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Children's voices demanded book about Air India bombing

New Westminster poet brings to life the voices of those who perished in the 1985 bombing of Flight 182
Renee Saklikar, Children of Air India
Haunted: Poet Renee Sarojini Saklikar with her book, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections. Saklikar's book recalls the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, in which Saklikar lost an aunt and uncle. A book launch is being held this weekend.

Renee Sarojini Saklikar was buried deep in the archives when she started hearing the children's voices.

And although she hadn't intended to write poetry about Canada's deadliest act of terrorism, the voices demanded it. The result is children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections, the first book of poetry about the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.

"It's very hard to talk about, but if you believe in ghosts and the soul, then you'll understand that voices did rise up and speak to me, particularly the children," said Saklikar.

"I didn't start out to write about this tragedy in a poetic way. These voices claimed me."

Sakilkar's aunt and uncle were among the 329 people who perished on June 23, 1985, when a bomb placed aboard the airliner exploded above the Irish Sea. There were also 82 children who perished.

Saklikar is still haunted by the sunny June in 1985 when her aunt and uncle made their one and only visit to B.C. 

"My aunt was my mom's youngest sister. She was very passionate about women's health. She was an expert marks-woman and very warm," she said.

In some ways, Saklikar began writing her book the moment she and her family got the news of the bombing. But it didn't start taking shape until 2009 while she was at the Writer's Studio at SFU. She began delving into the archives, intending to write a personal memoir.

But as she plowed through the pages and pages of court documents, transcripts and letters, she started to hear the words leaping off the page.

"A certain phrase or page would speak to me," she said. "This book is about language, whether it works or doesn't work."

Over the next three-plus years, Saklikar worked as the poems took shape. She has produced deeply personal poetry that explores personal loss set against public trauma. Published by Nightwood Editions and distributed and marketed by Harbour Publishing, the book is described as a "docu-poetic collection."

Saklikar also writes thecanadaproject, a lifelong poetry project that chronicles her life from her birth in India, her childhood growing up across Canada and her current career on the West Coast.

Daughter of the late Rev. Vasant Saklikar (longtime minister of the Sixth Avenue United Church and school trustee who died in 2002), she is married to B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix.

What is her hope for the book?

"One hope I have is people will think about the question of violence and how it touches us when we don't want to be touched by it," Saklikar said.

"With so much pain and suffering, violence demands something of us. I hope the reader will contemplate on that."