My shyness and my mother, who was very particular about our education, must have contributed towards my aspiration. She was a good storyteller. Her stories had morals. My father who was a sort of writer must have also contributed to my development as a writer.
J.S. When did you start writing in English?
S.G. I started writing in English from my late twenties.
J.S. Did your education in English Literature help you to become a writer in English?
S.G. I will say no. Extremely sad situations during the days of my adolescence have shaped my path to be a spokesperson for peace. My studies of political science, philosophies and human rights have shaped the path further to find a peaceful solution for a peaceful existence.
I wanted to be a political scientist. When I went to fill up my admission form for a master’ program, I wrote English literature, though I went to the college to study for a master’s degree in political science.
This does not mean that I dislike English language. I loved it as I do now. This love does not mean that I see English language as superior to others. I write poetry also in Urdu, Panjabi and Hindi languages. When I was in Ethiopia, before coming to Canada, I learnt Italian. I had means because Italian was extensively spoken in that part of Ethiopia. I enjoyed understanding its complexities. Shortly, I began to be admired for using it grammatically correct and also from the point of its accent. I started studying Arabic in Ethiopia because of time and availability of means. I found the grammar of Arabic more complicated than the grammar of Italian. I gave up my efforts to study Arabic. When I was in India, to be more proficient in Urdu, I studied Persian.
I have found out that every tongue has its own beauty. I wanted to concentrate on English because I wanted to be a writer to share my message with as many readers as possible. For a person from South Asian region, English is most suitable vehicle for that purpose.
Education in English literature does not improve the writing skills. Sometimes, I regret for giving my years to the study of literature. Instead, I should have made use of that time for my writing. To improve the writing skills, it is imperative to read good literature, keep the company of writers, subscribe to the publications that help writers and above all write, write and write to be in print.
J.S. Why did you go to Canada?
S.G. I felt that to join the rank of successful writers of even English-speaking nations, I should improve also my language skills that is possible in a country where English is used as first language.
In addition to this, I wanted degrees added to my name for prestige. I was under the impression that these degrees will present me as a writer of value. For a doctoral degree I got admission to a university in Canada with an offer of financial assistance. Above all, I wanted to breathe in a safer place that I could call home. My introduction to my collection of poems Shrine throws some light on it. These factors brought me to Canada from Ethiopia.
J.S. What is the most challenging fact about being a postcolonial immigrant in Canada?
S.G. In Canada persons can achieve their dreams provided they are organized, industrious, and honest.
J.S. Can you mention a few established and well-read names of this generation?
S.G. It is not possible to say who is well read and who is not. There is no such survey available in Canada. I have mentioned established Indian-born Canadian writers in my paper by the same title. Readers can form their own opinion.
J.S. Is anybody doing any project on them?
S.G. I don’t know.
J.S. Dr. Gill, you are an author of so many books. Could you please list a few?
*Reflections & Wounds (poems); *The Dove of Peace (poems); *Divergent Shades (poems); *Songs for Harmony (poems); *The Flowers of Thirst (poems); *Shrine (poems); *Life’s Vagaries (short stories); *The Loyalist City (novel); * Immigrant (novel); *Why (novel); *Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells (critical study); *Six Symbolist Plays of Yeats (critical study); *Political Convictions of G.B. Shaw (critical study); *Discovery of Bangladesh (history); *Simon and the Snow King (children’s story); *The Blessings of a Bird (children’s story); *English Grammar for Beginners; * Sketches of India (illust. essays about India); *Aman Di Ghughi (Panjabi poems); Jazira (Urdu poems).
* Poets of the Capital (anthology of poets from Ottawa region); * Seaway Valley Poets (anthology of poets from the seaway valley region); * Tales from Canada for Children Everywhere (anthology); * Green Snow (anthology of Canadian poets of Asian origin); * Anti-War Poems Vol. 1 & 2 * Vesta's Who's Who of North American Poets.
J.S. Which is your best creation?
S.G. It is like asking me which eye or hand I like the most, or asking a mother to name her best child.
If you would allow me to answer using the yardstick of libraries that stock my titles, I can say, Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells from my critical studies, Immigrant from my fiction, and Shrine from collections of my poems are worth keeping on the shelves. Personally I like The Discovery of Bangladesh because of its presentation and historical value.
J.S. Your novel Immigrant reflects the diasporic crisis of rootlessness. Is there autobiographical hint anywhere in the theme or the protagonist?
