On Diaspora and its expression: Narinder Bhangu in conversation with Sunil Sharma

Q: How does it feel to be in a country of your choice with a hyphenated identity? Coping up with cultural pressures of blending and adopting the dominant worldview and norms? Assuming certain whiteness?

Well, judging from many angles, it is like feeling excited to be in a country of your choice where you get opportunities to prove yourself. And, you become global. No matter how much you know and are known, you need an impetus to fly from which Canada provides you with. This is exactly the same what I did. As far as coping with cultural pressures are concerned, you always carry values of your own culture to certain degree. Now those, who strike a balance and not restrict themselves to their own cultural values, definitely succeed in blending and adopting global character. And country like Canada provides you with an ample opportunity to prove your potential. Besides, your migrant status is catalytic.

Q: Reasons to write?

It is an inborn instinct in me, though there was no formal training which I would have taken but company of authors and reading their literary works made me firm to continue to write. It is my passion not profession. From college times, I started writing couplets in my native language and I adopted writing in English later.

Q: Why Hindi/English as a medium of creative expression?

I always feel comfortable in writing in English, though there are limitations as well, as like all languages, English needed an environment to develop proficiency. I was inspired by my teacher who used to dig English deeper and ignited a spark in me. There had been many who played and are playing a role in shaping me. Besides, many Punjabi authors had asked me to translate their works which I did what I could; that made me adamant to choose English as a medium of creative expression.

And, English as medium of creative expression is a dream of many as you bear a tag of being global and your exposure as an author is magnified.

Q: What audiences you address in a country other than yours?

After having moved to this country about 10 years ago, I presented myself to a big variety of audiences. As Canada is a multicultural country, you get chances to speak to and listen from them. Their hopes and aspirations, their concerns and solutions also. I always tend to talk to people around me at my work place, knowing that it is human nature to share agonies and happiness as well. I always intend to talk with seniors in an effort to know their life experience and learning. Sometimes, I exchange books with my friends.

Q: Is there a market for Hindi in Canada? Similarly for Indian English?

Honestly speaking, Indian English as compared with North American is skewed. It is because of the fact that very few carry on writing in Indian English either they find less readership or they tend to adopt other languages for easy communications. Humans tend to adopt easiest ways of communications and that why we see many short cuts in all languages. Most of the readership tend to adopt their own native languages for their comfortable level. In addition, socio-economic status contributes.

Q: What has been the experience as a writer in North America?

Wonderful! I have been making efforts to write here, sensitized by the local issues, political will and common man's concerns. People are more organized due to law enforcement. They value each other. Nature here is at its the best. Canada's flora and fauna is unparalleled; and weather here can be a source of many stories. What else an avid writer would ask for than such a variegated natural canvas?

Q: Are there multicultural and multi-lingual platforms available in Canada?

Of course, there are. Canada promotes all cultures and their languages also. Perhaps, it is because of fact that people need to communicate perfectly and easily. Migration of all age groups compels multi-lingual platforms. From shore to shore, cultural programme are organized for promotion of regional, cultural values and it brings revenue as well. You find publications of most language, magazine, newspapers and then media plays a paramount role.

Q: What are the other opportunities for writing and publishing here? Are they better than in India?

When you write, you tend to target certain audiences. Given the fact that India is multi-lingual country, this ratio is affected as you get more targeted audience in North America. You try to tune in local character and express in your writings. At the same time, there are other fronts, activists who are doing a yeoman’s job in promoting writing and publishing.

Q: How strong are connections with mother nation?

Connections with your mother nation always stay in sub conscious mind. You tend to connect back and learn the prevalent issues, news combined with family well being, your friends.

Eastern winds blew
To meet the Western
Again, in the hot season
Thought of their return.

Your childhood memories always haunt you and you enjoy as well. It is a human nature.

Q: What are your views of Bhasha Sahitya?

I do not have any right to criticize. Whatever the insiders think right, they do in promoting Bhasha and recognizing the authors/ writers/preachers. Let me stay neutral here.

