Jack Hodgins, wrote, "Gurjinder Basran’s ambitious novel Everything was Good-bye is the fascinating story of a strong-willed young Indo-Canadian woman raised in the Lower Mainland, and traces her life from adolescence to middle-age -- a life of rebellion against the expectations of a tradition-bound widowed mother and the demands of her community. Meena’s story brings us intimately into her world, and allows us to identify with the difficulties of trying to live in the culture of a new world while dealing with expectations and demands originating in another. Although she is to a certain extent representative, Meena is also a unique rebel, imaginative and passionate, torn between a weakening attachment to her family and her desire to be part of the larger Canadian culture she has been raised within. There is heartbreak here, and violence, but there is romance and bravery as well, and some triumph. Above all, there is the reward of getting to know this bravely determined young woman."
Two short list judges, Vancouver novelist, Karen X Tulchinsky, and Salt Spring novelist Kathy Page, read sixty-four submissions and short-listed manuscripts by Gurjinder Basran, Gillean Chase, DC Reid, Kuya Minogue and Gillian Wigmore.
from BC BookWorld 2010
Novice novelist Gurjinder Basran never intended to write Everything Was Good-bye (Mother Tongue $21.95), winner of the inaugural Search for the Great BC Novel Contest organized by publisher Mona Fertig.
“I was journaling about my own youth,” Basran says, “and after some time my experiences disappeared into fiction and ultimately turned into the novel. Now I can say, yes, I did know I had to write it, because I was unable to abandon it.”
Six years in the making, Everything Was Good-bye is the story of a young Indo Canadian woman, Meena, who struggles to assert her independence within the Punjabi community of the Lower Mainland.
Raised by her tradition-bound widowed mother, Meena is reluctant to submit to a life that is defined by a suitable marriage. She knows she will not be as carefree as her non-Punjabi peers, but she does not want to be as restricted as her sisters.
“The novel touches on a lot of controversial subjects,” she says, “but the controversies come out of the narrative, not the other way around. I think it’s a subtle but important distinction.
“It was never my intent to make statements about the Punjabi community or to have this narrative be representative of the community.”
Novelists Karen X Tulchinsky and Kathy Page short-listed manuscripts by Basran, Gillean Chase, DC Reid, Kuya Minogue and Gillian Wigmore from 64 entries. The final selection was made by novelist Jack Hodgins.
Gurjinder Basran credits the SFU Writer’s Studio, from which she graduated in 2006, as a formative influence. “I don’t think I could have written this novel or sustained my writing,” she says, “had I not been part of such an amazing community of writers who were so gracious with their time and feedback.”
She lives in Delta with her husband and two sons.
Darpan Magazine profile & review
by Jyoti Sahota
Women have been unofficial story tellers for generations. But when it came to documenting literature, men historically dominated the role of authors. Women writers’ creativity has unleashed many a novel. Their writings go beyond ‘hearth and home’. They express themselves freely and boldly on a variety of themes – without adopting feminist postures. How much power can writing hold? Can storytelling and the windows of our imagination be transformed into a full-time career? I am convinced that these artistic forms of expression are possible, especially now that I have met Gurjinder Basran. Gurjinder is a remarkable South Asian woman, who has answered all sorts of questions within her first published novel.
Besides being an articulate, intelligent writer; Gurjinder is a gorgeous, down-to-earth, caring woman, and a loving wife, mother, and daughter. In addition to writing, she spends her days working, taking care of her two young boys, and spending time with her highly supportive husband, mother, family, and friends. Gurjinder Basran, a local BC writer, has written a highly prestigious novel called ‘Everything Was Good-bye’. She has broken barriers for Punjabi Sikh female writers, and has proven that writing is an esteemed profession. Her novel has already won many awards, such as the 2008 Amazon break through novel award, an article within the Vancouver Sun – ‘Arts and Culture’ section, and the Great BC Novel Contest.
