Surrey poet explores the migratory depths of the Komagata Maru story

  •, None, Vancouver
  • Updated: Sep 25, 2014 19:26 IST

Coming from an immigrant family, Surrey poet and writer Phinder Dulai has always been fascinated with stories of migration.

"The idea of migration - journey, exile, settlement - those are large, really rich themes that are actually a part of a lot of people's lives," Dulai, whose family immigrated from Punjab to Kenya to Canada, told Vancouver Desi.

"What are the circumstances of each individual who would leave their own home country, their culture and the landscape in which they live and why would they completely dispossess themselves of that space to find a new home?"

Dulai explores these ideas with his latest book of poetry inspired by the Komagata Maru incident, dream / arteries, which is launching at the Surrey Art Gallery on Saturday.

Releasing in time with the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru, Dulai said his book is "quite different" from the already "rich archives" that document the ship's 376 passengers who were barred from entering Canada under exclusionary laws and docked at Vancouver's Burrard Inlet for two months in 1914.

"There is quite a rich archive and a fair amount of material already written about the Komagata Maru incident," he said. "As a writer and as a poet you can always replicate something and create a body of work that kind of hits the same notes of the historical moments of the ship in that time period - I just thought it would be repetitive."

So dream / arteries instead looks at "the whole nautical history of the ship itself," said Dulai, explaining that before the ship was sold to its Japanese owners, becoming "the infamous Komagata Maru," it went by other names and transported European migrants to the new world in the 1890s and early 1900s.

"It's really quite an amazing history, because it really connects to all of the major … symbols of migration," said Dulai, adding that the vessel carried immigrants from Germany to Italy, Greece, Turkey, New York, Montreal and Halifax before it ever docked in Vancouver.

"(I'm) trying to open it up to a broader story that you may not have heard about it … and specifically connecting it to a broader history - migration to the new world.

"They were all escaping something."

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