S.G. Also I would use the term a novel of cultural pluralism, or a novel of fears and hopes for Immigrant. In the initial stages, particularly during the Cold War, diasporic literature was political in nature and exiled victims of persecution wrote it. Reghu Nath, the protagonist in Immigrant, though enters Canada as a student, has no desire to go back to the country of his birth. His dream of a democratically elected one-world government is to create suitable environment to be free from the clutches of persecutions. In the country of birth, he suffers from one kind of persecution with all doors closed for self-advancement. In the country of adoption he confronts another kind with all the doors wide open.
Concerning biographical hints, my answer is yes and no. Every piece of my writing is my child and every child inherits some traits of his or her father. Like any writer, I need material for the construction of my house. The closest place to collect that material is from the field of my own life. I have the option of borrowing from other sources.
Events in fiction do not necessarily happen as they do in real life. Even in normal life for a normal person, it is impossible to remember objective details of every event. Retelling is a mixture of what memories choose to retain and what the imagination presents. After choosing incidents, I shape them the way I should to suit my end. To put it in another way, I do not feel comfortable when I write directly about my experiences. At the same time, I cannot get away from myself. I have to build a house. If I am not able to get the material easily that I need, I will improvise it or go out to find it from somewhere. When the house of fiction is complete, it is hard to recognize the source of the material. Attempts to trace the source would interfere with the appreciation of the beauty that I want to present. To try to isolate an autobiographical component from what is not is like dissecting a flower.
To put it in another way, inside me I have voices. Some of these voices remain always within and some appear once in a while. Some voices are the product of my resourceful imaginations. These voices shape a character to be their mouthpiece. I try to express those voices through one or other means. I may choose my disguise, but I never choose to disappear.
It is with every artist, including sculptors, and carpenters. Let us take the case of a carpenter. Before making a table, the original of the table exists in the mind of the carpenter. That work of the carpenter, table, contains biographical elements also because that is a copy of the original that was within the maker. The table has also wood, nails and varnish that may have come from different sources. This is true with any piece of art. In that sense also, creations have biographical elements that are mixed with other elements that are not biographical. To isolate one from the other is not only undesirable but also a complicated process.
It is true that Reghu Nath goes to a university as his creator does, and he is from India as his creator is. It is also true that Immigrant has my blood-- it expresses my philosophy on several aspects. One of them is the attainment of peace through a democratically elected one-world government. Another is about prejudice. I have explained in this novel that newcomers as well as Canadians have preconceived notions about one another. Prejudice is largely the result of these preconceived notions. One way to get rid of these notions is to get out of the ghettoes of the selves to socialize freely and also to read about others.
J.S. Are you planning for a new novel?
S.G. Yes, I do.
J.S. You were born in Pakistan, brought up in India and now an immigrant to Canada. In Canada, you have visited the houses of Muslim, Hindu and Christian religions. Where do you land on or would like to land on?
S.G. My fellowship with people of diverse creeds has convinced me that people are people. This conviction is based on my visit to different countries. I have discovered that people are people no matter what their beliefs and cultural values are. Underneath their skins they are the same—their hearts and thinking are the same. People everywhere have the same fears, the same hopes and the same instincts for survival.
I have also discovered that environment plays a decisive role in shaping the thoughts of individuals. The individuals who were fanatical in India and Pakistan have found a vital change in their lives. They see events more objectively in the light of their latest experiences.
However, the thoughts developed in childhood and adolescence are hard to change dramatically even with a better environment. Education for the betterment of self and the world should be initiated from early childhood.
Wherever I go, I find that religions do not act as bridges to unite hearts. On the other hand, they have become demonic to disunite hearts. If there is any drive to destroy the modern civilization that would be from the religious robots. The madness of this drive can be controlled through education and political steps. I believe that there should be a strong United Religions Organization, along the lines of the United Nations.
J.S. What’s about your poetry?
S.G. Although I have written also a considerable amount of prose, I am known primarily as a poet. In addition to English, I write poetry in Urdu, Hindi and Panjabi languages. I am known as a poet of peace and social concerns. It is only as a poet that I have been compared with other English poets and also with a major Urdu poet. Most of the articles and reviews that have been written are about my poetry, and most of my recognitions are also for my contributions as a poet. A prominent singer from Pakistan has provided music and sung some of my Urdu/Hindi poems in an album called Aman.
