Saturday, August 23, 2014

Holi – Canadian Style!

Today I played Holi* after ten years! In Canada! Yes, I know you are thinking, “Holi in August?! Is she crazy?” Well, it wasn’t exactly Holi but for me and my friends it was. We participated in a five kilometer walk/run called “Run or Dye”. It is a fun event where everybody gets a packet of coloured powder dye to put on other people. It was so much fun to put the colour on my friends’ clothes, faces and hair.

Thanks to my friend Niyati for this pic

I am by no means athletic or a runner. But I signed up for this run just for fun. My friend who invited me to register for this said “It will be like playing Holi”. She was probably going to say more, but I stopped her right there by saying, “I’m in. You don’t have to give me any other reasons to join”. I did my 5K by alternating running with walking. At every kilometer on the running path, there were “dye stations”, where runners were bombarded with one colour by the organizing staff. I made sure I stopped at every one of those so that I could get all the different colours – green, blue, orange and pink on me. It was a beautiful experience. The whole atmosphere was full of energy and fun. Everybody looked excited and happy. After the run, we danced to the music played by the DJ. I did some bhangra moves to English music. In other words, “Marjaani paundi bhangra, angreji beat te”.

Thanks to my friend Niyati for this pic
At the end of the day, I am tired and sore but I feel fulfilled in so many ways. My physical self is happy because I worked out. My social self is happy because I hung out with my friends. My IBCD** self is happy to have played Holi and danced Bhangra. What a wonderful day!

*An Indian festival where people put color on each other

** Indian Born Canadian Desi

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You know you’ve been gone from India too long when...

Recently, I visited India after a gap of four years (my longest gap yet).  Because of the relatively longer gap, there were certain things, done by either me or others that surprised me, or made me think. Based on those, I have compiled the following list.

You know you’re visiting India after a long time when
  • You leave a one foot gap between you and the person in front of you in a queue.
  • You drink only bottled water.
  • You take five minutes to cross the road (which you used to cross in five seconds).
  • You have this expression on your face anytime you are in an automobile on the road:

(In other words, you are now doing all those things that you once thought were ridiculous when your NRI* cousins/uncles/aunts did it when they visited you in India)
  • Being addressed as ma’am or sir by people (salespersons, waiters etc.) feels new to you.
  • You are surprised when a random female stranger in the mall pinches the cheeks of your baby (with affection) - without asking or telling - while you are holding her.
  • You are surprised when salespersons offer to hold your baby while you shop.
  • You smile when this happens to you because you know “it happens only in India”: You are asked by a salesman in Shoppers Stop (a department store) to sign up for their rewards card. You say it would be no use to you as you live in Canada. The salesman replies with a little sadness and a little hope, “Ma’am phir kisi relative ko card de dena” (Translation: Then give your points card to a relative in India). 
*Non-Resident Indian

