MJ and I became fast friends. She was a Romanian immigrant. Her family had recently moved to Vancouver. Her English was sparse but she was a fast learner! Our lockers were close by and we had lunch together everyday. We used to stand around chatting after school for a long time. She used to tell me horror stories about Romanian life and government. I was thankful I wasn’t fleeing my country.
Soon after that, I befriended GK who was in my English class. She was a Korean girl brought up in Argentina. Soon after, a lot of other kids became friends with me. I was easing into the school system. It wasn't painful anymore to go to school everyday.
My brother had a breeze of a time at school! His assignments included wandering around in the park collecting dried leaves and sticking them in a notebook; Going swimming and writing a report on it; Learning ice skating and then talking about it. Well, you can guess how stressful his life was! He went to Sperling Elementary which was 5 minutes away from our home. While I had to get up at 7 AM and trudge to school, he would wake up around 8.15 and dash from bed to school in 10 minutes. And he had hot lunch waiting for him everyday at home. Lucky Dog! Besides, my brother was popular amongst the ladies. Being popular included getting a lot of phone calls and words of praise about his beautiful eyes etc...
The Revenge of the Midgets
MJ and I were sitting in front of our lockers at lunchtime.
"Oh-Oh! MJ, look over there."
The Mafia was approaching down the hallway laughing out aloud. I had told her my little run-in and found that she’d had her own episode with them. Of course, it wasn’t bad as mine! (Why did I have to get the worst experiences??)
"MJ, let's go"
She grasped my hand firmly and said defiantly, "Subha, why should we go?"
She didn't seem so scared. I was. They had still not noticed me. I was trying to wrench my hands away from her. Her eyes suddenly had mischief in them.
"Subha, put the book in front of your face and hide. I will do the same."
Now, I was giggling.
"When I whisper, stick your feet out in front of you ever so slowly, ok?"
I nodded. As those guys came near, ever so slowly, both of us stuck our feet out in front of us. And down the Godfather went, sprawling on the corridor in front of him! Yaaaaaaay! The entire hallway burst out laughing. And then, we did the most heroic thing we’d ever done so far:
MJ and I ran for our lives still giggling uncontrollably! After all, discretion is the better part of valour, ain’t it?:)
Life abroad makes you think. Not the student life where you are surrounded by desis of your own age like I am here in Lexington. But the kind of life where you get to peek into older first generation immigrants and see a”20-years-down-the-line” you reflected in the eyes of the 50 year old man in front of you.
We met so many Indians who had settled down – for good or bad- in Vancouver for the past 20-30 years. All of them were successful, wealthy and had good lives. They had managed to retain a semblance of their Indian roots and celebrated it in the occasional weekend festival party. But their kids were quintessentially Canadian.
I think most of us see our kids as mirror images of ourselves. We wear a set of colored glasses and see them through that. I will compare my kid’s childhood tomorrow with mine own and happily float along in the thought that he/she is going through what I did.
“Ah, my son is like me. He also likes chapattis!”
“My daughter is like me – very patient and understanding!”
We see them wearing Indian clothes at parties/festivals and think, “Hey, I brought up my kid to be Indian! I used to wear pavadai-sattai at Diwali when I was a kid too”. Little do we know that it is but a costume for them – sans the associated cultural overtones that we relate to in our mind. We keep living in our own imaginary world and suddenly, one day you are given a rude shock!
You see them dating/marrying a non-Indian and you can’t accept it. You fight, flail your arms, shout from treetops but to no avail. You try to get them married to a homegrown Indian boy/girl and you meet with stiff resistance (on both ends kind of like “Pardes”).
Finally, with shoulders slouching, you accept the truth: They are no more Indian than you are American/Canadian. And that disappointment lingers in your heart and tears you limb to limb!
I had a peep of this side of things a long time back when I saw frustrated parents who couldn’t get along with their kids. One man even left his wife and kids and moved back to India. Alone. The wife didn’t want to accompany him because she wanted to be with the children. And the children didn’t want to move to India, of course!
“Subha, how I wish I could turn the clock back 20 years! I was blinded by money! I thought I could still bring up my kids to be Indians! Never thought it’d turn out this way…”
That refrain is common…and it makes me shudder!
A year later....
I know I've been grumbling a lot about Vancouver. But, hey, it was really not that bad! I made a lot of new friends at school. Life became easier. It is one of my axioms that 'Intense growth comes with great pain'. Those 2-2.5 years of my life were the years I really grew - on a personal front as well as academic. After my initial pains with physics, I actually grew to enjoy the subject and the style of teaching followed there. I was amazed at the variety of courses offered in High School ranging from Pottery to Archaeology etc...!
However, true to my South Indian conservative lineage, I couldn't muster enough courage to be adventurous in my choice of courses...:) So I stuck to the beaten path: Science, Computers, Math etc...But thinking back, I think I'd have wanted to take some off-beat courses. MJ pulled me into Math clubs, Science clubs etc... after school hours.
Over the summer, I did a part-time job as a secretary in a company. In the evenings, MJ and I used to pick cherries from our cherry tree in the backyard! :) She really was crazy about it because they used to go berry-picking in her home country of Romania. :) A bunch of us played soccer near the Burnaby Lake over the weekends and then wolfed down our picnic hampers and took long walks. GK, MJ , DO, myself all went to Lynn Valley for a hike. It was raining (true to Vancouver's reputation) and we had a fun time slipping and sliding in the muddy trail giggling all the way. My family went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park. My brother and I loved the suspension bridge! I scared him out of his senses on the swaying suspension bridge!
We went to Grouse Mountain often. I never did understand their motto which was played on all their gondolas:
"No wonder our chefs are inspired. Grouse mountain, the peak of Vancouver."
Huh? Chefs inspired by a mountain? How can food be related to a majestic mountain? Maybe food will be majestic? Whatever. My brother and I came up with a dozen hilarious answers and then gave up! :)
The Diary will flip its next page very soon…