I do not belong to any school or era of poetry. My poetry is the psalm of my soul. To me, a poet is a discoverer of unknown continents through the voyage of the self. A poet is also a priest who through the mantra of poetry reaches the god within.
For details on my poetry, please visit my website: http://home.ican.net/~sgill
J.S. You have been published enormously in Indian journals and magazines. Did you publish your poems in Pakistan?
S.G. Yes, I have been published in Pakistan mostly in Urdu and my articles in English. There may be two or three poets in Pakistan who write in English. They are known not even nationally. There are not many good contemporary Urdu poets, though there are several good poems. There is no literary publication in English from Pakistan.
J.S. Would you like to comment on the poetry situation in Pakistan?
S.G. Lamentable. There are not many good poets even in Urdu. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is among the good ones. He died a few years ago. He was born in the same area of Pakistan, Sialkot, where I was born. Critics have compared our works from different angles. One reason for the lamentable situation of poetry in Pakistan is the attitude of a group of Muslims towards arts. This group condemns music, dance and poetry for spiritual reasons, adding that the Hindus have taught these arts to the Muslims of the subcontinent of India and Pakistan.
J.S. Dr. Gill, do you read your critics?
S.G. Yes I do. If the approach is different with close attention, I take them seriously, analyzing their words and sentences. I read them more than once and quote them wherever there is need.
J.S. Dove appears again and again in your poems. Would you like to share your thoughts on this particular symbol?
S.G. A symbol is something that stands for something else, such as the lion is a symbol of courage and water is a symbol of life. The dove has been used as a symbol for centuries in different cultures. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite that stands for the goddess of love keeps a dove as a pet that has become a symbol of love. A great artist, Pablo Picasso, painted doves to signify peace. In one of his paintings, a small child softly hugs a dove. Its blue and green colours make a person feel peaceful. This painting is titled “Child with Dove. “
The name dove is given to a bird in the pigeon family. Doves live throughout the world from deserts to tropical forests. Due to its soft cooing sound and affectionate disposition it is symbolized as the emblem of peace. Among Christians, it is used for God’s love in any manifestation. In Christian art it often symbolizes hope, peace, Holy Spirit and even martyrdom. The dove also signifies the soul as well as gentleness and purity.
In the Biblical account of the flood, Noha set a dove free to find the condition of the earth. The bird returned with a green branch in the beak. After that it began to be symbolic of hope. When Christ was baptized, the Holy Sprit descended upon him in the form of the dove.
In Greek mythology, the dove was a bird of Athena that symbolized the renewal of life. Signs & Symbols states, “Two doves together are considered a sign of marital love and fidelity. Doves are held sacred in many countries. In Greek legend the dove was linked to Aphrodite, the infant Zeus, the Fates, and the Furies.” (P.65, Readers Digest, Montreal, 1996).
According to Jack Tresidder in Dictionary of Symbols, the dove “was the attribute of the Semitic love goddess Ashtart (Astarte), assimilated into the classical world as Aphrodite (in Roman myth, Venus), and also of Adonis, Dionysus (Bacchus) and Eros (Cupid). The moan of the dove was linked with both sex and childbirth. Winged phalluses shown with doves were found in Pompeii. A pair of doves has long symbolized sexual bliss, which may be why the dove came to personify the attentive and gentle wife. In China the dove is one of the many symbols for longevity as in Japan where a dove with a sword is an emblem of peace.” (P.67, Chroncle Books, USA, 1997).
Many artists have been using the symbol of the flying dove in the corner of their paintings to acknowledge that the Lord who is the source of creativity has inspired the work.
I call one of my collections The Dove of Peace that is also the title of a poem in the same collection. In Songs for Harmony, another collection, there is a poem, titled “Seeking the Dove of Peace.” In Shrine, my collection of poems “To a Dove,” “Flight of a Dove,” and “My Dove” are directly associated with the dove. The dove appears as symbol in several other poems also in this collection.
I have used the dove in Shrine in sentences, including “Relaxing/ in the nest of tomorrow/ she dreams of flying/ in the air of freedom” (50); “The dove pleads/ that the dance of the hounds/ be stopped (56); In The Dove of Peace, I refer to Canada, “A peace adoring dove,” (28).
On the dove, I have written trilliums in haiku spirit. Some of them are listed below:
Dove flies towards skies
Green branch in beak
Message of hopes.
muses on a branch
in the fold of dreams
Dove draws no boundaries
gypsy of hopes.
