Monday, June 26, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries – VIII

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…

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Last two weeks in brief...

Read this week...

I've been on a reading spree!

- Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

Very inspirational! Takes around 1.5 hours to finish it and it is available online here. Do read if you have some free time especially if you are a perfectionist or would like to go places. I'd rate it as a 9/10.

- Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

The second book of this author's that I've read recently. The first was "Tuesdays with Morrie". A different look on the concept of "heaven" and how it ties into your life here on earth! But I found it a bit less interesting than Tuesdays with Morrie. I'd give it a rating of 7/10.

- God's Debris - Scott Adams

An excellent book that challenges you to think. It makes you question certain things you have taken for granted and forces you to distinguish between truth and fiction! Not everything the characters say can be taken as truth either! :) Definitely a must-read if you have an inquiring mind and dig philosophy, religion, meaning of life and such. I was enthralled and just wait until you find out what "God's Debris" actually IS! :) It is free and you can get it here.I rate it as a 9.5/10.

- Vaakkapatta Bhoomi - Ganesan (Tamizh)

Excellent read! Takes you on a journey to Tamilnadu's villages and a lifestyle long extinct! Ganesan traces the evolution of culture in our villages to incorporate modernity and how it has affected a few traditions. It is not a book that pans modernity and present day culture. In fact, the villagers themselves support certain improvements in lifestyle. I loved it! Rating: 8/10.

- I, Claudius - Robert Graves

Published in 1934 and a best-seller in its times, I ordered this book yesterday. Ra. Ki. Rangarajan's "Naan Krishnadeva Rayan" (a good read on its own!) is inspired by this classic. In fact, that was primary reason for getting this book. You can read about the book here. I haven't opened the first page yet. Will comment when I am done. I do love holding a fresh, new book with its distinctive book-smell in my hands! Ummm..I foresee a relaxed, comfy evening with this book in my hands and a hot cuppa tea! :))

- On The Ganga Mail: Reflections

In contrast to the others above, this is a blog. I found the blog in itself interesting. But I loved this post! :)

Heard this week....

It has been an Abheri-spree! :) (A random thought popped into my head. Is it right to use "an" in front of "Abheri". It is a Tamizh/Sanskrit word and I am transcribing it in English. Tamil/Sanskrit don't have rules for using "a" or "an" in front of vowels. So which rule do I follow?:))

- Tillana in Raga Dhanasri by MS.

Dhanasri is a.k.a for Abheri. I can't get this beautiful rendition out of my head! :) It is on MIO under M.S Subbulakshmi. I can't get the link to the page because MIO looks like it is down. Let me know if you want the link.

- Kandan Karunai by Madurai Mani Iyer

Raga: Abheri/Bhimplas. First time I am listening to this song. I love Abheri as it is and this song just added more reasons! You will definitely notice a similarity to "Isai Thamizh Nee" from Thiruvilayadal towards the end of this rendition! :) Listen to it here.

- Narayana by Maharajapuram Santhanam
Raga: Suddha Dhanyasi. I've heard this song many times before. But somehow, it struck home this week more powerfully...:) Listen to it here.

Did this week...

- A couple of very embarassing gaffes.. :) But I think I will live through it.
- As if two weren't enough, started another blog! :) I know, I know..I can hear your exasperated sighs!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

For the heck of it..

So, what did I do when I was bored? I started another blog! :) I don't promise that it is interesting or profound. But just something to put my thoughts in.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries - VII

Sir Lancelot conquers the Enchanted Palace!

When you know what you're doing, life is uninteresting. But when you are bumbling along from one thing to another, wondering what other embarassment is in store for you right around the corner, then you don't have time to think of "boring"! :) Sometimes I felt like Sir Lancelot riding into a land full of demons, ogres, wicked sorcerers and enchanted palaces.

My personal enchanted palace was the "Vending Machine". First time I encountered it at school, I looked at it curiously. I gingerly stepped up trying to figure out what I should do.

Okay, drop coins first. I fumbled in my bag and found a bunch of coins.

Which one is a toony? ($2) Hmm...let's see...go through it one by one...ah, got it!

Okay, now drop it in and pick your drink. Now, why isn't it coming out? Hmm..

I tried hitting a couple of buttons but it didn't work. I gazed at the vending machine with awe. The sesame had chosen not to open this time. Maybe some other time.

It wasn't until one day that I saw a girl kicking the machine as hard as she could before she took out her drink, I realized that the machine was errr...a bit temperamental..:) I had to kick it to free my treasure from this enchanted palace! Aha! First victory for Lancelot!


Pole Star Subha!

My father's 'Enchanted Maze' was the highway system. First time we stepped out on the highway, it felt like we were going in a never ending loop!

Help! The Maze had swallowed us.

