a novel by Fauzia Rafique
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the 'Spirit of Tranquility' (Sakina), in Hebrew; the 'Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity' (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Nisga'a Peoples, the 'River of Mists' (Skeena). At this time, I don't favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.
Skeena is the story of a Muslim Canadian woman spanning thirty years of her life where she explores her changing environments, religious and cultural influences, and intimate relationships. Told by Skeena herself, it is a rare glimpse into the mind and perspectives of a Muslim woman. With the utter simplicity of style and expression, and a plot immersed in gripping realities, Fauzia has created a novel that is hard to put down even when it explodes some deep-rooted myths.
Manjeet introduced me to Iqbal Singh, the farm owner. A kind and familiar-looking man, he had asked me a couple of questions. I told him that I had picked fruits and vegetables in the Punjab for three years. The lie worked well, and I was hired as a farm Worker and assigned to tend tomatoes in the Greenhouse. And just like that, I had a job. This was my first job after 10 years of landing in Canada but within 36 hours of arriving in Surrey.
I had no car but getting from Surrey to Cloverdale by 6:30am was no problem because a labor contractor picked us up and took us back in a discarded school bus. In my first season, I made $700 per month. It was less than minimum wage but was enough for one person to live on. It worked out better for me because Manjeet offered me a room in her house at half the market rent. She, as she does now, lived at the farm with her husband Bha Mahnga Singh and their two kids Parmjeet and Sukhwinder.
It was the most wonderful time of my life, and BC is way more beautiful than any other place that I know. On a clear day at the farm, I could see the mountains from my window; and the air did not smell of gasoline. The environment was so peaceful that I could hear the hummingbirds even when sixty people were picking berries and chatting in the orchard with me. I was at home like I had never been in Canada.
Manjeet and Bha Mahnga inducted me into their household not as a boarder but as a sister. That is what I also expected. Summer was busy, winter was no less. What was common was a sense of invigoration in my daily routine. All of us worked from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening. Manjeet and I would make breakfasts and lunches, and get the kids ready; at 6:30, Bha Mahnga would drive them to school, and we would clean up and join him in the orchard by seven. From that time on, I would chase and pick berries, interrupted only by lunch and a couple of tea breaks. Evenings were spent watching TV, finishing household chores, reading stories and studying.
I found myself in charge of Manjeet's children's education and wardrobe because the kids had assumed that coming from Toronto I would somehow be competitive in both. I tried to tell them that I had lived in a prison in Toronto but both Parmjeet and Sukhwinder thought it was an interesting story. I also did not want to think about it, so I began making use of the public library to stay on top of teen fashion and education.
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– Lisa Collins
About the Author
Fauzia Rafique is a South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry. Her English and Punjabi writings have been published in Canada, Pakistan, and on the Web. Print titles include novel 'Skeena' (Punjabi, Lahore 2007) and anthology 'Aurat Durbar' (English, Toronto 1995).
A selection of her English and Punjabi poetry 'Passion-Fruit/Tahnget-Phal' is due to come out in the summer of 2011 from Lahore.
She is a blogger and a web designer, and maintains sites and blogs on violence against women, environment and Punjabi literature and art.
Fauzia worked as a Screenwriter for Pakistan Television, and adapted the first novel of Fyodor Dostoevsky titled 'Poor Folk' (1846) in Punjabi as 'Apay Ranjha Hoi' (14 Episodes, 55 minutes each, PTV Lahore 1976), and Altaf Fatima's Urdu novel 'Dastak Na Do' (13 Episodes, 25 minutes each, PTV Lahore, 1975). She also wrote an original play on the profile of a Rag Picker (55 minutes, PTV Quetta, 1985).
A Gurumukhi edition of 'Skeena' by Tarlochan Publishers, Chandigarh, India, will be out in the spring of 2011.
"Skeena is a novel on patriarchy that never uses this word."
– Kishwar Naheed
"I believe that Fauzia Rafique's novel Skeena is a great addition to Punjabi literature both because of the subject matter and the technique. She has not just painted sentient, true and accurate pictures of our village and city life but also of Punjabis living overseas (Canada). In creative prose, the ample use of dialogue has reduced the burden on the narrative and has beautified the text. Fauzia shows things happen more than she tells them. Skeena, Bha, MaaN Jee, Ruffo, Ihtesham, Mumie Jee and Iqbal Singh aka Gamu are wholesome examples of character building. The big picture is created from small details. Novel's canvas is broad and wide. It is my observation that the Author did not write anything unnecessary. I expect that because of the content and technique, Skeena will be acknowledged as a great unique novel."
– Mansha Yaad, author
"Fauzia Rafique's novel Skeena is written differently than the others, the author has begun and completed this work with the full witnessing of the time."
– Parveen Malik