I believe that one-day researchers will fathom my fascination for the dove. They may enter those ditches of agonies where I saw the innocent being killed and heard babies crying while smelling the greenery of my adolescence in New Delhi during the days of the partition of India. They can feel the pulse of the darkness when we went to bed with the darkest fears of human, and the dawn appeared with baskets filled with fresh lemons of worries.
J.S. Another symbol that appears often in your poetry particularly before Shrine is the wind. Could you dwell on it also?
S.G. The Plowman from Canada published my poems Wind and A Breeze That Is Free in issue number 3 of January 1989. I was immensely pleased when its chief editor Mr. Tony Scavetta offered to feature me as the poet of the month for his prestigious international literary publication, asking me to give him background information on my poem Wind. I was also somewhat puzzled because I did not know what to say or how and where to start. I had no idea whatsoever how to approach his question, or even, if it was approachable. It is mainly because poets do not always remember the circumstances under which they happen to write their poems, unless there was something very special reason attached to any of them. Even if there is something special attached to some of them, it is not always possible to carry details. However, when I started to think about the wind I began to discover many hitherto unknown facts.
I discovered that my treatment of the wind had something to do with my room where I slept. It is still the same room, upstairs. There I hear the birds welcoming another dawn; the rains striking against the windowpane producing a sonata; the winds growling and singing; and far?off the mingled sounds of trains, buses and people disrupting the night's calm. Among these sounds, the most sensuous ones are those of the winds and the rains, appearing in their different moods and tones. At one time, they produce lullaby; at another, they transport me to a solitary guesthouse with a maiden in full bloom. This guesthouse is a type of bungalow that one would rent at a hill?station during summer in tropical countries. Jungles and hills surround it. Wild animals shout and shriek and ferocious gales beat their heads against the doors, while inside we relax by a fireside.
Several of my poems were written under the canopy of these fancies. A Breeze That is Free and Wind is two poems that are entirely on this subject. I wrote A Breeze That is Free around 1980. I wrote Wind, another poem on the same subject, eight years after that. When I wrote Wind, it was completely out of my mind that I had already done a poem on the same topic. However, my treatment of the wind in these two poems is noticeably divergent. I prefer my second poem, Wind, to the first one, A Breeze that is Free.
Both these poems are in the form of personification, and both are on the same subject. Also, both are preoccupied with man's predicament on this earth and again in both these poems wind sees life as a whole, a complete unit, as compared with man's view of life that is fragmented and isolated. In the latter poem, the poet envies the wind because it has unlimited freedom to catch a global view. On the other hand, humans are restricted in their movements and therefore their views are fragmented.
In the first poem, the wind caresses, consoles, heals, and brings sleep that is calm, enlivens lonely eyes and puts smiles where tears reign. These are some social functions. On the other hand, in Wind it is the philosophical aspect that has been explored. A reader can notice here evolution in the poet's idea from a social vocation to metaphysical and mystical aspect. This makes the second poem more profound than the first one.
I discovered that the wind has appeared in my poetry in various modes in the former years. In some cases, the wind is cruel and in others, benign. In Why I Sing, ''maddening winds / flap their wings / against the windows / of my frailties; In Your Presence, ''intoxicating wind'' is ''a maid / crossing the threshold of youth''; In Stranger, ''You (unnamed visitor) blew as a wind / leaving behind / a burning wood''; In That Flower, ''That fragrant whispering wind / which kisses its (flower for beloved) refreshing lips, / Embodies the flame in me'' In How Madly I Wish, ''The wandering wind enlivens in me/that taste of your trembling lips''; In Absence , ''Night, /a nameless rumpled road, / watches the ghost?like winds / breaking my soul?crushing monotony''; In Because You Are Close to Me, when ''winds growl/...life becomes a light / because you are close to me''; In Charms of Your Eyes, ''Drunk with pride / the vagabond fragrant winds''; In O Love, ''Amid the frigid winds / blowing so hard, / a wave of hope you emerge,''; and in Her Dreams, ''A pleasant wind''.
The wind appears also in my forthcoming collection Flame that is divided in cantos. There is reference to “intoxicating wind,” and “the wind that whispers”. The wind appears in its other forms, including breeze, air, storm, etc.
