Piri Reis’ map (c. 1513), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When the Editorial Board framed the theme statement for this issue of Serai on Nationhood, we asked in the opening paragraph, “What does nationhood mean today for the First Nations and other Indigenous peoples, who strive to navigate forward in a world hell-bent on leaving them behind?”

Did we have an inkling at that point of how the concept of nationhood, territory, borders and land and the state would be imagined and interpreted? We invited writers, academics, essayists and storytellers to huddle and contribute. From our diverse array of contributors, what has emerged is phenomenal and mind-bending.

First, the First Nations

To a certain extent, we did know that we would get phenomenally perceptive contributions. But when I personally went through the four-part presentation by Yves Sioui Durand in an interview with our editor Jody Freeman, a number of ideas unfolded in my mind. As an individual Editorial Board member, I realized that I had not understood many of the intricacies of settler colonialism and occupation, the initial forays into the fur trade by the European colonialists, the imposition of Christianity and the complexity of relationships of the various First Nations.

And how utterly foolish the quest for spices and gold by the colonizers, in heading further west towards Asia! It has been said (undocumented) that Vasco De Gama met Christopher Columbus and Jacques Cartier en route in the Atlantic, and told them to head the other way—then proceeded on to India himself!

Now, many of us may know about Yves Sioui Durand. He is an extraordinary artist and a documentarian of the history of the various First Nations. He is a pioneering member of the Huron-Wendat Nation. His deep grasp of the concepts and history of nationhood, colonization and the intricacies of the relationships between Algonquins, Abenakis, Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (or the League of Six Nations) and other nations feels like a fresh wind blowing over us. He is deeply reflective about Indigenous peoples’ history, not only in Québec and Canada but also globally, with special emphasis on the three Americas.

We are not only talking about the royally contracted adventurers of La Nouvelle France, Jacques Cartier and others, who travelled all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans and Louisiana to lay their stakes down on the ground. They posed as rather benign imperial warlords (they were only making 400 percent profit on the pelt trade!) compared to the British colonialists, who came armed with decrees to systematically erase the history of the First Nations and Inuit, loot, enslave and spread their notions of civilization. And the fact is that the British triumphed in Canada and that is primarily the reason why we are confined to this torporific two solitudes (French and English) and a complete state of prevarication on Indigenous peoples, despite all the pretensions about it.

This leads us to a short and poignant essay by Tahieron:iohte Dan David about borders imposed on Akwesasne territory. He says, “Rather than get angry, I chose to find out more about things like this. Things that most Canadians could not conceive of as possible unless it happened to them. Although, to be fair, anyone who has arrived in Canada from another colonized country might understand how borders can simply be drawn without a bit of concern or thought to the original people who called a place home.” 

In Haiti, a proverb says Pale franse pa di lespri pou sa

“Speaking French doesn’t mean you’re smart,” nor is it a fast track to intelligence. This Haitian proverb rejects outright the colonial language of enslavement and exploitation, and France’s colonial and post-colonial role has been succeeded, in English, by the US, Canada and anybody else who can get on the bus. This is why we asked our contributors, “What does nationhood mean for Haiti and other former colonies, which are still paying the price of past and present imperialism?”

Haitian-born artist Clovis-Alexandre Desvarieux was interviewed by our editor, Dave-Lentz Lormeus (aka DL Jones). An engineering graduate from Concordia University, Clovis has brigged over (a metaphorical old English representation of the current bridged over) to his interpretations of modernism, abstract expressionism and psychological cubism, combining them with multi-layered references to the liberation of the Haitian people and nation.  In this issue we have highlighted his works on the magazine’s landing page as well as with the interview.

A significant book review on South Asian First Nations

We move on next to the Adivasis of India, literally “the first inhabitants” of India. At our request, in an incisive review of Alpa Shah’s book (Le Livre de la jungle insurgée, Éditions de la rue Dorion, Tiohtià:ke / Montréal; in English, Nightmarch, Harper Collins), Sam Boskey, former leader of the opposition on the Montréal City Council, has presented another exemplary notion of nationhood. Not only have the Adivasis declared their sense of nationhood in terms of their relationship with the land, the forests, the mountains and the rivers, they have continued to battle the Indian state for over fifty years. Their active struggle is a thorn in the side of the large corporations heavily invested in the environmentally devastating extraction economy.

This brings us to Veena Gokhale’s extensive and well-organized interview with Himmat Singh Shinhat after his solo performance of Panj at the MAI centre (Montréal Arts Interculturels) in May. This self-exploratory multimedia production covers the Partition of India into two nations, India and Pakistan. And believe it or not, a British cartographer in London, who had never stepped foot on that land, took a pencil and drew a line over the map of India and defined the two nations’ boundaries! Himmat has been associated with Serai from its very inception. A swell and swing guitarist/musician (killin’ it when it comes to Hendrix tracks), Himmat documents the migration precipitated by the Partition via his parents’ experiences and journey from the erstwhile India and Pakistan, first to India, then to the UK and on to Montréal—through songs, live performance, spoken word, and compelling slides in the background.

Sandeep Banerjee, professor of English literature at McGill, writes in an expansive frame of mind, covering and building brick-by-brick the notion of the nation known as India: “In contemporary India, in this second decade of the twenty-first century, a complex set of socio-cultural processes are seeking to imagine India (as) an exclusively Hindu country as they push the Indian nation gradually, but firmly, down the path of a blut und boden kind of nationalism. The need of the hour is to contest these ideas to re-imagine India once again as a nation of plurality and inclusivity.”

We then proceed on to Joseph Kary who has contributed previously to Serai, and who examines deftly and precisely the ecosystem of poorly concealed antisemitism and extreme right-wing nationalism in the organized mob that attempted a coup d’état on January 6th at the US Capitol. We have problems! If the nation just 166 miles away from us is on such a gruesome track, we have reason to be greatly concerned—and no doubt the convergence of occupiers on Ottawa was well thought-out and intended to divide the nation in an ugly manner… and it has.

Cyril Dabydeen, poet laureate emeritus of Ottawa and a frequent contributor to Serai, has provided us with a short story that is at once cryptic, humorous and telling.  

In this issue, our contributing editor Maya Khankhoje reviews Montréal poet and writer Carolyne Van der Meer’s new collection of tender words entitled Sensorial. Here is Maya’s takeaway: “A rebellion against dehumanization is afoot and one of its sharpest weapons is poetry.”

I would have said to enjoy this issue, as it is a compelling intermesh of reflections on nationhood, nation states and the people who live on those territories. Nationhood, however, is not just about borders, bills, physical contours, customs clearance or toll gates. It is a state of ancestral learning and continuity—about lessons learnt in relationship to the land, the mountains, the forests, the skies and the people who have lived under it. It is about the historical and intellectual continuity of those who were there from before—the Adivasis (original inhabitants of the land, in Indian languages) and the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and beyond. Nationhood is about them, their struggles, their opposition to colonization, their efforts to keep their languages alive, and their ongoing battles to protect the land.

But things are not looking good in this world (after the new election results in Italy, where a Mussolini addict has captured state power). It is necessary to review this global condition and not simply drown ourselves in distractions posing as culture and the arts. We hope you enjoy the issue nonetheless, and use the comments section to share your critical thoughts with us.

Special thanks to those who helped edit and revise the French texts: Muriel Beaudet, Catherine Browne and Sylvie Martel; to Alix Van Der Donckt-Ferrand for editing the videos of our interviews with Yves Sioui Durand and Clovis-Alexandre Desvarieux; and to Jessica Stillwell for helping edit the English texts.

Untitled 1183, spray paint and pastel on paper with epoxy finish © Eric James Jensen

Admittedly, vigilantism may not be the first thing that comes to mind for most when thinking of pop culture, but that doesn’t make the two any less intertwined. From movies to comic books and beyond, the theme of justice is prevalent in popular media, and vigilantism is, more often than not, presented as the method through which that justice is attained.

Considering pop culture’s undeniable influence, it’s no surprise that such simplistic depictions of justice could inspire a warped sense of morality in so many. And given that Serai’s own central mission to bring the margins to the centre is a form of justice-seeking in and of itself, we felt that these connections were worth exploring. The act of vigilantism in question that set off our exploration into the topic was that of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who crossed state lines with an assault rifle and killed two people protesting in the name of Black Lives Matter. 

Such occurrences are not exclusive to the United States – far from it. Nor is the phenomenon a new one. In Québec, Alexandre Bissonnette shot six Muslim men after years of binging on an unhealthy diet of Fox News. In Saskatchewan, a farm owner named Gerald Stanley fatally shot a 22-year-old Cree man named Colton Boushie, as if summoning the spirit of an old Clint Eastwood character from a western. Further explorations reveal how the culture of vigilantism extends beyond North America and has raised its head in other parts of the world in certain historical contexts.

In this issue, Serai editor and in-house analyst of popular culture, Rana Bose, explores the concept of “sovereign citizen” and how it meshes with notions of justice and vengeance, perceptions of modern law enforcers, and popular culture, in “Sovereign Citizen and the Man with No Name.”

Irish Montrealer Kevin Callahan offers insights into the Irish Republican movement and what happens when state forces terrorize a population in “‘Vigilantism’ and alternative justice in the Irish conflict.”

Mirella Bontempo puts on her superheroine prick-proof vest and wades into the murky machoistic waters of the poliziottesco film genre in “Italian vigilante flicks: vengeance and popular culture.”

In “Talking Poetry,” author Mayank Bhatt interviews Toronto-based poet Michael Fraser, whose recent book delves into the little-known history of African Canadian soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, for the Union side. Such voices from a silenced past are crucial in shaping the collective consciousness.

Award-winning poet Gloria Macher gives a whole other twist to vigilantism in her poem “Pororoca,” recalling the Brazilian tidal bore that roars up the Amazon River.

“My Honour, Your Shame” voices the pain of being publicly vilified by those once close, in three probing poems by Serai editor Nilambri Ghai.

Writer, feminist activist and art photographer Linda Briskin responds to our theme on vigilantism and popular culture with a resounding piece on the invasive pervasiveness of noise in “Silence, Please.”

And Maritime artist Eric James Jensen, now based in Montréal, takes up spray paint, pastel and epoxy finish to uncover the hidden character of faces in a crowd – qualities that reveal themselves, line by line.


Posada postema, Oil on board (4 x 6”) © Eric Carlos Bertrand, 2021 / ericcarlosbertrand.com


Over a year ago when our editorial team gamed out our upcoming issues, we decided that the theme for this April 2022 issue would be “Out of the Ashes.” The concept was based loosely on the idea that we would by now be contending with the new, post-COVID world. How would it look? How should it look? What would be the Next Emergent Paradigms?

I wasn’t so sure. As early as summer 2020, big corporations had been running feel-good commercials “welcoming us back,” talking about “what we all just went through”– in past tense. As someone of Irish Catholic extraction, I have more than a bit of superstition in me. Us folk might be likely to call this whistling past the graveyard. I would look at the television wide-eyed. Went through, lived through? What are you on about, Applebee’s?

As wave after wave of the pandemic emerged and politicization did too – at times spawning fearmongering, conspiracy theories, fanaticism, and violence – those of us who had considered past-tense discussion of the pandemic premature were, sadly, vindicated. Meanwhile – either quixotically or as a glutton for punishment – I had signed on as issue editor for “Out of the Ashes.” And at every editorial board meeting, I’d gulp quietly to myself. Board meetings that coincided with the third wave, the fourth, the fifth. What had I gotten myself into? What ashes? And how in the world were we out of them?

Today it’s quite clear. If we had stuck with the concept of “Out of the Ashes” as “contending with a post-COVID world”– well, we’d have had to bin the whole issue. As I write this from Ottawa, the highest wastewater levels ever have been found in the city this past week. As we all slide right back into yet another – a sixth – wave, the US has passed one million deaths. All this at a time when provincial and federal governments have, in some cases for political reasons, “relaxed” all restrictions and removed regulations. Seemingly taking the Applebee’s approach: if we simply wish hard enough for something to be over, it can be over, right?

Yet any good student of historical and literary axioms could tell you that such wishful thinking has never worked as strategy in human history. Just because you’re through with the past doesn’t mean it’s through with you. One of my favourite quotes ever, from Faulkner: the past is never dead. It’s not even past. And Shakespeare, of course, had some passing interest in the idea, too, with “past is prologue.”

How many of us have sent the infamous email in the last two years, the last two weeks? “In these troubled times.” “I hope this email finds you well, despite it all.” Let’s face it: we are always “in these troubled times,” COVID and non. Some just feel more troubled than others.

As we publish this issue, the old ghosts of WWII have re-emerged. World war looms, with the horror of emergent war crimes the order of the day. Improbably, shockingly – we go to press here at a time when the world braces for the possibility of global conflict the scope of which hasn’t been seen in eighty years.

Events move so quickly, so horrifically. What in the world can we say about “out of the ashes” in relation to Mariupol? Kharkiv? Now, Bucha?

Heaviness. Not just COVID, not just war and genocide in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Mali, numerous other spots on the globe. Climate change disaster and environmental collapse. Poverty and inequality, racism, misogyny, and hate, corruption and corporate crime. Where do we find the space for optimism? Might it work better to think about individual transformation, when getting a handle on global catastrophes feels out of reach? Is there space for hope?

None of us has the answers there. We are all living this moment, holding our collective breath – whether behind masks, or not.

In terms of this issue, though, I have to say we did something right. Something we couldn’t have anticipated as we called for submissions and chose literary and artistic works. But something that created a spooky synchronicity all the same.

As COVID ground on, we decided to build our call for submissions around the idea that we are always burning, smoldering, rebuilding. Coming to disaster and yet trying again. Shiva dances, turning the universe to ashes. From ashes, the phoenix rises. The concept of a new world emerging from a twilight period lives across cultures, centuries, global issues.

And when we moved the issue away from the impossible “Reckoning with a post-COVID world,” something beautiful began to emerge. A theme via brilliant local, national, and international submissions that we could call “Politics and Poetry.”

It allowed us to curate an issue of which we are very proud – a synergy of the personally creative and the politically reflective, with works that collectively swirl inside the chaos in which we’re all swimming. It’s an issue that, eerily and often, echoes pasts that are just now, suddenly and improbably, horrifically, becoming the present again. Even as we were already reckoning with an uncertain present.

Käthe Kollwitz was an antiwar, antifascist, towering art figure of the 20th century’s world war period – famous for standing up to the Gestapo and for her portrayals of mothers and children, and the working poor and their struggles. How fortunate, then, for us to receive Miriam Edelson’s personal essay on Kollwitz’ legacy in her own family, accompanied by a tender portrait of a mother holding her child. Serai has added an interview with Edelson by editor Rana Bose, and a haunting Kollwitz sculpture that spotlights the burden of war on women and children civilians.

We are equally thrilled to include a unique interdisciplinary and interactive text here in this similar vein of the world wars through art and thought: an interview with Guy Sprung, the son of decorated WWII intelligence officer turned eminent Canadian philosopher, Mervyn Sprung. In it, Guy walks us through his father’s work and concepts, particularly finding the historical, the autobiographical, and the political within them.

Remarkably, as Chernobyl is so suddenly and uncannily back within the world’s purview, Hungarian-Canadian poet Ilona Martonfi offers a poem by the same name, accompanied by photography of the (now disturbed) exclusion zone. Her poetry’s associations of Eastern Europe – Pripyat, babushkas, Geiger counters, and Birkenau – are evocatively and sometimes chillingly present once again.

Our own longstanding editor Maya Khankhoje reviews Montréal writer Cora Siré’s Fear the Mirror. Yet again serendipitously, this issue includes discussion of a book of short stories built upon the interlocked lives of displaced peoples in North America, thrown together by the aftermath of European world war.

Award-winning poet and previous Serai contributor Nicola Vulpe once again provides fantastically otherworldly and allusory work. His imagery of cannons, hunger “tomorrow, again,” and a world in which “everything had burned” is prescient. Vulpe’s contribution holds intergenerational depths as well, with his poetry accompanied by artwork from his daughter, international artist Leonor Vulpe Albari.

Novelist Jim Upton offers up a personal account of being a visitor in the dangerous heart of an occupied land’s insurgency. This is not a piece from Baghdad of the 2000s or Kyiv today, but rather one that vividly lays out the terrain of Belfast, 1981.

With reckonings closer to home, Serai editor and McGill Islamic Studies associate professor Pasha M. Khan writes about the 2017 Québec City mosque attack, reflecting historically on its roots in white male supremacy, past and present, in Canada. Many of us just lived through weeks of the convoy occupation of Ottawa, with non-white residents and women terrorized and hate flags flying. Indeed, a mirror image mosque attack was, amazingly, thwarted outside of Toronto just weeks ago. Once again, the past isn’t past at all – and this piece clearly holds a renewed urgent meaning, now even more than it did when we began to conceive of this issue for the magazine.

In a similar vein of reckoning with past and present in homegrown racism and genocide, Serai’s Jody Freeman interviews Vice-Chief Sipi Flamand of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan. The interview features the Atikamekw nation’s incisive call for sweeping cultural changes in the wake of Joyce Echaquan’s death. Her grieving community has brought forth a straightforward plan of action to inculcate respect and recognition for Indigenous peoples’ rights. Out of the ashes of devastating racism, “Joyce’s Principle” offers a concrete and comprehensive way forward.

Our final group of contributors work within the cycles of burning and rebuilding, not in the sphere of wars or social affairs, but of planets, epochs, and the human soul. Poet Elana Wolff writes in terms of eons and on the most macro of levels, dealing with concepts of cosmic and universal destruction and rebirth. She contemplates the light from millions of light years away being sent forth on the night a loved one is born, unknowable but present: imploding stars, nebula, ash.

Maya Khankhoje offers readers a second book review that, like Wolff’s poetry, deals with planetary destruction and renewal, but on the urgent and human sociopolitical level. She approaches novelist and biologist Ann Eriksson’s 2022 must-read climate change tome, Urgent Message From a Hot Planet.

Finally, celebrated US poet Kathryn Jordan takes us to the land of neither political nor ecological destruction, but the personal. In moving explorations of the grieving of a lost family member, her poems evoke the common experience of the bereaved trying to make sense of where the lost life ends and the continuing damaged, wounded life begins.

We also count ourselves fortunate in this issue to be able to include the artwork of Mexican-Canadian artist Eric Carlos Bertrand. His pieces grace our landing page (Maximum Density) and this editorial (Posada postema), powerfully referencing the times in which we are living, with themes ranging from human statistics, epidemiology, and the one-of-many-in-the-crowd, to the primeval, the fire, the chaotic moment of destruction in the dispersal of the tribe.*

It’s clear: COVID – not to say world war, genocide, and totalitarian fascism on the march – aren’t through with us yet. Some days, one wakes up and scans the news on their phone only to be reminded of nothing less than Yeats’ rough beast and his lost falcon. Things seem, simply put, to be getting really bad. Aficionados of tarot and the Jungian collective unconscious might say we are living right now a moment of a particular card: the Wheel of Fortune, reversed.

