On November 2, 2017, Veritas Café was packed with faculty, students, and members of the community for the launch of Professor Mariam Pirbhai’s collection of short stories, Outside People and Other Stories, published by Inanna Publications in Toronto.
Two student writers opened the evening’s festivities. Jenna Hazzard, whose short story was recently a runner-up in Elle magazine’s national writing competition, read a humorous episode from the opening pages of her novella-in-progress, set in a library just after New Year’s Eve. Jenna’s reading prompted one longtime library employee to say that she hit the mark with all her details. Kyleen McGragh performed two of her poems, “”Exhale” and “Parasite.” Both poems were recently published in FreeLit magazine, and Kyleen gave a riveting and bold recitation.
Professor Pirbhai graciously thanked her colleagues, students, and especially, her Latin American friends for their support. Her stories, she noted, were about the invisible rather than the “visible” minorities in Canada. They are not just about immigrants, but about the domestic worker, temporary migrant labourers, those who are left behind and whose families are fractured because of globalization.
She began by reading an excerpt from “Air Raids,” featuring a modern Muslim woman’s would-be sexual encounter with an airline steward during his stopover in Montreal. Set against the backdrop of a protest against a Quebec bill banning religious symbols, the story is rich with the voices of English, French, Pakistani, Jewish, and Arabic people.
Her second excerpt, “Chicken Catchers,” was based on the horrific car accident which killed ten migrant workers and the truck driver near Stratford in the winter of 2012. The victims were from Peru, five who had only recently arrived. Pirbhai’s story focuses on the inter-ethnic friendship between a Peruvian and a Jamaican worker, and may lead us to question Canadian habits of consuming chicken, particularly our preference for chicken breasts.
She ended with a funny story, “Crossing Over,” about a woman from Mumbai’s consternation about having to perform inelegant and unfeminine manoeuvers in the family car in order to attend a dinner party in Halifax in winter.
Outside People has been praised as a “stunning debut.”
Photos and Story by Eleanor Ty