I may be asked why I am so much enamoured by the wind. My answer would be that it is perhaps my room, where I did most of my thinking and writing in longhand, when the world slept. The wind turns into a living being for me ?? it cries, it laughs, it moans, it recalls my past. Obviously, wind is not just another object for me at that time; it becomes a companion, a co?sharer of my secrets. Once a pastor, pointing to my room from outside, said it was like the upper room where the disciples of Jesus assembled and prayed and were filled with the Holy Ghost. Here in this room, I used to be swayed with the spirit of my muse.
Surprisingly, the wind was not prominent in my poetry before 1980. Why so, is another question that I may have to struggle to answer. This may be partly or entirely because before that I was living elsewhere, where I hardly observed the wind in its various moods. Since this question from an editor made me aware, the wind began to disappear gradually from my poetry. In my collection Shrine, the wind appears rarely. “No one can buy/ nor sell/ the freedom of the winds” (Who Shall Buy); someone should inform the winds (The Voice of Democracy); “the wind that blows in sunny fields” (Lotus of Freedom); “self-governing winds” (Seed of Democracy); “running with the wind” (Somali Victim) and so on.
J.S. Why did you leave teaching for book publishing business?
S.G. Though I entered Canada as a doctoral student, my aim was also to chisel the skills of my writing and gain a deeper understanding of the English language. I was already a published book author, but I wanted to add degrees as well, to my name to convince my readers that I am a serious and knowledgeable writer.
To study the cultural life of the country, I joined groups of writers. I also devoured literary publications. It was a time and money-consuming struggle.
I discovered that for a first time author it was not easy to get a publisher. In other words, publishers invest their money on winning authors. I also discovered that it takes a year or two to find a publisher and the publisher would take another two years to bring out the book, and it takes another two years to bring the book to the attention of readers. It was frustrating to know that some authors are publicized more than the others.
For a serious writer who wants to produce books one after the other, it was a path of impatience. Moreover, there was an army of would-be writers who did not have patience to travel the long path to find a publisher and then to wait for two to three years for the book to be released. The inner world of book publishing was a mystery to new authors. To help serious writers and also to give a chance to budding writers, who had been roses in the desert, and also to help myself, I ventured into book publishing.
Publishing sector needs money and a good knowledge of printing process, public relations, writing and editing skills and business aptitude. I was convinced that publishing would help me in my chosen field and at the same time I was going to be in a fairly good situation to help the helpless writers. These were the factors that prompted me to be a book publisher.
J.S. What were your challenges as a book publisher?
S.G. Lack of capital and manpower. A person can hire manpower if there is capital. If there is manpower, the capital can be ignored for a while. But I had nothing. Moreover, I was in a new environment. All that I had was a will, knowledge of literature and skills to write. A couple of writers came forward to ask me to publish their books. They offered to buy a considerable number of books for themselves. I figured out that much money was enough to pay for the printing cost. At this stage, a printer offered to print my books and wait for a while to collect the printing cost till the book was sold. He helped me also to learn the printing process. In the first year, I released four titles; two of them were my own. I was in business as a book publisher.
Our local member of the parliament was also helpful. He was the minister of labour for the Ontario Government and a member of the parliament for the last fourteen years. Mr. Guindon was great as far as his heart and help were concerned. With his help, I was able to receive a publishing grant every year from the government after two years in business.
I came to know that a company would become more prestigious if it is incorporated. I needed money to hire a lawyer to do it. I went to our local library and read books on how to incorporate a business. I also discussed the matter with the government people who are associated with incorporation. Several people told me that it was impossible to do the work myself. I needed a lawyer. After reading material in the library and discussions with knowledgeable persons I was able to incorporate the business myself. People still do not believe it, but I was able to do it that saved my money.
Shortly, Vesta Publicaitons Ltd. Emerged as a medium sized company in Canada. I learnt also the basics of printing. To reduce cost and to produce work on time by eliminating dependence on printers, I bought my own equipments. My work increased, but I became independent. I used to work for around sixty hours a week every day of the year without any day off.
J.S. Why did you bid farewell to such a meaningful profession of book publishing?
S.G. Publishing was meaningful no doubt, but also demanding. Book publishing began to interfere with my writing. Most of the time, I promoted other writers. I hardly had time for my own writing.
I also discovered that book publishing was a thankless job. If a book is successful, all the credit goes to the author. If the book was unsuccessful, the publisher is to be blamed. Believe me, I made most of my friends as a writer and lost them as book publisher. There is no doubt that publishing brought prestige, but I wanted to win friends. I am happy that I am out of it. I don’t think a writer should be a book publisher. Both clash with one another.
