By Yolanda T. Marshall
Saira Batasar-Johnie is a brilliant first-generation Indo-Caribbean Canadian author residing in T’karonto/Toronto with her family. The daughter of Guyanese and Trinidadian parents, her recently released novel, Dear Divya, authentically shares the challenges and growth of 14-year-old Anjali Singh. It is a story of a young girl embracing her heritage and coming to terms with her identity while adjusting to her new high school. Dear Divya is edited by author Tiara Jade Chutkhan and beautifully illustrated by Stephanie Rambharos, a Toronto-based Indo-Caribbean multidisciplinary artist. Saira’s literature and Indo-Caribbean voice are essential to educate and inspire the younger generation. Here is more from Saira Batasar-Johnie.
Are any of your high school experiences relatable to the character Anjali Singh?
Dear Divya is a relatable experience to not only myself, close friends and others I’ve met along the way. It has only been reinforced by the feedback from readers who have shared how much they connect with it. Interestingly, my original intention was for it to be focused on the Young Adult market because I wanted the next generation to see themselves depicted in literature. However, I’ve received feedback from aunties, friends and family who come from the generation before me and have been able to connect with the book. I am sure we all had a Damian or Naraine or a friendship that was torn between loyalty and being popular.
What are some of the core messages or guidance you want your readers to digest after reading your book?
Dear Divya, is about self-identity, loving thy self but going through the process of exploration, friendships, the choices we make and how peer pressure impacts us all, and how we must have multiple selves as individuals. I also wanted to bring characters not typically seen or read about into mainstream literature and topics heavily stigmatised in Caribbean culture. Whilst being curious about what is next, what happens to the characters and wanting more from the books. For me, Dear Divya is and will be a series that challenges our communities’ thoughts, that breaks inter-generational bias, speaks to the difficulties of not being accepted for being Indian and educates us about who we are, what we are and how we came to be through the eyes of Anjali. This is just the beginning for Dear Divya; I am so excited to be writing this series so that this can be a book that, once anyone picks it up, they can identify with it.
Here are this week’s picks.
Diwali in My New Home
Written by Shachi Kaushik, a writer and storyteller based in Vancouver.
Illustrated by Aishwarya Tandon, an illustrator and cartoonist residing in India.
“A heartwarming story of celebrating in a new place and sharing the Hindu festival of lights with those unfamiliar with the holiday.”- Beaming Books, 2022.
‘Twas the Night Before Diwali
Written by Ms Zenia Wadhwani, based in Toronto.
Illustrated by Ms. Manon Lariviere.
“Enjoy this South Asian rendition of a familiar holiday poem and the introduction of a new character to the much-celebrated festival of lights, Diwali.” – Independently published, 2020.
Diwali: Festival of Lights
Written by Rina Singh, an award-winning Canadian Children’s Author. Singh has an MFA in Creative Writing and a teaching degree from McGill University. Her awards include the Social Justice literature and BC & Yukon Prize for literature.
“During Diwali, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains celebrate the legends and stories that describe the triumph of good over evil and justice over oppression. Critically acclaimed author Rina Singh explores her Indian roots as she tells the Diwali stories, which remind us that, eventually, the light will prevail over darkness. Enriched by personal stories and spiced with festive recipes, including two by acclaimed chef Vikram Vij, Diwali: Festival of Lights brings to life the holiday’s traditions, food and rituals and takes you on a journey to see how this festival is celebrated around the world!” – Orca Book Publishers, 2016.
Happy Diwali. May the lights of Deepavali brighten your days. Please support your local bookstores, such as A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Books, Knowledge Bookstore and Manifest Bookstore.