Writing short stories in her own language helped this immigrant cope with starting a new life in Canada

Shahitha Maideen fell in love with writing when she was growing up in the southern Indian province of Kerala and rediscovered that love of writing as a way to cope with starting a new chapter of her life in Canada.

Shahitha Maideen’s book is called The Island Of Dreams

Shahitha Maideen moved to Calgary in 2010 and says writing helped her deal with the many challenges she faced as a newcomer. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Shahitha Maideen fell in love with writing when she was growing up in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

It wasn't until years later, when she found herself struggling to settle in a new country, that she rediscovered that love of writing as a way to cope with starting a new chapter of her life.

In 2010, she had just arrived in Canada and found herself home alone with a new baby, isolated and falling into a depression. Like many immigrants, she missing her friends and family back home.

"I was sitting at home taking care of my five-month-old baby. You are all by yourself, it was winter, there was snow and no place to go out. I was a bit depressed at that time," said the Calgary resident.

She started writing a blog, called My World, and then started to write short stories. She says writing was therapeutic. 

"When I faced this situation, these challenges, I realized I had to open my mind and I had to express myself."

Now she's publishing her first book, The Island of Dreams, based on her experiences of being a newcomer in Canada.

It's all written in her first language of Malayalam.

Maideen says her writing is part fiction, part personal experience. She says moving to Canada was a tough decision for her, and adapting to life here wasn’t easy at first. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"It was a very hard decision for me because I'm a very attached person to my homeland," said Maideen, talking about leaving India.

Maideen now works for the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association, helping new arrivals settle in the city. 

Her collection of 40 short stories is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, spanning the time period between 2010 and 2020.

She says some of her stories are based on real life experiences but told through characters and different locations, covering a range of issues experienced by immigrant women.

"My favourite is the last story in the book. It's about a couple who migrated from India to Canada, spending years here and raising children before moving into a long-term care facility. When I was writing that story, tears came to my eyes because I put myself in their shoes."

Maideen says issues from empowerment to domestic violence and the power of relationships are all themes that she's covered.

"Some are related to my memories from back home. I've accepted Canada as my home country now, but before it was always in my mind that I don't belong to this place, I belonged to some other place. It's called home, so in future, my stories and writing might change because this is my country now."

She hopes people back home will get to read her book, along with Malayalam speakers in Canada.

Maideen’s book is written in her native Malayalam and includes 40 short stories written over a 10-year period. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I hope this will be a motivation for them also to express themselves, all immigrants. Newcomers can learn from these experiences and they can be better prepared."

Maideen says she hopes writing about the ups and downs of life as a newcomer might also inspire other immigrants to write about their own experiences, either through fiction or starting blogs and journals.

"I believe that it will give encouragement, especially to immigrant women who don't have the chance to express themselves in any other medium."

She says writing in a first language is much easier when it comes to free-flowing expression.

"There are no blocks, you can just write."

Maideen says she is expecting a paperback version of her book to be ready for release by the end of December. 

It will be released in Kerala, India, and Maideen hopes it might make it to Amazon, an e-book format and maybe even an English translation.


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on sharing stories from under-reported communities and groups in Calgary and southern Alberta. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at