What will come of it? What can we do? Who can say? What is certain is that we’re going to need art, and thought, and sadness, and joy – common sense and science too – to get us through this moment, cultivating the seeds for rebirth. Each author and artist in this important issue of Serai offers us that gift.


* For more on Eric Carlos Bertrand’s work as a painter, conceptual artist, gallery director and writer, please visit his website, Instagram page and non-profit gallery in Montréal, Cache Studio, which promotes under-represented artists.



Mercado Municipal José Castillo Tielemans, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas – Photo © Claudia Itzkowich Schñadower


“Just Food,” the theme of our current issue, slyly downplays the power of food by dishing it up as utterly ordinary. The very idea of “just food” may, in fact, be an oxymoron. The humbleness implied by “just” in no way conveys the potency of the political, historical and social forces that converge in the essays we are about to share. Nor does it explain our deep and tender sense of connection or the emotional and aesthetic responses evoked by the simplest of dishes or produce – as the literary and visual pieces in this issue will attest.

For starters, Subhadra Khaperde and Rahul Banerjee, who have devoted most of their lives to fighting for organic farming and the rights of the farmers, present a clear and incisive history of food from the Neolithic Revolution to the current globalized system of chemical agribusiness. Such a feat of historical research, analysis and synthesis is reminiscent of Sidney W. Mintz’ groundbreaking anthropological study of the 1980s, Sweetness and Power, which looks at transatlantic slavery by following the evolution of sugar from an extravagant luxury item to a staple of the industrial working class. More than three decades later, Khaperde and Banerjee trace the effects of colonialism and industrialization on the cultivation of food, and the damage wreaked by multinational corporations, market and war-driven economics and the extreme logic of capitalist practices. What’s more, they offer the seeds – literally and figuratively – of grassroots solutions to bring the planet, and humanity, back from the brink.

Covering similar ground but in “bite-sized” bits, Rana Bose’s opinion piece, “Some Hard-to-Chew Facts,” gets to the core issues of famine, the role of war and political instability on food security, cash crops vs crops for sustainability, monoculture, multiculture and desertification, biodiversity, peasants and farmers, and more. At the request of the editorial team, Bose transformed his original catalyzing rant into this “mixtape” factsheet, debunking myths and cultivating fresh perspectives.

In her review of Wendell Berry’s epic poem The Farm (first printed in 1995), Louise Carson shares her down-to-earth reflections on the viability of engaging in urban or rural food growing, and on Berry’s poetic insights inspired by land and tree and “good work.” Verses like the one where Berry comments on the harvest of those engaged in small-scale organic farming give pause for thought:

‘Too much for us,’ you’ll say,
And give some more away –
Or try to; nowadays,
A lot of people would
Rather work hard to buy
Their food already cooked
Than get it free by work.”

Without romanticizing or preaching, Carson’s review mirrors Berry’s gentle poetry and engages us in deeply personal explorations.

The (im)morality of how we treat food and the land is evident at every turn – but so too is the vivid emotional connection we have with our food. And very often, that immorality and sense of connection are intertwined.

A case in point is bannock, the flatbread that is a well-loved staple in many Indigenous households. Ossie Michelin, director of the award-winning podcast series Telling Our Twisted Histories, explains in an interview with Serai editor Kerry McElroy that this simple word – the subject of one of the series’ 11 episodes – elicits a whole range of associations: for some, memories of colonialism, hunger and abuse by the Hudson Bay’s Company; and for others, the comforting warmth of a traditional family gathering. The podcast is designed to bring people together “to decolonize our minds: one word, one concept, one story at a time.”

Two poets featured in the issue, Nicola Vulpe and Nilambri Ghai, evoke the depths of emotional universes with “POEM OF THE UNFINISHED SANDWICH” and “POEM OF ANCESTORS” (Vulpe), and “Green String Beans” (Ghai). Their poems are illustrated with powerful art by Leonor Vulpe Albari and Amani Singh, respectively.

Meanwhile, Joseph Kary’s poignant photographic essay, “The Hands Remember,” needs no words to make us feel, dream, smell… or cry, even.

This issue wouldn’t be worth its salt without the imminent presence of a bustling, overflowing market. “A Ritual of Humble Abundance” spontaneously materialized in answer to our call. Laurel Páez Brave, a new contributor to Serai, shares an amusing, delectable story about a ritual foray into San Salvador’s Central Market, where the teeming abundance of all things edible is shadowed by poverty and undercurrents of gang violence.

And while the preliminary behind-the-scene work for this issue triggered Rana Bose’s concerned and biting mixtape, it also ushered in a flurry of transcultural expressions associating food and love, as you’ll see in the first part of Maya Khankhoje’s essay “El tamalito.” This playful text doubles as a review of a trilingual children’s book (Nahuatl-Spanish-English) that likens tamales wrapped in corn leaves to tenderly snuggled babies. In the process, its author and publisher, Isela Xospa, conveys a powerful message about the preciousness of local foods… and languages, and publishing efforts. The book’s simple and endearing illustrations make the political and the ethical delightfully digestible.

This is the first time we’ve devoted a whole issue to food, but we are so pleased with the response to such a fundamental topic to sink our teeth into that chances are it will not be the last. Our special thanks to Samantha-Lee Quinn (“Sam”) for her ongoing input, support and accompaniment throughout this issue.


Bon appétit!





Homage to Little Burgundy © Jody Freeman


As far as memory serves, the last Montréal Serai issue dedicated to music was exactly eight years ago… so it seemed about time to put out the (trumpet) call and see what “Just Music” meant to our community of contributors. Surprisingly, despite their wildly different approaches and focus, the submissions we received seem to hold a common thread  – a thread of history, a thread of legacy, a thread of continuity in cycles, rhythms, tradition and culture, both musically inherited and imagined. There is a sense of lineage that runs through this issue. Montréal Serai’s own lineage dating back to its theatrical beginnings in the 80s has always had a strong link to music and the telling of stories through that medium. Here are the stories of our contributors.

It is well known that Montréal has an important foundation in jazz. In a singular piece by writer and musician Paul Serralheiro, he uncovers his previously unpublished, 40-year-old recorded interview with Earl “Fatha” Hines, a pillar of jazz whose touring band once included Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan. Amidst the bustling sounds of the Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club, we hear Hines state simply, “You see, the story people don’t realize is, we didn’t know we were making history.” The Serralheiro of present day beautifully contextualizes the young Serralheiro’s wide-eyed brush with greatness. We feel privileged to be able to share this extraordinary find with our readers for the first time.

There is a good chance that anybody that has heard of classical Indian music also knows the name of the late virtuoso sitarist and composer Pandit Ravi Shankar, for years the most globally recognizable face and sound associated with the genre. Pandit Shankar’s student, sarodist Aditya Verma, provides us with a personal account of his journey at the age of 18, from Montréal to Delhi, immersing himself in the ancient Indian apprenticeship tradition known as Gurukula, living and learning music in the home of his guru, Pandit Shankar. We learn of the oral tradition dating back thousands of years that transmits Indian music from generation to generation. Pandit Shankar used this tradition to impart musical lessons to his students; Aditya’s father used this tradition with his students; and today, it is how Aditya relays musical knowledge to his own students. The musical lineage is intimate, encompassing, and generative.

Generative inspiration can come from archived treasures as well. While Paul Serralheiro found an old cassette recording that led to his piece, Gavin Morais was inspired by archives of a much more personal nature. In Patterns of My Father’s Voice, Morais uses cassette-recorded radio performances of his late father’s poetry to stir up electronic musical soundscapes, propelled by the meter of his father’s recitations. Wonderfully assembled staccato beats and melodic snippets ricochet in drenched musical atmospheres, exposing the resonance of Michael Morais’ words. In Gavin’s piece Semen stick together, the listener almost feels that the late poet is being spurred on by the sonic collage, and the playful double entendres of his poem somehow become even more (pleasingly) absurd.

In a piece exploring lineage of another sort, feminist cultural historian, writer, and Serai editor Kerry McElroy reviews Robyn Sarah’s memoir Music, late and soon, recently shortlisted for the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, awarded by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Here we have another tribute to a mentor and teacher, Sarah’s piano teacher Phil Cohen, a main actor in her life story from early days to present. Kerry writes “The book is circular as a text, much the way that ideas of time, past, present and future are explored in the author’s life throughout it—in flashback, blurred timelines, and stressed continuities.” We learn of the author’s return to classical piano after many years of absence to become a writer, and her reunion with Cohen, and his philosophies on music and life.

Multidisciplinary artist Himmat Shinhat, himself part of the lifeblood of Montréal Serai’s musical legacy, provides us with a view into the recent documentary film I am a Cliché. The film explores the life of Marianne Elliot Said aka Poly Styrene, frontwoman for British punk band X-Ray Spex in the late 1970s. The film is co-directed by Said’s daughter Celeste Bell, and Shinhat tells us that “Bell explores her mother’s journey through the challenges that confronted her as a biracial, non-conformist artist, celebrating her life and her art and offering inspiration to future generations of artists…. This film is a precious document that counters the ongoing erasure of BIPOC presence in the arts.” It is interesting to note that Said’s lyrics presciently spoke of themes such as genetic engineering, mass media control, consumerism, and the environment, leaving a much more complex legacy than the standard punk rock fare.

Serai’s Jody Freeman shares her conversation with Zab Maboungou and Elli Miller Maboungou of Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, Montréal’s contemporary dance company founded by Zab more than 30 years ago, about the inheritance of the drum and the complex rhythms from Congo, West Africa and beyond. Reflections on the colonial suppression of traditional drums and subsequent denigration of the complexity and richness of what is encoded in their rhythms run through this exchange. As a contemporary jazz percussionist and Nyata Nyata drummer, Elli takes up the baton, exploring and honouring his Congolese instruments and their source.  His dancer-choreographer-philosopher mother explains it this way: “… since the rhythms are very organized and codified, they’re complex. That’s why I tell people we’ve had algorithms for a long time – they are there in the drums… But what’s amazing is that rhythm is infinitely creative… Rhythm is about time. That’s the circularity, the infinite, you know?”

Johanne Ricard discovered stone sculpture in Carrare, Italy while completing her bachelor’s in visual arts. In the presented pieces with musical themes, Ricard explores the influence (and legacy) of her father, a musical director and teacher, through the perhaps unexpected medium of stone sculpture. The spiraling, curved forms and traced etches (at times geometric) are evocative of sounds, flora, the body, and musical concepts and instruments, sometimes abstractly and sometimes explicitly. Ricard states “Liées à mon histoire familiale, plusieurs de mes œuvres portent l’empreinte de la musique.” Thanks to Chantal Mantha and Karine Ricard for helping revise the French in this piece.

Poet and activist Ilona Martonfi’s incisive poetry in this issue juxtaposes sobering incidents with the lifeforce of traditional folk music. In The Orangery, the protagonist’s ritual of cleansing and emerging from a dark episode is contrasted with a Sicilian folk song about “love” with a refrain about flowers. Images in The Lundu prod the reader to consider the realities of the people behind the folk music and dance in Brazil. Traditions are turned askew in this new light.

Emerging writer Sophie Gazarian provides us with a beautiful story of a family’s relation to the waxing and waning of music, noise, and sound. The intimate journey traces a landscape of sonic abundance as well as deprivation as each member rejoices and tolerates in turn. This legacy of sound and silence reaches beyond the simple story as the protagonist states, “My father always said that the first stories were told in song: the chirp of birds, the hum of insects in the summer heat, and the whistle of high winds through the trees. Before humans created their spoken and written languages, they found other ways of telling tales.”

And thinking of silences, in Joseph Kary’s quiet and introspective photo essay on musicians he asks us to contemplate the “music between two notes.” His images, frozen in time, allow us to scrutinize “musicians in the instants within the music, the moment’s pause that captures the whole.” We get to reflect on how many such moments manifest the root of musical momentum.

Some people are transported by such momentum, and metamorphose the beats and tempo to germinate their own creative offerings. Playwright and poet, Serai’s own Rana Bose takes us on a personal account of his poetry process. Sounds, pulses, basslines and beats all inform his spontaneous artistic practice, and we tumble, dance and shuffle along with him in this rhythmic rumination.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Montréal Serai. Our contributors prove that even “just music” is humming with so much more.

Prasun Lala and Jody Freeman (co-editors)




Duo, Etching (Artist’s Proof) © Sharon Bourke


A group of oil-on-canvas camel herders in Rajasthan, a number of plants sent from different parts of the Middle East and Africa to Montréal by mail, a black-and-white photograph of the longed-for “velvet hush of a foggy evening,” hand embroidery on cotton toile, sublime images from a toy camera, and an abstract gold-and-red acrylic homage to dancer Carmen de Lavallade combine with the voices of filmmakers and wordsmiths in this unprecedented issue: “Just Art.”

When asked to provide an example of a great work of art, people will more often than not give an answer that unwittingly reflects the major biases asserted by the widely-accepted canon of art history. That is to say, the selection of works deemed “great” reveals the ideologically motivated construction of the canon. The omission of queer, racialized and gendered voices – as well as the dismissal of entire artistic mediums – has resulted in a distorted and incomplete representation of “universal” creativity and aesthetic effort.

Until quite recently, this canon had gone largely unchallenged. Over the past few decades, however, the artistic communities that make up the global art milieu have become increasingly critical of institutions that have naturalized the Western male perspective as the only perspective, and their voices are slowly making their way into the mainstream consciousness.

For over 35 years, Montréal Serai has been committed to bringing the margins to the centre. In the case of the current “Just Art” issue, our open call naturally attracted artists from a diverse array of backgrounds, with distinctive, original, often political voices, working in “unconventional” mediums, and spanning at least three generations.

The landing page features the work of Marie-Josée Tremblay, an Anishinaabe artist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. In her own words, Tremblay “paints what lives in [the] unconscious without being aware of the process.”

Author Veena Gokhale reviews Dede Crane’s One Madder Woman, which outlines the life of Berthe Morisot and her journey towards establishing herself as a professional artist in the 19th century – a time when women were largely excluded from artistic recognition.

Anahita Norouzi’s piece, “A Glimpse into the Displaced Garden,” addresses themes of colonial displacement and diasporic movement. The work was created in collaboration with eight refugee families from the Middle East and Africa, who provided Norouzi with dried plants native to their land – plants categorized as ‘foreign and invasive’ in Canada. “Displaced Garden” draws parallels between the botanical specimens – slightly damaged and deteriorating due to their cross-continental journey – and the refugee families that have participated in the realization of this project.

Florence Yee’s “PROOF,” an ongoing series of embroidered watermarks on textile prints, explores the problems that are inherent in archival documentation. Yee’s textile prints of seemingly mundane yet intimate spaces, obscured by the repetitive embroidered word “PROOF,” reveal that certain bodies cannot – and should not – fit into the neat classifications and fundamentally limiting boundaries of archival documentation. Yee writes, “How do we hold space for the unrecorded, the unrecordable, and the yet to be recorded?” “PROOF” attests to the nuanced and complicated reality of identity and warns of the dangers that follow the desire for documentation.

Rajath Suri’s review of Bahman Tavoosi’s 2019 film The Names of the Flowers (Los nombres de las flores) focuses on myth and legend. The film follows the development of a curious story in the mountains of Bolivia, involving Che Guevara, a local school teacher and a bowl of soup.

Divya Singh’s collection of text and film photos, “Tell Mother, I’m Home,” reflects on the passage of time. Her introspective exploration with the camera captures the liminal and intangible passing between one moment and the next. The blurred long-exposure images verge on offering respite from the inescapable force of time by fracturing it into multiple temporal and spatial registers, allowing them to coexist within one image.

Marie Thérèse Blanc’s photographic series, “Things We Lost in the Curfew,” captures the comforting cover of nightfall, the “sensual obscurity” Montrealers were deprived of under the curfew.

Our issue editor, Jody Freeman, interviews Kahnawà:ke-born filmmaker Roxann Whitebean in “She Cleans the Sky.” In the conversation they had in mid-May, before the unmarked graves of children were discovered on various sites of former Indian residential schools, Whitebean shares memories of her formative childhood, including the Oka resistance in 1990, and how these experiences inform her work. In a telling revelation, Roxann states that she doesn’t consider herself an activist: “I think that when you’re an Indigenous person who lives your culture, standing up for your people and the right to be recognized as a sovereign nation is just a way of life.”

Sharon Bourke’s impressive series of digital and acrylic paintings are accompanied by her meditations on her life as an artist, poet and writer committed to racial justice, social justice and women’s rights, in her home state of New York. Her collection of semi-abstract works portrays the celebratory aspects of life and nature in this piece entitled “A Communion with the Atmosphere.” It closes with her poem, In Lieu of a Salute. Sharon Bourke’s etching, Duo, is featured in this editorial.

Author and Serai editor Rana Bose reviews H. Nigel Thomas’ novel, Easily Fooled, in his piece entitled “The Skin Below the Mask.” The story follows a young gay Methodist preacher who flees from St. Vincent to settle in Montréal. Bose examines Thomas’ careful narrative in which the main figure, Millington, struggles with reconciling his faith and his sexuality.

Zachary Couture’s essay, “Palestinian Voices in Theatre: Where Are They?” calls attention to the reductive treatment of Palestinian perspectives in North American plays centred on the Israeli/Palestinian “conflict.” Couture argues that many of these productions discuss Palestinians in the abstract, only portrayed or acknowledged through the eyes of Jewish or white characters.

“The Painted Earthling,” a story by author Gloria Macher, is a sci-fi parody that playfully comments on the greed and consumption of human beings through a discussion of the makings and alchemy of colour.

Lastly, Ajit Ghai’s collection of oil paintings, “Heart of the Desert,” depicts scenes of daily life in Rajasthan, India. Ghai’s artistic process involved studying Bargue and Gérôme’s Cours de dessin – the famous late 19th-century drawing course consisting of almost 200 lithographs of subjects to be copied by students. Ghai has applied these skills to his own practice by capturing naturalistic scenes of everyday life in Rajasthan, effectively bringing 19th-century technique into the contemporary.

As with any anthology or exhibition, the artworks gathered here are sown by an aleatory thread. In this case, the particular backdrop of our post-quarantine climate, combined with Montréal Serai’s history and the mysterious paths that our call to artists may have followed has resulted in a “quilt” of diverse techniques and ideas – all unique, all driven by a desire to represent the intangible lived experience.



Source: Wikipedia



Keywords and key phrases often capture the heart of a poem.

Blossom Thom, Montréal poet and writer, reflects in “Auntie Ida’s Thanksgiving Blessing:”

Our truth grounds us. Our roots
dig deep, searching for magma to

fuel our warmth or to burn those
who expect us to accept their

outdated stance of ignorance.

Her poems offer a lesson in unravelling history, as well, for those who want to look up the names referenced. Please do, as it was an educational experience for us.

In “Ghosts of Mercy,” Cora Siré, poet, novelist, and now revealed to be a screenwriter as well, states:

My beacon beams as I pan the waters
to let them know I’m here, careful to disguise
distress, my shivering. The sliver of moon
floats detached. I too hide my fears.

