Book Review of Children of Air India: 3 Treasure Boxes
In the early part of 2014, I went to a poetry reading where Renée Sarojini Laklikar read from her book: Children of Air India: un/authorized exhibits and interjections. I found her words moving and unforgettable. This assemblage of poems is dedicated to the people who died on Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985, as well as to those who lost their loved ones. While this plane was flying through Irish airspace, in route from Montreal to Delhi, with a planned stop in London, a bomb exploded. The Boeing 747 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean and 329 people died.
Although this book is a work of fiction, and many of the details were derived from her imagination; it merges fact with the fiction. It many ways it is a form of docu-poetry. Saklikar spent many hours researching and reading transcripts and archives. She was born in India, and lost an aunt and uncle in the bombing of this airplane. She experienced the loss first hand and through her work she has brought the loss of these 329 people into the hearts of her readers.
I found the book well laid out and presented in an interesting manner. It starts with a short introduction that shares with the reader the terrible loss of the individuals as well as the unfathomable injustice of the resulting trial. Throughout the book, Saklikar redacted all the names of the victims, and in many instances, simply refers to the individuals as “Redacted.” For me, this represents the finality of the loss and death of each person. From page 113, she writes, “Write the names all the way through. Write them down. In writing there is redaction, redact. That is the burning that is the body.”
Part One of the book is “in which N imposes meaning” with “N” representing niece and/or narrator, in other words, herself. She is searching for meaning for herself, and for those who perished. Through her words she brings the departed briefly back to life, as in page 21,
“…she loves to read,
wins a prize in math.
Her sister follows, arms holding
large heavy books…
Status: bodies not found.”
Saklikar makes the passengers real, and at the same time is able to impact to the reader the horrendous plane crash. I found the poems that related directly to the passengers very touching, and there were many such poems throughout the book.
Throughout the text, Saklikar effectively uses white space. In so doing she speaks volumes without the use of words. I found this technique haunting, because many of these people’s bodies were lost in the open space of the ocean.
Saklikar is able to blend the terrible with the dispassionate and in doing so able to combine human tragedy within the confines of the impersonal court. In this way she brings into the poetry the injustice of the mishandling of the trial, without sermonizing. She effectively shows both to the reader.
However there were other parts that I did not understand. Like on page 61, it is filled with what appear to me to be random letters, “ACI-ACISS ACPS ACS…” and this page also includes two randomly placed 2.2cm2 squares. Additionally on page 85, entitled “Exhibit: June 4, 1985, in the woods outside Duncan, items of examination,” I did not understand what these items were nor why they were included.
In writing this review, I found the subject matter quite upsetting, and very, very sad. Several times I was moved to tears for the lost of so many people, each one cherished. I recommend this book of poetry as a very good read.