A must read for all lovers of Punjabi literature – ‘Keerru’ by Fauzia Rafique

‘Keerru’ is a tenderly woven story of love, acceptance, and understanding across religions, class, nationalities, and generations. Like her previous novel, Skeena, Fauzia tells a human story that is social and political without trying to be. This is a must read for all lovers of Punjabi literature, South Asian diasporic literatures, and LGBTQ+ literatures.’

Surrey, BC

Winner of Ali Arshad Mir Award 2020
Novella ‘Keerru’ by Fauzia Rafique
Available in Punjabi and Urdu

Gurmukhi edition of Fauzia Rafique’s new novel ‘KEERRU’ now available

B&W photo by Danyal Rasheed, inset painting by Shahid Mirza
cover design by Mariam Zohra d.

From the Author of Skeena- a ‘little big’ book

ISBN 9780463342541

Available Everywhere
USA & the World: US$4.50
Canada: CA$4.50
India: INR101.00
Pakistan: PKR101.00

Instant Downloads

‘The story of broken families, lovers, immigrants.
Five people come together in Surrey BC to
form powerful connections with each other, and
to tell a story that has rarely been told.’

Purple Poppy Press 2020, Vancouver, Canada


Shahmukhi edition
ISBN 978-969-593-315-2
Sanjh Publications 2019, Lahore Pakistan

Gurmukhi edition of novel ‘Skeena’ now available in India and Canada

Sangam Publications, Patiala 2019

Novel ‘Skeena’ by Fauzia Rafique has been published in Gurmukhi by Sangam Publications in Patiala, India, and it is now available at India Bookworld in Surrey’s Payal Centre. Script conversion from Shahmukhi to Gurmukhi has been performed by Harbans Singh Dhiman.

ISBN 978-93-5231-317-4
India Bookworld, $15
Sangam Publications, India

Punjabi novel ‘Skeena’ was first published in Shahmukhi by Sanjh Publications in 2007 in Lahore, where to date, it is Pakistan’s most sold Punjabi novel. Its English edition and a limited Gurmukhi edition came out in 2011 with Libros Libertad in White Rock. The Shahmukhi to Gurmukhi conversion and editing was done by poet/author/translator Surjeet Kalsey in consultation with Fauzia Rafique. The novel has also been recognized as one of the ‘100 Must Read Books by Punjabi Authors’ in ‘Legacies of the Homeland’ (Notion Press, Chennai 2018).

Visit Skeena web page
Read reviews on ‘Skeena’

Uddari Weblog operates on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

The Best Selling Punjabi Novel: Skeena


I am delighted to share with you the news that my first novel Skeena has become ‘the most-sold Punjabi novel’ of all times in Pakistan. In an email message, Publisher Amjad Salim Minhas said that ‘Sakina is the most sold Punjabi novel Sanjh has ever published; it is also the most sold Punjabi novel in Pakistan’.

This best-selling Shahmukhi Punjabi edition was published in 2007, and it was the most-launched book in Pakistan with events held in nine cities, each in partnership with local writers and literary organisations. This also made it the ‘most reviewed Punjabi book‘; and, the only novel that brought the movement for Punjabi language rights to the fore at each of its launching events.

It is interesting to note that Author Anthony Dalton’s 2011 predictions about Skeena’s English edition are sl–ow–ly but surely coming to pass in Punjabi, though we still have to see how the Gurmukhi edition does in the Indian Punjab where Skeena has never been published or marketed.

My gratitude to the readers, reviewers, peers; the publisher, editor, all members of the production team; and, the funders and supporters of Skeena’s Shahmukhi Punjabi edition for this profound and rewarding experience.

Thank you.


Contact Uddari

‘Dislocutions: art and translation – Skeena’ by Fauzia Rafique

At the Surrey Art Gallery in 2011, i was happy to discuss aspects of my back and forth journey between two languages while writing Skeena. Here is an updated version of it.


