The stories of our lives
By APARNA KAJI SHAH
I came to Toronto in the summer of 1985 from Mumbai, where I was a professor of English at St. Xavier’s College (University of Bombay).
Until my Master’s and M.Phil. in English were accepted by the Board of Education here in Canada, I audited courses on Women’s Studies at York University and volunteered at the CNIB.
I had to upgrade by B.Ed. at the University of Toronto.
I taught English at George Brown College in the faculty of Business and Creative Arts.
Though I found the teaching methods and the grading very different from India, I adapted quickly and even took the occasional racist remark in my stride.
With a group of fellow art enthusiasts, I founded, edited and wrote for an Indian arts magazine called Kala. Overall, I settled well into Toronto life.
My husband’s career took him to different parts of the world, so we, with our two sons, have lived in the UK, Singapore, and Mumbai.
Not being able to teach in Singapore (because they only hired “native” speakers of English), I conducted English conversational classes in my home and wrote reviews of fiction which were published in The Straits Times.
In Mumbai, I wrote the text for a book of water-colour paintings about Mumbai life called Bombay! I volunteered at municipal schools, helping the teachers with their English skills through the study of literature. I initiated and taught a course on Business Communications at the Mumbai campus of the Schulich Business School. We returned to Toronto in 2013.
There was a great amount of emotional yo-yoing when we moved from one place to another and then back to Toronto between postings.
In some ways, I felt like an outsider even in Mumbai (having lived many years away) and then again in Toronto, when we returned after a few years elsewhere.
Although I wrote poetry as a young adult (these poems were aired on All India Radio), and have I have published fiction and poetry in anthologies, I began my writing journey when my older son left home to go to university.
I attended creative writing courses at George Brown College which gave an impetus to my writing. The six stories in my collection, The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories, were written in a period ranging from 2004 to 2018.
Some were written in Toronto and others in Mumbai while we were living there.
All six stories have women as their central characters and five of them are set in India.
I often ask myself when I will write fiction that is set in the land I call home, but I have been unable to answer that question.
My stories depict women across generations. They portray them within a male-dominated culture, suffering abuse, injustice, insecurities and uncertainties.
But these women are not just victims: the stories tell us about the inner strength they are able to find even in the most tragic of situations. These women are not passive as life unfolds around them, but they take charge and move forward to create a more rewarding and fulfilling experience for themselves.
The writing of the stories enabled me to reach something deeper, something bigger; a universal story about women, across cultures, across time.
The unique texture of the life of an individual character never ceases to fascinate me.
That is what I want the readers of my stories to take away: how important each life is and how strong the spirit of each woman is that she is never only a victim of oppression.
I hope The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories will help cast a fresh eye on the issues that women have faced and continue to struggle with.
I have completed a novel called Across Boundaries about a journey undertaken by a young woman, filled with romance and adventure, am working on another about the impact of displacement on people’s lives and have exciting ideas for more creative writing.
If you’d like to share the story of your arrival in Canada, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 416-695-4357