In this significant departure from the beaten path by our editorial board, we chose to dispense with the “theme statement,” which we have been using consistently for some time now. Instead, we chose “Just Poetry” as our invitation to submit works. We were flooded with submissions and, given the numbers, some significant works had to be set aside.  We do have some of Montréal’s best-known poets here in this issue – and that is not meant to exclude other well-known poets that Montréal has brought forth. In fact, this city has spawned some of the best poetry shindigs on a regular and weekly basis, be it the Lectures Logos Readings, Speakup, Lapalabrava, the Argo reading Series, the Visual Arts Centre Poetry Readings, and several live venues that were forced to go virtual, due to the pandemic.

We have a riot of colours and signals, including the “slivers of moon and magma” flowing all over in words, music and ballads – including one performed by Montréal’s Ian Ferrier, the founder of many poetry and performance initiatives in this city. Ian performed live at Serai’s 32nd anniversary celebration and has provided us here with the words for his performance of “Emma’s Country” – a moving and eerie portrayal of the plight of Gaspé fishermen. It is the video of his performance that we have selected for this issue.

We have outstanding poets like Louise Carson, Catherine Watson and veteran Montréal curator and prolific poet Ilona Martonfi in the house. And then there is Endre Farkas – going back to the Véhicule Press era of #vehiculepoets – who asks in “Good Friday” why the rich must casually complain about the stench of poverty everywhere. In “Landscape of Abandonment,” Dinh Le Doan, a poet and engineer from Beaconsfield (Québec), traces the trees’ abandonment of “their hard-working leaves to the cruel November winds.”

Widely-published poet and writer Savita Singh, a former McGill University alumna now living and teaching in New Delhi, dedicates her poems “Palestine” and “Autocracy” to the memory of the late Prof. Sam Noumoff, a supporter of Serai who had contributed articles for us in the past. Savita’s poems have been translated from Hindi by Medha Singh, who is herself a well-known and extraordinary poet.

Always ready to take poetic license, we couldn’t resist including a short story by novelist Mayank Bhatt in the mix. “Activist” plunges us into the hidden life of a young woman fighting for the rights of Bombay’s destitute, and a rookie reporter who doesn’t know when to stop.

Former Montréaler Michael Mirolla – prize-winning writer, poet, film scenarist, novelist, and the cornerstone of the premier Toronto-based publisher, Guernica Editions – has provided us with his surrealistic, magical essence in a clutch of poems that are many-layered, technology-inquisitioning, and cheerful as well.

And we are not at all done! We have an extraordinary review of Jocelyne Dubois’ new poetry compilation by Montréal poet Hugh Hazelton. And the indefatigable Maya Khankhoje provides us with an extensive review of When the Light of the World was Subdued, our Songs came Through, a Norton Anthology of Native Nations poetry.

And finally, an absorbing review of Louise Carson’s Dog Poems and Carolyn Marie Souaid’s The Eleventh Hour, by Montréal musician and much-loved troubadour, Brian Campbell.

And was there some discussion as to whether we have a Montréal bias?




Justice for Joyce Echaquan (Tiohtià:ke / Montréal, October 3, 2020)  © Photo Jody Freeman


There is a vital energy pulsing through this winter issue of Montréal Serai. It radiates off the landing page, with the vibrant art of Leah Kanerahtaroroks Diome, who is from the unceded Kanien’kéha:ka Territory of Kahnawake. In her paintings, Leah shares a piece of her heart and invites us into her culture and language. The restorative power of art is integral to her story.

Activist Michèle Audette is forthright in her interview, sharing truths about systemic racism and sexism, being born into segregation and denied her right to grow up in her Innu culture and traditional territory. From a very young age, she was cradled by women from diverse Indigenous nations who infused her with visions of justice and healing and courage to fight. Resilience has deep sources.

Sáasil Uj Chi Xool, a 10-year-old Maya schoolgirl, storyteller and artist, shares her story of “The Little Deer and the Tiny Star.” Her parents, María Reneyda Xool Yam and Hilario Chi Canul, are right behind her in this creative project and are committed to the revitalization of the Mayan language.

Multimedia artist, poet, musician and filmmaker Craig Commanda from Kitigan Zibi offers a luminous array of beadwork, poetry, films, music and art. Reflecting on past, present and future, his artistic practice “seeks resurgence contributing to cultural preservation and revitalization for and by Indigenous peoples.”

Nineteen-year-old Alice Cormier, an Inuk artist from Kuujjuaq who is enrolled in a Visual Arts program in the south, talks to Montréal poet and novelist Carolyn Marie Souaid about where she comes from and how her Inuit culture shapes her art. (The “south,” in this case, refers to Montréal.)

In “Sheets to Die For,” seasoned poet David Groulx leaves us pondering before plunging us into dark night-waves in “Relinquere.”

Maya Khankhoje’s story, “The Emperor and the Crab,” sidles up with a sly pinch of truth about the power of resilience. Maya is one of the founding editors of Montréal Serai.

Choreographer, dancer and teacher Amrita Choudhury shares her experiences of travelling to teach and perform in western Canada and being stranded there without stable accommodations when the first wave of the pandemic struck. While no stranger to racist insults, Amrita was deeply affected by the violence she witnessed. In “Reflections from the Heart: Journeying Through COVID Isolation,” Amrita attempts to reconcile these experiences with her gentle approach to life and dance.

Anishinaabe filmmaker, singer-songwriter-musician and photographer Marie-Josée Tremblay presents her latest short film NIB8ÏWI, with its haunting soundtrack. NIB8ÏWI – the Abenaki translation of her original title, Durant la nuit – is accompanied here with a stream-of-consciousness text (in French) on the terrors of the night.

In a sweeping piece called “India’s Indigenous Peoples and the Rise of Brahminism: Bhima-Koregaon, Then and Now,” Shankar Tadwal, a Bhil tribal activist in Central India, Subhadra Khaperde, a Dalit feminist fighting for social justice, gender equity and sustainable agriculture, and Rahul Banerjee, an activist working for equitable and sustainable development, offer their insights into the historical and current significance of the town of Bhima Koregaon—particularly in relation to the Adivasis’ resistance and the Dalit movement against the caste system. The accompanying photos tell their own truths of survival and resourcefulness.

Intrepid film critic Mirella Bontempo digs deep in her review of Trickster and Inconvenient Indian, highlighting their multilayered reflections on Indigenous realities and their searing exposure of colonialism. Citing Thomas King, Kent Monkman and Skawennati’s Time Travellers, Mirella focuses on the ongoing importance of Trickster and Inconvenient Indian and the Indigenous voices informing them. She comments in her bio that she “learned about First Nations’ tricksters while writing this piece, and about raceshifting after it was written.”

We hear many voices resonating in these stories, recalling those who came before us, those no longer with us, and those—as the legends tell us—who are still tiny stars in the sky, waiting to come.

Our deep thanks to our contributors and to our readers. We invite you to share in this dialogue.



© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020


The shrillness of “normalcy”

Can this phase of capitalism known as globalization kill itself and then reinvent itself? Or can it come up looking good, with another brand name? What would that post-COVID-19 society look like, socially, culturally and politically?

That is the essence of our theme statement for this issue. But in order to proceed, we need to define what constitutes globalization and when it actually started.

Globalization, as per popular mainstream wisdom, was initiated in 1492 – when Christopher Columbus fumbled, stumbled and made landfall on what the local Lucayan people called Guanahani… later called the Bahamas! Some others say it all began in 1498, when Vasco da Gama made it to Calicut, on the Malabar coast in India.

There is evidence to suggest that Christopher was not only a commissioned explorer, but also a rogue adventurer and bounty hunter, with poor math skills. (He got the earth’s circumference wrong and thought he could reach India faster by sailing westwards.) Eventually, after four trips he was brought back in chains to Spain. By that time, he had cut off the hands of a number of his sailors as well as of Indigenous people, for mutinying, and had effectively decimated several Indigenous pre-Columbian civilizations.

There are others who would like to suggest that Genghis Khan, with his conquering and unifying skills along the Silk Route, or Marco Polo as he headed for China to discover and embrace noodles and silk, were pivotal characters for globalization.

But hold on! These are the Investopedia, World Economic Forum (WEF) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) versions of “exploration, discovery and the opening up of trade routes,” packaged and sanitized to look and feel like a tribute to “man’s” insatiable quest for “discovery and adventure.” The mission, as we came to know later, was to carry away quantities of black pepper, coriander, red pepper, bay leaves, mustard, tea and turmeric, in bulk, while concurrently decimating the rights of the Indigenous population, and making “settlerism” a universal doctrine of colonization, occupation and genocide.

So, with some salt, some pepper, some chocolate and vanilla, and plenty of multi-coloured sprinkles – like religion, moral education, building ports and railway lines – the opening up of the raw material requirements for the first industrial revolution were initiated. Now, all this was about colonization – about extraction, about carrying away various ores by ship and rail, about settling and displacing, about forced eviction! About the advent of industrial capitalism. About cotton, indigo, sugar, coffee, potatoes and plunder. About forcing cash crops on peasants worldwide and wiping out self-sustaining food production.

Far from being globalization, it was plunder and occupation. Now, cotton, sugar and the harvesting of various plantation products needed handpicking. And therefore, this became the basis for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slaves did not get wages. Not a cent. Treated as human chattel, they were bought and sold to erect the massive foundation of this settler economy that emerged as a world imperial power. Slaves did everything. They covered a whole gamut of skills, from working as bakers, barbers and basket makers to blacksmiths, brewers, cooks, dairy workers, coachmen, dancers, fiddle makers and fiddlers, as well as firemen, shipbuilders, sailors, weavers and wheelwrights. We do not often realize how ingenious this brutal system was in building the foundation of what is now the US.

Chemistry and Hollywood!  

In 1979, however, a chemistry major turned barrister, Margaret Thatcher, and a grade C actor turned President, Ronald Reagan, jointly scrapped government entitlements and regulatory controls, fist-pumped for a more “robust free-market economy,” and upheld British and US exceptionalism in world domination. Through force (continuous military interventions abroad) and the mantra of “free trade,” their followers in Canada, like Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Jacques Parizeau, Paul Martin and now Chrystia Freeland and Trudeau Jr, have continued to pray at the altar of globalization.

Neatly folded in to these “exciting” new policies was a series of paralyzing attacks on unions, erosion of human rights, a privatization spree of existing public infrastructural arrangements, and further undermining of public health, pensions, education and housing.

This was promptly followed by a rather deft “common sense” approach to lifting cross-border tariffs, with favoured nation status given to some but not all, and “free trade” sold as a panacea for the economic crisis the West was facing. In fact, the UK at that time, which was then in such a dilapidated state, was the only developed country ever that got a 3.2-billion-dollar rescue package from the IMF.

One of the key components of the grand Free Trade mission was to encourage the companies to move their manufacturing (and the related skills) to “LCC:” low-cost countries. The sales pitch clearly suggested to large, mid-sized and small enterprises to look for raw materials and finished goods abroad, if they wanted to profit. Move machinery – even head offices and the means of production – abroad!

Now that is the true starting block of the globalization race. Not Columbus, not Da Gama, not Genghis Khan or Marco Polo. It was Reagan and Thatcher.

Nestled in these arrangements was total impunity for multinational corporations to profiteer scandalously, while stepping all over environmental requirements. It gave birth to a new economy, based on a dynamic “supply chain” – an economy of bulk-buying at enormous discounts, bringing in and storing materials in massive, digitized, automated and robotized warehouses, and creating the concept of third-party logistics. Independent organizations that owned or leased 53-footers to haul and deliver just-in-time goods and materials, albeit in small quantities, became contractual deliverers, based on local demands.

Now these warehouses still needed humans to run them! And so came the advent of entire warehouses populated by underpaid people of colour, recent immigrants, refuge seekers – on a contract basis, with no job permanence or adequate health and safety provisions – who could of course be hired and fired, to guarantee “low-cost wages!” All the conditions were then in place to ensure the highest possible margins in the supply chain from factories abroad to households in North America and Europe.


© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020


Today, this very warehouse-based economy has been defined as “essential” in the context of the success of the globalized economy. In his incisive essay, Mostafa Henaway, an organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre and a Concordia University lecturer and doctoral student, surgically unmasks this development of the warehouse- based economy and deftly exposes its “chokepoints.” In the context of COVID-19, this economy was defined by governments as “essential.” This is an element of globalization that must have caught the big unions by surprise.

Sam Boskey, former Montréal City Councillor, civil rights activist and perennial learner and teacher of world history (right down to each borough in Montréal), expands on the issues raised by the theme, Can this phase of capitalism kill itself and then reinvent itself? Or can it come up looking good, with another brand name? What would that post-COVID-19 society look like? His answers are blunt and vigorous. He says, “…the pandemic lockdown has demonstrated that in the immediate aftershock of such social upheaval, it is possible for both government and civil society to identify some of society’s most vulnerable members and fashion some short-term palliative measures. In this, we are able to harness the initial spirit of ‘we’re all in this together.’ But entrepreneurial interests will soon regain ascendancy, and our caring about ‘each and every one’ will wane, with the private sector once again overriding the public good.”

Amrit Wilson, a well-known UK feminist and South Asian anti-racism activist for decades, and the author of several books, was interviewed on-line recently by Montréal Serai. In response to the question of whether the essentials of globalization (de-regulation, free trade, etc.) would be phased out, she says “… it is important to remember that we are not simply talking about neoliberalism, but about the shaping of hyper-neoliberalism into fascism. This is certainly the case in India, Brazil, and Hungary where we now see full-fledged fascism, but also in the US and increasingly in the UK.”

Frequent contributor to Serai and well-known journalist and activist from India, Nilanjan Dutta, hauls up the state by the collar, arguing that it is using the pandemic as an excuse and is exploiting lock-down measures and terror to erode people’s will to resist the larger enemy of systemic, widespread profiteering – also known as neoliberal capitalism and globalization. Nilanjan refers to “the mask” not only as a protective device, but also as a metaphor for gagging and prodding the population so that “we are becoming amicable to the idea of a strong and omniscient state.”


© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020


You will notice that sprinkled throughout this editorial essay, we have included some paintings by Juan Raggo. Juan is an artist of Chilean origin, now living in Montréal. After studying architecture and art in Chile, Juan arrived in Québec in 1974 for reasons we all can guess. Once in Canada, he worked at the Bureau de prisonniers politiques du Chili and contributed to publications such as El rebelde (The Rebel). The intimate paintings featured in this issue are part of the series “Confinement and Insomnia,” a reflection of the current times, particularly as experienced by the elderly.

Our co-editor Nilambri Ghai reviews the latest book by Egyptian-American writer and aphorist, Yahia Lababidi, Revolutions of the Heart. “In our divided world today, [Lababidi’s book] seeks our transformation as people first, then as citizens of one planet earth, envisioned beyond the divisions of political boundaries… with elements that, like pandemics, do not differentiate one from another.”


© Juan Raggo, Confinement and Insomnia series, 2020


Montrealer Sharon Lax’s new book, Shattered Fossils, is reviewed in depth by Jane Affleck. An extraordinary book of short essays on multitudinous issues, “Lax’s stories leave us with a final question: What stories can we begin to tell, in order to remake norms and create an equitable and just post-pandemic world?”

Frequent Serai contributor and Montréal-based author Veena Gokhale injects her own experiences and familiarization process into the review of Raquel Fletcher’s Who Belongs in Quebec? If the title sounds trite after so many decades, it is because the matter remains to be resolved!

Our landing page features the work of Gavin Morais, a Montréal sculptor and video artist whose visceral, alien-like works are reviewed by James Oscar, a past contributor to Serai.

And Montréal’s masked poet Brian Campbell unveils his COVID poem, “Stranger.”


A conclusion

Globalization, as a phase of capitalist mutation, received a punch in the face from COVID-19. The predatory nature of globalization came to a point where the environment, life forms, the food chain and health controls for both animals and humans were prodded until slumbering viruses residing in animals got released into the atmosphere.

Suddenly, we were told to get personal protective equipment (PPE) overnight. We were garrisoned and politely told to stay at home! In Canada, that is. In other countries, like China, India, Italy and elsewhere, it was a punishing lockdown. With curfews, no less. No flying, no travelling, no hanging out, no going to work, and even talking to your neighbour across the balcony was scoffed at.

Factories closed down, except those categorized as “essential.” “Gig” workers were told to stay at home or apply for relief. Landlords were told to hold back rent collection, and banks promptly offered loans with deferred payback (and compounded interest). The pandemic was declared. Governments around the world started pulling out their real money and mixing it in with the money they printed, betting on speculative futures, and began to spend billions on COVID relief. The deal was to return to “normal.” Governments started to look magnanimous, except the few that thought “herd” immunity could save the world and “balancing the budget” was more important than people’s health.

In retrospect, it looks like the essential elements of globalization may be revived again… after a while. But some things will have to change. Liberal and democratic Canada will have understood that the exhortation of public measures like the ones Tommy Douglas fought for would not be enough in this day and age. The government would have to budget for far stricter controls over senior citizens’ care homes (be they public or private), extensive reserve capacity at intensive-care facilities, a far greater emphasis on and protection of frontline healthcare workers, self-sufficiency in the domestic manufacturing of PPE and intensive-care equipment, and a dignified approach to re-educating a large segment of the population that our collective welfare is more important than the fickle notion of “personal freedoms.”

Only the likes of Genghis Khan, Robert Clive, Winston Churchill and their ilk would dispute that kind of change.



Ephemeral graffiti in solidarity with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, outside the US Embassy in Mexico City just seconds before being erased. Photo © Rodrigo Fernández de Gortari


I really wanted to finish this editorial letter today, but that was also the case yesterday, and three days before, and four (six? eight?) before that, when my oldest brother tested positive for COVID-19. He’s ok, as is the youngest of my brothers, the asymptomatic one.

Only today, though, I rocked along with millions of people living in Mexico to the rhythm of a 7.1 earthquake. My partner didn’t have time to grab his shoes but he handed me my favourite facemask, which I managed to put on as we ran down the stairs.

Excuse me for hogging the limelight. If I choose to write in the first person, it’s because that’s the best tool I could find to express not my own anxiety but the fact that by now, the feeling the editorial board shared when planning this issue has morphed into a different state. The overpowering reminders that control is but a fragile, senseless illusion are sinking in.

Moreover, whatever devices do exist to keep us “safe” in the midst of the current pandemic are distributed as unequally as everything else in this ever more soul-less configuration of the globe.

“You know how they keep saying, ‘We’re all in this together?’” writes Montréal-based nurse Scott Weinstein in his sensitive letter from the frontline in Washington. “We’re not. In this city that is now majority white thanks to relentless gentrification, our expanding COVID ICU beds are filled with blacks and Latinos, many of them in medically-induced comas on ventilators.” As he pauses to imagine what the situation must feel like to his coworkers, to patients and their loved ones, one can only hope that enough people read his declarations before it’s too late. “This is a very cruel disease exacerbated by our efficiency-driven health care,” he comments about the fact that families are not allowed to visit except if their loved one is about to die. “We don’t have much to offer in the way of cures, yet we certainly are inflicting pain on families through our medical isolation protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.”