Surrey Art Gallery
Dislocutions: a panel discussion on art and translation
October 15, 2011

It is a wonderful location for me to share my experience of writing a novel in two languages where striking and insightful expressions of art by Brendan Fernandes, Digital Natives, Soheila K. Esfahani, Mark Neufeld, Emilio Rojas, Tony Romano, Ming Wong and Dipna Horra are happening, and, here for this discussion we have artists Lorna Brown, Emilio Rojas and Jordan Strom. Thank you for having me.

I will read to you the very first thing that Skeena, the narrator, says to us to begin her story:
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the ‘Spirit of Tranquility’ (Sakina), in Hebrew; the ‘Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity’ (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Native Peoples, the ‘River of Mists’ (Skeena). At this time, I don’t favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.

In my mind, with the delivery of its main themes, one of the ‘purposes’ of my novel Skeena was to communicate across cultures and languages. In 1991, when I began writing it in Toronto, I had been in Canada for five years and already I could feel the loss of language at different levels. I cannot say that I experienced loss of culture but I did experience the presence of barriers in seeing across cultures. Barriers were of assumptions and preconceived notions, some mine and some those of others, all coming out of the prejudiced systemic structures that rule both my worlds.

For me, there is no conflict in the fact that I simultaneously own as my homelands both Pakistan and Canada. Within it, I am a Punjabi woman of Muslim family origin from Pakistani side of South Asia who has by now lived in the East and the West Coast of Canada for twenty five years, and who considers Vancouver Lower Mainland her hometown alongwith Lahore. For me, my art must reflect and reveal my evolved identity, my physical locations, my combined cultures, and my deepest thoughts. The stories I am inspired to tell come from, and satisfy, my organic communities in both Canada and Pakistan.

The draft manuscript of Skeena, begun in Toronto in 1991 and completed here in Surrey in 2004, brought together my two languages for me when all its dialogue, about 80% of the whole, was expressed in both English and (roman) Punjabi. A realistic critical literary work of fiction, it required communicating across many cultures, the thoughts and lived realities of a young Muslim Punjabi Canadian woman. In evolving this format, there was my need to reflect/reproduce in English the feel/nuance of conversations taking place in Punjabi. It was most important to do that because dialogue is one of the major ways for the reader to get into a different culture, its stories and people; and, to form our own opinions as readers while we visit and become part of various situations in a novel.

Skeena provides a vibrant context to the lives of people living in different social and cultural environments where they may know some facts about each other but where lived experiences are so different that it is hard sometimes to communicate the meaning of words. The term ‘violence against women’, for example, may not give any clear idea to a person born and raised here in Canada about the extent of violence faced by Muslim women in Pakistan. The same term when used to illustrate the situation of women in present day Canada, may also provide misleading notions to a reader in South Asia. To me, these things cannot be told; they must be experienced. So, Skeena happens in the present, and is steeped in the culture/s of its characters.

As well, there was a desire to involve Punjabi Canadian youth, the second/third/fourth generation, by using a lay-person’s form of roman for Punjabi, similar to the written communication now carried out by Punjabis on facebook, twitter and in texting. It was also geared to overcome the Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi divide in the language, and by offering the dialogue in both Punjabi and English, I was hoping to create a story that could unobtrusively become a beautiful culture-sharing, language-learning tool.

In 2004, the first draft of the novel was complete. An engaging story that begins in Pakistan, ends in Canada; uses both English and Punjabi; and, is captivating in the projection of its themes and subject matter. I felt that the manuscript fulfilled all its purposes. But my editor felt otherwise. She said that it would be tedious for the reader to go through two languages at every dialogue, and, she said that I will be ‘ghettoizing’ my writing if I did not remove the Punjabi.

