At the Canadian Immigrant Fair at Pier 21 I met a lady who, like me, was from India. We exchanged pleasantries. “Do you miss India?” she asked abruptly.
“Yes, I do,” was my instant answer. A short pause. “And I don’t,” I added.
The answer seemed to startle my newfound friend. She looked at me as if I was a monster. Her reaction disturbed me. She excused herself and joined her husband who was at one of the booths getting his resumé polished up, just as every new immigrant does soon after landing in this country.
I wasn’t sure whether it was right to open my heart and offer a truthful answer. Her reaction puzzled me, but I quickly put our short meeting out of my mind and continued to stroll from booth to booth. There was so much to see, so much information to gather, many new contacts to make; and hopefully one of them would lead to a regular job. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought to myself.
As I sat in the bus on my way home from the fair, my mind travelled all the way to India. What things do I miss? I miss the ancient culture and vibrant people, the Indian spirituality that seeps through one’s every thought and every action, the diversity, the colourful festivals that are an integral part of Indian life, the celebration of life and of love, and the strong values and bonds that bind the family together. These are all part of me and I miss them.
I also remember the poverty and hunger, the milling crowds, the overflowing slums. The parched land which is witness to humanity’s misuse of Mother Nature’s gifts. The rising numbers of suicides among Indian farmers and the lack of safety for women, the garbage heaps in cities, the smoke-filled, polluted city air which chokes adults and children alike. These are also part of my country, a part that I am not proud of, a part that I want to change.
The ties with my homeland are important to me. The first language I learnt from my mother, the traditions and values she taught, and the rest of my family that still lives there, are all parts of me that can never be erased. How can anyone ever forget the love and nurture of the motherland that shaped one’s thinking?
People leave their homes for different reasons. It could be for joining a family member, or the lure of a better life, or even a means of getting away from a suffocating situation. How well one settles down in a new country depends on how well one adapts to the hardships and challenges presented by the new environment.
Even though there was a long waiting period, the Canadian government did grant me permission to come here as a permanent resident and join my daughter. For that I am grateful. I intend to settle here provided I find suitable work and a comfortable living. The fact that this country has accepted my family makes me happy. There is a certain feeling of belonging and I am able to identify with the good things Canada stands for. Although sometimes I wish the cost of living wasn’t so high here compared to that in India and some other Asian countries.
Often I think about what I can do in return to help the community I am a part of. Teaching the newcomers English conversation at Keshen Goodman Library on Saturdays gives me immense satisfaction. Maybe there is something more I can do. I have to figure that out.
At the Canadian Immigrant Fair, I had the opportunity to listen to Tareq Hadhad, the young entrepreneur, who, along with his father, established a business and started the Peace by Chocolate project in Antigonish. The charismatic young man narrated the chain of events that made him and his family leave Syria and settle in Canada. He’s a shining example of what one could do in this country, given the opportunity and the support of well wishers. The Hadhad family seemed to have found the secret of success, too: giving.
One of my favourite actors, Denzel Washington, once said, “Giving is the most selfish thing one can do.” He was talking to a group of young students. The students were perplexed. Then he explained that the amount of satisfaction and the euphoria that the act of giving brings to the giver is immeasurable. In that sense, giving is really the most selfish thing anyone can do.
So what do we give? Lebanese-American poet and activist Kahlil Gibran was specific about the right kind of giving. He says, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
CORRECTION: Due to a proofing error, the business Peace by Chocolate was misidentified. The text above is correct. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.