Date- 31st December, 2017
In the flight from Vancouver to Paris
My dad is native to a town called Aligarh. It is a small, yet busy town in the west of Uttar Pradesh. Papa loves the town and has many fond memories of it. He also remembers a lot of friends and acquaintances in Aligarh and since he travels a lot, he has been able to visit many of his old contacts who have migrated to places all over the world. We met a few such acquaintances in Vancouver as well. I have always been surprised by how Papa always manages to find someone from Aligarh, anywhere we go.
We met an old friend of Papa who lives in Vancouver. At first I did not like the idea of meeting him and his family because I felt like we had come here only as tourists and that meeting people would come in the way of our plans. So I was quite reluctant to meet anyone.
We still went to his house and I felt a bit awkward, as I almost always do when I go to someone’s house. He had two daughters, Zainab and Hafsa, who were around my age. Their mother suggested that we should go up to their room and talk. I couldn’t exactly refuse although I was feeling very uncomfortable. What would I talk about with two people I didn’t know? I thought we would all be sitting in awkward silence. But I followed Zainab nevertheless.
To my surprise Zainab and Hafsa took the lead and actually tried their best to keep up a conversation. Their efforts were showing and it was heart-warming. It didn’t take me much time to open up, as they made it so comfortable with their hospitality. We talked about our favourite music, our favourite shows, our favourite books. Hafsa had a few books on her shelf that I owned as well. So the conversation turned onto books for some time. I found that I was able to connect with them quite easily. I started thinking, hey, maybe my people skills aren’t that bad. Soon we were called downstairs to go to a house party, which I will talk about later.
But by then I had two new friends.
The next day we went shopping with them. It was an open air mall, somewhere near the airport. We mostly window-shopped, occasionally buying few things. Huma aunty, Zainab and Hafsa’s mother, bought me a t-shirt that I loved. My mom bought some shoes. We went to many designer outlets, mainly because it was an open air mall and we were turning into popsicles. Although the Boxing Day sale was going on, the prices were still sky high. I saw a purse costing two hundred dollars being sold at one fifty dollars at a discount. The fact was, we were constantly converting the price into Indian rupee and that made everything seem to be expensive.
We left to have dinner at a Persian restaurant. The food was quite different from Indian food yet quite similar. We had some dry chicken and rice. The food was good. However, it wasn’t as spicy as Indian food. I liked it a lot, and so did my mother but Papa, as I have mentioned before, is a fan of North-Indian food and North-Indian food only, so he didn’t like it.
The next day we again met up with Jami uncle but not his wife and daughters because they had gone to Seattle to visit their grandmother and aunt. We went to an Indian restaurant which was pretty nice. Seeing the authentic Indian metal vessels gave me a comforting sense of familiarity. I never understood why Indians always look for fellow Indians and Indian restaurants whenever they go abroad, but now I understand that it gives them some kind of reassurance, to find something familiar in an unfamiliar place, where everything is new to you. The food was great, papa and Jami uncle recounted their memories of Aligarh and it was only when a worker told us that it was time for them to close, that we left.
We met them again when Huma aunty, Zainab and Hafsa came back from Seattle. This time we went to an Indian restaurant along with a few of their other friends. We talked for some time. Zainab and Hafsa ordered honey-garlic chicken wings. I never had it before, but not wanting to look like a picky eater in front of all the people, I decided to give it a try. It was okay, although it was very sweet and I usually don’t like sweet stuff. The rest of the food arrived. It was quite mild compared to actual Indian food, but I guess they had to tone down the taste to suit the general crowd. After dinner we just sat there for some time and chatted. As we parted with Huma aunty, Zainab and Hafsa, Jami uncle suggested that we go to the US-Canada Border which was quite close to the place we were at.
The parking lot was completely deserted. Looking up at the night sky, the full moon illuminated behind the spiky branches of the shedding trees, surrounded by clouds. It gave me a very spooky feeling. It was exactly like the setting of a horror film. We walked till we reached a huge archway punctuated by many spotlights. This was the US-Canada border. Huge metal gates were present on either side of the archway. They were open and an inscription on the archway read, “May these gates never be closed”. Looking at that I felt quite surprised that two neighbouring countries could have such a good relationship. At a distance we could see many cars in a queue for immigration. Jami uncle told us that they had a Nexus card by which they could easily enter the US. We walked around a little, finding it a bit surreal that we were actually walking on the land of United States of America. Jami uncle was telling us about how during the summer, in the daytime, it is full of people and how it would have been better if we visited again in summer. But I think that the solitude just made the experience even more magical.
We met another acquaintance of papa’s. Sonish. At first I was kind of annoyed. She had invited us for dinner while I had bought some pasta which I wanted to eat for dinner. But since we were going to have dinner with her, my pasta would have to wait. Anyway, she came to pick us up and drove us to her apartment complex. She was the first person I had seen there who lived in a flat. Most of the people lived in houses. The building’s security system was very interesting. Everyone had a key-chain which probably had some kind of sensor on it. It could be used to open the doors and operate the lift. I thought that it was an interesting system.
Her flat was very nice and cozy. A compact kitchen, a dining table, a sofa and TV and a small room. Many paintings decorated the walls. My mom liked the one hung above the TV which displayed a few buildings coloured in a VIBGYOR colour scheme. While having dinner, Sonish casually mentioned that all the paintings had been made by her. That was when we really got interested in the paintings. All her paintings were amazing. We learnt that she had auctioned off a few and that she was quite good at decorating cakes as well. She showed us a few paintings in her room and I noticed a shelf containing her art supplies, which were all kept in boxes and were neatly marked. This system of maintaining things was amazing because I am not at all good at organizing things. I would like to keep my things organized, but whenever I try to put things to place, it mysteriously becomes messy again even before a week has passed. I like to say that the only organized thing in my life, is my bookshelf. It is organized by genre, authors, sequence in case of a book series, colour coded, and in alphabetical order.
We sat down for dinner. Sonish admitted that she had ordered the food from a restaurant but she wished that she could have prepared food for us herself. After dinner, we had some coffee. Well, to be precise papa did that; I had some delicious chocolate cheesecake. Sonish had brought out the cheesecake from near her window and she told us that if you just kept food near a window, it would be preserved because the low temperature kept the windows cold. I couldn’t even imagine doing this in Mumbai. The food gets spoiled if you keep it out for even an hour. We talked about many things. My writing, school, art, and Aligarh. It was when we noticed that it was nearly midnight. We quickly got up and left. Though I never thought that I would say this, but I was quite sorry to leave. Sonish was much elder to me, but she was very nice and friendly.
Vancouver was very foreign to me, till these people made me feel at home. There were many Indian immigrants there. The new friends I made seemed to be the connecting bridge between Vancouver and India. Even in the foreign land, they reminded me of the home I knew and was accustomed to. These were the ones who didn’t let me feel like a stranger. They made me feel like I can fit into their lives easily. To experience a little of their lives in Canada but retaining their Indian values made me feel very proud of my culture. People in India often like to imitate the western style of things but Indians who are living abroad just want to do everything to keep in touch with their roots. That’s what helps them to remain an Indian, in heart and through practices, whatever be the colour of their passport.