Coming to terms

It is always a pleasure to meet with people who have recently arrived in Canada.  This past week I was invited to network with and address a group of newcomers, whose arrival in Canada ranged between three months to two years.

The esoteric group included young parents with toddlers in strollers, not so young folks with spouses and children left behind in their country of origin, professionals who gave up established careers “back home” to secure a “better future” for their children in Canada, some upbeat “techies” who saw opportunities galore in the “disruptor technologies” being unleashed here and a few persons who, having arrived a couple of years ago, are still looking for stability.

Interactions with newcomers always revive memories from the time when we came here over two decades ago.  Those early emotion-filled days, weeks and months of hope, dreams, fears and aspirations with accompanying mood swings that rapidly shifted between euphoria and despair, envy and admiration, helplessness and resolve.  We tend to forget our own experiences and having settled in, now find it so easy to dispense platitudes to others.  This session provided the reality check I periodically seek, to help keep me grounded.

I share some random memories that stand out.  I did not have a credit card as no bank would give us one without a job, income or credit history, although one financial institution found me worthy of a mortgage with a higher than normal down payment!  We were using cash for all our purchases and late one evening at a store to order our home appliances, we ran short.  The helpful salesperson suggested that I apply for a credit card, which I did.  A few minutes later the salesperson was advised over the ‘phone that my request was declined as I did not have any income.  I was deeply humiliated at being declined for a $500 credit limit!  What would my wife and children think of me if I was unable to provide them with the most basic amenities?  All my anger and frustration came to a head and I berated the poor salesperson that he had better get his act in order, for did he “not know who I was!”

My ego was badly bruised and I felt belittled at being transformed overnight into a “non-entity” whom no one knows or cares for.  In an instant, one’s entire life and identity-defining labels – family person, friend, corporate leader, professional, philanthropist, social being, or whatever – get obliterated and one has to start with a clean slate, as a nobody.

A few days after moving into a service apartment, we went across the street to the food court at Square One for lunch.  A person from the Indian sub-continent, looking forlorn, approached me tentatively and said he needed some money to take a bus back home.  I took out a five-dollar bill and his eyes lit up as he collected the money and left.  My wife berated me for being gullible while my justification arose from thinking that if ever I found myself in that person’s situation, hopefully someone would be around to assist me.  However, a few weeks later we saw that person in the same location repeating his performance with another family, who appeared to be new to Canada.  He noticed us and walked away sheepishly.

In his Tale of Two Cities, Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  For immigrants, it will always be a tale of two cities – the one they leave behind and another they choose in which to start afresh.  Happiness comes from abiding by and committing to follow through on the choices we make.  We can continue to paddle hard but the boat will sail only after we lift the anchor that keeps us rooted to the shores we chose to leave behind.

16 Replies to “Coming to terms”

  1. Great post, dad. I remember those days of the service apartment and Square One food court lunches. You guys sacrificed a lot to come here. Love you


    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Coming from you, it means a great deal. I did mean esoteric, albeit in an exceptional sense, as they are like members of select bands – each possessing the knowledge to immigrate and how their individual cultural, spiritual and societal backgrounds might uniquely help each to transform, adapt and succeed. No different from Tariqat and Marifat that Sufis strive towards, I think.


  2. Before we moved to Canada, meeting others in Dubai who were also in the process of immigrating was a good way to exchange notes – this was in the “olden days” before e-mail. A few had already made recce trips and shared insights. One stood out for me: “Canadians are friendly and helpful, but some desis avoid making eye contact – they are afraid they will be tapped for help.” Perhaps they had met people like the man you met at the mall. Or like the cabbie we encountered in Vancouver. A fellow desi, he literally took us for a ride. But I am grateful to look back at predominately positive experiences in all our years in Canada. There were lows, of course, and days of doubt, and posts like yours that share those so openly show others that things do get better.


    1. Thanks. As I had said in an earlier post, “Each of us is different. Just like everyone else.” Vive la dif·fé·rence! We are better because of it.


  3. O Canada, you have so many wonderful facets. Every day I see thee with fresh new eyes. Hope this newcomerness stays with me forever.


  4. Excellent Post Sir. My dad always reminds me that he came to this country with just the clothes on his back and a hard work ethic. I think its that same work ethic instilled in me to this very day. I however still to this very date have a hard time truly grasping why so many immigrants come to Canada thinking “the grass will be greener on the other side”. I speak to so many clients daily in my job and hear of Doctors converted to retail sales associates, Lawyers working as labourers in some warehouse and to top it all off, barely able to make ends meat all while staying in sub-par accomodations. Now don’t get me wrong, when you say “The tale of two cities” I absolutely agree, but is current India so bad for a professional making higher than average wages (versus $0 credit), living in higher than average dwellings, that it warrants them leaving the country? I bet if the Doctor or Lawyer I have spoken with recently knew what was waiting for them when the plane landed here in Canada, they would have never taken off.

    At some point there must have been a drastic shift of sorts that took place. I personally can sit here today, born, raised, educated all in Canada and say I can see myself moving, working and settling in India. In fact at one point not too long ago, My wife and I thought about going sooner than later so that the kids can be educated abroad. We thought at bare minimum if we were to earn the same wages we currently do here in Canada we would be golden. We even joked about what we would call our potential “Nokar” once we arrived in India. But just as fast as all those ideas and thoughts came to us, they left us almost on the same notion of “the grass has to be greener on the other side”.

    Now each and every immigrant will have there own personal story that they carry with them, no two immigrants can never be compared based on this very notion. Immigrants from Syria in the current day cannot be compared to immigrants from India 30 years ago. The dynamics are different for all and it will definitely continue to be a “Tale of two cities” or a “Tale of two grasses”.


    1. Thanks, Alok. You should start your own blog! Each person is free to make their choice and learn to live with the choices they continue to make through this life journey. As you point out, the “grass appears greener on the other side” of the fence. However, we have the free will to choose at any time what works best in our individual interest; this is what makes life so fascinating. Even “naukars” in India now aspire to, and some succeed, in breaking the mould and attaining greater successes; thankfully so!


      1. Absolutely agree that every person is free to make their choice and learn to live with the choices they have made and in no way was my comment intended to offend anyone. I was simply stating that from a birds eye view I did not understand the decisions of many leaving much better lifestyles behind, but as you pointed out, everyone has the free will to choose at any time what works best for them and I understand that. I am not looking to start my own blog at this time and enjoy yours Sir!


  5. Thank you so much for sharing this; it brought back memories and made me realize just how many lessons I’ve learned from you that are described in this post. Patience, kindness, humility, hard work, perseverance are just a few of the traits I strive to abide by and this is a direct result of you leading by example. I’ll never forget all that you and mum went through to provide smit and I (and now our own families) with endless opportunity, comfort and love. Thank you.


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