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Things I love about Canada

There are a lot of things that are just amazing about Canada, but I will give you my top ten here:
  1. Natural Beauty - Canada is home to some of the most beautiful and scenic places in the world. I have been to a few of those and I have to say the experience was a treat to the eyes. The mountains, the lakes, the beaches. Adorned with trees, flowers and lush green grass. Be it the Butchart Gardens of Victoria, the view from the top of the Sulphur mountain in Banff, the turquiose color of the lakes in Jasper, the sheer magnanimity of the Niagara Falls - each has its own unique charm that just makes you fall in love with nature. I am not surprised that a lot of Bollywood movie makers come all the way to Canada to capture these beautiful locations in their movies.  
  2. Cleanliness - Canada is super clean. It is not only cleaner than India, but also cleaner than most other first world countries I have visited. I love the fact that there are clean washrooms (not sure why they are called washrooms in Canada) available everywhere.
  3.  Good infrastructure - which means good roads, good public transport, good systems, all the first-world conveniences.
  4.  Amazing healthcare - I could not be more impressed by the healthcare system of Canada. Most of the medical stuff is covered by the government and is free! The government-run hospitals are amazing! I have had two babies in Canada and they cost me nothing (just a few million painful contractions)! Not only that, I got a full year of maternity leave both times, where I got paid about 55% of my regular salary without doing any work.
  5. People - Most people in Canada are very polite and nice. They will hold doors open for you, they will say sorry even if you bumped into them. They will hold the elevator door open if they see you coming towards the elevator. They follow traffic rules. Best of all, they understand the term "queue" and its working (unlike a lot of people in India).
  6. Respect for common man - The common man is respected in this country and treated with equality. It is easy to get bureaucratic tasks done without having any connections with powerful politicians or officers. I have applied for passports, driving license, car registrations, home mortgage, birth certificates, Canadian citizenship, tax returns and so many such things over the past several years. All I had to do was read the instructions and follow the process. Not once did I ever need to bribe anybody or to find any "connections" to speed up the process. I am not sure if that is the case in India. If it is and things have changed since I left, I could not be happier.
  7. Multiculturalism - There are so many cultures thriving together in Canada. As a result I get to meet so many different kinds of people, appreciate their similarities and differences. I get to try so many different foods. Some of my favorite non-Indian cuisines are Vietnamese, Thai and Mexican.
  8. Indian/Punjabi culture - As much as I appreciate other cultures, I also love the fact that I am surrounded by things from my own culture - Bollywood movies in theatres, Indian grocery stores and restaurants, gurudwaras and temples, concerts of Indian singers, Bhangra festivals, Diwali parties etc. Without these, I would have missed India much more.
  9. Great Shopping - I love shopping in Canada! There is so much more variety than in India- be it clothes, shoes, home items or even food. Also I find there are bigger discounts and better deals here. Also, salespersons don't follow me all the time recommending me things and asking me questions about what I am looking for every second! That being said, for Punjabi suits and sarees, India is and will always be the best place for shopping!
  10. Metric System - India and Canada both follow metric system. We work with kilometres, litres and degrees Celsius. It just makes way more sense. I find it annoying to calculate in miles, gallons and degrees Fahrenheit each time I visit the United States.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Things I miss about India

  •    Friends and family – goes without saying.
  •    Food – We have Indian restaurants in Canada. Lots of them. What we don’t have is the authentic Indian taste that you can only find in restaurants in India. We have street foods (like gol gappa). But we don’t have the gol gappe waali rehri. The experience of standing by the rehri and being served the gol gappe fresh by the gol gappe waala bhaiyya.  
  •    Cheap labour – Oh how I miss the comforts of cheap labour in India. Naukars and chhotus. Maids to cook, maids to clean, maalis (gardeners), drivers...When I was in India it didn’t feel like luxury to have all these helpers, it was the norm. I took it for granted. But in Canada, I have to do most of the work myself. Whenever I do hire help, I certainly feel like I am spoiling myself.
  •    Festivals, especially Holi and Diwali. We do have some celebration around Holi and Diwali, but compared to how big it was in India, it is nothing. But I think what I have lost by not having big Diwali and Holi celebrations; I have certainly gained by Christmas and Halloween celebrations here.
  •    Punjabi weddings –There are many Punjabis in Canada and as a result, many Punjabi weddings happen here. I have been to some. But none of them felt as grand as the ones I attended in Punjab. I miss the grand wedding resorts in Punjab and the way they get dressed up with a million flowers and lights. I miss the never-ending variety of food that waiters serve you non-stop (as opposed to self-service in weddings here). And I miss outdoor parties (weddings, receptions and sangeets). Here all the parties I have been to were indoors. 
    Thanks to my friend Shruti for this awesome picture!
  •    Not getting distracted by English subtitles in Bollywood movies. I am very fortunate that most of the new Hindi and Punjabi movies play in theatres around me. But my first world problem with watching them in Canada is that I cannot help but read the English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

The day when India came to Canada

My husband, like most men, hates going for shopping in the mall. But when I was new in Canada, he wanted to take extra special care of me and take me to new places and experiences that I might not have seen in India. He told me that December 26 is Boxing Day and on this day, all malls will have major sales going on and we would go to check them out. I still remember that day so clearly. On that one day, it seemed that India had come to Canada.