It took many months of thinking while I worked on my other two novels, to come to a point in 2005 where all Punjabi sentences were removed from English manuscript, and placed in a new file. At that point, I think, I heard an actual sigh of relief from the English manuscript as it was released from the repetitive burden of about 200 pages of Punjabi. Plus, I was overjoyed to see an 80% complete Punjabi manuscript, even when in roman. What an amazing bonus! Skeena gave me the gift of two novels when I was writing one, and my mother language gave me the third, Skeena’s Gurumukhi edition via script-conversion. But that happens a little later.

After Punjabi sentences were removed, numerous Punjabi/Urdu/Arabic/Persian words and terms remained in the 2005 manuscript because I thought the reader may like some flavour of languages without being stalled by them. I sent this manuscript to a couple of friends including one in California who went ahead to read over the phone, a couple of scenes from the second section, to a mutual friend in Pakistan who happened to be a writer, editor and publisher. Zubair Ahmad, who later edited the Punjabi ms of Skeena, was taken by the passages he heard over the phone, and invited me to come to Pakistan to translate it in Punjabi for publication. I left for Pakistan in early 2006.

Zubair Ahmad asked me an important question: which language did I use to ‘perceive/imagine’ the story. My thoughtful reply to him was ‘English’ since the novel was perceived, told and written in English. But that was half the truth because all dialogue by and among Punjabi characters was mind-developed in Punjabi, written in roman on the page, and then rendered in English.

In about six months of full time work, a Punjabi Shahmukhi manuscript was ready for publication. Daily I translated a few pages, and worked with the editor to finalize them. It was a powerful and learning experience for me in many different ways. First, the creative space that evolved between the Writer, the Editor, and the Publisher was conducive to both fine-ness and speed. The result was a satisfying manuscript that was then published by Sanjh Publications in Lahore in 2007. Second, something i never expected or knew that could happen though Zubair Ahmad had predicted it: After 1975-76 when I had adapted from English to Punjabi Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novelette ‘The Poor Folk’ for Pakistan Television, I had not had the chance to do any major work in Punjabi except for two incomplete novels and a couple of unpublished short stories. Now suddenly, during translating Skeena in Lahore, a fountain of Punjabi words and terms began to sprout in my mind, even words that I thought I never knew. With it, a whole lot of Punjabi poems began to surface. Some of them are part of my (out-of-print) chapbook ‘Passion Fruit/Tahnget Phal’ (Surrey 2011)*.

I returned to Canada in 2007, and began to work on the English manuscript referencing it with the published Punjabi version. The detail became clearer at every step. The English manuscript became freer of all kinds of weaknesses in expression, content and style. In Lahore, as I was converting dialogue from lay-roman to Shahmukhi script, and translating narrative from English to Punjabi, I had felt that all the remaining weaknesses/gaps, the things i call the ‘lies’ of a manuscript, in concept, style, structure or expression, were revealed to me (i remember wondering if it’ll at all be ‘practical’ to run this same ‘test of translation’ on my other two English novels). I found that it’s really hard to translate an unfamiliar action or concept from one language to another, and even harder to translate an unclear one. I have examples of both.