J.S. Does your African background as a teacher have any bearing upon your writing?
S.G. My two books are the direct outcome of my experiences in Ethiopia. One is my book of English grammar, and another is my novel why.
I discovered that British and American publishers had donated most of those books of grammar to Ethiopia. Those books were written for the students of their own countries who learn English grammar as their first language. Therefore those books were not useful for Ethiopian students. I made notes for Ethiopian students to make the grammar easy and more useful for them. Later when I came to Canada, a British publisher released that book under the title English Grammar for Beginners. The book gained popularity among newcomers in Britain, Europe and Canada.
My novel Why is the story of the protagonist who gets in and out of love affairs with married women? Why he does so sets the tone of the book. The story is also about boredom and the cultures of North America, Ethiopia and India.
The story of Why revolves around Rubin Mustard, who is born and brought up in Montreal, a city in the province of Quebec. When he is eleven years old, his mother elopes with a friend of his father. The only goal of his father is to make as much money as possible. A baby?sitter, who seduces him, raises Rubin. We meet Rubin later when he is an adult, in Ottawa, where he falls in love, one after another, with married women. A question arises why he always falls in love with married women.
After a while, he goes to Ethiopia on a teaching assignment. There he falls in love with the wife of his colleague. He meets there a teacher from India. Both become good friends. This brings into the novel some features of the traditional love in India. Ruben has affairs also with his maid, a divorcee. Ethiopia is shown as a rugged, natural country.
Ruben returns to Canada after teaching in Ethiopia for three years. Towards the end, he is shown sketching a portrait of a woman. He is not satisfied with the sketch because it does not represent that woman. He destroys the sketch to start it again, without any success. While making a few trials, it dawns upon him suddenly that the sketch bears a few traits of his mother. It dawns upon him further that all the women he had loved resembled his mother. There the story ends, abruptly.
On the one hand why is a story of Rubin's running in and out of love affairs with married women? On the other, it is a story of three cultures and their views towards love. I have attempted to show that love in North America is intellectualised. I have tried to prove through incidents, discussions and dialogue that men and women cannot understand each other intellectually; a real understanding comes from the heart. I have tried to illustrate that North American women intellectualize love whereas for Ethiopian women it is spontaneous as the stream flowing in the jungle is. In India it is more or less traditional. I have compared the North American view of love with the Ethiopian view. The citizens of this African nation live close to nature and therefore their response to love is also natural-- it is spontaneous. I have compared these two views ?? North American and Ethiopian ?? further with the traditional romantic love that exists in India.
I have tried the technique of ending the story abruptly before in most of my short stories. I have used this technique also in my subsequent novels. It is because I don't want my readers to feel relieved or satisfied after the story is over--? I want them to feel a thirst-- I want to upset them-- I want my reader to think even after the narrative is over. After all that is life. Concerning the question why the protagonist falls in love with married women I can say that there is some clue in the novel.
Protagonists of both these novels have weakness for whiskey and both novels end abruptly. Besides, mother plays key roles in both novels, though this role is clearer in Why because the elopement of Ruben’s mother is vital for the development of story. It also ends with a note on mother when Ruben discovers by chance that all the married women he had loved resembled his mother in one way or the other. My next novel Immigrant also opens and ends with a note on mother, but her presence is not vital for the progress of the plot.
Time plays important parts in both the novels. Both novels move forward and backward in time. This happens when the protagonist think of their past and future. Though I have tried to prepare the reader by making the transition slow and smooth, yet for a typical North American reader it is difficult to move along with the time easily. I have decided not to employ this technique any more in my next novel. In other words, the story of my fourth novel will be moving only forward, making it easier to read.
I have discovered that my novel Why do mostly males like whereas women, no matter which culture they are from, dislike the main character. I have also discovered that mostly newcomers and those who wish to come to Canada like Immigrant. White citizens do not feel comfortable reading this novel.
When I was writing Why, I was reading Dylan Thomas and James Joyce. Being under their influence, I wrote why to be enjoyed at more than one level. The part of the story that is set in Ethiopia becomes fascinating when I bring out the moral, and culture values of that nation.
Apart from this novel, I have written a couple of short stories that are set in Ethiopia.
J.S. Did any make an attempt to research for a Ph.D. on you?
S.G. It seems there are some attempts.
J.S. You have been appointed several times as examiner of Ph.D. dissertations of Indian scholars. Are you satisfied with the research works of Indian scholars?