I sat with Gurjinder Basran and delved into her life, her struggles, her novel, and why she is a great role model for young female South Asian women. Admittedly, over the years, I have found that many famous female Indian writers within western nations tend to be of South Indian descent, such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Rau Badami, or Monica Ali. Out rightly all exceptional writers, my excitement could not be contained when I heard about the possibility of a local female North Indian writer. Truly it symbolized a page (pardon the pun) in history for Sikh women. Gurjinder acknowledges that what she has accomplished is rare for a person of her position, since there are various cultural barriers that prevent Sikh girls from attaining writing as an accomplished occupation. Gurjinder wanted her full Punjabi Sikh name on the front cover of the book, emblematic of her accomplishing a goal that many dream about, but never dare to accomplish. What has resulted – is Gurjinder creating a stepping stone for many future South Asian, Sikh women to venture into the field of writing.
It is important to understand who Gurjinder is, and what helped transform her into a successful writer. Gurjinder shares many parallels with her fictional protagonist Meena from ‘Everything Was Good-bye’. These parallels include their passion for writing, and their core upbringings. This parallel power is used dynamically by Gurjinder as a sort of in-between status that coordinates opposing interests to work as a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
Her work revolves around a central character Meena, who is caught in the awkward act of juggling multiple cultures. Like Meena, Gurjinder is the youngest daughter of six, and was solely raised by her loving traditional Sikh mother. Gurjinder was born in England during the early 1970’s and her father passed away shortly after her birth. She spent her adolescent and teenage years in Delta, B.C. Her upbringing was essentially being raised by a doting mother from one part of the world, who was learning to live in another part of the world. Like many South Asians, Meena had two influences all the time. She spoke two languages on a daily basis, ate two kinds of food, and knew two parts of the world, in a way. Gurjinder noted writing was not a significant part of her life growing up; however she loved creating personal narratives, and had a passion for story telling. Her draw to writing can be portrayed as an opportunity to create or live in her own version of the world. Seemingly, like many South Asian youth, she felt inadequate in both her Canadian side and Indian side. Like many of us, she fell short somehow because she was not fully one particular side. Books and personal narratives, felt like an expressive outlet that enabled Gurjinder to not answer to anyone’s expectations other than her own. As for books, specifically, Gurjinder stated that she read typical trashy teenage novels, such as the VC Andrews series. However her favourite novel is Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
Her mention of only a few South Asian families living within the Lower Mainland during the 1970’s and the importance of assimilating with other Canadians further adds to finding a lost identity. She highlights that in order to maintain a normal life and to enter the labour force; assimilation equalled cutting your hair, speaking English, and practicing Canadian mainstream norms. Like many other traditional Sikh parents, Gurjinder’s mother wanted her to pursue higher education, which would lead Gurjinder into a well paying occupation. So after completing high school, Gurjinder applied to Kwantlen Polytechnic University and pursued a degree in Fashion Design.
As Gurjinder was trying to complete her degree, she fell madly in love with a South Asian man and soon was married. This newlywed couple was confronted with many new obligations, such as finding a place to live, which resulted in Gurjinder’s choice to stop pursuing her education and finding permanent financial means to support their newly acquired married life.
It wasn’t until 2003 that Gurjinder decided she wanted to pursue her writing ambitions. In 2006, Gurjinder applied to the two-year Creative Writing program at Simon Fraser University. Gurjinder stated that this program involved a combination of workshops and classes. In 2009, Gurjinder attended the Banff Center for Arts to further pursue her writing dream, which included a two week residency program. Gurjinder spent much of her time working during the day and taking classes during the evening. With the diligent help from her loving family she managed to juggle it all. Her perseverance finally culminated in October 2010, when Mother Tongue Publishing agreed to launch her first exceptional novel, ‘Everything Was Good-bye’.
‘Everything Was Good-bye’ is a fictional portrayal of Meena, a young South Asian Canadian woman, and her struggles living within a traditional Indian household while growing up in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. This novel is written in first person narrative; therefore we can understand and empathize with Meena’s struggles living between the two value systems, which are the liberal Canadian and Indian conservatism. These two alternating values are put into play when Meena is confronted with pleasing her extended Indian family and trying to find her own true form of happiness.
Gurjinder isn’t afraid to provoke tears, or calls of déjà vu. In a sense her book is emotionally based storytelling that unfolds in a many-layered way, but without tricks. Readers can read their family stories into her family stories. Through this skilfully written character, Meena, Gurjinder frankly displays taboos found within the Lower Mainland’s Punjabi Sikh community. She touches on traditional beliefs that conflict with liberal Canadian beliefs. The core examples of these contradicting beliefs are: love marriages versus arranged, marrying outside of ones race, aspirations for wealth, and achieving high academic stature.