We weren't used to highways and exits and ramps and perpendicular, intersecting roads. So we went on a lovely merry-go round reading signs after we'd passed them, seeing exits after the fact, not knowing how to loop back to the highway etc... Finally, after a very interesting day, we figured out the highway system. Or I should say my father did because I was a bit late on the uptake.

Each time we missed the route and went the wrong way, my dad would ask,

"Okay, Subha. Which way do we go? Right or left?"


My dad would promptly turn left and that'd be the right way! So, in a way, I was kind of like the pole star leading the way unerringly, albeit in the wrong direction. If not for me, my family would still be debating whether to turn right or left. But hey, people could rely on me to take the right direction, right?



I don't hear you say "Yes, Subha. You're the best!". Humph. You are as bad as my dad. Humph.


Sanitized Containment Rooms a.k.a "Malls"

We went to Metrotown mall and it seemed so deserted and bereft of people! Coming from the crowds of Paris corner and Ranganathan street, I felt that it looked like a sanitised hospital! Even the floors smelled of disinfectant and cleaning liquid. All stores were symmetrical and same with white walls and polished floors. Not at all distinctive unlike the "Nadar kadai" down the road in Madurai with the name board hanging at a quirky angle or "Murali Maligai Stores" with sacks full of rice and grains stocked up at the front and the unmistakable smell of red chillies tingling your nose or the Chettiar store with the smell of new, beautiful Mangalagiri cotton sarees holding the promise of a beautiful experience. I had been with my mother and grandfather to Nalli's, Kumaran's, Vairamaligai T.Nagar and they always knew my mom! I got Goldspot or coffee or tea as I chose and the owner would fawn over me and suggest things for me to buy. But this was so impersonal! Sanitinized Containment Rooms.. yeah, that'd be more appropriate than "Malls". I didn't like it!

And then, there was the first encounter with the escalator. All of us looked at it like it was some alien out to grab us and trode gingerly on it. And 5 minutes before the escalator even hit the landing, we'd mentally prepare ourselves for the landing: leg forward...go with the flow...don't jump...yaaaay!

Besides, once we had a Seinfeld-ian episode. Metrotown mall has huge, different levels of parking. We parked in some level and got into the mall. We wandered around happily for a while and got out at some other entrance. Then we realized we had parked somewhere else and that a mall can actually have more than one entrance. Aha.

Lesson# 1: Remember your parking level and spot number.

That'd have saved us half-an-hour of wandering around the parking lot like grumpy nomads.


Travel bug!

We visited Penticton one summer. It is an amazing holiday resort on the shores of Lake Okanagan. They even have their own version of the Nessie called the Ogopogo. How's that for romantic, huh? :) There are beautiful orchards all around the Okanagan area. They even have harvest festivals. Wine from the orchards there is supposed to be the most delicious.

We went to Victoria, capital of BC on a ferry across the Pacific. One thing to be said about British Columbia: it definitely is the most beautiful place on earth! What with mountains and rolling valleys and virgin forests everywhere you look, it is a sight for sore eyes. Butchart Gardens in Victoria has the most beautiful flower show. During the summer, you can see miles and miles of roses of all colors (red, orange, yellow, white) stretching as far as your eyes can see! I hadn't seen such fields of roses anywhere except in movies. It was breathtaking! There's also a wax museum nearby. The Pacific around the Vancouver Island area boasts of a lot of whale schools in its waters and you have rides that take you whale watching! An experience worth its money!

The US border was a couple of hours off Vancouver. We crossed over many times to shop in Bellingham, Portland, Seattle etc... But a stark difference at the border: Canadian authorities were always more polite and friendly than US authorities! :)

And we met a lot of interesting folks! There was a desi guy in Vancouver who held a M.E. in Mechanical Engineering and was driving cabs for a living. You'd be surprised how many well-qualified Indians end up doing menial jobs abroad! It is a pity, really. And then there was this really dynamic lady who ran the "Rim Jhim" radio station in Vancouver. We had interesting visitors too. One guy from CBI, India came to stay at our place. He looked like actor Raghuvaran..:) We heard rumours that the guy behind the Kanishka bombing in 1982 resided in Vancouver. We even met him once! He had come to my dad's bank to do some business and he seemed like such a normal, sane person. He was arrested later but I have no idea what happened to him now. We heard stories where wannabe-immigrants tore up their passports, flushed it down the airplane toilet before disembarkation and claimed refugee status. Canada is a very immigrant-friendly country and grants asylum to refugees easily.

Oh, there are so many stories, so many stories! Which one do I tell you?


The Idiot Box beckons!

We were fascinated by the TV. Partly, because we were making do for the first few months with an old, antique TV that looked like it had been purchased in the 40s. My father’s predecessor had left it and it continued on for sometime till we got a new one. By “we” I mean the collective consciousness of my brother and I. My parents very rarely watched TV.