There is the disease, and it’s scary enough, but even scarier are the underlying policies, and those that are improvised as we go.

On that note, inevitably Mr. Trump managed to make it into the issue. Social psychologist Mark Silverman describes the president of the United States’ behaviour as a “schizophrenogenic strategy to derange the mental health of a large sector of the population in order to nurture a trove of true believers…”—a population that we can only hope will keep shrinking and keep failing to fill arenas, as was the case in Tulsa last June 20, despicably close to Juneteenth.

The issue includes a short story by Ami Sands Brodoff, written before the pandemic, which centres on the mourning process of a teenaged character, and a lucid, bold and angry piece by Queens-based writer Andrés Castro, addressing the narrator’s online therapist.

Naghmeh Sharifi, the artist featured in this issue, shares a series of works that she “unpainted” (out of a solid base coat of blue) as part of the Phi Centre’s Parallel Lines virtual residency. A house plant, a moment of self-grooming, a selfie of her shadow in her bedroom become monochromatic, conceptual self portraits.

A number of narratives in the first person, written under the effect of the pandemic, include Catherine Watson’s “Diary of the Great Confinement,” Marie Thérèse Blanc’s “Carpe Noctem (Woman v. Virus, 2020),” and Louise Carson’s “Plague Days: Poetics in the Time of COVID-19,” which starts off as a poetry review and morphs into a much more personal piece. Readers will be able to discern the exposed emotions in the form of hesitations, confessions and witty descriptions. Or intriguing, intimate humour, as is the case with Mark Foss’s “Call and Response.” Or probing insights, like those of Michael Bristol, who, after mulling over different life-altering experiences and masterfully reflecting on human nature, sadness and beauty through the characters in Shakespeare’s Richard II, writes that “Grief compels us to understand what really matters, over against the irresistible power of contingency in our lives.”

For the hundreds of thousands of people who have decided to protest on the streets since the execution of George Floyd, what really matters is to dismantle the system of police brutality and racism, rather than try to stay “safe.”

When we began planning this issue, we wondered what sorts of societies the aftermath of the pandemic would expose. While atrocities like the callous murder of George Floyd are part of an all too predictable pattern of racial violence, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen such widespread, global expressions of outrage and signs of promising changes: the vandalized statue of slave trader Edward Colston sinking into the river in Bristol; Senegalese citizens kneeling on the beach in solidarity; Angela Davis, as brilliant as ever, reminding us that “After many moments of dramatic awareness and possibilities of change, the kinds of reforms instituted in the aftermath have prevented the radical potential from being realized.”

So far, for sure.


© Ajit Ghai



© Oleg Dergachov (http://www.cartoongallery.eu/englishversion/gallery/canada/oleg-dergachov/)


In the past couple of years, we have all discussed and dissected, with intensity, the man-made climatological changes that have hit our earth. It has become frustratingly clear that it is not enough to debate the science, the predictions and the impact on our future lives on earth, as our only channel of activism. Climate change is not simply a result of bad habits and poor science, but a systemic overpowering of peoples’ choices through the erosion of the strength of the commons and the right to assemble freely and converge together for a more cooperative and sharing society.

The commons generally refers to:

“… the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. […] Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.” (Wikipedia)

Vast segments of the country are part of the commons, places where public jurisdiction or public access is not something that can be constrained. Parks, forests, river areas, wetlands, falaises, the migratory pathways (in the skies and on the ground) of birds and animals immediately spring to mind. But the commons also includes parts of a city – the urban landscape, the parks and plazas outside subway stations. These are areas where the poor can congregate to afford themselves some pleasure… the public version of the backyards of folks in gated communities.

The commons is where people meet and have a right to congregate. It has to do with human rights and individual freedoms, where access to essentials like water, food and shelter are controlled by local populations and not by private interests.


Political decision-making in the shadows

There is a nebulous political structure that decides how many school playgrounds a borough will have. In local government, who decides where social issues can be resolved? Who decides to cut trees to build a soccer field – and how many trees to cut? How is the process of implementing public welfare decisions constructed (such as decisions on social housing, growing trees, forming cooperatives, etc.), and by whom?  The whole cooperative decision-making process and cooperative living style – community living style – is not really in the cards, even though heroic movements have fought for it for decades, right here in Montréal.

All this is being discussed in various forums, but there is not enough impetus for preserving the public wetlands, forest areas, parks, mountains – everything that surrounds the city and everything in the city that could be defined as the commons.

Many of us are deeply concerned and worried about what is going to happen, not just for the next five years but for the next twenty. Where do we stand with all this? It seems to us that the climate movement has waged a fairly decisive battle in making sure that this man-made crisis is clearly identified for what it is. However, the same climate movement has very limited controls over any decisions that governments may have arrived at as a result of signing on to certain targets.

Very simply put: large, polluting, fossil-fuel-using nations routinely renege on targets or opt out of programs. Canada is one of them. We have decided to deliberately miss our 2030 targets by 15%. There are limited political watchdog surveillance systems that monitor the provincial and federal governments’ actual performance in curbing our ever-increasing capacity to exploit our natural resources.

There is something else looming large that is not being discussed enough: a shadowy image in our minds of an ever-growing political structure that is preparing subtly to oppose environmental measures through a variety of sustainability-friendly measures that are combined with coercive policies in non-sustainable areas. The forces of privatization and the fossil fuel industry are surreptitiously rebranding their claims. The climatological battle cannot be won unless we curb privatization and fight for the public commons.

The environmental movement in Canada has parked itself outside the obvious areas where jurisdictional decisions are taken. Having a Green Party or an NDP with a competitive green policy is patently inadequate unless these parties are part of a political movement that operates in the commons. And the movement for the commons has to integrally respect Indigenous land rights and cultural heritage.


In this issue

Our issue features a photo essay on the Wixárika people’s opposition to a Vancouver mining company’s operations in Mexico. Photographs by José Luis Aranda and commentary by Serai editor Claudia Itzkowich highlight these Indigenous activists and the sacred land of Wirikuta that they are committed to protect.

Freelance journalist Patrick Barnard makes the climate crisis personal in “First Person Climate Change.” Reflecting on science and the weather and key figures shaping his consciousness over his life time, from CBC’s Bob Carty to Moby-Dick, Patrick implores us to halt the “mad narcissism… the driving force of the world as it is organized today.”

Blossom Thom, poetry co-editor of Jonah Magazine, speaks in her poems of yearning, love, and oceans shouting to the shore, sleep collected in remnants, gold dust coating our throats. In “The Garden of Dutiful Women […] whirling, we step on the edges of blades.”

Rae Marie Taylor, author of The Land: Our Gift and Wild Hope,” ponders the distance separating humans from the natural world since the Industrial Revolution, and the need to reclaim our wildness and preserve the commons. In “The Root of It,” she writes: “We need each other and the land that speaks to us of life other than our own. We need the tides and the shores of our planet […] the forest and the hills, the plains and the rain, the elk […] We are necessary to their survival. They are as necessary to ours.”

Better known for directing plays and films, Guy Sprung reflects and muses in his poem, “Dusk on Loukes Lake:” “I float | downside-up | in a darkening world…”

In her poem entitled “Dhrupad of Destruction,” Savitri Sawhney evokes the eternal dancer of creation, conservation and destruction in Hindu mythology, Nataraja, dancing “to the sound of crushing ice, melting glaciers and rising seas.”

Vrajesh Hanspal’s dark poetic prose piece, “Forest Floor,” plumbs our more sinister imaginings of the forest and its carpet of organic detritus teeming with the crawling, ticking and cooing creatures that respected no boundaries…

Two incisive poems by Paris Elizabeth Sea tear into our theme without mincing words, in Moment, arriving.

Maya Khankhoje reviews a highly original novel by Brenda J. Wilson entitled TAKEWING a.m., which centres on the yearly migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico and back.

And this editorial features a drawing by Canadian cartoonist Oleg Dergachov, commenting on human obliviousness as we fly too close to the sun.

We hope our issue boosts your spirits and stirs your creative juices as we spin new filaments of community in this uneasy time of Corona.





Taken from José Celestino Mutis – Real Expedición Botánica al Nuevo Reino de Granada, t. 2170 (1783-1817), Public Domain


Perhaps scientific understanding and artistic imagining are different aspects of the same impulse.
And humanity’s great understanders and imaginers are inspired from similar sources.

Jack Klein

That science informs art is patently obvious: painters and sculptors studying anatomy to depict a body, poets and musicians using math, who manage to move us all.

The reverse equation is less obvious, however, and more intriguing: trips to the moon were projected on papyrus (or whatever Greek author Lucian of Samosata wrote on in 160 AD when he came up with the idea[1]), 1800 years before they took place in space.

And then there’s the practice where both approaches interact in parallel, in the search for… beauty? truth? Rana Bose’s essay, “First principles and aesthetics,” offers incisive reflections on the potential correspondences between these two objectives. Yet even making a distinction between formal beauty and veracity may be irrelevant.

Celestino Mutis was an 18th-century Spanish surgeon, astronomer and botanist. In the aim of investigating the plants of Colombia for his Flora del Reyno Unido de Granada,[2] he closely directed the work of more than 40 painters, many of whom joined his trans-Atlantic expedition. A school of drawing and painting was created just for this project in Mariquita, and as some of the Spanish painters fell ill, artists from Quito joined the enterprise, along with local painters from Santa Fe, Cauca and Popayán… and other waves of newcomers from Madrid. Accurate depiction was the goal, and in order to do justice to the exuberant natural palette of the region, the painters used soil, fruit juices, bark, saffron, achiote, palo de Campeche, copper oxide, the grana cochinilla insect, indigo and many more vegetal and mineral pigments whose recipes were carefully controlled by Mutis himself. Art or chemistry?

This issue of Montréal Serai was already underway — that is, da Vinci had already been evoked in the essays of Maya Khankhoje and GG Jolly, Veena Gokhale had already submitted her insightful review of the South Asian Film Festival of Montréal, and the team had unanimously welcomed Marie Thérèse Blanc’s empirical and poetic account of the death of her father — when I came across Amanda Woolrich’s animated engravings inspired by the work of naturalists like the Count of Buffon (1725-1723) and Alfredo Dugès (1826-1910), projected on the thick walls of the Centro Cultural San Pablo in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Meanwhile, poets were inundating the Serai submissions inbox. Their verses evoking spleens and aortas (Cyril Dabydeen), radioactive boars (Ilona Martonfi), gravity (Louise Carson), Cartesian space (Paris Sea) and cells (Maya Khankhoje), and reflecting on the dreamworld of winter (Dinh Le Doan), yearning (Gina Roitman), wildness (Mary Dean Lee) and dementia (Brenda Linn), remind us that the intersections of art and science form the borderlines of pretty much all we can know… or feel.

Oleg Dergachov’s cartoon of three (narcissistic?) snails looking at an abstract representation of the spiral they carry over their soft bodies may summarize “in a snailshell” much of what the authors in this issue have to say. In a similarly teasing mood, physician Jack Klein recalls how, at the turn of the 20th century, Ignaz Semmelweis “lost his marbles after a long and fruitless quarrel with the German medical establishment regarding the need for handwashing after dissecting cadavers before delivering babies!” In that vein (pun intended), the provisional truths of art seem far less dangerous—and far more enticing.


[1] In his book La ciencia en la literatura, published by the Universitat de Barcelona, Xavier Duran lists 400 literary works that illustrate the close relationship between science and literature.

[2] Antonio González Bueno, “La Naturaleza en imágenes. Los pintores de la Flora del Nuevo Reyno de Granada (1783-1816),” en José Celestino Mutis en el bicentenario de su fallecimiento (1808-2008) (B. Ribas Ozonas edit.), Monografías de la Real Academia de Farmacia, 26, Madrid. Available at: https://www.analesranf.com/index.php/mono/article/download/961/958




College students at the climate strike in Montréal, September 27, 2019 – Photo by Jody Freeman


The word performance has become a catch-all expression for any act performed in front of an audience or without an audience. Be it acting, dancing, rapping, singing or playing the oboe or an acoustic bass in a gilded opera house, in a blackbox theatre or on a sidewalk. In many cases, an act of installation or an act where an artist allows a stream of viewers to sit in front of her and stare at her nakedness as she sits immobile is also considered performance. It is also disturbing for many.

Is there a contradiction between performance as entertainment, performance that is essentially an esthétique of form, beauty and years of extraordinary cultivation of skills, and performance that is by itself an act of change, designed to disturb?

For a moment, let’s step aside from the idea of performance, theatre, 3-act plays, previews, music concerts, gala opening nights and even acting and our views on it, and let us throw a bunch of words and phrases together and see if they can conjure up a recognizable human condition. Conditions like  helplessness, hopelessness, ridiculousness, absurdness, nonsensicalness, meaninglessness, bewilderment and obscureness, and extreme frustration. What feelings do such conditions conjure up? Maybe nothing? Maybe some disturbance?

Can we relate to such words and conditions and make a plot-less, language-neutral, dialogue-hostile, structure-less theatre production? Could such a production be staged on a street, on a balcony, on a patio, in a gym or in a cozy, close-up theatrical space? Could the response to that above condition end up being disturbing, provocative, unconventional, subversive and yet not foolish, but intelligent, persuasive and in fact maddening and anger-inducing about that very condition of helplessness?

It is the absurdity of the condition that generates or instigates a performance that is openly absurd, not only in the script, but also in the performance. While all formats of performance remain valid, it is often a performance with an element of absurdity that generates a significant departure, curiosity and disturbance in the traditional audience.

In this issue of Serai, we have a series of very engaging interviews, essays and dialogues featuring local and international figures: leading Montréal actor Howard Rosenstein; and the artistic director of the Montréal theatre group Teesri Duniya, Rahul Varma, for starters. Koulsy Lamko, Chadian exile and writer, actor/performer and artist speaks about his experiences as a theatre artist engaged in “theatre for development,” who founded the Centre Universitaire des Arts de l’Université nationale du Rwanda In 1999 in the aftermath of the genocide against the Tutsi. Visual artist Stanley Février reverberates globally from Montréal’s South Shore, using multimedia installations, sculpture, performance and guerrilla theatre to spur changes in personal and institutional practices, in our understanding of globalization and its ravages for humans and the planet. Février challenges and impels audiences to grapple with what it’s like to be marginalized or rendered invisible.

In fact, all of the above pieces emphasize the need for reflection, for practicing performance as change, for being disturbed as audience or reader. In a generation where a post-literate condition is worshipped and short attention span capabilities are taken as electrifying qualifications, performance as change could be a way to shake things up and cause a certain necessary disturbance.

Several critical reviews weigh in as well.  Blossom Thom reviews Lisa Bird-Wilson’s The Red Files, an anthology of poems in tribute to the children of residential schools—“about the soft facts that fall outside the frame of the stories.” Maya Khankhoje attends the 29th edition of the Montréal First Peoples Festival and reviews Quentura (Mari Corrêa, Brazil, 2018), a documentary on the effects of global warming on the health of the Amazon jungle. Himmat Shinhat reviews Run J Run by Montréal writer Su Sokol, about intense relationships in a non-traditional family, describing the novel as “brilliant and compelling.”

And to round things off, there is an endearing essay by one of our recent guest editors, film teacher and cineaste Dipti Gupta, on her encounters with India’s exceptionally innovative theatre director and dramaturge, the late Habib Tanvir. Dipti also contributes a spontaneous poem to the issue, one that is emotionally charged and yet quietly resilient. Continuing in that vein, Jan Jorgensen, an ordained United Church of Christ minister in Montréal and organizer of monthly readings at the Art Lounge, offers us an extraordinary poem entitled “A Post-Modern Hell.”

Disturbance is good!




Readers of Montréal Serai may have realized that we have removed an interview by Mayurakshi Sen with Indian theatre director Sudipto Chatterjee. This interview was done very recently and was made available as of October 10th in the current “Performance as Change” issue. We have been informed by Mayurakshi Sen that Sudipto Chatterjee was arrested this past Friday for alleged sexual assault on female students at the Academy where he taught. Mayurakshi herself has taken a stand against him and publicly disassociated herself from him. It is the view of Montréal Serai’s editorial board that although everyone should in principle be able to defend themselves through the judicial process, in cases of sexual assault, the traditional conspiracy of silence implicitly favours the accused and blames the victim, and in this case, three women have come forward with accusations of sexual assault.
Rana Bose, on behalf of the editorial board of Montréal Serai


Montréal street art – photo by Jody Freeman


Québec has just passed Bill 21, which bans many Québecers from holding positions of authority in the public service ostensibly to extend the appearance of ‘neutrality’ of the state. There has been a loud cry of praise for protecting secular values without understanding that the wearing of a turban, for example, is as much a part of identity as one’s religion. It was fine for Sikh soldiers to wear their turbans with pride while fighting in the trenches of the two world wars, but as Québecers today, they cannot wear these while teaching in schools or serving in the government. When the state asks for such choices to be made, smaller voices are lost in the euphoric din. My editorial is dedicated to voices that no one hears because they are not prominent enough, not loud enough. Unnamed voices that fill us with rage, force change, and cross boundaries to touch both the heights and depths of our collective selves.

This issue of Serai speaks through art, music, fiction and biographical documents. It features David Groulx’s poem, “A Breaking Open of the Belly,” an Anishnabe voice that refuses to be silent: “They cut the soul,” he writes, “from the spirit/from the body from the spirit of the earth.”

Jooneed Khan’s review of William Ging Wee Dere’s encyclopedic book Being Chinese in Canada: The Struggle for Identity, Redress and Belonging describes Chinese life in Montréal starting from 1909 when Dere’s grandfather, and later his father, immigrated to Canada. The book is an important reference to the political events that shaped the author’s life, education and career right from Loyola High School and McGill University, to Canada’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1970, Québec’s Marxist-Leninist movements following the general strike in 1972, and the ensuing disappointment and disillusionment after the “defeat of the ‘Yes’ camp in the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association.”

Himmat Shinhat in his review of Cyril Dabydeen’s collection of short stories, My Undiscovered Country, focuses on multiculturalism and how the words and voices of writers like Dabydeen have helped the shift from a focus on origins and essentialism to “a more dynamic understanding of multiculturalism” that allows for complex identities, “fluid and adaptive to the realities of a culturally and racially diverse society.”

In a multimedia piece that explores finding her true voice, Marie-Josée Tremblay focuses on pure voice and sound and how they work in music, liberation, confidence, conscience, and in the collective spirit of murdered and missing Indigenous women. “Prendre Position” is to find Loretta Saunders’ voice that continues to ask, “Did you see me?”

