Waiting to board the long haul direct flight to Toronto I was scrolling Amazon book titles and came across INDIANS ON VACATION by Thomas King. Reading the blurb I was a bit disappointed when it turned out be a fictionalised account of a middle-aged First Nation (indigenous people of Canada) couple on vacation to Prague than about Indians from India. I saved the title for purchase once on land to know more about the fantasized Indians of the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus and other White colonial settlers. My knowledge of ‘Red Indians” was limited to comic books and films in sync with what Thomas King in his book THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN (my read once on land) writes “Indians were made for film. Indians were exotic and erotic. All those feathers, all that face paint, the breast plates, the bone chokers, the skimpy loincloths, not to mention the bows and arrows and spears, the war cries, the galloping horses, the stern stares, and the threatening grunts. We hunted buffalo, fought the cavalry, circled wagon trains, fought the cavalry, captured White women, fought the cavalry, scalped homesteaders, fought the cavalry. And don’t forget the drums and the wild dances where we got all sweaty and lathered up, before we rode off to fight the cavalry.”
The Air-Canada aircraft bump-lands at Pearson Airport Toronto, waking me to the present. I look out at the cascading snowflakes and then at my fellow Indians, the real ones, and wonder what is that lures them to a ‘cold’ country away from the warmth of their hearths. My mind whirls at life-trajectory of two very different Indians….one reclaiming their lost civilization and the other searching for newer domains.
Our flight is a mini circus, old, young, brawling infants, and the tiring 23 hour journey from New Delhi, India, to Toronto does not dim their eagerness to step into Canada. The new hopefuls make a dash for the immigration counters, impatient and excited, for having achieved their dreams of a ‘Kaneda’ (Punjabi pronunciation of Canada) tag along their names.
I could not refrain from asking this fresh-out-of college girl, sitting next to me, for her reason for choosing Canada. Without blinking ‘It is home…my entire extended family of cousins, uncles, grandparents, friends, village brethren are here. What more do you want’. She counters.. ‘Why did you come’. I fumble and mumble ‘because of children. They want us to be close incase of health emergencies. I am a heart patient….” She smirks, ‘Join the bandwagon’. For her it is work opportunities and freedom to be what she wants. The present home scenario of girls being hacked and stuffed in suitcases , the increasing cases of domestic violence and women harassment justifies her stance. I do not blame her. Infact laud her for her brave move to live life on her own terms.
Waiting in line at the immigration area I listen to the answers to the Officers. Some sound earnest some fake and the beaming faces when they clear the inquisition. Twenty (20) plus years ago we too had sent our children, at age 18, to USA universities. To us, priority was education and career choices and immigration was nowhere on our radar. Graduation was followed by employment in USA and then move to Canada and citizenship. Now when I comment on the ongoing exodus my children tell me to ‘Zip it. We are in the same boat”.
I know the education system and job market in India is not in best of health, but, I feel apprehensive when I see gullible youngsters streaming out of unknown diploma and certificate colleges of Canadian towns ever hopeful of the pot of gold. There are stories of success and of failure, of lives being snuffed out, of drug abuse, of parents living like paupers having sold their property in India to fructify their children’s Canada dreams. Dreams that are continuously rammed down their cranium by immigration and consultant companies in Indian cities, especially Punjab. Social media is equally responsible with testimonials of new and successful aspirants posing against fancy cars, homes (often not their own) flashed on a daily basis.
The exodus of Indians from Punjab had begun late 19th century*, primarily to British Columbia, to work in the forest industry. Immigration restrictions had curtailed the numbers but over the years as Canada relaxed its immigration rules there is no holding them back. “It’s a lottery if your child is successful and a dream shattered when they fail to reach their desired goals”. A friend in New Delhi commented after sending his son to a Canadian college. The joke doing the foreign based Indian circuit is of parents dreaming ‘If Rishi Sunak can do it why can’t their kids.’ (Rishi Sunak of Indian heritage is present Prime Minister of Great Britain)
‘It is a cold land’ laments a senior lady who had moved to Canada five years back. Her son had brought her to Canada, selling their land in their village in Punjab, promising comforts. The reality was different. She was to take care of the house and grand children while the son’s wife went to work. “Initially for a few months it was tough, adjusting to the cold and cultural ambiance as children wanted me to wear trousers and not Indian ‘salwar kameez’. I had led a very protected life back home with restrictions on clothes and meeting with outsiders”. Slowly she mustered courage to venture out to local play-areas with grandchildren, talking with other senior couples and singles, sharing stories of their lives. “Now I am more at home in this land, participating in religious and social functions and taking bus and train rides on my own. Recently I signed up, with few friends, for fruit picking during season and keep the wages earned for India travel, and occasional Mall visits. Initially my son and daughter-in-law grumbled but soon realised they had no choice.”
On a sadder note she recounts the harrowing experience of an elderly Indian couple doing minor jobs, cleaning offices. They are living with their son. Recently the husband slipped and fractured his arm and it was their local Gurudwara friends who stepped in to give that homely care.
There are stories of success and failures, of sorrow and joy and that minor incidents aside, Canada is a welcoming land. On a lighter note the availability of Indian spices, clothes etc is a plus point in adjusting. An old timer here for 40 plus years tells how they would bring Indian spices and foodstuffs from India. “Now one can buy anything and everything”. No wonder the girl on the plane said it was home.
Christmas is round the corner and as I walk the Calgary Zoo the twinkling multi-coloured Zoolights create a world of wonder and hope for new arrivals and old.
The outdoor Christmas lights, green and red and gold and blue and twinkling, remind me that most people are that way all year round–kind, generous, friendly and with an occasional moment of ecstasy. But Christmas is the only time they dare reveal themselves. Harland Miller
Merry Christmas and a positive 2023
*In 2022, IRCC is well on track to welcome more than 430,000 immigrants to Canada. In 2023, this target will rise to 465,000 new permanent residents (PRs). In 2024, Canada will aim to welcome an additional 485,000 immigrants and in 2025 another 500,000. Indians account for 18.6 per cent of the total number of immigrants between 2016 and 2021, as per newly released census data.
Between 2016 and 2021 Indians accounted for 18.6 per cent of the total number of immigrants. Canadian Sikhs account for 2.1% of Canada’s population as of 2021, the country’s fourth-largest religious group settling in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
Following in their footsteps are wannabe immigrants from other Indian states with each forming their own cliques & communities.