BY BODIES OF WATER in EDUCATION
In January 2015, I was invited by one of my previous professors at York University to speak to her class about my book in relation to the course.
Dr. Shobna Nijhawan teaches South Asian Studies courses at York University, and I had the pleasure of taking a class with her during my undergraduate study. The course in particular was South Asian Literature and Cultures (HND 2700). I was inspired with the idea for this book while taking various South Asian Studies courses in addition to my English literature courses, and it was during my time with Dr. Nijhawan that I began to draft the initial pieces that later became this book. In many ways, By Bodies of Water is a culmination, combination, and an intersection of my studies and passions in both English and South Asian Studies.
Dr. Nijhawan invited me to speak to her new South Asian Lit and Cultures class and about By Bodies of Water in relation to diasporic identity. The class was provided with an excerpt of chosen texts from my collection.
The opportunity to speak to a room full of eager young adults on pressing matters concerning the diasporic community was perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences I could ask for as a student, writer, and educator. To hear that the poetry in this collection changed their perspectives on their culture, identity, and place within the Western world was a truly unforgettable experience, and one which makes the effort behind creating this collection genuinely worth it.
Dr. Nijhawan contacted me shortly after my visit with reviews of the book written by a few of the students in her class.
This is what the students had to say.
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Naveed Khan’s By Bodies of Water is a trip down memory lane. The poetry is nostalgic as it brings out events in which many people who move to a new country can understand. His poetry is an enlightening read. It brings out many aspects to which people of the South Asian community can relate too. One memorable poem for me in his book was about the mispronunciation of South Asiannames. That is a struggle I believe many can relate too. The journey of encountering new phenomena in a new world is difficult in itself but Khan’s poetry makes one feel that they are not alone. I recommend this book of poetry to all readers.
Without knowing Naveed Khan, the author, personally, it can be seen thatByBodies of Water is written by an intelligent and experienced individual who has lived in a foreign land for a long period of time to recognize the marginalization of the South Asian community. Naveed Khan’s writing is very explicit to its motive. It can be understood that there is a singular purpose to its writing a message that is sought to be broadcasted. Ethnicity, race and immigration are very much touched upon in his writing. Personally what I loved about this book is the indirect forms of accusations. Throughout his literature it can be perceived that the acceptance of South Asians is led to forgetting their mother tongues and speaking what the ‘new land’ speaks. With assurance Mr. Khan discussed a lot about the Asians not being acknowledged, however, I feel the true meaning of his literature is to guide the minorities to establish confidence in their own culture and race rather than changing it to fit or merge in the foreign land. For example:
“My name is not
for your tongue,
you could not stand
the spices it contains,
and you are unable
from whence they came.
I will not water down
the flavours of my
existence simply to
Indirectly Naveed Khan affronts the foreign land. Encouraged to change the views of the immigrants to protect their culture and defend their rights rather than trying to accommodate their opinions to make space for oneself. I particularly loved how Mr. Khan touched upon all topics of discrimination and insecurities we, as South Asians, have throughout our lives, which is usually ignored or just forgotten about. The smell of Indian food and the smell of oil in one’s hair are often hidden by an Asian from the outside world of foreigners due to a great amount of embarrassment. Mr. Khan briefly talked about these insecurities to make us recognize and familiarize with all the shame we have about our own culture while living in a foreign land. Therefore with all the remarkable drawings that clarify the context of literature and the incredible writing, would suggest as many people as I can to read this book not only to understand what Asians settlers go through, but what we as a community must do to create a ’home’ in a foreign land and feel more accepted.
Naveed Khan, living in Canada as a diasporic individual, struggles to find an identity to which he may associate himself with. Currently studying at York University, this individual embarked an opportunity to publish his poetry specific to diasporic individuals and cultures. As a reader, the authenticity and depth of work Naveed Khan illustrated was unexpected from a student; the work was nothing but pure excellence and painfully beautiful. His combination of simplicity with play on words made his poetry exceptional. Being a part of this diasporic culture I was able to connect to every piece written by Naveed Khan within seconds. Also, it provides diasporic individuals with a sense of solidarity among other diasporic individuals. Personally my favourite piece was “Sharp” ; “Sharp” stresses the loss of one’s mother tongue. The reason I was able to connect to this piece was because when I was 5 I came to Canada. I spoke fluent Hindi then. However, as I grew older my English vocabulary increased whereas my Hindi vocabulary decreased. In the poem, Naveed Khan says, “…every time I speak, I can hear the broken parts rattle inside.” This to me describes my situation beautifully, in a poetic manner. All in all, I recommend the selection of poetry not only for those struggling in the diasporic culture but also those native to their country to get a sense of what diasporic individuals go through.
The poem that really stood out to me from Bodies of water is “Good Name”. By reading these lines I felt connected instantly. When reading this poem it is evident that the author is aiming his writing at South Asians or other like groups who face the same issues when coming into the diaspora. The entire poem makes one feel connected to it and perhaps even to others reading the poem. This poem makes you feel “Aha! Finally someone understands!” The author is seen to be touching on many things that many South Asians never speak about or problems they never address as problems to begin with. Personally, I connected with the stanza called “Good Name” because being an individual whose name has never been pronounced properly, I felt that these lines were something that other South Asians and I could connect to instantly. It helps prove that difficult names are not an embarrassment, it tells people of other cultures that they must go through some hardships and try; try to pronounce difficult names rather than just giving nicknames or changing the name as a whole. “I hope your lips never fully heal from/ the burn my name leaves on them. Only then will you learn, and only then/ will you remember how it is pronounced” (Khan 73). These lines in the stanza help me understand that it is okay if others have difficulty pronouncing my name along with other South Asian names, because it is important, and even though they will have difficulties in the beginning they will finally be able to address us by our true identities. As a South Asian author, Naveed Khan connects and speaks to his readers through this great poem and makes them feel understood. He helps individuals of all ages realize that what they have been feeling and thinking about for all these years are understandable and they should not be compromising with their identity or their culture.
Naveed Khan is a wonderful writer who is wise beyond his years. He has the perfect ability to capture the views that resonate deeply with individuals living in South Asia and in the South Asian diaspora. By Bodies of Water is a collection of short poems written by Khan. His writings are very much inspired by pre-colonial and post-colonial experiences. Along with his nostalgic linguistics, his poems are accompanied by organic illustrations that portray his messages correctly. Someone like myself, who is a South Asian artist - I idolize pioneers such as this young individual. For anyone who has not given this wonderful book a chance, please do! You will be pleasantly surprised and most importantly gain education which is beautifully executed through his art of writing.