This Sunday, November 12, renowned Canadian-Indian poet and two-time New York Times bestseller, Rupi Kaur, is coming to Ottawa as part of her sold-out book tour. To celebrate the launch of her second book, ‘the sun and her flowers’, Kaur will be reading at the Canadian Museum of History. She will be hosted by Ottawa creative entrepreneur, digital consultant, investor, speaker and film producer, Komal Minhas.
Kaur’s first book of poetry, ‘milk and honey’, was self-published, and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. Her Instagram account, @rupikaur_, has over 1.8 million followers. It’s no surprise; according to Krishna Nikhil, Executive Vice President of Indigo, Kaur’s explosion onto the scene has “nearly doubled” poetry sales.
Kaur muses on topics of love, sex, feminism, racism and survival. She beautifully and fluidly frames life’s most bittersweet moments in untraditional verse. A true poet of the digital age, Kaur has sold over 2.5 million copies of her work worldwide. Her powerfully plain and honest words have been translated into 25 languages, illustrated by her own clean and striking line-drawings (Kaur has been drawing since the age of 5, after all).
Minhas, who owns KoMedia, focuses on telling women’s stories worldwide; she is the producer of acclaimed film, Dream, Girl (2016), focusing on female entrepreneurs. The empowering film, which led to Minhas being named on Oprah’s SuperSoul100, has premiered at the White House and has since been screened over 240 times.
“With Dream, Girl, representation was the key part of how we made that film, and why we made that film,” Minhas explained. “We had four or five main characters that were women of colour, and who had such a diverse impact in terms of the story. It was very revolutionary in that way. A lot of the communities who saw the film said they hadn’t felt so seen before. And then the election hit last year. When the stats came in the next day, it dawned on me that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. So, my responsibility is to women, yes, but my core responsibility is to women of colour and women who look like me.”
And what is Minhas’ relationship with Kaur? “Rupi and I have been building a beautiful friendship over the past few years, and her manager and I are very close. When the opportunity arose to bring her to Ottawa for the final stop of her book tour, I just knew it had to happen. She’s revolutionary in her identity, and also in the impact she’s making in the poetry and literary community as a 25-year old South Asian woman. For me, it’s about underrepresented women, and women of colour – bringing those voices to the forefront. I’m so proud to be able to do this through this event in Ottawa, and to also do the only Q&A that she’s giving on her whole trip!”
Last week, Minhas was at TEDWomen with lawyer, filmmaker and activist, Valerie Kaur. Speaking to the rising economic dynamism of Sikh women, Minhas said, “It’s truly incredible and transformative to see this happening. Seeing Valerie’s talk – I had never seen the stories of my people so well displayed in the mainstream and in the public eye. I’m experiencing, for the first time in my life, the feeling of being fully seen as a brown woman, and I’m 27 years old. So if I can be a part of enabling this kind of visibility and this kind of soul-based acknowledgement from a mainstream culture I traditionally shouldn’t belong to, my greatest purpose has been served. So when I look to Valerie, to Rupi – to these women who I want to continue working with – I’m asking what kind of ripple effect we can have on the community.”
Of course, creating those kinds of waves don’t come without difficulty. “The biggest challenge is occupying traditionally white spaces and owning that space. Before the election, I operated very much as a white woman. I grew up in a predominately white community. Even here in Ottawa where we’re a diverse community, it’s still a dominant culture with small subsets of minority cultures. Experiencing life in a way where I couldn’t engage myself in my culture was very difficult. Now, feeling more connected with the community and more validated in my existence makes me feel stronger and more powerful in what I can do in the world.”
Kaur’s poetry speaks to that sort of empowerment. “My favourite poem of Rupi’s is ‘Broken English’. It explores what it was like to grow up in a in a household where English wasn’t the primary language. It resonated so deeply with me. My dad is now a City Councillor back home in Grand Prairie. The day after he won his election, he sounded so full of regret, and I asked why. He said it was because the margin for him and the competition was so slim – just 150 votes. I could feel this guilt, this ‘Should this be me? Do I deserve this?’ He’s been an entrepreneur for 40 years. He’s contributed so much to our community back home. He can’t speak English very well, but that doesn’t make him of any less of value in the community. It broke my heart. I realised that growing up, the reason that I focused so much on speaking and message and words was because I had to speak so much on behalf of my parents. Rupi’s poetry helped me identify that story and realise that truth about myself. Without another woman who looks like me and has had a similar life experience as me, I wouldn’t be able to uncover this about myself, to find more purpose and drive within my work. It’s like lifting up the curtain on parts of your life. And it’s not just for South Asian women – it’s for women around the world!”
As mentioned, Kaur will open the floor for a Q&A on Sunday. “I’d love to ask her ‘how’.” Minhas mused. “‘How did you build what you built?’ ‘How did you preserve in the early days?’ Especially since us young ambitious people compare ourselves to someone’s ‘now’, not to their beginning. I want to take it back to the before – before the two bestsellers, before the book tour, before the millions of followers. How did you work through imposter syndrome? I also want to reflect on what about being Canadian lets her make the impact she has. As a second generation Canadian, there’s such a joy in being from this country, but there’s also a complexity to it.”
Kaur often draws from her family life and, as many second-generation immigrants may be familiar with, the sacrifices made by parents and relatives. ‘the sun and her flowers’ – a blossoming of creativity after a bout of frankly-discussed writer’s block – is dedicated to Kaur’s parents, two younger sisters, and brother.
Sunday promises to be an incredible night. “I want everyone to leave feeling so seen,” Minhas expressed. “I want them to leave feeling like they’ve been in a community for two hours that they’ve longed for their whole lives. That they leave feeling so strong in their own identity through seeing Rupi’s fullness of her identity. That’s how I want everyone to feel.”