The Art of Storytelling: Gurjinder Basran
The character Meena shows the internal struggles she undergoes once she falls happily in love with a white man and how she can learn to find acceptance from her family and other South Asian community members. Meena also tries to find acceptance for the many other life altering decisions she makes, such as pursuing an English degree. During our interview Gurjinder broke down four key dynamic characters within the novel: Meena, Liam, Kal, and Sunny. Gurjinder further discussed their purpose and what significance they play within the novel. Everyone in Gurjinder’s fiction is pulled in at least six directions at once. Parents pull characters backward in time; children pull them forward. Canada pulls them west; India pulls them east. The need to marry pulls them outward; the need for solitude pulls them inward. Gurjinder’s stories are static, but what looks like stasis is really the stillness of enormous forces pushing in opposite directions, barely keeping one another in check.
Gurjinder describes Meena as being a typical rebellious teenage girl that every young South Asian girl can relate to. While she loves the comfort of attachment and understands her obligations to her family, and her Indian community, she is struggles internally. She is confined by rules present within the Punjabi Sikh community, where all her actions are governed by tradition and Indian normative ideals. Meena also shows what it means to be a woman within the Punjabi community and the challenges that many Punjabi women endure.
Liam is Meena’s opposite and is frightened of attachment and loves to be on the move. Liam is also stuck within his own world full of freedom, similar to that of Meena who is immersed within a shackled world. Both characters are the same because they are equally trapped, even though they have had distinctly different upbringings and perspectives toward life. Originally it is Liam who is impressed by Meena’s writing talent, and attempts to push her to follow her dreams. The polar opposite personalities of both Liam and Meena are what spark the attraction they feel toward one another. Meena falls in love with Liam’s freedom and his ability to live a life without scrutiny. This attraction blossoms into a postmodern epic love tale that many young Canadians can relate to.
Nevertheless Kal is described as everyone’s best friend; he is shown to be a brother to Meena’s family of sisters. Even though his complex relationship with Meena is borders between friendship and unconditional love; Kal can be metaphorically known as Meena’s guardian angel or moral conscience by helping her whenever she is in need.
Sunny on the other hand is quite distinct from the first three characters; he is the spoiled only son that obeys his parent’s wishes irregardless of his personal life ambitions. Sunny is all about material objects and status. He lives for money and works hard as a lawyer and real estate investor in order to achieve financial success. His BMW and his real estate investments are his most prized possessions. Gurjinder stated her goal was to show readers the humanity found within Sunny’s character and wanted to display the personal struggles Sunny had within his own life. An example of this humanity is where Sunny loses the love of his life, due to the cultural restraints found within the caste system.
Once I read the novel I felt as if, I have met a Meena, Kal, Sunny, and Liam within my life. I believe we all have a Meena within us and discover the fascinating lives of these dynamic characters. Meena is a character many South Asian women can relate to – her aspirations, and dreams are in many ways universal to us all. I was also able to see firsthand, during our meeting, how Gurjinder’s own experiences feed significant moments. At the same time, Gurjinder steps back from the action, gets out of the way, so the people and things in her stories can exist the way real things do: richly, ambiguously, without explanation
Gurjinder also discussed the importance both her mother and husband have played within her life. Gurjinder compared her husband to Liam, and Kal, where she spoke about how caring and supportive he was toward her writing ambitions. However, in the same token, it was difficult for Gurjinder’s husband to understand what he needed to do in order to support his wife, and to personally conceptualize or articulate to others that his wife is a writer.
Gurjinder’s mother loves her daughter no matter what she accomplishes in life. When Gurjinder spoke of her mother, she admiringly said “Her strength and resilience is the core of my own character. Being a single parent of six daughters is a difficult task for any average Canadian to physically take on; however this remarkable woman, my mother can be proud, she raised an award winning author. While she has shown that no matter what – we love and respect our family, and our children regardless of the decisions they make in life.”
