Continued from Part2: The PEN reading was dedicated to those prisoners who had been behind the bars the world over for expressing their personal opinions. Due to the pressure from the national offices of the Pen, several prisoners had been released by their governments. A stream of constant pressure from abroad works because national governments of the third world countries are sensitive to any criticism that appears about them in the Western media. PEN Canada is the national body of International PEN founded in 1921 in England. The organization is committed to defending freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and enshrined in Section 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada.
As soon as my Hamilton reading was approved by the Writers Union of Canada, I began to select my poems and the telephone numbers of my friends I wanted to see. I left Cornwall on November 14. The next evening, I presented a poem on democracy at the gathering of PEN Canada before an audience that represented the multicultural nature of Canada. Every street, shopping plaza and high rise apartment buildings would confirm that these cities of Toronto and Mississauga are multicultural in every aspect. One can see women hiding their faces behind their scarfs, men in their ethnic dresses, and people of all colours and languages mingling and laughing in the same crowd. This area can boast of publishing multi lingual weaklies, including the Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Urdu, Panjabi, Hindi, Italian and other languages. Tolerance for faiths and cultures of minorities is the key to the climate of peace in Canada. A day after my arrival in Mississauga, it had started snowing. From Mississauga I had to head to Hamilton for my next poetry reading at a gathering that was being organized by Rev. Arthur. I hate to drive on highways on such days. One can be careful, but not all drivers are. A minor slip on the highway, where cars sped at more than one hundred kilometres per hour and traffic is high and everyone seems to be in a rush, may land cars in the territory of undeserved destiny. It was a drive of about forty minutes from Mississauga to Hamilton. Due to the heavy traffic it takes an hour and even more. In bad weathers, it takes longer for a person like me because I do not drive fast. At the same time I was anxious to reach much earlier to be able to feel relaxed to enjoy the event and to have more time with Rev. Arthur, the person who was arranging that event. I was anxious to have more time with his congregation. It was the same address in Hamilton where I had given a talk two years before. This time it was the presentation of my poetry in Urdu, national language of Pakistan that is understood widely in India. According to the printed program there were twenty-nine artists to participate. There were eight poets, including Ayub Din, Anil Dass, James Malik, Dr. Rashid Gill, Swapna Shail, Isaac Wilbert, Dr. Dannis Isaac, and Stephen Gill. The rest of them were singers and musicians, including Neeraj Prem, Albert Kamran, Reuben Arthur, Sam Arthur, Newton Peter, Edward Nelson, Solomon Gill, Samuel Inyat, Parkash and Olive Masih, William Masih, Vishal Renga, Ropi Romero, James Luke, Sanjay Lal, Javed Jamil, Ch: Iqbal Mujahid, Austin Raj Rattan, and Yousaf Murad.
Out of the town participants included Swapna Shail , a prominent Hindi poet born in India. She read Gumshuda (lost) that was a sensitive rendering of a raped girl. Swapna is an eye-opener in this poem as she is in most of her poetry. She openly lashes at hypocracies. Swapna sang also one of her own compositions. She was from Ottawa, the capital of Canada. I went there from Cornwall, a city close to the capital. People know Cornwall also because of its nearness to Montreal, a prominent city of the province of Quebec. Poets who went there from the surrounding area of Hamilton, included Dr. Rashid Gill and Dr. Dannis Isaac. Dr. Isaac is a respectable playwright from Pakistan. Other poets included James Luke, Isaac Wilbert, and Anil Dass.
Among singers, Yousaf Murad went from New York, and Austin Raj Rattan from Mississauga, Ontario. Reuben, a son of Rev. Arthur who was also tortured in Pakistan with his father and who is an accomplished young artist, played tabla with several singers. The event was attended by around three hundred persons in spite of the unfriendly weather. They were entertained with South East Asian snacks. Poets and singers were recognized with plaques handed by Rev. A.G. Van Eek. There was also a group photo. I presented a long poem about the situation of human rights in Pakistan. I was cheered with frequent clapping that made me feel that my poetry was being appreciated.
Encouraged with unusual success, Rev. Arthur has decided to repeat this event every year. At the social hour, several admirers expressed their hope for similar other groups to provide platforms along the same line to encourage artists from the region of South East Asia. For the social hour, I set up a table in the hall where tea was served to display some of my books and the cassettes of my Urdu/Hindi poems that were sung by Khaled Saleem. I was happy to meet the persons who came to talk to me. I could see the whole family of Rev. Arthur involved with their whole being in one thing or the other. Rev. Arthur was everywhere welcoming his guests and to oversee the arrangements. He looked relaxed enjoying every minute of his work. I was however getting nervous when I looked out of the window during the social hour. It was still snowing, covering the ground with a thick layer. Obviously it was not safe to drive on the highway. At night, it is not easy to see if the roads were ploughed or still covered with snow. If wipers fail for any reason, it is not easy to pull the car to a safer spot when there is a maddening traffic to the right and to the left. The problem is compounded if the driver is new to the area and it is night and the rush hours. The signs are partly covered with snow that make a driver more nervous. Under these conditions, one wrong turn becomes extremely annoying. While I was in that frame of mind, something happened. A person approached to shake hands. He told me enthusiastically that he was reading about me and my articles with interest. He also told me that his wife was anxious to see me. Soon he left and returned with his wife who looked like Chinese or Vietnamese. While chatting, he asked if I was going back. I said the weather was bad and I did not know what I was going to do. He took his wife aside to consult for a while, and then turned to me and said they would be pleased to host me that night, although they had a few guests. It was a prayer answered. They suggested me to follow their car. I wanted more time to meet people. After all that is one reason to be in social atmospheres. Gatherings provide opportunities to meet people personally. Writing is a lonely profession. Social evenings provide diversions that writers and poets need like anyone else. Moreover, cultivation of public relations is also important for success. That is a way for writers to make more contacts. On top of all, this evening was the ideal time to meet Pakistani Christians as well as from other nations.
I accepted their invitation with thanks, asking them to allow me another hour or so. I would take the directions over the phone if that would not be late for them. They did not mind. That person was Emanuel Gill from Pakistan and his wife Larence from Phillipine. When the Arthurs and others began to mop the floor and put the chairs in order and women began to pack utensils, I asked Rev. Arthur to give me directions to go to the house of Mr and Mrs. Emanuel Gill. He phoned them on my behalf that we were on our way. The meticulously clean house of Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Gill was palatial. So was their heart. They were humble. Larence Gill was a hostess beyond comparison. The food was appetizing. They introduced me to their guests Mr. Qamar Khan, his wife Sarala, and Vincent Nadeem. The Gills were retired nurses. Mr. Qamar Khan was a registered nurse and a diabetes educator in Toronto. He was a delightful conversationalist with a mine of knowledge about human rights situations in Pakistan. (Continued for Final Part 4)