Scene 1: Mall parking lot. Cars parked everywhere. In designated spots. In made-up spots. On the curb. There’s no place to park a car. People are fighting (politely – it’s Canada after all) over spots. It felt like home.  *happy tears*

Scene 2: Inside the mall. There are a million people in the mall! There’s very little empty space to walk. It feels very tight. It felt like home. *more happy tears*

 Scene 3: Inside a store. There is an item in the store that is listed for a ridiculously low price. Two people fight over who saw and picked it first. It felt like home. *snot, yikes*


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wanted by the Police!!!

I had some limited car-driving experience in India. I knew that in Canada, traffic rules are actually followed, unlike in India, where the only rule is, “Don’t get yourself killed.”  So obviously I tried to “do in Rome as the Romans do”. I was very cautious with my speed, following road signs, yielding to pedestrians etc. About two years passed driving like this. Just one speeding ticket and maybe a few car honks. Not too bad for a new driver, I thought. Life was beautiful! I became more confident and relaxed on the roads.

Then one day, I got called by the Calgary Police Department. I was told to come and meet them at the police station. I was horrified! Apparently, my offence was “hit and run”. Before you block this blog thinking I’m a vicious criminal, let me explain: The previous day, as I was reversing my car to come out of a tight parking lot, my back bumper touched (yes, it only “touched”) the front of another parked vehicle. I did not think it was a big deal (or damage) at all. But apparently it was and I was supposed to leave a note on that vehicle with my name and phone number and all. If you don’t do that, it is considered a “hit and run” and it costs you five demerit points on your driver’s license (plus a huge fine). Huh. That was something the Driving Rules book did not cover. Argh!! Too bad this was not India where I could just hand the cop 500 rupees or simply tell him that my dad is a government medical officer and get away with it.

Oh how sad I was that whole day. Five. Freaking. Points.  I looked up and found that if you accumulate 15 or more demerit points within a two year period on your driving record, your licence will be suspended for one month. My insurance would also go up. In that one day, I learnt more about Alberta traffic violations and their consequences than I had in my entire life!And then, from the clouds (of the internet), my fairy Godmother appeared. In the form of a traffic ticket fighter. She fought my ticket in the court, reduced my demerit points to 2 and my blood pressure by 50!
After that incident, for at least six months, I can bet you I was the slowest reverse-driver in the universe.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It’s freaking cold!!!!!!!!!

I had read and heard about Canada being cold, but cold is an utter understatement! I had imagined it would be cold like Shimla is in India, so it would be a nice relief from the scorching heat of Punjab. But as soon as I stepped out of the airport in Calgary for the first time (in November 2006), I realized how terribly wrong I was! It was crazy, freezing, I-am-gonna-die cold! The jacket and woollen gloves I had packed when I left from India were no good here (Actually, I should not say “no good” - they would be perfect for Canadian summer).  On my second day, I went shopping and although my brain was exhausted by the non-stop conversion of dollars to rupees, I successfully bought a real winter jacket, snow boots and gloves. Together these items probably weighed more than me!

The extreme cold was (and still is) my biggest shock after arriving in Canada. I remember saying to my husband “this country is un-inhabitable” during my first days here. I was surprised to hear people saying its plus two today, or plus five today, referring to the temperature in degrees Celsius. In Punjab, the temperature was never negative, so there was no need of specifying the “plus”. I remember schools would close in Punjab when the temperature got close to zero degrees in the winter. If, ever, by rare chance, we got temperature that was a little below zero, it would make headlines. And here, when that happens, people wear shorts and t-shirts and get so excited about how “nice” the day is!

Now, after seven plus years of training to survive this arctic weather, I have adapted to it somewhat. In fact, I find Canadian winter more comfortable indoors than Punjab winter, because all the “indoors” in Canada are heated. I would admit that sometimes the blizzards and snowfall warnings and slippery driving conditions are depressing, and winter seems to be never-ending. But this winter also gives me the joy of tobogganing and making snowmen with my kids. The perfect excuse to escape to the beaches in the Caribbean. And above all, the wisdom to make the most of the short but absolutely beautiful Canadian summer.