“Xena – Warrior Princess” was our topmost entertainer! “Hercules” followed and then came “Zinbad the Sailor”. We went crazy over these mythological figures even though the screenplay was so twisted and far from the actual myth! J But it was fun. My brother was a cartoon-maniac. He used to watch I-know-not-what shows some of which included “Banana man”! J Besides, we ended up watching Seinfeld (my once-nemesis). I think it used to air every Tuesday at 7 PM and I diligently used to clear up my homework before that so I could watch it!


Main Street

Main Street was our Indian street. Vancouver has a very thriving Punjabi population. And on Main Street, you'd find lots of Punjabi stores, restaurants, shops etc... We went grocery shopping there. We used to go to a Sri Lankan store for Indian groceries. Main Street was quintessentially Indian - with its smells, trash, dirt. But it was also home to many of us expatriates - where we to go to get a whiff of home! The only memorable event I had in Main Street was that I bought a length of very good quality, baby pink velvet there! Later on, in Bangalore, a designer turned it into a beautiful sharara. I still have it! :)


The Diary will flip its next page very soon...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

If.... if incase you HAVE TO switch fields once in every 5 years between your 30 to 50 yrs of age assuming that your monetary needs are taken care in upper-middle class standards, what (4-5 professions) you would wish to do (and say few words about it) ?

Priya had tagged me and here are my choices:

I've always had this secret wish of being a journalist. I enjoy writing and it'd be a dream come true to cover exciting happenings. Maybe, like Burkha Dutt, I'd get a chance to be at the warfront etc...Beats sitting at a computer all day long, in any case!

Second, I'd like to pursue music more seriously. It has always received short shrift from my end when priorities conflicted. I gave up formal Carnatic singing many years ago and after that, I just practice off and on. I’d devote 5 years to music!

Third, I wish to backpack across Europe. I love seeing new places and some of my friends who have done backpacking call it an unforgettable experience. I think I'd like to earn money as I go, do small jobs in different countries and move on.

Fourth, I’d like to spend my old age in Srirangam. Just go to the temple, listen to music, sit in on parayanams, harikathas, eat well and be at peace on the banks of the Cauvery! :)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Vancouver Diaries - VI

Left: A picture of Burnaby, BC. The mountains in the background were my view when I walked to school everyday. Courtesy: Wikipedia

Rain, Rain Go Away...

The one thing you'd have to hate about Vancouver is the incessant damp, rainy weather. You have rain 300 days of the year! The only time you can catch a peep of the Sun God is during the summer months of July-August (if you're lucky!). Someone told me that Seattle has the highest suicide rate in the US of A because of its rain. I am not surprised. Vancouver, just 3 hours away from Seattle, used to drive me crazy!

The entire weather system used to confound me. Being a typical Indian, I was only used to Hot, Hotter and Hottest seasons. I was witnessing the four seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn - for the first time! My walk from my home to school took me 20 minutes and I used to love that walk during Autumn! Bright red, green and yellow maple leaves strewn on the road creating a carpet of colors were a novelty to me! The snow capped mountain peaks formed a background to the hilly, curvy road leading to my school. I used to savour the fresh, mountain air as I walked to school everyday! It was heaven.

Winter was not really that bad. The warm currents of the Pacific kept us reasonably warm. During winter, the sun used to rise at 8.30 AM and set at around 3.00 PM. Darkness descended within 3.30-4.00 in the afternoon. I was gloomy and upset because of that. During the summer, it was the other way around. The sun was around till 11 in the night sometimes and it rose as early as 4.30 in the morning! I used to feel extremely awake by 6 with sunlight filtering through the blinds prodding me to get out of bed! I hated that.

My brother and I were dying to see snowfall. We were a bit disappointed early on when people told us that Vancouver never received that much snow. Our prayers were answered. Vancouver had the heaviest snowfall in decades during the Winter of 1996. Our driveway, lawn and backyard were fully covered with 6-9 inches of snow. All of us stayed up at night to watch the magic of falling snowflakes covering the ground in a robe of pristine white.

Huh. We didn't know what awaited us next morning. My dad sounded the alarm first.

"Uhh..hey guys, want to come down for a minute?"

My brother and I looked sleepily at each other and dragged ourselves downstairs. Mom was busy cooking.


"Look at that!"

My father pointed dramatically to the front of the garage. We followed his gaze and gasped. Foot high Snow had piled up outside the garade door! There's no way my dad was going to get the car out unless he happened to be Moses parting the red seas.

My nose, meanwhile, was getting red in the cold. I rubbed it slowly and said,

"So what do we do?"

"We take a shovel and clear the driveway."


My brother and I cried in unison. But there was nothing else to be done.