In the first section that takes place in a village in Pakistani Punjab, a character makes a common (in Punjab) gesture of seeking forgiveness from Allah where certain fingertips are placed on the tongue and then on the lower ear tips with the word ‘tauba’ meaning ‘forgiveness’. It took many agonizing attempts before I could come to this, with the help of my editor, i presume.
Allah Forgiveness!’ He touches his tongue with both his first finger tips, and then touches his ears with them’. 
But I was not happy with it because in Punjabi, it was effortless:
Allah Maafi!’ Oh unglaN de poTay jeebh te rakh ke kannaN noon laanday naiN’.
Later, back in Canada in 2007-08 when I was referencing the English manuscript with the published Punjabi version, the above English sentence also became better.
‘Allah Forgiveness!’ He places his fingertips on his tongue, and then touches his ears with them. (Skeena, Section 1, 17. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The second example is of another difficult point that benefitted from the act of translation. This is what I had in 2005 in a para, again from the first section, and with the same character:
SaeeN Jee is lying unconscious. His cheeks are blotched with surma kohl from his eyes, and his white and orange hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth with his dandasa-orange lips stretched over sparkling white teeth biting a light brown piece of wood.
However painful in English, it’s rendering in Punjabi flows perfectly. Later, still bumpy, it does become a bit better in English:
SayeeN Jee is unconscious. The run-down kohl from his eyes has blotched his cheeks, and his henna-coloured white and red hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth where his walnut-tree-barked orange lips are stretched around a jaw revealing sparkling white teeth over a brown horizontal piece of firewood. (Skeena, Section 1, 18. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The manuscript was accepted by a publisher in 2010, and the very first editorial ‘suggestion’ was to remove all non-English words. I expected it but there’s no harm in trying. I removed most of the words within a couple of days but even then so many remained. Several methods were applied; explaining the word in text, putting meaning beside it, coming up with an acceptable translation, and re-doing the sentence. It had to be done this way, and in stages, so that the manuscript did not get scratched or injured by the extraction or addition. I am grateful to its editors and publishers in Lahore, Surrey and Vancouver for their support in letting me find suitable solutions for each instance.

Going through the editing of the Gurumukhi version of Skeena with Editor/Author Surjeet Kalsey in 2010, I realized that there were a large number of Arabic/Urdu/Persian words that would be new or unclear to the Gurumukhi reader whose cultural reference is Sikhism with language influences coming from Hindi/Sansikrit. We did contemplate adding meaning of some words but the task seemed larger than the time available. Also, how some words are written differently in Shahmukhi, and, questions if they should be left as they are or changed to the prevalent Gurumukhi convention. May be these issues will be addressed when Skeena’s Gurmukhi edition actually publishes from India.

In poetry, i find that my voice changes from one language to the other. In Punjabi, it easily links to the folk, and the emotion; in English, it is a bit blunt, unwilling to express deep emotion. Mainly because, as I was saying to Jordan Strom, so far I have had many funerals in Punjabi but not many in English, so when a woman is stoned to death or buried alive, my experience of mourning and sadness will likely find expression in Punjabi, and my anger and outrage in English. This, I guess, somewhat has to do with the privilege of being a first generation immigrant who continues to own both my languages and all my chosen Pakistani Canadian cultural values.

My current projects include a translation of Madholal Hussain’s selected Punjabi poetry in English, and some of my favourite English poems to Punjabi.

Fauzia Rafique Surrey 2011

Photo by Janet Kvamman 2011 (treated)
*Now in an upcoming collection of Punjabi poetry.

‘Capturing the Essence of Patriarchy in Skeena’ by Shikha Kenneth

Book Review

By Fauzia Rafique
Libros Liberated, Surrey, 2010
Pages: 206
Price: $20.00
Shikha Kenneth

A Vancouver-based South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry, Fauzia Rafique captures the essence of patriarchy in her novel Skeena. The narrative, in fact, encompasses both the universality of patriarchal violence and the specificity of violence against women in Pakistan.

The story spans thirty years of existence of a Muslim woman named Skeena. Here the protagonist narrates her life history – from 1971 to 2001 – thereby lending an autobiographical touch to this fictional text. The novel is divided into four sections; each segment touches upon the various forms of violence introduced into Skeena’s life. The narrative focuses on Skeena’s interactions with her family, friends and community, and her observations about numerous aspects of social oppression such as patriarchy, religious fanaticism, immigration, racism, class distinction, war, etc.

The first section of the novel titled “The Inner Yard” opens with the image of a young Skeena finishing her homework which involves memorizing the phrase ‘thank you’ to store it in her vocabulary. The young protagonist is, in fact, continually and rigorously instilled with the code of femininity by the older women of her family. Obedience and submissiveness are required as feminine attributes within the socio-cultural ideology of Skeena’s community; however, Skeena is forbidden to demonstrate such qualities in front of lower castes and classes, thus throwing light on the hypocrisy and oppressiveness associated with social binaries. Rafique has, in effect, skillfully woven the complexities, contradictions, brutality and duplicity of various social practices into her narrative.