S.G. Indian scholars have demonstrated good knowledge of English language and a proper use of the first and the secondary sources. Because of lack of enough critical material, it is not easy to undertake a dissertation on a living foreign author. It is difficult even for scholars of the same country. Yet, Indian scholars do their jobs admirably.
J.S. You talk of world citizenship in your writing. Don’t you think it as more abstract and theoretical than anything else?
S.G. The idea of world citizenship is not abstract. I have developed this idea in my poetry, have written about it in my fiction and have given talks and discussed it on radio and TV. A selection of these appearances has been put together in a two-hour DVD, titled Interviews of Stephen Gill. I have reflected on this subject also in the introductions to Anti-War Poems, parts one and two, released by Vesta in 1984 and 1986.
Thinkers and social reformers have been talking of world citizenship for centuries. In the initial stages every idea is abstract. When people saw the denizens of the air, they began to think of flying. Man has reached the moon and striving now to go beyond. In the same way, people saw creatures in the sea. Man has now means to touch and sail at the bottom of these oceans. Take the cases of some nations. This idea appeared abstract when the leaders wanted to form the United States of America (USA). Now it is reality. When people talked about uniting the entire Europe, the idea seemed to be abstract. Now the Europe has its own currency, its own prime minister and its own parliament.
The idea of world citizenship is no more abstract, because the world has already been shrunk to a city. In nearly every home there are goods from different corners of the world, including computers, clothes, shoes, cameras, medical supplies, cars and other electronic and non-electronic goods. In the matter of taste and foods the world is one. Electronic devices spread the news in every corner of the world within minutes. Emails and telephone systems have united the world.
Humans are breathing in a world that has been reduced to a city, but this city is without its own council or parliament and its mayor. That is why there is chaos everywhere. We need a democratically elected world government to take care of this city. One major step that would lead to world peace is the control of the international anarchy through the international government.
The United Nations Organization is a sort of world government but it has some defects. It is not effective because its representatives are not directly elected by their governments; it has veto power that is undemocratic; it has no way to raise its own finances through taxes; it has no judiciary with power; and above all, it does not have its own military force.
J.S. Can you list a few important world personalities who support the idea of one-world government.
S.G. A few utopian or crazy individuals have not launched the movement for a world government. Rather the concerned citizens of the world, including Winston Churchill, Charles DeGaule, Clement Attlee, Indira Gandhi, Lester Pearson, Leopold Stenghor, Jawaharlal Nehru, Pierre Trudeau, Carlos Romulo, and Bertrand Russell, have supported this movement.
Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “I have long believed the only way peace can be achieved is through world government.” Winston Churchill said, “ unless some effective supranational government can be set up and brought quickly into action, the prospects of peace and human progress are dark and doubtful.” Pope John xx111 in April 1963, speaking to the world said that the UN might eventually become “a strong world authority.” He argued that a super national authority must be considered.”
English author and actor Peter Ustinov once said, “ World Government is not only possible, it is inevitable; and when it comes, it will appeal to patriotism in its truest, in its only sense, the patriotism of men who love their national heritage so deeply that they wish to preserve them in safety for the common good.” Above all, there is the Noble Prize winner scientist Harold C. Urey. He was instrumental in producing the first atomic and hydrogen bombs. He died on 6th of January in California at the age of 87. He dropped most of his nuclear research expressing concern that this power would destroy the world. He admitted “we may not be able to secure a world government, but we will not solve the problems of peace vs. war by any other means whatsoever.”
The idea of forming one-world government has been advocated also by scientific romance writer H.G. Wells and Alfred Tennyson, a poet of the Victorian Age. I have discussed H.G. Wells in detail in my book Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells. Both writers envisage a global parliament in their works. “In Wells’s The War in the Air (1908) scientific progress leads to a cataclysmic war, which is followed by all sorts of miseries. This makes people aware of the futility of wars, and the necessity to constitute an international parliament to ameliorate the human predicament and to avert future disasters. Wells elaborates the same view in The World Set Free” that was released in 1914 (p. 135).
J.S. How the world government can make the world a better place to live?
S.G. Nearly every country has been preparing itself for wars against real and imaginary enemies. Even the poorest nations are spending their hard-earned foreign currencies on explosive to boost their national pride. This waste ought to be eliminated. Moreover, these preparations to war lead to unnecessary tensions with their neighbors.