Sharon Bourke in her review of Louise Carson’s book, In Which, Being Book One of the Chronicles of Deasil Widdy, reminds us of the tradition of the picaresque novel. She describes how the book takes us back 300 years to the southwestern seascape of Scotland, and to Deasil Widdy, unsure of himself and his surroundings, looking for distance to escape from dark memories, for “some tranquil land he has not yet found,” while feeling throughout, Scotland’s hanging sense of “danger and suspense.

Musician, writer and educator Paul Serralheiro interviews Andy Williams and Lewis Braden, two brilliant Montréal deejays who are committed to bringing multigenerational voices of jazz and the African diaspora “to the masses,” in his article entitled “Jazz Amnesty Sound System: voices from the past speaking today’s language.”

“Bodhyobumi” (Killing Field) is a photo montage with commentary created by Keya Dasgupta, Subhendu Dasgupta and Tilak Seth. The broken murtis – mangled and discarded mannequins, stripped, dismembered and flung out in an open pit in a dump yard next to a shopping arcade in south Kolkata – inspired poems in Bengali (translated into English by Nilanjan Dutta)… voices that spoke for the redesigned, discarded, dissected bodies of “writers, artists, journalists and all those / who lived to protest and resist.”

Ilona Martonfi, in her poems, “Seven Mountains,” “La Folle,” “Bleaching” and “Terezin,” speaks of the abandoned, the orphaned, the “silence back to silence,” a “plum moon / half-remembered fables,” telling stories of “a word such as children / or hunger.”

Catherine Watson in “Nelly’s Diary” goes back to 1909, the year her grandmother Nelly got married to Arthur and gave birth to Catherine’s father. Behind the veil of an unwanted pregnancy, the near impossible access to safe abortions, and the collective scorn for unmarried mothers from families and husbands “incapable of considering anyone’s feelings but [their] own,” Nelly survives in a “run-down terrace house on a forgotten street in West Croydon, the poorest part of town.” The piece is particularly relevant today when a number of states in the US are looking at the “heartbeat” bill to restrict or ban abortions.

Ami Sands Brodoff’s short story, “Will the World Pause for me?” is the soft and turbulent voice behind the faultlines of normalcy. Someone – Collier – “sweeps his arm around you and their touch is different from anyone else’s.” It calms. It is tender. It soothes. The water is cold. Collier gives you a hand. Brings you back “to the quiet of before.” The voices are gone.

Maya Khankhoje in her review of Drew Heyden Taylor’s collection of essays, Me Artsy, describes the essays, in the editor/compiler’s own words as “an exploration and deconstruction of the Aboriginal artistic spirit.” The essays range from Zacharias Kunuk, producer, director, auteur of Atanarjuat; Monique Mojicais, an Indigenous woman artist; Marianne Nicolson, an installation artist; Steve Teekens from the drum group, Red Spirit Singers; Richard van Camp, storyteller and writer; and many others. The book is “about art in general” and “performance in particular.” It is about change. Performance as Change is the theme for the next issue of Serai. Send in your submissions!



Montréal student climate protest, March 15, 2019 – Photo © AJ Korkidakis


Veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk, speaking to a packed house at St. James United Church in Montréal in 2015, reflected on ISIS and the colonial history that has fomented justifiable resentment across much of the Middle East and continues to underlie ongoing conflicts.  He pointed to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, in which the British and French colonial powers secretly agreed to divvy up much of the Middle East between them.

For the past 40 years, Fisk has been investigating and reporting on the forces setting (and unsettling) the world stage. He has been steadfast in recalling history, exposing the underlying interests at play, showing deep respect for all communities of people and speaking his truths as a human being who for much of his life has witnessed the ravages of war. His comments about faith and loss of faith continue to resonate:

“[…] as a civilization in the West we have lost our faith. The irony is that we who have lost our faith have the power to impose ourselves upon people who have not lost it, while people who’ve kept faith do not have the physical, military, or political power to defend themselves.” (Robert Fisk Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley)

One hundred years after the Sykes-Picot agreement, the dislocation of the world’s population has now reached unprecedented proportions, and we would be hard pressed to find a small pocket of humanity or nature left unscathed by the traumas of colonialism and the successive iterations of capitalism that have pushed our planet to the brink.

Nothing sacred, no planet B

On Friday, March 15, 2019, two events unfolded that have a bearing on our theme. One was the culmination of ever-broadening student strikes (#FridayforFuture) rallying young people around the world, calling for crisis intervention to save the planet. In Québec alone, more than 150,000 young people occupied the streets of Montréal and Québec City.[i] The other was the murder of 50 Muslim worshippers at the Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a young white Australian man driven by white supremacist ideology and hatred. That calculated massacre was perpetrated at the same time as young New Zealand students swelled the streets of Christchurch, marching to sustain life on earth.

Québec and New Zealand now share a grim history of Islamophobic shootings. Both have white supremacist groups whose ideologies are touted by right-wing populist politicians. But in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown real political will to close ranks in solidarity with the grieving Muslim community, fight Islamophobia, take strong gun control action, and set a new stage. In Québec, the response was all over the map: an initial outpouring of public shock, grief and expressions of support for the victims and their families, followed by a return to what journalist Allison Hanes describes as “business as usual when it comes to Muslim bashing, casual hate and unrepentant ignorance.”[ii]

Thinly veiled Islamophobia

The new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has just tabled its bill, An Act respecting the laicity of the State, which claims to be based on the following four principles: “the separation of State and religions, the religious neutrality of the State, the equality of all citizens, and freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.” To clinch the government’s own appearance of religious neutrality, the day before it tabled this legislation the CAQ government whipped its members into line to pass a resolution to remove the crucifix from the National Assembly (Québec’s parliament) – after a heated debate in which the vast majority of the party’s members argued to keep it as a part of Québec’s “heritage.”[iii] Doublespeak and double standards abound.

Bill 21 prohibits public employees in teaching and various positions of authority from wearing “religious symbols.” While these symbols are not defined in the bill, the main targets are women who wear a hijab or other religious or traditional head coverings, and anyone wearing a kippah or turban. For the sake of appearance, conspicuous crosses aren’t considered kosher either, although tattoos of a cross would be allowed. It also bans anyone wearing a niqab, burka or other religious face covering from receiving or providing public services. To ward off legal challenges, given that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are enshrined in the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter, the CAQ government has chosen to override these sections of both charters, using their “notwithstanding” clauses.

Over our dead bodies

It was no coincidence that the first international charter of rights, the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was proclaimed in 1948 in the wake of World War II.[iv] Article 18 states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

As pointed out by the CSN labour confederation, “the rights and freedoms guaranteed by these charters are founded on the 6 million people who died during that war because of their ethnicity, and all the others killed because of their political convictions, their union activities, their handicap, or their sexual orientation.”[v] (Our translation)

Montréal freelance writer Idil Issa, a Muslim woman of colour who began wearing a hijab in her mid-twenties as an expression of her developing spirituality, looks further back in history for the roots of our human rights charters:

“The current Coalition Avenir Québec government, led by Premier François Legault, seems dangerously unaware of context and history in its plan to bring in legislation banning religious symbols for teachers, police officers and other government workers deemed to be in positions of authority. […] But this isn’t the first time that people of various religious confessions have had their belonging questioned, their accession to government posts limited, and the expression of their faith severely restricted. A quintessential example is medieval Spain. After the fall of the Andalusian empire, Jews and Muslims, who had once established an intellectually fruitful convivensia, had to submit to the will of the victor, no longer able to publicly express their faith. It was precisely measures like these undertaken by ruling powers in Europe, driving people with various religious confessions underground for centuries, that contributed to the establishment of the principle of freedom of conscience, a hallmark of modern democracies.”[vi]

The CAQ didn’t even entertain the possibility of a more open, pluralistic model of secularism.[vii] It opted for the hardline version inspired by France, stamped with all the prejudices, fears and arrogance of a former colonial (and once Catholic) power that dominated and exploited much of North Africa not so long ago.  And while the term laïcité is a concept rooted in the French revolution, its current application targeting religious Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews has nothing to do with Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

In fact, the ugly debate in Québec that has been sowing division and fear for more than a decade is based not on any urgent problem that needs to be addressed – such as, say, the imminent takeover of government and schools by mullahs ready to impose Sharia law. It is based on fears of being overwhelmed by the Other, and of a weakening of the core values that have evolved in Québec. Twelve years ago, those fears drove the small town of Hérouxville in central Québec to adopt a code of values warning immigrants that “we” don’t stone or burn women here.[viii] The fact that there were no immigrants in Hérouxville only amplified the fear. Lack of familiarity can breed contempt.

A dangerous tempest in a teapot

According to a number of specialists, the current charters of human rights and freedoms and the evolution of case law in Québec and Canada already guarantee the secularism (or laicity) of the State and public institutions, de facto and de jure (in fact and in case law). According to the Bouchard-Taylor Report, further measures could be applied to ensure greater neutrality of the State, such as by putting an end to implicit identification of the State with a religion. For example, by terminating the practice of saying an opening prayer before a municipal council session, removing the crucifix above the chair of the National Assembly, ending tax avoidance measures given to certain religious organizations, and cutting off public funding for confessional schools.

While the State and its institutions have an obligation of religious neutrality, the Bouchard-Taylor Report points out that their employees are not individually bound by that obligation but are required to show impartiality and reserve in performing their duties, and to refrain from proselytizing.[ix]


Montréal Women’s March, January 19, 2019 – Photo © Jody Freeman


Respect for women and the right to work

The disconnect between public rhetoric and action to ensure equality for women, the right to decent work and pay, and measures to end poverty and violence against women has long been evident, especially to Indigenous women and other women of colour. And with the volatile ingredients of faith, identity and culture thrown into the mix, the debates around secularism are ripping the veil off the paternalism underlying the attitudes of a number of Québec figures who claim to be fighting for equality.

Journalist Allison Hanes steps into the fray:

“Who is oppressed and who is the oppressor? In the eyes of Quebec’s new minister for the status of women, the answer appears to be black and white. Isabelle Charest said Tuesday that she sees the hijab as a sign of oppression. She ‘clarified’ Wednesday that her opinion extends to any religion that prescribes a dress code.

‘For me, this is not freedom of choice. When someone doesn’t have freedom of choice, for me it’s a sign of oppression,’ she said. ‘I told you the hijab does not correspond to my values. My values are that a woman should be free to wear what she wants to wear or not wear.’

But who is oppressed and who is the oppressor when a minister whose job it is to promote equality singles out, stigmatizes and sets apart a particular subset of women?

Muslim women unfortunately seem to bear the brunt of the radical secularism that has emerged from Quebec’s deep historical ambivalence toward religion, though Jews, Sikhs and Christians may end up as collateral damage.”[x]

Hanes tears a strip off the brand of paternalistic feminism that “is unfortunately being wielded as a weapon to keep some women down rather than lift everyone up.” The minister for the status of (some) women “only succeeds in insulting all women (and people) of faith by insinuating they can’t think for themselves, aren’t exercising their own free will, and may be complicit in their own oppression.”

Reading Allison Hanes makes me think of Mohammed Ali. She doesn’t mince words and she doesn’t miss a beat:

“It sure doesn’t seem like Charest plans to do much for any of the women in Quebec who may soon find themselves ousted from their classrooms on the basis of how they dress.

The oppression of women persists in Quebec and comes in many forms. It can be found in troubling rates of domestic violence, in the poverty rate, in the glass ceilings, double standards and sexual harassment that still plague women on the job. It can be seen in a culture where women are judged on their appearance, held to impossible standards, objectified, marginalized or denied a voice. And it can be seen in a policy that sets out to strip women in hijab of all vestiges of authority.

If Muslim women are oppressed in Quebec, it seems to have less to do with their religion and more to do with a lack of respect from their government.”[xi]

It’s up to us to step up and speak out, and there’s no time to lose. The students who are fighting for our planet are setting a new stage of their own making, hopefully one that will be based on genuine solidarity and mutual respect.


Montréal Women’s March, January 19, 2019 – Photo © Jody Freeman


In this issue, food for heart, mind and soul:

  • Sharon Bourke’s landmark essay on “People Power, Identity Politics and Open Books”
  • Martine Eloy’s piece on systemic racism
  • Artwork by Élizabeth Gélinas in “Un dépouillement eloquent”
  • Rana Bose in “Making Khichdi or Hodgepodge Out of Identity and Class”
  • Marie-Josée Tremblay’s multi-layered reflections on being Métis, “Ni autochtone ni blanche”
  • Antoine Bustros’ animist tale, “Les patineurs”
  • Maya Khankhoje’s review of Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman
  • Paul Serralheiro’s review, “Charlotte Hussey: Reclaiming Narratives in Glossing the Spoils”
  • Maya Khankhoje’s review of Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Special thanks to Muriel Beaudet, Louise Dawson and Chantal Mantha for generously offering their copyediting skills in French.


[i] https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/inspired-by-teen-activist-thousands-of-montreal-students-skip-class-for-climate-march-1.4337444

[ii] Allison Hanes, Montreal Gazette, March 26, 2019

[iii] Denis Lessard, LA PRESSE, « Les coulisses du chemin de la croix » , le 30 mars, 2019. http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/b13f5b46-2955-4132-9b9b-8764bc28b0f2__7C___0.html?utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Internal+Share&utm_content=Screen

[iv] The principal author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a Montrealer originally from New Brunswick, John Peters Humphrey. https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/nbhrc/education-and-engagement/john-peters-humphrey.html

[v] Confédération des syndicats nationaux, « La Laïcité de l’État », adopted by the Confederal Council on December 12-13, 2018. This reference on p. 10 cited Wikipédia as its source on human casualties during the Second World War. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pertes_humaines_pendant_la_Seconde_Guerre_mondiale

[vi] Idil Issa, “Opinion: CAQ government fosters exclusion and malaise,” Special to Montreal Gazette, originally published February 12, 2019.

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9; see also the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, « La Laïcité de l’État »,  p.  11.

[viii] Jonathan Montpetit, CBC, “What we can learn from l’Hérouxville…”, January 25, 2017. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/herouxville-quebec-reasonable-accommodation-1.3950390

[ix] This section is drawn from the Confédération des syndicats nationaux’s document, « La Laïcité de l’État », p. 11, which cites the Bouchard-Taylor Report : Gérard Bouchard et Charles Taylor, Fonder l’avenir : le temps de la conciliation (version abrégée).

[x] Allison Hanes, “Quebec’s minister for the status of (some) women,” February 6, 2019.  https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/columnists/allison-hanes-quebecs-minister-for-the-status-of-some-women

[xi] Ibid.





© Jemmy Dubé


The sun has long ago set on the concept of empire as an ethical project for the 21st century. However, the process of decolonization has not yet been completed, even though many countries have their own flag, head of state and constitution, and are full-fledged members of the United Nations. Territorial integrity is not the only marker of independence. This is particularly true in today’s globalized world economy.

The new frontier of decolonization is the freeing of the mind, a task that can only be achieved through struggle, education, art, literature and language. It is no coincidence that strong Indigenous movements throughout the world are claiming a return to indigenous languages, not as a means of shutting themselves off from the modern world, but rather as a key to reclaiming traditional knowledge and understanding of their history. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Kenyan poet and author, firmly believes that “history moves on, theories of liberation march alongside it, but without our languages we will remain trapped within what literary critic Adam Beach calls the English metaphysical empire.” In recognition of this universal and very rightful longing, the United Nations declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Edward Said, highly respected post-colonial theorist, stressed the importance of understanding history, not through the prism of the colonial power, but through the perspective of the hitherto colonized people. Literature plays a very important part in this endeavour. Unfortunately, many post-colonial writers became known only in the language of the former colonial masters. English, Spanish and French are three colonial languages that have produced many highly acclaimed writers. Moreover, many post-colonial writers like Salman Rushdie are claiming not an indigenous perspective, but a cosmopolitan one.

Montréal Serai will continue to provide a forum for marginalized voices, including not only those from former colonies and colonized lands and territories, but also those who defy convention: gender-normative conventions, received notions of what constitutes mental health, criteria for granting citizenship, aesthetic canons, and so forth. In sum, decolonizing voices reflect critical thinkers who happen to be outspoken. In the future we hope to receive and publish submissions from Indigenous-language writers as well as those writing in languages of the colonized, with parallel texts in translation.

Our current issue offers far-ranging interpretations and echoes of our theme.

In her music, films and photographs, Algonquin multidisciplinary artist Marie-Josée Tremblay shares her “heart of hearts” – her innermost experiences as a Métis woman living in the city, seeking solace in urban forests, dreaming her future self in flight.

Artist ekoh dubois explores the “space beyond words” in paintings and complementary poems akin to the Upanishads in India – as he puts it, “a space I created to play hide and seek with the unspeakable, the unknowable.”

Deanna Smith’s poem, “Opening Speech,” offers a searing take on post-slavery decolonization and the search for “what is lost between the soul and the page, the mind and the stage” after being stripped of her ancestors’ languages.

In her personal essay, “Madness Abroad,” Aparna Sanyal delves into what it means for women and men of colour seeking mental health care in the face of depression and the isolation triggered by the “interests of the colonizing West.”

Clayton Bailey comments on the devastating effects of agribusiness on the Manitoba grassland where he was born and reflects on the 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young unarmed Cree man, by a white farmer. He sees the dispossession of the Indigenous and Métis communities and the settlers’ occupation of this land of grass as “inextricably entwined,” and calls for “a new meeting of minds” in a spirit of respectful cooperation.

Maya Khamala’s poem “Upward Spiral” is a powerful reflection on decolonizing one’s mindset and envisioning the space beyond inherited fear.

Dinh Le Doan resorts to poetry to describe darkness in its various shades.

Ami Sands Brodoff’s short story “Tracks” explores the strains of youth, love and friendship outside traditional gender conventions.

In her poems, Ilona Martonfi empathizes with the “class of non-citizens” made up of migrants fleeing wars.

Louise Carson’s poems challenge what might be described as the patriarchal colonization of women’s bodies, minds and lives.

Scott Weinstein offers a hilarious look at an activist’s imagination as he and his fearless little dog, Liza Minnelli, take on The Man.

In his poem, “My Grandmother’s Recipe,” Greg Santos recounts moments in his Spanish grandmother’s life and her unfulfilled wish to write stories and film scripts – a gentle tribute.

My four book reviews span continents and literary genres: the novel Evening Primrose by Kopano Matlwa, set among patients and doctors in South Africa; Conversations on Writing, a collaborative work by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon on the craft of writing and the importance of “unleashing the imagination to decolonize the mind;” Zebedee Nungak’s collection of essays, Wrestling with Colonialism on Steroids: Quebec Inuit Fight for Their Homeland, examining the history of the Inuit populations in Nunavik and James Bay; and Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy, poems steeped in the spirit of his traditional Cree ancestors.

Special thanks to H. Nigel Campbell and Deanna Radford for helping enlarge our circle of new contributors to Montréal Serai.