Q: Memory and heritage in new contexts, do they play a crucial role in your creative process?

Of course, memories and heritages do play a crucial role in creative process. Other day, I heard a poet saying, it is easy to write on mega projects but when you write so minutely with details such as on moving caterpillar, makes you great poet. That is the beauty of writing. You recall happenings in your life and then juxtapose those with present day scenario, as matter of fact, you develop a thought, and you go ahead with a value. You see an airplane parallel with birds in the open sky, then you see a group of snakes in a small brook, you see squirrels hoping in your backyard, gala shows world-wide and beauty contests. All this is important for poets to blend with life long memories.

Q: How does Canada impact you as an ethnic writer?

As an author here, I would say I got wings here. “From Mind to Soul" was published here in 2016 and my readers applauded it. I could expose myself more on different fronts in carrying my mission of doing well to others. On contrary, perhaps I would have been restricted in my country as English author sans English readership.

Q: Your comments on the inaugural Setu Bilingual Lit Fest held on May 25 in Toronto?

Setu Bilingual Lit fest attracted a big range of authors and audience both of English and Hindi. This festival indeed left a mark and I am hopeful many more such festivals are in the pipeline. Dr. Sangeeta Sharma and Anurag Sharma conducted the event marvelously.

In the festival, some North American authors/poets showed their presence to name few Sharon Berg, Scot Thomas Outlar, Tom Hamilton and Heath Brougher.

Q: How is the Indian Diaspora in Canada?

Indian Diaspora has left a mark in North America as in other parts of world. Many Indians take active participation in Canadian politics and hold crucial positions in Parliament, besides local level governance. They are successfully running businesses and hold key positions in international companies. Indian Diaspora is known for their hard work.

Q: Are Indian artists and authors making a difference here? Enriching the existing national discourse and narrative of the adopted nation?

Of course, many of Indian artists and authors continued their spree of performance at different levels. In collaboration with local people, many of Indian singers/actors/ artist performed and their services have been recognized. Many English books have been translated in either Hindi or Punjabi to reach in hands of many Punjabi/Hindi speaking people.

Q: Do different Indian language writers talk to the others or come on a common platform for interaction?

Not too often. Punjabi authors are promoting Punjabi literary works and so do the Hindi Authors. However, there are certain cases when short documentaries were made in English on issues prevalent in India particularly in Punjab or of Indian Diaspora. I am hopeful in coming days authors of different languages will come on common stage.

Q: Memorable incident that haunts?

Human agonies multiply in ill-practices of governance. I was travelling in a bus, if I recall some thirty years back in Punjab. A couple gets off the bus at a stop. A speeding scooter hits the man ( husband) while he was crossing the road and he falls flat on the ground bleeding. His wife shouts for help but none comes forward because of fear of involvement of police case followed by many questions. So indifferent are we!

Seeing all this, my inner voice shook. I asked my wife to go home told her that I shall come later, though there was a reason of conflict as well. With help a local man there, I took the wounded man to the nearby hospital and later by evening it was all right. It gave a sense of satisfaction and relieved me of guilty conscience had I not taken the initiative. It always haunts me and when I reverse it then I feel pained.

Q: Does an immigrant writer dream of lost homes? Of roots?

As I said before "lost homes" shall remain "still your homes". It is difficult to forget your homes, the environment you enjoyed. People around you who directly or indirectly involved in shaping you, filled values in you and all that. Your roots are your roots which we must not cut. And, I have not burnt my bridges.

Q: Any message?

From personal experiences, I must say the whole world is restless, running from corner to another in its avarice sans human values, goodwill. At this point of time, it is important to strike balance as there are many who are thinking for betterment of humanity, its amelioration making this society safer to live. Nothing but service towards humanity no matter how less makes difference. Share the agonies and pains of others. My only message would be to join such people who hold the torch high in service of humanity. Authors do that by conveying rightful teaching.

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