After reading this novel, it seems only appropriate for it to be showcased on the big screen, so I asked Gurjinder about her book being adapted to film. Gurjinder stated she has met film makers who wish to create a film adaptation of the book. However, she is also weary in allowing this transformation to take place, simply due to the fact that film makers may lose the core artistic integrity of the novel. She did state that if she was given a chance to help work on the film in order to preserve her artistic vision, she would allow this conversion to take place.
Furthermore during the interview session Gurjinder spoke of the importance of respect and acceptance, how we live in a diverse multi-cultural society, and our forgetfulness about the importance of respect because we are hopelessly lost in studying the differences between on another. This discrimination further leads to animosity, hate, and segregation. Much of this can be resolved through respecting, being liberal towards one another, and loving one another despite the differences we may have with our peers regarding decision making. Such examples of these decisions include, picking our distinct career paths and choosing our life long partners. It is the acceptance of our diversities and liberal mind sets that keep us united.
More specifically Gurjinder presents two examples of respect, and acceptance within her novel. The first example is where Meena accepts her sister Serena’s decision to stay with her abusive husband despite the negative feelings she has toward Serena’s choice. Meena also accepts the decision that her sister Tej makes in undergoing an arranged marriage, even though she can not grasp the idea of marrying someone that you do not love. Another example of acceptance and respect is where Meena’s family respects Meena’s decision to choose Liam as her partner, despite the uneasy feelings they may have toward interracial relationships. Taboos surrounding interracial relationships are an ongoing theme found within ‘Everything Was Good-bye’, and are a common social issue found within the Punjabi Sikh community. Gurjinder stated that she has not been involved in an interracial relationship; however, she has observed other members of her family and friends who have been. She has observed both the good and bad outcomes of such marriages – where it takes time for traditional Indian family members to accept choices to marry outside of one’s race. Gurjinder believes there is still a strong preference to marry within one’s own ethnicity or caste; despite living amidst the Canadian liberal value system.
I was curious to find out Gurjinder’s stance on if the traditional Sikh/Punjabi value system would soon vanish and if there would be a propensity for future members of the community to openly accept interracial marriages. Gurjinder noted in her opinion that it would be difficult for such a value system to vanish from the community because it is normal for individuals to want to preserve their culture and by marrying within one’s own race, culture, or caste; people are preserving their cultural roots through the easiest possible means. She followed up with a point that included that it is also important to be open to other cultures and other ways of thinking since we live within a diverse society. Therefore, biracial couples can just as equally preserve or establish both Indian or non-Indian cultural identities within their children’s mindsets.
Gurjinder speaks of how much of the South Asian community is silenced or censored by topics that are plaguing it, such as South Asian gang violence, domestic violence, spousal abuse, substance abuse, and negative attitudes towards interracial marriages. Gurjinder feels it is important to confront these problems openly so that future preventative measures or solutions can be created. It is uncanning how Gurjinder is able to intertwine many of these problems into her novel and really display the social awareness we all need to pay attention to. Her words enable us to step back and understand our social ills and the good, we can collectively enable within the community.
Lastly, Meena and Liam show that love comes in all shapes, and colours. What matters are the true feelings we have in our hearts. To further focus on acceptance and respect has created “LIAM & MEENA, WERE HERE” pins and are available on her official website www.gurjinderbasran.com. By presenting this key theme of acceptance and respect within her novel, Gurjinder further shows readers what an outstanding role model she immortalizes. ‘Everything Was Good-bye’ is available at local bookstores across Canada.
New Penguin version
Press Release (2013)
As of January 1st, 2012, Gurjinder Basran's novel EVERYTHING WAS GOOD-BYE was released in the US as a PINTAIL Book by Penguin Canada! It won the First Search for the Great BC Novel Contest sponsored by Mona Fertig’s Mother Tongue publishing imprint—relocated recently from Saltspring Island to Savary Island—as well as the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. It was also selected as a Top 5 Canada Reads Choice for the BC/Yukon The short-list for Mother Tongue’s SECOND Search For the Great BC Novel will be announced at the end of March and the winner at the end of May. Shortlist judges reading submissions are Gurjinder Basran and David Chariandy, and the Final Judge is Caroline Adderson.