So we donned our winter jackets, cap, gloves and all of us went to work on the driveway. We dug out a shovel from somewhere in the garage , my father took out a packet of salt and off we went to work like little soldiers. I realized that day that having a huge, long driveway overlooking a big lawn doesn't only look pretty; It means a LOT of work. For some 40 minutes we laboured to carve a path.

"Whew. You wish for more snow?" I asked my brother.

He shook his head huffing and puffing.

"No snow. I don't want to spend all my mornings like this!"

After we cleared the drive, we even took a triumphant picture in front of our garage. I don't have it with me here. It is in my parents' album. I looked at it even this time when I went to India..:)


The Godfather

School stinked for a while. I had no friends, no lunch partners, nothing in common. Zilch. Zip. Nada. I was under pressure on the academic side as well. I shed a lot of silent tears wondering why in the world I was going through this. But I realized soon enough crying wasn't going to solve my problems. I got in this despondent mood especially after Physics 11. I was getting out of Physics class one day, my shoulders hunched, head down - the picture of misery.

Darn. I'd have to take another long route to go to the North Building.

I had to avoid the bully guys. As if all my troubles were not enough, I was in trouble with the Italian boys "mafia". We called them the school "mafia". They tried to look typically Italian - lots of grease on their hair, an arrogant gait, fast cars. In retrospect, I think they were inspired by John Travolta's "Grease". They used to bully and tease a lot of "uncool" people (as they called them). I was sitting in the cafeteria one day doing some homework with a Chinese friend. These guys walked in and sat at the next table.

"Hey, she looks new!" One of them called out pointing at me.

I kept my head down, my heart pounding.

"C'mon, less go talk to her!"

By now, my head was deeply buried within my Math book. If I could've dug a hole through the pages, I am pretty sure I'd have stuck my head inside it.

"Hey, who are you?"

"Err.. I am Subha" and I stuck out my hand as a greeting.

One of them snickered and waved my hand away.

Yeah, sure. You dumbass.

The first guy was tall and dark with so much grease on his hair that I thought it was going to drip on me. I stared at him.

He grabbed my Math book.

"What're you doing?"


"Will you buy us all lunch?"

My heart raced.

How do you answer this question? Do I say no? yes? Oh God!

"Err..I don't have that much money", I answered truthfully.

"Hey, listen guys. She doesnt have money. What're you doing to eat?"

"Err..I was thinking Apple Pie.."

"Go get it.."

Am I getting away so easily? Thank heavens.

I moved to the counter and got my apple pie.

"Come here...", they called.

I took my apple pie with me, shivering a bit. After all, 6 huge, muscular guys do seem scary especially when you are 15, new, small compared to them and they're busy bullying you! :) A very unnecessary, unseeming comparison popped into my head.

I am a midget. An insect in a world of mammoths. Whatever! Why am I trying to make a metaphor out of my misery?? Shut up, brain! I don't need your literary eloquence now. Oh gosh, now I am talking to my brain. How sad is that?


I obeyed. Other students in the cafeteria were now watching the drama unfold. The next moment the tall guy picked up my fresh, new Apple pie and smacked it on my face.

I heard racuous laughter as they left the cafeteria. I burst into tears more out of shame and embarassment than anything else! I ran out the cafeteria, tears blinding me, looking for the washroom.


I meet a friend

After that, I avoided those guys taking circuitous routes to my class. Thinking of that incident, I went to my locker and was getting ready for another class when I saw a familiar face nearby. M was in two of the classes I was taking. She had raven black hair styled in a boycut and soft, European features. I knew she was deadly smart because she cracked some of the tough homework problems in Physics. And the other reason I remembered her was because she always had a green apple with her.

She called me in thick, accented English.

"Are you going to Math?"

I nodded my head looking at her curiously.

"Can I walk with you?"

Sure. God, you're actually listening to me. Now I don't have to cross mafia territory alone.

Outwardly, I smiled and said yes.

For the first time in 3 months, someone actually wanted my company! I cannot tell you what a relief that was. Of course, I talked with a lot of other students. But none of them were what you could call friends. All of them were "hi-bye" types. I felt a happy warmth pervading my body despite the winter cold.

Maybe, I can be friends with her.

You want someone to care if you don't turn up for class one day. You want someone to share lunch with you and sit and talk of mundane things that happened. You want someone to share your crush on that cute guy down the hall. Above all, you want to belong. I think the reason I cried in the cafeteria after the bullying session was because there was none who would come to me and comfort me after that. There was none who would lend their shoulder to me and say, "Hey, its ok!".

I know I make meeting a new friend sound a big epic victory. But then, that's how it was with me back then! I was glad MJ walked with me to Math class that day.

The Diary will continue to write itself....

Friday, June 02, 2006

After a very long hiatus, I posted in Tamil today! It is a pleasure to write in Tamizh! Happy weekend, people! :)