This issue is dedicated to the memory of Margaret Heap, a lifelong advocate for social justice and peace who died on December 31 in Montréal. Committed to fighting poverty, racism and discrimination in any form, Margaret worked tirelessly and quietly on the sidelines, away from the spotlight. She was trained in history and conscious of all those who, by their unsung labour, are the makers of history.  She will be sorely missed.




This issue of Serai, “Beyond the Pale” (Vol.31, Issue 3), is one that resonates with me deeply. Hence, I am very happy and honoured to write this editorial. The issue looks to the many changes in cinema across both production and distribution and from big studio films to independents. It also has a special focus on work by and about artists from minority or marginalized communities.

Almost everyone can remember the first film they ever viewed or a film that had a huge impact on their life. My personal journey with cinema began with watching Hindi or regional films on a huge football field in a small town in India. Most of these films were from Bombay (now Mumbai) and were ‘popular mainstream’ films. It was not until I was exposed to documentaries and foreign language cinema in my teens that I began to recognize the power of this form and other national cinemas as well. It was directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Anand Patwardhan and Suhasini Mulay, and stars like Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri, who first ended up leaving a mark on my psyche and made me want to study and work in the cinematic field.

During my formative years in India, I rarely watched foreign films in regular theatres. Instead I watched them at special screenings at Alliance Française or the Max Mueller Bhavan/German Centre during my visits to New Delhi. These were almost always in French, German or English. It was later, while studying at Concordia University in Montréal, that I developed a better appreciation of this art form and studied the work of Kurosawa, Pasolini, De Sica, Bergman, Kiarostami, Makmalbaf and others. I became familiar with genres, styles, and auteurs. I came to appreciate the technical genius of filmmakers who were able to create remarkable pieces with the lowest of budgets bringing human conditions and human-interest stories on screen. But I was also aware of the lack of Indigenous and women directors in this cluster of films being taught, the only exception being Alanis Obomsawin.

Despite all the developments of arts in this part of the world, we must be aware that there has been a serious gap of knowledge when it comes to Indigenous issues and stories in Canada. Foreign films are not screened or distributed as they could be. Our theatres in this city continue to screen a majority of Hollywood films. We rarely hear from Indigenous communities or watch global cinema. Here in Montréal, Cinema du Parc, Cinema Politica and other alternative spaces for screenings continue to struggle.

Just in the last decade, there have been many shifts and developments in the form and spectatorship of cinema. People are watching films, television shows, YouTube videos and other media on small handheld devices. They can use the same devices for shooting their own films. Despite these changes, there are very few studies on what most people are watching or enjoying.  Although our engagement and approach to this medium has changed remarkably, challenges in funding, production and distribution continue to affect many in this field. This is particularly true for those from minority or marginalized groups. More recently, the scandals around Weinstein, Ghomeshi,[1] Spacey and others have brought prominence to the inherent institutional misogyny and gender biases within the media industry. Concurrent reckonings with both gender and racial disparities are just the beginning of a long path that we all will be traveling on in the next few years.

Having taught for over seventeen years at both Dawson College and Concordia University, I realize how fortunate I am to not only be exposed to this world but also to work in it. I do, however, recognize that the number of students who come to the discipline of cinema from diverse ethnic or diaspora communities is still very low. In all these years, I have had exactly five students from South Asian backgrounds in our production classes at Dawson, and only one whose parents were extremely supportive of their choice. This leads me to understand a larger overarching issue of how arts are perceived by many. Particularly in the case of parents who migrate to Canada for better lives, aspirations for children are almost always for professions that can provide stable livelihoods. The arts continue to be associated with struggle and have an aura of instability associated with them. Most people appreciate the arts; in fact, it is often art that sustains the soul. However, the majority of institutions devote far more funding to courses in technical and scientific fields. This leads to a struggle for artists to be supported, whether by family or academic institutions. Only a small group of artists end up managing to achieve real visibility or success.

This issue of Serai weaves together a variety of pieces that address just these questions, and push us to look at several important issues and journeys that take us “Beyond the Pale.” It continues in Serai’s tradition of choosing themes that pose challenging and provocative questions to fill in gaps and redress exclusions, exposing a number of practices and attitudes that continue to be deplorable and unacceptable in our society, through the lens of cinema.

Diana Goldberg’s feature essay on three Mexican films (La Negrada, Sueño en otro idioma and El Violin), describes forms of exclusion among marginalized Indigenous populations and Mexicans of African descent. She raises questions about loyalty to a community vs. loyalty to a nation state, and asks: Who has the right to narrate local history? What is meant by historical identity? How does a community deal with the loss of a language, the denial of racism?

Sharon Bourke reflects on Julie Dash’s groundbreaking 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, which explores the memories of cultural practices and traditions kept alive by Gullah women who are members of the Peazant family living on an isolated sea island with little or no contact with others. “In making her film, Julie Dash has acted as one of the griots, traditional storytellers of her culture, narrating through cinematic poetry as a way to preserve history in the face of change.”  Julie Dash also wrote a book about the experience of making her film in the face of daunting obstacles. “I always knew I wanted to make a film about African American women. To tell stories that had not been told. To show images of our lives that had not been seen…”

Jody Freeman’s interview with Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb (Rumble: the Indians Who Rocked the World) is teeming with reflections on respectful collaboration, and looks at their work dating back more than twenty-five years in bringing Indigenous perspectives to the fore.

Kerry McElroy’s piece situates the #metoo movement historically and in various parts of the world by reflecting on the experiences of women performance artists of all kinds, including courtesans. She makes an impassioned appeal to record the memories of surviving elders as a way of preserving women’s stories and history.

In an insightful critique of Spike Lee’s recent film BlacKkKlansman (the story of an African American policeman infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s), Rana Bose challenges any caricaturing of the civil rights movement and highlights its dignity and organizational strengths.

Karan Singh’s article exposes the slow yet continual homogenization of cultural representation in South Asian cinema, spearheaded by Bollywood. The essay contextualizes how the current political climate in India, led by the Hindu right, has created a framework that continues to support and benefit from a doctored image of India’s cultural and national identity.

Writer and filmmaker Jesse Noah Klein, and writer and editor Durga Chew-Bose reflect on John Cassavetes’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz, which brought them together many years ago and which they’ve since returned to. Their reflections take us on a journey with them on love—first love—relationships, and romantic comedies. It is a poignant piece about hope and letting people in.

In a series of photographs, Anne Bruneau depicts her urban environment and reflects on the symbolic significance of the colours red, blue and white in Montréal.

My own contribution to this issue is a short review of Pallavi Somusetty’s film Escaping Agra, which was shown as part of the diaspora panel for the 2017 edition of the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal. The film will soon be circulated in schools and colleges in North America. I hope that many will view it and gain an understanding of how gender and sexuality issues manifest for youth from families who do not accept them.

Also, as this issue was taking shape, Cinema Politica celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in Montréal. Raphael Cohen and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct a short interview with Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, co-founders of the organization, who have been so instrumental in screening truth to power over two decades. A video of our interview is included in this issue.

Finally, look out for Mirella Bontempo’s in-depth analysis of films shown at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Her piece will be added to the issue in the next few weeks.



The South Asian Film Festival will be opening in Montréal October 26-28 and November 2-4, 2018. As the current director of the festival, I, along with a wonderful team, have attempted to bring forward a strong selection of films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This is the festival’s eighth year in this city. In addition to film screenings, we offer panel discussions with invited experts. The festival affords film enthusiasts the opportunity to have an engaged discussion after each screening with the filmmaker, film experts and the audience. We are also going to present a diaspora panel slated for November 3, in which filmmakers will be present to share their work with the audience. The festival is our attempt to expose a variety of issues and films from South Asia. It seeks to encourage younger participants to consider entering into cinematic fields – imagining and creating films that tell their stories and speak to their issues. I sincerely hope that many who are reading this issue will attend the festival and help us spread the word around the community at large. For more information, please visit the website: https://www.saffm.centrekabir.com/en/

I thank all the writers who have contributed to this issue and the editorial team – Rana Bose, Lisa Foster, Jody Freeman, Nilambri Ghai and Maya Khankhoje – for guiding me through this issue. Thank you for all your support.

Enjoy the issue!



[1] Jian Ghomeshi was a CBC radio host from 2007 to 2014. In 2014-2015, Ghomeshi was the subject of allegations of sexual harassment or assault and was later arrested. In 2016, he was acquitted of all charges.


Wall between Mexico and the US, ending in the Pacific Ocean


At the beginning of the year, I was invited to act as guest editor for the current issue of Montréal Serai on “Populism and the Erasure of History.” I had to ask the editorial team to clarify what that complex phrase meant, and was fascinated by the ideas behind it. Statements outlining the theme pointed to the fact that populism “is immediately attractive. It operates in the ‘now.’ The present. It negates the antecedents. The past. History is negated.”

I must admit, however, that even now, after poring over dozens of pages, ideas, images and verses revolving around the issue, my mind is still struggling to arrive at a clear definition of populism. But that may be the main point in creating this issue, and the reason why I’ll start by presenting the second half of the theme’s equation.


The erasure of history

Having worked as editor-in-chief of a Mexican travel magazine for a number of years and, more importantly, having lived for most of my life in America (the continent,[i] just to clarify), I am very aware of how problematic it is to use certain terms stripped of their historical meaning – terms like “colonial” used as an inviting adjective evocating charming cobblestone streets or European architecture (be it Andalusian patios, baroque churches, French or Victorian, cake-like façades). While the Spanish conquest and its legacy are undeniably part of America’s heritage, I have always been puzzled by the ease with which references to colonization have been wiped clean of all the violence they contain. Its history erased, the word now evokes a coveted aesthetic style to be enjoyed, inhabited, purchased.

The use of language is a recurrent thread in this issue meant to highlight the relevance of history as a crucial antidote to the perils of populism. This makes me think about the weight words actually have, and wonder whether the distinction between words and facts, the perception that speech has no effect on human events, pertains to the realm of positivist-inspired “truths” (fantasies), like the separation of body and spirit.

Maya Khankhoje’s piece, “Speaking at Eye Level: Decoding the Language of Populism,” focuses on the different ways in which populist figures – from Indira Gandhi to Obama or Victor Orban – orchestrate their speech by carefully choosing their words in order to speak to the masses “at eye level,” the way sensitive parents and teachers speak to children, crouching rather than looking down.

Language seems to be somewhat of a protagonist as well in Nilambri Ghai’s review of Julian Samuel’s book Radius Islamicus, in which the main character, an ageing man now living in Pierrefonds, Québec, has directed multiple projects including “the flash and bang in London.” Nilambri shows the author’s satirical talent when describing a hypothetical solution to terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims: “I am sure not even a cheap copycat knapper would knapsack stops with Moslem names… The current Prime Minister is thinking of changing Russell Square to Mohammad Ali Jinnah just for this reason…”

Dina Gardashkin starts her piece on Sadaka-Reut, an educational organization based on Palestinian-Jewish partnership, with the following line: “I’m a Jewish Israeli, and the first time I learned what the word Palestinian really meant was at the age of 23.” She shares an intimate, first-person account of the experiences young Israelis go through once they are exposed to the Palestinian reality, after being trained in schools where references to the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), the uprooting and exile of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, are banned from history books.

Nilanjan Dutta’s commentary, “Sanitizing the Syllabus,” deals with this very issue. Addressing the perils of authorities rewriting, tailoring and editing history, Nilanjan directs our attention to the way that historical biases are deliberately planned and used by certain leaders and people in authority. He states that “the ones in power believe that the past can provide them with some displayable justification for their hegemony.”

Two very different artists are featured in this issue, each evoking a collective past or consciousness. Diane Denault’s sculptural works in ceramic explore heritage, transcendence and the ritual aspect of urns: the unique texture of her pieces is achieved by exploring the limits of clay and firing at low temperatures, all of which yield a totemic, smoky effect. Wartin Pantois, on the other hand, a Québec City street artist and catalysing presence, likes to surprise local residents, drivers and pedestrians with works depicting various hidden human realities – like homeless people shivering under a blanket on a cardboard. In this issue, we feature a selection of his ephemeral pieces meant to counter collective amnesia. Québec 1918, for instance, evokes the protests in Québec against conscription in World War I, which were repressed by the army. For this work, Wartin Pantois used white paint on black paper to give the characters a ghostly air, haunting those trying to forget history.


So what about populism? How does it come about?

Bernard Miller’s brilliant feature essay presents different ways and historical contexts in which populism arises, using the analogy of games. In the process, he highlights historical realities that have been eclipsed, including the history of Monopoly, the board game that, very ironically, was invented by Lizzie Magie, a left-wing American feminist stenographer and activist, “to teach the dangers of monopoly accumulation of land and property in societies striving for greater equality”. In analysing different definitions of the term, Miller points to one of the intrinsic contradictions of populism: the authors of populist rhetoric do not consider themselves “common” even while claiming to know what is good for the commoners. He adds that “for an idea to become ‘populist’ it has to be adopted by the populus, preferably by persuading them that they thought of it themselves.”


Source: Wikipedia

Gregory Patrick Starks offers a passionate commentary on various facets of populism, including what he calls “populism in its ideal form.” He laments the fact that leaders like Juan Domingo Perón, Salvador Allende, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and Mahatma Gandhi have “little chance of attaining power, much less holding on to it, for strong disruptive forces will quickly unravel all that.”

Rana Bose, the intricate mastermind behind this issue, shares two beat-type poems and contributes the essay “Populism: Mesmerize and Confound the Present and Sully the Past!” He writes that “the populism that haunts us today is not only about tiresome responses to formalism, but also the stirring-up of those who are reticent or instinctively opposed to equal opportunity, reserving jobs under affirmative action programs, paying the price of colonization.” This analysis ties in with many of the sentiments expressed in this issue, especially when he adds, “The thought of squaring your ancestors’ unpaid bills causes discernible unease and rancour amongst those whom I would not hesitate to call argumentative imbeciles.”

Alicia Loría’s review and essay on Guillaume Pitron’s book La guerre des métaux rares reminds us that imbecilic arguments are built not only on erasure of the past, but also by simply diverting attention from, well, the truth. The author informs us that the carbon footprint of every 1,000 Google searches is equivalent to a short plane trip, and that one hour of Netflix is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of a refrigerator. So, saving paper while frantically emailing, streaming, Googling and feeling morally (ecologically) superior speaks to the ease with which most of us can be taken in by biased, contradictory and downright manipulative information.

Loría quotes Constantino Humberto Muko, saying that “knowledge frees and enlightens people, while ignorance suppresses and encloses them in a limited world.” Impossible not to concur. But it’s been a while since we stopped believing in knowledge as a monolithic, immovable truth, so we are doomed to keep researching, questioning, learning, as, who else is the people if not all of us? And what other antidote is there to lies and manipulation moulded to soothe our common anxieties?

When I started writing this editorial, Trump and his team were not only justifying the policy that separated undocumented migrants from their children at the Mexico-U.S. border, they were bragging about it: “It’s very biblical to enforce the law,” Jeff Sessions said, defending the policy by quoting Romans 13, a popular biblical reference among slave owners, Nazi leaders and apartheid supporters.[ii] Now Trump has been forced to shift paths: “We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together.”

He’d gone too far, even for his supporters, a group bolstered by “white men meant to be at the top of the mountain,” as Montréal journalist Francine Pelletier put it in an interview conducted by Simon Van Vliet for this issue – men who, finding themselves “dispossessed,” displaced by women and threatened by globalization, are now craving revenge.

Guadelupe Mountains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guadalupe_Mountains#/media/File:GuadalupeMtns_2006_cropped.jpg)

But when was their “right” to claim the mountaintop conferred on them? Who granted them that right, and why was it supposed to be for time immemorial? The Superstition Mountains in Arizona, a popular recreation spot for residents of Phoenix, were called Wi:ksawa in Yavapai, the language spoken by the Yuma tribes who lived there long before the Europeans arrived. In Texas, another border state, the name of the Guadalupe Mountains should stand as a reminder to “Zero Tolerance” supporters that not too long ago this territory belonged to Mexico, the neighbouring country they are striving to extirpate via a wall, billions of dollars in border enforcement, and rhetoric meant to instigate irreconcilable hatred against its citizens who are following an ancient migratory route that was also deemed “legal” under U.S. law only a few decades ago.

Despite right-wing populist efforts, history will not be erased.

In closing, we would like to thank the volunteer revisors who helped edit our growing number of articles in French: Muriel Beaudet, Chantal Mantha and Louise Dawson. Un gros merci !



[i] The Oxford English Dictionary first defines America as “1. A land mass of the western hemisphere consisting of the continents of North and South America joined by the Isthmus of Panama,” and in a sub-definition as: “1.1 Used as a name for the United States.” The Cambridge Dictionary’s first definition for America is “the United States of America.”

[ii] https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/slave-owners-and-nazis-quote-the-romans-13-to-justify-immorality-too/




Acts of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, genocide, discrimination, erasure of cultures and languages go back to time immemorial. But the backdrop of events of the past two decades, looming catastrophic climate crisis, Trumpism and the rise of the “alt-right” across the global North seems to give the theme of this issue (coined somewhat tongue-in-cheek as ‘My Heritage is Bigger than Yours’) current pertinence. Close to home, an astute quote from Donna Patrick’s paper “Canada” aptly launches our musings:

One way to embark on an examination of language and ethnic identities in Canada is to observe particular sites of ongoing political and cultural conflict. In general, these revolve around the dominant national ideology that the French and the English in Canada are its “two founding people” or “nations” (or “races,” as the term was used historically). Significantly, this ideology interacts, on the one hand, with the claim by Aboriginal people that they should also be regarded as “founding people” and, on the other, with the growing multiculturalism and multilingualism that call into question the idea of Canada as basically bilingual and bicultural.[1]

The issue of heritage, present from the moment the first settlers arrived and laid claim to the land that was not theirs for the taking, remains substantially unresolved almost 500 years later. The concept of cultural heritage pervades many aspects of life – cultural, artistic, and economic – and I am honoured to have been invited to write this guest editorial.

As the title of the theme highlights, the concept of heritage is most often not seen as something universal, but as cultural spheres that exist in comparison and competition, vying for influence, size and power. Typically this occurs when cultural heritages clash. To cite an extreme example from home, we have a nature-loving, matriarchal and pacific culture coming into contact with a patriarchal one that honours greed over respect for all beings, including animals and plants. History is full of cultural or ethnic identities being erased or decimated, but it is also full of harmonious coexistence between diverse peoples.

Our world is one of identities. We do like to label, categorize, classify, and box things and people. But taxonomy, even in natural science, is an ill-begotten practice that more often serves to obscure similarities and highlight differences. Is it human nature, or have we been trained to do this?

More often than not, the practice of division serves the flourishing of cultural hegemony: to separate, divide, break up has benefitted the powerful in their quest to attain acquiescence for their wars of greed, as well as to undermine true class struggle against the neo-con and neo-liberal policies of looting the 99% for the benefit of the 1%. The right-wing approach favours unscrupulous overt scapegoating of ethnic and cultural minorities, refugees and immigrants. Non-rightwingers are more nuanced about it. They admit a small number of minorities into the circle of elites, provided they take on the modus operandi of the existing elite. The others are often only superficially graced as “visible minorities” and diverse identities. This approach has worked well for the privileged class, whose goal is to maintain their privilege. But for the disenfranchised of the dominant class (i.e., white working class), the liberal approach has been failing miserably, hence the rise of populism, both on the left (e.g. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn) and on the right with the alt-right flourishing across North America and Europe.