National governments have been formed to render certain services to their citizens. One of them is to protect life and property of their people. In other words, they give security. But when all national governments become sovereign with no authority to control them and when they start arming themselves to give security to their citizens from external aggression, the natural outcome is war. The sovereignty of several states leads to clashes. The United Nations has failed to prevent several wars because it recognizes the sovereign rights of national governments and resist interference in their domestic matters.
Not only there is waste in the presence of unethical national governments, there is also the real danger for the annihilation of modern civilization through the use of nuclear weapons. It took centuries to build this civilization and now it may take minutes to destroy it. History tells us that every weapon that was invented has been used. Therefore, the nuclear weapons are likely to be used on large scale. I have written several poems on world annihilation through the weapons of mass destruction.
National governments have failed to solve serious life-threatening problems, including international terrorism. Other problems include, hunger, pollution, and the layer of the ozone that filters out most of the harmful radiation of the sun. The damage to ozone will not affect one country. It is a concern of all humankind. Ozone is like a roof over the airship, inhabited by all human races. Ocean pollution also threatens the existence of human life. Pesticide, lead, arsenic, oil spills, radioactive and several forms of wastes present danger to the world’s ocean system.
Just in case of pollution only, no single nation can cope with this problem. Sweden with the hardest antipollution laws has discovered that it cannot solve their problem on a national basis. The Baltic is being poisoned by pollution from other countries, and it gets acid rain that can be traced back to British factories. These are international problems and the world needs an international authority to solve them.
If there is a democratically elected world government, national governments will not be allowed to have their military power. They will have police force to maintain law and order situations like the cities are allowed in any country. The military force would be under the world government only. The citizens of the world will feel safer this way.
These steps will make the world a better place to live and also save money by eliminating waste on national military budgets. This saved money will be used to open more schools, colleges and universities, more hospitals and grow more food. Scorching deserts will be changed into the smiling field to produce crops. The money that would be saved would be used to eliminate diseases and poverty.
The world government does not mean to get rid of national languages and cultures. Countries like India and Canada are already multicultural and multilingual. World citizenship is an extension of these realities. If languages and cultures can survive in these and in other nations, they can survive also under the one-world government. World citizenship does not mean to stop loving one’s country; world citizenship is to include everyone in the fold of its care for the sake of human survival and the betterment of life.
I would like to admit that it is almost impossible to form any democratically elected world government under the prevailing situations. At the same time the world cannot attain meaningful peace and prosperity without an international authority to take control of the present anarchy. To reach this goal, the citizens of the world should be educated right from the early days of their lives. I have written several articles on this subject. For my views in detail, please visit my website: http://www.writesight.com/writers/stephen_gill/
J.S. What’s your immediate wish as a creative writer?
S.G. To be a Nobel Laureate. It is not that I am hungry for such recognitions. I have a serious message to share with people of the world and that message is about peace. I am convinced that people will read my writings, taking me seriously after I receive that recognition.
J.S. Dr. Gill, finally, one old question to you. Do you feel uprooted in Canada? I would like to hear your observation on: “Home is where our feet are.” Do you read it as a justified statement in the present context?
S.G I can speak the same languages that I used to speak in Pakistan and then in India and I enjoy the same food as much as my children do. In Canada and the United States I have good friends who were born in India and Pakistan. A part of me is in the country where the bones of my ancestors have been buried; where I first opened my eyes; where I learnt to read and write; where my dear ones are still living; and where I still have my closest friends. To offer the flowers of my homage at the altar of the temple of that part, I take my poetic voyages also in the boat of the languages that I used during the early years of my life. That part spurs me to visit India more often and to keep close contacts particularly with its writers.
At the same time I believe that home is where our feet are. I also believe that our feet are in a home that encompasses safety and happiness. A home is also the evening fireside that provides warmth and cosiness. Wherever these components habitat there habitats the heart. I see these components habitating in the rainbow beauty of Canada. Here I walk under a roof of assurances for my safety and freedoms. Wherever I go, I wear a hat that is textured with the ethnic touches of the mosaic nature of Canada. This hat is neither entirely south Asian nor entirely north American. It gives me protection, though at times it hurts a nerve.
Professor Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi is with the Department of English of Seva Bharati Mahavidyalaya in Kapgari, Midnapur 721 505 West Bengal, India. He is managing editor of IJOWLAC, editor-in-chief of TITAS, and on the editorial board of Reflection and Pegasus. He has authored scholarly papers.