Since childhood Skeena is forced to witness the brutal consequences of the Islamic teaching propagated by a maulvi: “Good women are obedient to men” (41). According to him, physical violence is decreed by God as an apt punishment for women who attempt to transgress social conventions. The maulvi’s ideology – which he states to be authorized by religion – encourages village men to view violence as an essential factor which cements the male’s position of power within his community. Skeena witnesses several instances of violence inflicted on women often leading to the loss of their lives. For instance, a village youth named Gamu is not held accountable for his act of brutally murdering a woman because he is his mother’s only son. The lascivious Munshi’s marriage to young women of different ethnicities is lauded by Skeena’s community for he forces these Kafir women to accept Islam as their religion. Skeena’s best friend Nooro, a victim of the custom of dowry, is beaten severely by her female in-laws for daring to suck on a piece of lemon without their permission. All these instances instil a sense of determination within Skeena to attempt to transcend and overcome the violence-ridden social standards.

The second section of the novel aptly titled “Wild Elephant” shows Skeena entering her youth with an ambitious mind to challenge the injustices of society. Her family raises numerous objections to her plans. Skeena desires to attain a law degree but her mother and brother forbid her to enroll in any kind of co-educational institution. Her dream of participating in Asian Games for her college female hockey team is shattered for the mullahs issue a fatwa that it is “obscene” for women to enter any such sport (182). Skeena is prohibited by her mother from joining politics and advised to concentrate on learning her marital duties.

However, her association with a young Muslim woman activist named Ruffo proves a catalyst for Skeena’s breaking away from the shackles of societal conventions.
Ruffo drinks, smokes, and does not view woman’s virginity as being a requisite for matrimony. Her blatant disregard for narrow-minded social practices influences Skeena to oppose the patriarchal laws laid down by her mother. After Skeena is caught by the police for attending secret political conferences, her mother banishes her to their village, placing her under the servants’ surveillance. But this exile is not enough to suppress Skeena’s fighting spirit. She threatens violence to save Jeeno – wrongly accused of adultery by a maulvi – from the wrath of the villagers. Skeena thus ends up becoming the antithesis of the woman her community wants her to be.

In her introduction, Fauzia Rafique reveals that the name ‘Skeena’ has diverse meanings in different languages namely the “spirit of tranquility” in Arabic, the “indwelling feminine face of divinity” in Hebrew, and the “River of Mists” in Nisga people’s language. Skeena’s mother has raised her according to the values and qualities represented in her forename. But Skeena ruins all her mother’s efforts to cultivate her into an ideal patriarchal feminine figure. Skeena is self-aware, insightful, rational and empathetic to other women’s experiences of violence. She is aware that social biases are anathema to progress and she strives to rise above them. She is, in fact, the “wild elephant” threatening to trample the socially constructed patriarchal values promoted by her family. However, Rafique avoids turning her protagonist into a feminist revolutionary. The author keeps her writing realistic by showing Skeena being forced to surrender to familial pressure and married off against her will to her Canadian groom, a doctor named Ihtesham.

The next chapter of Skeena’s life comprises her nine-year marriage marked by domestic violence. Ihtesham basically relegates her to the position of a servant in their home. Moreover, he uses her to vent his sadistic impulses. Skeena’s mother-in-law is characterized as a “foul-mouthed, mean, selfish, and ruthless woman” (129). She too is a patriarchal subject who maintains her dominant status in the household by allowing her son to be physically abusive to his spouse. “Mumie Jee” deliberately creates conflict between the married couple by accusing Skeena of having illicit relations with one of their male acquaintances. However, she ignores her son’s extramarital affairs. The dynamics within Ihtesham’s family shows how patriarchy constitutes both men and women who would always associate themselves with different forms of violence to maintain control over others. Rafique also delves into the psyche of the victim of domestic violence. Despite witnessing violence throughout her young life, Skeena has never been a direct recipient of it until her marriage to Ihtesham. Moreover, her being an immigrant in Canada adds to her sense of detachment and passive stance towards violence. But once she manages to escape her marital home and reach a women’s shelter, her association with other battered women instills a sense of independence in her. She leaves behind her elitist notions such as viewing any form of help from women rescue centers as charity and despising menial jobs. With a broadened perspective Skeena relocates to Surrey, British Columbia.