Many involved in the various movements of ethnic and social equality and environmental justice recognize the importance of uniting to a joint class struggle, but there is a long way ahead to break free from the shackles of identity politics.


This issue

True to its tradition, Montréal Serai once again brings together an extremely diverse range of writers whose short stories, poetry, essays and interviews explore the rocky paths of cultural identity. Quality food for thought shapes the interview with Alexa Conradi, whose new book of essays, Les angles morts, Perspectives sur le Québec actuel, interweaves the personal and the political as she invites her fellow Quebeckers to take a good hard look at their blind spots.

Shanti Kumari’s interview with Helen Cote Quewezance addresses the attempts at erasure of Indigenous identity by Canada’s colonial settlers. This Clan Mother settles the spurious concept of English and French as “founding fathers” by correctly referring to them as immigrants or newcomers, and calls for a profound rethinking of policy-making by returning to the ways of the Indigenous peoples to save this country – and ultimately our planet.

In “Don’t Fence Me In,” we travel with Sujata Dey on her adventures and collisions with mirrored ethnicity. Andrés Castro’s chilling short story “Intersections” highly contemporary, goes right under the skin.

Catherine Watson’s The Marquis explores irredeemable human self-interest by those whose social position permits them to pursue it. In an intricate way she connects Marquis de Sade’s short stories in Les Crimes de l’amour, written in prison over 200 years ago, with the unresolvable dilemmas of her neighbour Diane in the face of her insensitive landlord.

Issues around religious minorities and segregation are explored by Sivan Slapak in her affectionate piece, “Dear Hasidic Girls,” where she invites us to experience interactions of Hasidic girls with each other and with their teacher, whose life is outside their Hasidic community.

We are furthermore treated to three beautifully poignant poems by Nada El-Omari and an evocative short story by Ehab Lotayef, “White-Yellow,” which will ring a bell with Montrealers. New York performance artist Kayhan Irani offers us a sketch of her new work, There is a Portal, probing the post 9/11 rise of Islamophobia and its impact on Arab, South Asian and Muslim Americans.

As a new Cold War against Russia is looming over us, Nilambri Ghai shares an interview with a young Canadian named Serena Sial, whose travels in Russia have forged lasting relationships that keep drawing her back.  And I share some personal reflections on “outsiderhood.”

Veena Gokhale’s new novel, Land for Fatimah, and Lee Maracle’s Conversations with Canadians, both reviewed in this issue, land squarely on target with our theme.

And there will be more to look forward to in the coming weeks. Enjoy!


[1] Patrick, Donna. 2010. “Canada.” In Joshua Fishman and Ofelia Garcia (eds.), the Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 286-301.


Royalty – Street art by Bumi and MissMe – Photo by Jody Freeman


Well, this is our annual ritual, so to speak. The literature issue. And the theme is spirit. Geist. And we shall be blunt about it. For several years, we have enforced a self-discipline so that we must, at year end, after many meanderings and experimentations, land like an eagle with our talons down and gently lower our wings, look around, and claw down on the rock that we sit on – the rock of dis-spirit and dystopia – to counter it with the eagle eye of hope and vision.

Now if that sounds optimistic or overenthusiastic, we cannot be faulted. Our writers and readers, in our ever-intensifying literary world, do not give up. They have hope and clarifications to make. As stated in our invitation to write:

“The spirit is an indestructible state of non-being. It lingers on, intangible but sensorial. It is not always eternal, but when it is encountered, it is imperishable. Being restless, youthful, challenging … being pushy, being inspiring, remaining alive when death has taken its toll – that is spirit. Spirit is courage, guts, fighting the power, speaking truth to power. Spirit could be uncompromising, but it could also be compromising when necessary. Spirit is doing things quietly, unnoticed and yet invoking an indomitable energy for what you believe in.”

We have received an overwhelming response through poems, reviews, short stories, essays and personal reflections on life and staying alive, in spite of the divisive chasms that keep appearing amongst us. Nilanjan Dutta from Kolkata pays tribute to the life and words of Birendra Chattopadhyay, a prominent and much-loved activist and freedom fighter who continued to inspire youth in Bengal with his “death-defying” spirit from the 1940s to the 1980s. Addressing young poets, he writes:

“Teach us to be fearless, so that we

                        can cross Death now blocking our way in front.”

There are powerful and scintillating essays and poems by Cora Siré, Louise Carson, James Olwell, Bonnie Brotman Shore and Brian McDonough from Montréal. Our co-editors Maya Khankhoje and Jody Freeman are featured with an encompassing essay on the spirit of our time and a tribute to the enduring spirit of an Ojibwe elder; and Egyptian-American poet and aphorist Yahia Lababidi has shared with us extracts from his forthcoming book, Where Epics Fail, a book of concise meditations. Included also is an intriguing reflection by Montréal musician and composer, Antoine Bustros, on falcons (“Faucons”) as prey and preying. Then there are the extraordinarily haunting images from sculptor Madeleine Chevalier and photographer Anne Marie Noël. Not to overlook the indomitably spirited Veena Gokhale, writer and reviewer, who has written an essay on the intricacies of language, style and culture, and a film review of Mathieu Roy’s The Dispossessed (Les dépossédés).

There are several other essays in the pipeline, and a booster edition of the Spirit issue is in the works. This will include an interview with Helen Quewezance Cote from Saskatchewan, poems by Andrés Castro, a mentor for the PEN prison writing program, and a review of Naben Ruthnum’s Curry, Eating, Reading and Race, a book that “successfully marries erudite, penetrating, socio-cultural and literary analysis with a personal exploration of eating, reading and race.”

Spirit is keeping the essence of a subject alive. In war or peace, spirit is spelling out the truth. In controversial times, as now, spirit is uncovering the root cause, and not just playing around with exterior emotions, obvious fatuousness and surface volatility.

As we were preparing to go on-line with this issue to wrap up 2017 and bring in the New Year, we were hit with an emotional sledgehammer. Abby Lippman – a frequent contributor to Serai, a dear friend, comrade and longstanding Montréal scientist, a bio-ethicist, feminist, human rights activist and a constant presence in all weather on the streets of Montréal in protests against racism and discrimination – passed away suddenly. Our issue of Montréal Serai on Spirit is dedicated to this champion. The last two poems she submitted to us are featured here. She will rest in power, we are sure about that.



“As expected Harvey has intensified into a Hurricane” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Photo taken from flickr under Creative Commons license: CC BY 2.0

There is nothing benevolent or beautiful about the forces of Nature mercilessly unleashed on Texas, indiscriminately flooding its precious oil refineries and destroying its population’s homes and livelihoods. We watch helplessly as successive hurricanes rip across Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean, ravaging the dwellings of the poor and hopeless, along with the near-perfect havens of panicked tourists.

The horror continues. A seemingly harmless retired accountant and real estate magnate rents a two-room suite on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas resort hotel to rain down 10 minutes of random fire from 33 rifles and semi-automatic weapons. The leader of the most powerful country in the world flouts science and spouts inane drivel, as the spectre of fire and fury – the beast of war – licks its chops, anxious to sink its teeth into new and never-before-developed weapons of destruction. Distinctions between good and bad begin to blur in the smoggy haze of a new normal. Heaven and hell switch places. In the chaos and confusion, blame is directed at everyone and no one. An alliance seems to be emerging: the benevolent and the malevolent; the intelligent and the cunning; the artistic and the crafty – an unholy alliance that clouds the core issues of a deep divide.

Articles in this issue peel each layer to reveal yet another. Bernard Miller’s essay entitled “What Goes Up…” delves into the current bubble in the Canadian housing market and uses that as his entryway into a scathing exposé of today’s world order, where selfishness has its virtues, an ex-Nazi is placed at the head of the United Nations, and “… the financial world’s influence wielders – successors to those who caused the 1929 crash and then benefitted from it – had a broader vision…. They aimed to make debt and debt trading so commonplace that everyone on the planet would eventually be caught up in it.”

Also featured are poetic prose pieces and equally poetic paintings by Naghmeh Sharifi, recipient of the Impressions Residency and grant at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Her Peuple dilué is a series of ink-on-paper drawings inspired by the Roma population of Sutka, Macedonia, exploring “the idea of a people versus a nation and transient identities.”

Rana Bose ponders the future of “quantum computers” – computers that can operate at “two wavelengths, with a mind of their own,” that can be taught to make their own choices and “learn the language of emotions.” He writes about Artificial Intelligence that is no longer artificial… it is our new normal. In another piece, darkly mulling over the roles embraced by Anthony Hopkins, Rana reflects on the perfection of pure evil – the Silence of the Lambs kind – played with masterful artistry and brilliance.

Pietro Ferrua muses on cinematography and the adaptation of books into films, turning his thoughts to the history of the remakes of the 1976 novel by Nan and Ivan Lyons, Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, in which nothing is as it seems.

William Davis’s book, Undoctored: How You Can Seize Control of Your Health and Become Smarter than Your Doctor, is reviewed by Maya Khankhoje, along with Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Nilambri Ghai reviews Jaspreet Singh’s new book of poetry, November.

On the fiction front, Taryn Foster’s short story leaves us in a motionless state of shock. An intricate essay by Nilambri Ghai uncovers the coalescing of religious truths and untruths, and examines alliances that create fear and violence:

“Since the very beginning, leaders have used religion as an easy and effective tool to control masses, instill fear, hatred, revenge, communalism and violence, and build powerful alliances with the “unholy.”

But every unholy alliance has to hit a wall at some point. And in this issue, it’s a wall of UNCEDED VOICES (https://decolonizingstreetart.com/) – Indigenous women’s kickass murals in the working-class neighbourhood of St. Henri. The pièce de résistance.

Photo by Lisa Foster, 2017

Photo by Lisa Foster, 2017


The balancing organs of our inner ear are an integral part of what lets us function in the world around us. Yet our sense of motion is not something that drifts into our conscious awareness when these organs are normally at work. Strikingly, when there is something wrong with this system (ask anyone who has suffered from dizziness), we become sickeningly sensitive to the slightest movement – completely off-balance when performing the simplest of tasks. Stability, in the most literal sense, is crucial for us to be able to function normally in our daily lives; without it, we might fall over even when standing still.

An expectation of stability is also crucial for us to stay upright. If you’ve ever been disoriented as to who is moving, when sitting in one train and staring at another moving beside you, or felt a little off-kilter when staring at a shifting scene on a giant screen, you’ve felt this disconnect between expectation and reality – an expectation of a stable reference point.

The same is true when navigating other aspects of our lives, when navigating the basic needs that some may take for granted. If the walkway you are navigating is constantly shrinking, leaving you precariously teetering on the edge, balancing to stay upright, the effort and energy you expend will eventually exhaust you. Chronic stress, the type felt when living in an unstable world, will exhaust you. Stability and an expectation of stability are crucial to living a happy and healthy life.

Worker Power (Photo by Jody Freeman)

Precarious and the Precariat

The theme for this issue of Montréal Serai is “Precarious.” As mentioned in our call for submissions, many of Montréal Serai’s friends and subscribers find themselves in a precarious state. Once employed full-time, now working part-time or on contract work with no social coverage – and no bargaining rights. These precarious times have given rise to the precariat, a social class formed by people suffering from precarity. The word is a portmanteau of proletariat and precarious. It is an unpredictable state, defined by insecurity and lack of continuity. We at Montréal Serai are overwhelmed by the response to our call – a response by writers, artists, poets and performers, sharing their experiences, at times highly personal, within this new state of the world.

In this issue

Máire B. Noonan, Anne Cimon and Nilanjan Dutta take us through their own, at times crushingly intimate, twists and turns within precarity. In “Resist Definition,” Noonan speaks of always having resisted defining herself as something, such as a person living with illness; although she is following the path of many in the academic precariat, she does not let it designate who she is. In “A Food Bank Time,” Cimon talks of another type of resistance, against the acceptance of the reality of her situation: “One day, I had to face the fact that there were no more options, and even borrowing on the future was no longer viable.” Dutta, in “Jaywalk on Razor’s Edge,” wonders “who coined the word ‘freelancer.’ I am free, without a lance. My life is no longer like I used to know it. Precarity has overtaken security.”

Two artists give us different takes on those living on the edge. Julian Samuel’s immersive abstract paintings were “initially inspired by increasing signs of intolerance towards minorities in Québec.” Oleg Dergachov’s evocative illustrations and cartoons explore different facets of the notion of “Precarious.”

Street art by Solus (photo by Jody Freeman)

In “The Precariat and Canada’s Poverty Problem,” Laura Neidhart’s extensive experience while working with the precariat shines a light on both causes and solutions for this state of precarity, while exposing the fallacies behind the notion that precarious employment answers a “demand for flexibility on the part of employees.” She states that “under international human rights law, people in Canada have a right to fair and paid work, a right to earn their living by work which is freely chosen, and a right to experience just and favourable conditions during employment. Reciprocally, governments in Canada have a legal obligation to meet and fulfill this right…. The shift in this conversation from one exclusively of market and economic growth to one of rights is essential.”

Montréal Serai’s own Maya Khankhoje and Rana Bose provide more insights on the life precarious. Khankhoje reviews The Precariat. The New Dangerous Class, whose “author calls for revisiting the trinity of liberty, equality and fraternity in developing a progressive agenda with the precariat in mind.” In “Theodolites, Rights and Democracy,” Bose is struck with a revelation while staring at his painstakingly right-angle-engineered neighbourhood (engineered with the aid of the engineer’s tool for straight lines – the theodolite). In this “unending straightness,” he sees “a master plan based on a certain consensus” and asks “What is the philosophy of democracy in pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial societies?” He posits that “those who were born in a rectilinear, theodolite-controlled democracy have a somewhat aloof but superior sense of human rights and responsibilities…. Because here, the other issues of social development like colonial displacement, feudal land control and sharecropping, easy access to public toilettes, warehousing and food distribution, clean air and water for our children, comfortable public transportation, education that does not blatantly discriminate based on tribe, caste and skin colour, and sewage and garbage-disposal systems that work mostly in a clockwork manner have all facilitated a sense of uniform calm and order.”

Montréal street art – Pondering (Photo by Jody Freeman)

With “On the Certainty of Uncertainty,” Michael Bristol elegantly contrasts the late 19th-century lives of subsistence farmer, Manuel Valadão, and industrial tycoon, John. D. Rockefeller. While noting that “uncertainty for most people basically had always meant the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” Bristol emphasizes that “[w]hat people actually need is sustenance, physical well-being, peace of mind, a pathway (not just a purely abstract ‘opportunity,’ mind you) to the full realization of their capabilities and their gifts.”

Two prose pieces, Sharon Bourke’s “Imaginings” and Dorota Anna Kozinska’s “Sleep” have protagonists coping with the shifting and unstable world around them. Bourke’s lucid “imagining” conjures a widow of war who “manage[s] with almost nothing. Rather than travel a long distance looking for handouts of food that might or might not be distributed to the ‘internally displaced,’ she rummage[s] through the cupboards in abandoned houses, turning meager crumbs into a meal for the day, and wetting her lips with water captured from drain pipes.” Kozinska puts forth Sleep as the brother of Death. Her protagonist cannot sleep. “Not since the wall went up and the gates closed with a protracted metallic groan.” We vividly witness his anguish and torture as he yearns for a time before his normalcy was uprooted. “Everything had changed but the black birds remained the same, perhaps, he thought, because they still flew over the wall and visited the old life that J. was certain existed behind it, but which for some unknown reason he was forbidden to see.”

In this issue, we also have four more reviews. Julian Samuel presents us with his own surrealistically informed review of the film Icaros: A Vision. “On the face of it, [the film] brings together two pathologies, a shaman’s developing blindness and a rich Westerner’s spreading cancer. Both the blindness and the cancer will be victorious, in spite of a healing forest.Continuing on the theme of loss, Marie Thérèse Blanc reviews a Fringe production of the play Mapping Grief. “On the face of it, the [the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice] seems to suggest that nothing’s for certain: here today, gone tomorrow…. In Mapping Grief, Gina Granter explores a real-life tale of young loss…. [Inspired by James Joyce] the story is tensely anachronological rather than comfortably linear.” Maya Khankhoje reviews the novel American Candide asa welcome revival of the picaresque novel best represented by Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Voltaire’s Candide. If you’ve read the original Candide, you will be delighted with this modern-day version.” Finally, we have a review by Aliya Varma of the collection of essays, Too Much and Not the Mood. In her personally connected review, Varma offers that “the essays are like short journeys; they evoke the same sense of excitement that you feel when discovering a new place.” In this collection, author Durga Chew-Bose conjures her own childhood impression of precariousness. In describing a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, she relates that “the Snake Charmer’s whole scene looked precarious because it didn’t seem like a painting but a photograph. Rarely does a subject disturb me as much as when it slopes my ability to discern what’s real and what isn’t.” In the times we live in, others can no doubt relate to the disruptive feeling of things “true” and “fake” colliding and mingling effortlessly and intentionally – a precarious feeling indeed. We hope that all these thought-provoking pieces will provide some sense of stability to our readers in unstable times.


Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Snake Charmer, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (circa 1879). Public domain.


Diana Robinson, Zebras drinking at the watering hole – From flickr under creative commons license: Attribution, NonCommercial, NoDerivatives.

Sustenance has many faces and can be looked at from a myriad of angles. What sustains our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our spirits, our families, our communities, our environment? What sustained our ancestors and our elders? What will sustain our children and grandchildren and those who come after them? With millions of people displaced around the world, many of them minors, many of them unaccompanied, what changes will address their basic needs for sustenance?

In this issue, Rana Bose takes a crack at the thorny issue of why sustenance – the basic conditions that need to be fulfilled if we are to survive and thrive collectively – gets sidelined and in particular, why the root causes of problems get lost in the shuffle.

Abby Lippman adopts a more micro focus, reflecting on individual women who have been unseen and “unseened” – elder women in our families who spoke little, relatives who have disappeared – whose sources of personal sustenance may never be known to us. For Abby, resistance itself may be a source of sustenance, and “for our own sustenance, we need to honour these silenced and silent women and all others who are still exiles and violated and unseened.”

In an interview conducted by Claudia Itzkowich, the curator and two of the artists participating in a Montréal exhibit called Hōshanō – the Japanese word for radioactivity – grapple with how to generate and sustain consciousness of an invisible on-going enemy – one that must be acknowledged in order to be addressed in a post-Fukushima world. Truth-telling through art may prove to be a means of collective sustenance.

