Beyond saris and ice hockey

Newly arrived in Canada, or deeply rooted here; that the Globe and Mail extended a note of welcome to aspiring writers from especially these two categories that compose the Canadian mosaic, was comforting. And then I got to thinking – what if I am both, and neither, all at the same time?

It wasn’t the first time I had questioned the geographic factors behind my development as an individual. But it was the first time I recognized the opportunity to compose a formal argument, irrespective of making it to press. 

My family immigrated ten years ago, so I was certainly not newly arrived. And the fact that my relationship with the Canadian soil was a mere decade old (unless of course, you count that geography summer project on our choice of best country in the world from seventh grade) meant I was technically not deeply rooted here either. Hence, began the inquest for this essay. 

India is always calling. It is the land of my birth, I take pride in the rich cultural values it encompasses, and most importantly, it serves as a constant reminder of the unconditional kindness (more commonly associated with family that is innumerable in number, equal parts warm-hearted and caring, and sometimes exists solely to feed you – until you burst – all the scrumptiousness that constitutes the Indian palate!) that surrounded me growing up. 

Canada, on the other hand, is always there. Welcoming, giving, and enveloping me not just in soft snow and courtesy that is intravenous, but also in gifts that contribute as a whole to physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. 

I never quite like it when certain acquaintances refer to it as the ‘land of opportunity’. It makes those who migrate for a better future, or to seek refuge, look like conniving, greedy opportunists plotting depletion of the land’s resources for their own materialistic gain. But as much as I may not like the associated negative connotations, said opportunities have resulted in academic, professional, and social success for my family and for scores of others. 

Seventh grade was a long time ago, but I believe Canada truly is the greatest country – to live in, to work both hard and smart, to educate yourself and your children, to pursue a dream, to contribute to society, and especially (should you choose) to redefine yourself! 

Systemic issues exist as do in any other developed society, but this turf lets you start over. Both government and non-profit avenues line up to provide newly arrived immigrants (and generations of older ones!) with the foundation and resources that are crucial in doing so. 

But, and this is key… will I ever really know Canada? 

I discovered the Canadian city of Stratford fifteen years later than everyone else in my tenth grade English class. Actually, no. There were a number of other newly arrived immigrants in that class; but I don’t recall any of them in a state of everlasting devotion over Shakespeare’s influence in the literary world! 

Similarly, the pronunciation of Rideau, Chinook, and other-equally-Canadian-street-names eluded me until not so long ago, when a marketing role based in the head office of a national retailer revealed places in the country I had never even heard of. I mean, how much fun does Conestoga sound! Or, for that matter, is Medicine Hat! 

Places, streets, flowers, trees, hockey and the science behind its strategies, evolving intricacies of the land’s political and socio-economic structure, significant periods and leaders in history, and other such information that children simply grow up knowing – I yearn for, every moment of every day. 

It is unquenchable, this thirst for knowledge and understanding; I want to know my home – know the land of my adolescence – the way fellow Canadians do, and not an iota less. 

And in the very same manner, I want, desperately, to know my other home – the land of my birth. 

The confidence with which my cousins debate on the changing face of India, many a time leaves me with not much to contribute. I could always comment anyway; but how valid would it be, given that my take on influence of any kind is devoid of contemporary, functional knowledge of the society itself? 

Obsessively looking up Google Maps for a place from one book or another, Wikipedia maybe for a provincial custom I saw a relative once practise, or even a word in any of the several hundred regional languages from an obscure part of the country now escalates into a resounding frenzy, if the results fail to satisfy. 

On trips ‘back home’ (ironic that I use this phrase interchangeably for both Canada and India, while in either place), I envy unabashedly complete strangers walking around with a full head of knowledge, or even if in self-actualized oblivion. Wanting to know a land so well that each and every reference could be the source of conversation, or yield no need for any conversation at all, leaves me in a state of perpetual unrest. 

But then again, there is also the little that I do know – the Canada that exists beyond ice hockey and its extreme winters, cultivating untiringly, opportunities for its people. Or that, fierce ambition to succeed as a society in India – values, hand in hand – takes precedence over the saris and samosas it is more commonly celebrated for. 

There is no satisfying conclusion to this yearning for both the nations I consider home. But I know this; if it wasn’t for the one, I wouldn’t ever be able to truly appreciate the other either. And courtesy of that fact alone, I am willing to wait patiently.

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