The last section of this book focuses on Skeena’s quest for transcendence which involves her struggle to dissociate from the numerous social identities imposed on her. Living in Surrey as a divorced woman, Skeena comes across new people who pose a new set of challenges to her. She is forced to endure a dead-end job. Her boyfriend named Iqbal Singh comes off as emotionally abusive in his attempts to dissuade her from living an independent life. Moreover, she faces the brunt of racism when news of ‘twin towers destruction by Muslim terrorists’ hits the global media. Skeena is shunned by her close friends. She is put under police surveillance based on the past facts of her attending political meetings with Ruffo in Lahore as well as her persistent interest in women political activists. However, this “house arrest” has a different outcome than the previous two.

The novel ends with Skeena escaping from her apartment by jumping off the balcony with the notion “I have no history, I have no biography, I have no name” (206). The last chapter entitled “Teasing the Awake” shows Skeena facing hardships in her new environment but finally daring to take the first step in challenging patriarchal ideology. Skeena realizes that her social identification as an educated Muslim woman makes her the target of criticism and violence. Despite losing every relationship to different forms of violence, Skeena tries to disentangle herself from fear and oppression forced upon her by her biological, racial and socio-cultural history. The novel thus ends on a positive note.

Skeena can be viewed as Rafique’s detailed examination of patriarchy and the manner in which it operates in society. The author successfully captures those nuances of violence undergone by third world women which are often overlooked within the stream of feminism. Rafique puts forth various feminist realizations through Skeena’s perspective such as “it is difficult to fight for human rights when they are usurped by divinity” (182). Passive existence is often viewed as woman’s sole means to escape from violence. Indeed the fear of evoking the wrath of society forces most women to accept their own oppression. Moreover, most victims of violence are not able to cultivate the feeling of tolerance in their treatment of others. For instance, Skeena befriends a lesbian couple named Maggie who is a Jew, and Joyni, a Christian, in Surrey. But these differences that set them apart from social norms as well as from each other do not deter them from judging Skeena as their enemy after the terrorist attacks on America. Skeena is forced to battle the ideologies that hold men as being superior to women. Her brother, her husband Ihtesham, and her boyfriend Iqbal Singh (Gamu’s new persona to escape his past as a murderer) are all staunch followers of patriarchal ideology. Several scenes in the novel, in fact, shed light on the position of third world woman caught between the dogmas of their ethnicity and biology.

The novel makes it clear that the boom in technology and the rise of global media have not been successful in broadening the socio-cultural perspective. Instead these innovations may really be leading to an increase in insularity and violence. The novel takes a well-informed view of the way contemporary socio-political events have impacted women. Skeena’s interaction with women belonging to different ethnicities reflects the conflicting views that have arisen between Western feminist theory and third world feminism. For instance, there is a sense of impatience, lack of understanding, disdain, and frustration within the Canadian white women over Skeena’s failure to pull herself away from her cultural ties.
Rafique displays real authorial skills by managing to save her fictional work from turning into a sermon on feminism. She has been successful in uniting various contemporary topics of interest and presenting them in the form of an expansive, emotive, well-paced and realistic fictional work.

Published in
South Asian Ensemble
A Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture
Vol. 3, Number 4, Autumn 2011 &
Vol. 4, Number 1, Winter 2012
ISSN 1920-6763

Pages 223-28

For South Asian Ensemble
Editor Rajesh Kumar Sharma