In “The Biodiversity Crisis,” Patrick Barnard elaborates on the loss of biodiversity worldwide as a question of life and death, both on a planetary scale and at the local level, in his hometown of Montréal. The warning voices of experts in biodiversity “are telling people the unvarnished truth. At the present time, however, the ruling political classes in the world, without exception, are not prepared to do the heavy lifting to really ensure human survival in some decent form.” Patrick puts out an impassioned call for key strategic action and a major shift in our own awareness of our habitat.

Michael Bristol’s essay, “The Man who Taught his Horse to Live without Eating,” delves deep into the issue of sustenance to discuss distribution of wealth, the idea of distributive justice and our duties towards the sustenance of our fellow human beings.

Two poems are featured in this issue that leave us pondering the darker recesses of sustenance: “Portrait” by Nada El-Omari, a compelling inner wrestling with destructive love, and Catherine Watson’s “Can I be old,” an uneasy questioning of the truths about growing old.

Nilanjan Dutta’s “Dreams and Other Lifelines” is inspired by Che Guevara’s quote on “our freedom and its daily sustenance,” and reflects on freedom, sacrifice and resistance as sources of sustenance in times of social turmoil and unrest.

Montréal Serai co-editor, Nilambri Ghai, interviews Jeevan Bhagwat, a Toronto-based poet and co-founder of the Scarborough Poetry Club. This club provides poets with the necessary resources to sustain their art as well as a venue to be heard, and addresses social issues through poetry, such as homelessness, racism and inequality.

Veena Gokhale reviews two books by Normal Nawrocki, a Montréal-based cabaret artist, author, actor, musician, educator… and intrepid social activist who, in her words, “will get you out of your armchair, searching for the next protest march.” Anne Cimon reviews Shimmer Report, a collection of poetry by Brian Campbell that is immersed in the shimmering sustenance of seasoned love, music, and a deep appreciation for Montréal and its natural landscape. Su J. Sokol’s dystopian novel, Cycling to Asylum, also has Montréal as part of its backdrop, here as a place of refuge. Reviewed by Cora Siré, “Sokol delivers an Orwellian prescience” in this novel. Maya Khankhoje savours The Invention of Wings, a novel about slavery and the power of women’s friendship and solidarity. In a lyrical review of Après Satie: For Two and Four Hands by Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt begins with the hope of something “rich and flavourful” and is not disappointed with this collection of prose poems inspired by Erik Satie, early 20th-century Parisian avant-garde pianist and composer. For Strutt, “Après Satie is filled with delicious mouthfuls of vowels and consonants, fairy tale phrasing, and spicy turns which fully satisfy.”

Montréal Serai has always done its utmost to support and sustain marginal voices that might not easily persevere, and we were pleased to participate in the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s roundtable discussion on “Montreal – Cultural Vitality and Inclusive Artistic Communities.” Maya Khankhoje gives us a special report.

We hope this issue will fuel and sustain you through the bumpy transition from winter to spring. Keep an eye out for more offerings in the weeks to come, including Montréal street art as sustenance and poetry by Jaspreet Singh. Enjoy!



Thirty years ago, in November 1986, we launched our very first issue of Montréal Serai. While commemorating this important milestone, we are proud to announce that Serai’s contribution to the promotion of literary arts has been recognized through the Quebec Writers’ Federation Judy Mappin Community Award (2016) presented recently to Rana Bose, a founding member of Serai.


#montroyal credit: Prasun Lala


In these past 30 years, we have moved from a print-based community magazine to a digital quarterly showcasing fiction, poetry, critical essays, interviews, reviews and media arts from Québec, Canada, and the international community. Starting from this issue, our website has a new look to enhance its visual appeal and showcase its contributors’ photos and artwork more effectively. We are also continuing to take a more dynamic approach to uploading new articles at staggered intervals. We look forward to your feedback and suggestions. Write to us at talkback@montrealserai.com.

In keeping with our vision of bringing the margins to the centre, we are planning to engage young, student writers through a new section that will be introduced in our next issue (March 2017). More information on this will be posted early in the New Year.

The theme of this issue is drawn from a quote from Ralph Blum’s The Book of Runes. Runes are the thousand-year-old letters forming runic alphabets – the first system of writing developed and used by Germanic peoples before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.[i] Individual runes were associated with symbolic properties or powers, which could be invoked by writing them. The word rune meant both letter and secret or mystery. According to one source, its original meaning might have been a “simple (hushed) message.” [ii]

Blum’s quote reflects on what we can learn from constraint, hardship and other causes of human sorrow, pain and limitation:

“When something within us is disowned, that which is disowned wreaks havoc. A cleansing is required here; in undertaking it you fund a will and strengthen character.” [iii]

The disownment or casting away of what was once one’s own is heart-wrenching – but equally brutal can be the task of owning it back. We have, in this issue, an extraordinary range of articles covering indigenous and migrant stories, our lost rights to human dignity, a sudden end to childhood, and the powerful means of taking back the disowned through murals, poems, storytelling and performing arts.

Claudia Itzkowich Schñadower, in her interview with Mexican filmmakers Luis Ernesto Nava and Keisdo Shimabukuro, writes about the stories on walls sketched by migrants escaping from poverty and violence. Joyce Valbuena and Giuliana Fumagalli recount the experiences of Inti Naxhiellii Barrios – a storyteller, performance artist and artistic advisor of Le bloc d’artistes of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montréal – who travelled to the Philippines in 2016 as part of the Solidarity in Performance Art (SIPA) project. Marie Thérèse Blanc reflects on Leonard Cohen, the author and songwriter who “disowned nothing,” and who, through being “unaffectedly honest about his warts and failings,” revealed “rare, gentle grace and elegance that defeated ego or pretence.” Louise Carson offers up a blistering end-of-love poem in “Burning.” Tamara Nazywalskyj, in her story “Fourteen Days of God’s Speech,” looks for the elusive peace and happiness arising from her conversations with God. Astha Agarwal, in her poem “Durga,” tries to ‘re-own’ her childhood.

Featured book reviews probe the hidden depths, from Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education, Liam Durcan’s The Measure of Darkness, Mayank Bhatt’s Belief, and Donald F. Mulcahy’s A Second Coming, Canadian Migration Fiction, to Louise Carson’s book of poetry, A Clearing.
Films reviewed here explore other “unowned territory”: Lia Tarachansky’s On the Side of the Road, and Paolo Zaffaina’s Article 4, a short film from Italy about the never-addressed-or-upheld legal and constitutional citizen right to a decent wage.

Look for more articles in the coming weeks as we edge our way through the season of the longest nights.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runes

[ii] http://norse-mythology.org/runes/

MacLeod, Mindy, and Bernard Mees. 2006. Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. p. 4-5.

[iii] Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes, A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle (https://archive.org/details/The-Book-of-RunesSee pp. 80-81, Nauthiz: Constraint, Necessity, Pain.


#mtl credit: Prasun Lala


“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” James A. Baldwin

Fault line
Fault line by Lisa Andres. Taken from flickr under creative commons license: Attribution.

We are sitting on crevices that lie under our feet. We often don’t see them because there is a fine veneer of aphorisms and seductive, multi-hued easy-outs that allow us to skate along on the surface and ignore the crevice below. We are oblivious or choose to be so, and pretend that the crises lie somewhere else and for someone else to resolve. And as we carry on in our contrived zones of peace and aloofness, the explosions get closer and closer. Explosions of anger, fury, revenge and severe intolerance. We gloss over the headlines, be it a massacre in Istanbul Airport, Orlando or now Dhaka, and in our minds we say, “there is something wrong with these people!” Judging from a distance is so satisfying, is it not?

This issue of Montréal Serai has as its theme Fault Lines: the root causes of cultural, political, social and artistic divisions that distract rather than seek the real reasons — the underlying conflicts that are smeared with the oily veneer of mainspeak, so we can continue to skate on and ignore the crevices below.

Let’s take Hillary Clinton and what happened in Benghazi. The Republicans will eventually make a heroine out of her, simply because they want to politicize the slaying of four American functionaries, and in the end it will only backfire. The Republican militia’s entire agenda in its indictment of Clinton is about bad security arrangements, bad intelligence and poor decisions of a militarized bureaucracy.

What is the real fault line here? Nobody’s discussing the killing of Gadhafi, a respected leader in Africa for several decades (all quixotic traits aside) – and yet he was slowly and savagely shot and butchered with bayonets by the same fighters who had been deployed by the “allies” to fight the Russians in Chechen and the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and to carry out the wars in the name of “democracy” in Iraq and Syria. A debt-free nation that had billions of dollars in reserve, Libya had chosen universal free education and health for its entire citizenry. Libya has now been turned into a lawless land where only banditry thrives. Before, 87% of Libyans were literate, electricity was free, housing was guaranteed (as an example, see http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-884508).

Gadhafi was respected not only in Libya but also in the rest of Africa, as someone who had strategically developed his country without IMF dependency. With oil revenue, yes indeed. Mandela hailed him as one of the greatest African leaders. In spite of the fact that both Sarkozy and Blair had hugged and kissed him only a few months before for his statesmanship, we have been assiduously told that he was a monster. And then word came that Gadhafi had held two conferences to make a gold-based currency for use all across Africa. That was when all hell broke loose. The fault line emerged and was quickly slated for cover-up and “mitigation.”

Clinton appeared on the scene and in a widely-televised interview said, “We came, we saw, he died! Hah! Hah! Hah!” If an average Libyan was asked to react to this monstrous act, what would be his/her reaction? The entire might of NATO, British Special Forces and French Rafale jets were deployed to bomb and strafe Gadhafi’s convoy, while the murderous “Transitional Council” carried out its butchery on the ground. Subsequently, the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi, not because Islamic fundamentalists were crazy, not because Hillary failed to provide security cover, but because the United States as a self-described “exceptionalist superpower” decided who should stay and who should go, no matter how popular they were in their own nation. Perhaps Iran’s Dr. Mossadegh was the first example since WWII of a leader who was assassinated for not bowing to the interests of the superpower. Then followed Lumumba, Bishop, Rodney, Allende, Che and seventy-six attempts on the life of Castro and the list goes on.

Why do we avoid probing the root causes behind a calamity, be it a flood, a massacre, a genocide, or severe environmental catastrophes? Because we have a ready list of contrarian arguments and popular-speak that deflects from the essential fault lines.

In 2011, a total of 135,585 people committed suicide in India, of whom 14,207 were farmers.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers’_suicides_in_India) It is said that every 15 minutes a farmer kills himself, because he is unable to deal with the complex arrangements of buying GMO seeds and taking bank loans at exorbitant rates, in the face of overwhelming pressure to convert to non-organic farming. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html) In the last decade, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves because of Monsanto’s costly seeds and pesticides. Why are we not talking more often about GMOs and the pervasive control of organizations like Monsanto, instead of fatalistically discussing drought, floods, lack of rains (which incidentally have a lot to do with the mess we have created in weather patterns)?

Je suis this, Je suis that… and then what?

And how about the Je suis hysteria? How many takers for Je suis Dhaka, Je suis Istanbul? None! The Je suis business, candlelight vigils, the bouquets placed on massacre sites reek with the stench of manipulated and misplaced emotions, humanity’s cry for help covered with the veneer of distractions from the real fault lines. But is it only about Western interventionism in other peoples’ lives that has triggered fanaticism and extreme acts? It would be facile to take that route. The killing and maiming of atheists in Bangladesh, the attacks on abortion clinics in the US, the stigma against science and the continuous attacks on the way “other” people dress in Québec and Canada demonstrate the blind religious instigation that comes from temples, mosques, synagogues and other pulpits. Religion is incendiary as well as an opiate. It is also a fundamental fault line. Divisive and intolerant. Some religions have managed to cover their primitivistic attributes with modernist refinements. Others have not.

Let’s take female genital mutilation. What’s the word on that? It’s an Islamic problem, right? That’s the common parlance. Really? In Eritrea and Ethiopia, where 90% and 77% of the population are Christian, the largest number of genital mutilations in Africa occur. So, it is really an African problem. Yet we keep repeating the same tired old memes, the facile generalizations about Muslim fanaticism.

In this issue of Serai, we have produced a significant collection on the theme of Fault Lines. It includes critical original essays on the TPP by Michael Fish, an extraordinary photo essay on the condition of fleeing migrants in Europe by Darren Ell, an incisive book review by Patrick Barnard of Djemaa Maazouzi’s Le Partage des Mémoires about recovering memories of the Algerian War of Independence, a poignant short story by Dorota Kozinska on growing up in Syria, far-reaching coverage of partitions and dividing lines in history by Nilambri Ghai, my commentary on the Orlando shootings, the works of Montréal artist Dan Delaney, and a hilarious short story by Susan Dubrofsky on how to survive a nuclear disaster.

The central thread in all these pieces underscores the need for deciphering fundamental fault lines instead of hovering over superficialities. Further contributions will be staggered over the coming weeks, along with a peppering of Montréal street art, as we explore more dynamic presentations and interactions with our far-flung readership. Keep an eye out!


forced nomads image

Nomads are human population groups that have traditionally moved from one part of their traditional habitat to another in search of food. Such movements tended to be seasonal.  Some nomads have also moved greater distances in search of water, as happened in the Sahara desert, or towards a better climate as happened during the Ice Age. Many nomads continued their way of life even after the physical imperatives of searching for food, water or shelter were no longer so urgent. Such is the case of the Romani and other peripatetic groups who do not recognize the legitimacy of borders and revel in the freedom of a changing night sky.

But that is not the subject of our issue. Here and now we are concerned with nomads whose lives have been greatly disrupted by drastic changes in their native homes. They are variously known as displaced people, refugees, migrant workers, wanderers, drifters, immigrants or emigrants (depending on where you are standing), illegal aliens (if they come from impoverished countries) or expats (if they come from former imperial hubs), slaves, victims of trafficking, undocumented people, the homeless and so forth. Many of them would not have left their homes but for the fact that they were dispossessed of their land, were engaged in a trade made redundant by new technologies, stood on the wrong side of the political divide, professed the false versus the true religion, were the wrong age or the less valued gender, or had the wrong skin pigmentation, phenotype, world view or sexual orientation.

Rampant globalization, senseless war, anthropogenic climate change, unbridled technological innovation and even (why not?) old-fashioned greed are the ingredients that lead to massive destabilization of human populations. Ancient civilizations believed in the circular nature of time. The Hindu Vedas interpreted cycles of good and bad times as the four breaths of the Creator. The Mayans linked such repetitive changes to the precession of the planets. We are now living through one of those iniquitous times. Serai writers and artists have their unique stories to tell on the subject. Read on and join in the ride.



begs outrage no borders visual

En route to Europe and Asia, I find graffiti everywhere on streets and train stations in Copenhagen. Many words on the graffiti look for peace in an unstable world. Others look for a world without borders or simply a place to live in. One cannot miss the loud messages in Danish, English and Arabic, etched in bold colours, lighting up dark steely walls, shocking us out of our stupor, forcing us to watch, making sure that there are similar images waiting on the other side for the eye that happens to look away. It is out there: a clear expression of the outrage of those not within European borders. I can almost touch the palpable fury pouring out from hearts behind the hands of those spraying paint, desperately looking for homes for their loved ones, carving out words on Denmark’s heartline: “THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK MUST WRITE!”


Seven thousand kilometres away, in Northern India, old wounds are opening up once again, and the smouldering embers of communal divisions are being raked to light fires that consume populations. “Not within our borders!” is the cry. Return home (Ghar Wapsi) to Hindustan’s fundamental Hindu roots (Hindutava) is the silent slogan rising from the hearts of people on the street. Religion is being used for partisan party politics to provoke people into taking sides, and leaders are trying to win the hearts of voters by evoking the memory of communal riots. In protest, writers, artists and intellectuals are returning their prestigious national awards (Award Wapsi), but hidden beneath this rage is the impoverished condition of farmers in the Punjab – a state that once relied for its strength, self-sufficiency and economy on its fertile land.  Farmers have few alternatives other than to sell their land to developers looking for prime property around newly constructed international airports that will soon be vying for flights from Montreal and Toronto. The environment is carcinogenic resulting in the vicious spread of malignant tumours that now require a special cancer train to transport patients to urban centres for treatment from the highly affected districts around Malwa – a region close to the River Sutlej.

earth no borders


I seem to have lost my mind along with my train of thought around the theme of this issue: The Heart has its reasons….  All that comes to mind are words from a verse by the poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz where he writes to his beloved: “Do not expect from me the kind of love I once felt for you…/when the beauty of your eyes meant everything to me…/I cannot turn myself away now from the spent bodies of those lying in the dust…/and those who can no longer rise from centuries of neglect.” (liberally translated)

This used to be my country, I said to myself. It is no longer so. New borders are being carved where there were meant to be none. Breathless, I return to Canada and look for a faqir’s crazy songs among the first soft snowflakes of the season. I look back at how, 28 years ago, we launched Montréal Serai  as a forum for unheard voices. We defined a new centre to express what was close to our hearts – an expression of the rare, unusual, and the unsaid. Today we continue to expand this centre – to redefine Canadian experience, and to bring the margins of the world a little closer to ourselves and our country.

This issue of Montréal Serai includes images, poems, stories, articles, interviews and reviews that delve deep beneath surfaces and peel layers to expose hidden feelings and sensitivities. Marc Krupa, a Montreal-based actor, writer and filmmaker, interviews Nabil Mehchi, co-creator of Interrupt This Program, a new five-part CBC documentary series. Each episode profiles three or four young artists in cities such as Beirut, Kiev, Port-au-Prince, Athens – cities that have seen recent turmoil – where history is being made even during the filming of the series.

The featured artist for this issue is Andréanne Bouchard, a member of the Atelier Graff in Montréal since 2007. As an artist, she looks consistently for a fragile balance in her installations, and thus creates a subtle universe both chaotic and frivolous.

Roberto Perezdiaz’s story “Monday Morning Madera Municipal Court” is a humorous and poignant description of the kind of treatment meted out to Mexican agricultural workers in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley of California. Jaspreet Singh, author of Chef and Helium, reveals in his poem (“The Emperor’s Clothes) the heart-wrenching silence of the ‘Saffron Man’ following the ‘Savage lynching in Dadri.’

Catherine Watson, a sociologist and member of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning, recalls what Paris meant to Jean Rhys, author of the underworld and Wide Sargasso Sea: “Paris, you said, is life itself/it was your life/you peeled back the skin.” Louise Carson in her poems waits for spring to “take the cold wind from the storm,” while Jody Freeman traces father-daughter relationships in Ellipse: “I am the chaos of my father’s order,” she writes.

Neilesh Bose, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Victoria and author of Defying the Perpetual Exception: Culture and Power in South Asian Islam, reviews the portrayal of Muslim characters within plays such as  Dion Boucicault’s Jessie Brown and Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced.  Sam Boskey, lawyer, educator, writer, community organizer and jazz player, introduces the new English-language edition of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ award-winning book, Tenir tête, based on the recent student movement in Québec.

On behalf of everyone here at Montréal Serai, I would like to wish our readers and supporters a very pleasant and safe holiday season. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback. Please contact us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.