My wife and I recently went for lunch to a favourite café in our neighbourhood. It was relatively quiet and we had a table all to ourselves in the private dining area. A short while later our grandson who is not quite one yet, made a grand appearance riding on his father’s shoulder. Initially a little dazed to find himself in an unfamiliar environment, he spotted the all too familiar visage of his grandparents and excitedly started to flail his arms about while babbling in his own language to get our attention. An intelligent imitator, he had realized a few months ago that good behaviour is recognized by clapping. So, as we waved back at him, he started to clap.
As the dining area started to fill up, four elderly ladies came in and were shown to a table close to us. Even before they sat down, young R beamed his most charming smile at one of them and when she smiled and fluttered her wrist in a wave, he readily responded and started clapping and calling out to her. He got the group’s undivided attention and adulating comments. While not being so noisy as to disturb the diners, he was noticed by other guests some of whom stopped texting on their smartphones or halted their conversations, amused by R’s interactive engagement with anyone that caught his attention.
It made me think about the innocence of a child. Children don’t judge you. Never. Smiling and waving to everyone, he was open and receptive to all, encouraging others to accept him even if this was an intrusion of their personal time and space. Their smiles and body language indicated that they were equally accepting of young R. Not tolerating. Accepting.
Soon after landing in Canada I went to attend an orientation session before starting as a volunteer for a local non-profit organization. The Executive Director and Founder of the organization could sense my apprehension and unease in a room full of people whose “Canadian English” was a novelty for me, just as the other twenty or so participants were embarrassed to acknowledge that they could neither pronounce my name nor follow my accent. She took me aside and in a very polite, understanding manner started to draw me out until I found myself talking non-stop about my background, our family, my concerns and aspirations as we prepared to settle in a new country. Acceptance, Accommodation and Respect – this is what comes to mind, now when I look back at my own experiences.
It is the quintessential Canadian way, although I am not sure if we can term these as “values” or “culture” (contrary to what one politician seeking attention would have us believe). Perhaps we could just leave it as a “way of life” or simply “who we are” without reading too much into the semantics of this expression. In India, we said “Namaste” which means, “I bow to thee,” and the Japanese do so, literally. I am told the aboriginal peoples in Canada do not have a spoken greeting like “hello,” but acknowledge the other’s presence respectfully through body language alone. That is the true way, as our grandson showed us by being open and loving towards all the strangers in the room.
In his latest anthology “Suspected Poems” the eminent poet and lyricist Gulzar has included this gem that has him transcending the border, eyes shut, to fraternize with his friends:
“Aankhon ko visa nahin lagtaa, sapnon ki sarhad hoti nahin”
[There is no visa for the eyes, dreams do not have any borders]
For the uninitiated, the poem references two ghazals penned by the Pakistani legend Ahmad Faraz which were immortalized by the ghazal singer par excellence (Late) Mehdi Hassan:
- “Abke hum bichhde to shaayad kabhi khaabon mein milen, jis tarah sukhe huye phool kitaabon mein milen”
[Now separated, perchance we might meet in dreams, just as dried flowers are chanced upon between the pages of books]; and
- “Phir ussi raahguzar par shaayad, hum kabhi mil saken … magar, shaayad”
[Once again on the same pathway probably, we might be able to meet .. but, perhaps]