From Komagata Maru to Kanishka: The Indian Diaspora in Canada in Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?
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Anita Rau Badami’s third novel Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? is dedicated to “the man on the bridge in Modinagar and the Victims of Air India Flight 182.” The sight of a Sikh man burned alive as retribution for Indira Ghandi’s assassination haunted Badami for two decades. A year later Badami lost a neighbour in the bombing of Air India Flight 182; his grief stricken wife later committed suicide. In her fictionalization of these events, Badami explores the theme “When do you belong and where do you belong” (qtd in Ubelaker). Book ended by references to two ill-fated journeys to/from Canada, the Komagata Maru and Air India’s Kanishka, Nightbird examines the repercussions of historical events on three Indian families whose lives are connected across the spatial and temporal distance of the Indian diaspora. The novel is divided into five parts; the first three sections of which are organized around three central female characters: Bibi-ji Singh, who immigrates to Canada thereby realizing the dream her own father was denied decades earlier as a passenger on the Komagata Maru; Leela Bhat, the daughter of a German mother and Indian father, who also immigrates to Canada; and Nimmo Singh, who remains in India, but sends her son to Vancouver to live with her aunt, Bibi-ji. Badami contrasts these characters’ experiences of the Indian diaspora in Canada by bringing them together in the culmination of the novel’s plot, in their shared suppression of horrific and violent memories, and in her ambivalent use of Trishanku’s heaven as a metaphor for diasporic identity and experience, as she posits answers to the questions of belonging. Works Cited Badami, Anita Rau. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? Toronto: Viking, 2005. Ubelacker, Sheryl. “Badami sets story of love and loss against backdrop of Air India disaster.” Canadian Press NewsWire 31 August 2006 CBCA Current Events. ProQuest. Athabasca University Library. 10 Mar. 2008.