To explore the lives and longings of the Lohar people of Kotli, Tariq Malik's first collection of stories, Rainsongs of Kotli (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2004) is mainly set in the Himalayan valleys of Punjab approximately ten years after the tumultuous Partition of India during which tens of thousands died and millions fled their homes due to religious conflicts. This is a memorable, deeply felt and frequently amusing debut, full of lively conversation and sure-handed narratives. "Looking back, I realize it was the first arrival of electricity ih Kotli that set in motion the events that had such profound and tragic consequences for our family," Malik writes. Another story deftly begins, "There are certain days when the river sits quietly in profound contemplation of itself with not a ripple to disturb its thoughts." Lovely stuff. In a brief afterword he writes, "This book is a tribute to the spirit of my parents' enterprising generation that triumphed over adversity by sheer resilience and sacrifice; to those wise men and women who were able to fluently quote verbatim passages in Arabic from the Quran and follow these with elaborate translations in moments of moral rectitude, and, when moved to do so, would tearfully quote the classical Urdu and Farsi poets, and yet were unable to read or write a single word of their own mother tongue." Born and raised in Pakistan, Malik lived for 20 years in Kuwait prior to immigrating to Canada in 1995. He lives in Vancouver.

Tariq Malik's first novel Chanting Denied Shores (Bayeaux Arts, 2010) was launched at Kogawa House in January of 2011. It spans seven years (1914-1921) in the lives of four characters involved in the so-called Komagata Maru Incident, now widely viewed as a racist refusal to admit would-be immigrants from India -- mostly Sikhs -- who arrived in the Vancouver Harbour on a chartered Japanese vessel. Most were not permitted to go ashore. The ship and its passengers remained stranded in Burrard Inlet while immigrations officials enforced an exclusionary law that forbade arrival of British subjects from India unless they had sailed directly from India. The Komagata Maru embarked from Hong Kong. The ship could have landed in Port Alberni without hindrance but the man who had chartered the ship was intent upon directly challenging the British Empire and exposing its racist policies. This man was later hailed by Gandhi as a hero in the movement to gain liberation and independence for India. The ship was sent back to India with most of its passengers, with some disastrous consequences. The complex stand-off is now marked by a plaque in Vancouver harbour.

Malik's story is strong on research but somewhat disjointed in structure. It features some first person narration from a fugitive fugitive Punjabi schoolteacher, Bashir Ali Lopoke, who is a Muslim escaping his past as a revolutionary firebrand. The conflicted, six-foot-six Canadian Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson, who is of Anglo-Indian descent, understands there are revolutionary elements in India who are spreading their dissent into Canada. He speaks Punjabi and understands the politics of the situation better than the racist Vancouver MP Harry Stevens and the director of the Vancouver port, who are both bigots in keeping with the times. Also profiled are Mewa Singh, a disgruntled Vancouver farmhand who is witnessing his people's daily humiliation; and Jean Fryer, Hopkinson's seven-year daughter, whose recollections shed fresh light on the unfolding traumatic events.

This novel provides an excellent refraction of the social climate of Vancouver during the early part of the 20th century. It also includes many fascinating details that will make this novel highly engaging for anyone who is already knowledgeable about the Komagata Maru. Its sophistication in terms of research material and its roughness in terms of narrative technique will make Chanting Denied Shores a great deal more formidable for anyone who lacks previous knowledge of the story. This is an admirable work, from a discriminating and compassionate writer, but it makes for the opposite of light reading.


Rainsongs of Kotli (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2004) $18.95

Chanting Denied Shores (Bayeaux Arts, 2010)

[BCBW 2011] "Punjabi" "Fiction"