Shiraz Ramji: campus bard

WEB-shiraz-Mark Burnham

By Ljudmila Petrovic
Photos by Mark Burnham

Most people at SFU have at some point talked to Shiraz, the kind man with no qualms about stop­ ping people to give them his poetry. Even people that graduated from SFU several years ago know of him. Yet few of us halt our everyday rush for long enough to ask him about himself. We talk about our classes and take the poetry he hands us, but don’t really know his story, or why he does what he does.

The man
Shiraz Ramji was born in Tanzania, East Africa on Dec. 10, 1948–which he is quick to point out is human rights day. Even as he describes his heritage, Shiraz maintains his poetic air. “My father, Walji was a fear­buster and he educated me to respect people as global friends and not as harmful strangers,” he reminisces. “My mother, Rehmatbai was a greed-buster, and she educated me to enjoy people­ friendly freedom to share food, knowledge, and experiences.”

He finished his graduate studies in Europe, and has been associated with SFU in one way or another for the past 10 years: he has been a student, staff mem­ ber, researcher, and a guest lecturer in Education, Gerontology and First Nations Studies. He is also an avid supporter of the SFU community, frequently attending and discussing SFU arts and sports events. He has no intention of slowing down anytime soon, either. “Life is a journey of life-long learning,” he explains. “At age 64, I am developing a curriculum to start a school of grandparents in an Elementary School.” He is also taking his poetry to the next step, and is currently working on his poetry e-book, Fruitful Girl Power and Sports Poetry.

The poetry
Shiraz started writing poetry in elementary school after a teacher told him he spoke like a poet and should start writing down and sharing his words. He cites simple everyday interactions as his inspirations, usually from public transit or public events. His campus presence has become so strong that he says he even gets requests to write poetry, including from students and coaches.

When I ask him why he hands out poetry on campus, he is quick to correct me: “I never hand out poetry like the Metro or 24-hour newspapers, or like the corporations who hand out coupons for their products,” he specifies, stating he’d rather be seen as “sharing” the poetry with the SFU community.

The vision
Though Shiraz has a strong cultural background, he prefers to identify himself as “a global citizen and a pacifist working for gender justice and global peace.” Poetry is his medium in spreading this message. He sees poetry as a way to celebrate our differences, and to see the beauty in our commonalities – both globally and on the level of the SFU community. He sees his poems as an extension of the messages that his per­sonal heroes fought so hard to spread: the message of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon. With a special in­ terest in the field of Gerontol­ ogy, Shiraz believes in working against ageism, as well against all other forms of repression. He hopes to someday see SFU pro­ mote Canadian Grandparents Day (which falls on Oct. 20). Everyone on the SFU campus is a grandchild and some members of the community are grandparents, he reasons.