& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 11

Che and Mahrukh returning from Pune to Bombay
By the time 2011 began, both Mahrukh and I were missing Bombay rather desperately. It’d been three years in Canada, three years away from what we still considered ‘home’, three years that had been unexpectedly harsh, hard and unrelenting. We were happy that we survived, but also tired. We needed a mental rejuvenation. And what better way to get that than to go home on a vacation? In August 2011, we took Swissair and reached Bombay.

Our city had changed, transformed into a giant construction site. The number of skyscrapers under construction was evidently spiralling out of control; the Mumbai Metro had started from Ghatkopar to Versova, but the project would become altogether more ambitious in the next few years. The Bandra Sea Link had been completed and looked every bit the architectural marvel that it was envisaged to be.

We were ecstatic to be back, but not for long. Something had changed inside us. Bombay no longer felt like home. It’d changed, and so had we. Yes, the monsoon was at its peak, but - unexpectedly - the humidity was unbearable. And we were ashamed to admit that because we'd lived in that humidity for all but three years of our lives. 

After a few days of being cloistered at home, working on my manuscript, I ventured out and met some friends. They were all universally welcoming, affectionate and delighted to see me. However, their lives had inexorably moved forward, as had mine (although their lives seemed to have moved faster and far ahead as compared to mine). 

What remained was just a shared past. I wasn’t a part of their present and that changed the relationship into something that was somehow lesser than what it’d been; somewhat incomplete, static; somewhere directionless, uprooted.

Suddenly, my city was no longer my own, my people had become distant. It was then that the irony of my existence became obvious. I guess it's the fate of all immigrants – neither belonging to the city that had become one’s home, nor to the city that had been one’s home. I would never become a Torontonian, and I was no longer a Bombayite.

I was in an in-between world, belonging nowhere, condemned to be an outsider even in my own life. The relationships that one makes when one is young probably last longer because these relationships are not need-based; they are what one wants. As one grows older, and especially in the case of an immigrant like me, who emigrated at an old age, it’s almost impossible to form genuine relationships that one wants; and the only relationships that seem possible are those that are need-based.  

My relationships from the past had turned to fossil and my relationships of the present were transactional, based on mutual needs. No doubt, there have been (and hopefully there will be) exceptions, but perhaps they only prove the rule; or am I being too cynical and morose?

Mahrukh shared this feeling of being uprooted perhaps more acutely because she had (and still has) her family in India. If there is one thing that she has in great abundance it is resilience.  Immigration changes everyone, and everyone manages these changes differently. In Mahrukh’s case, the changes were too drastic and it took a tremendous effort for her to emerge from the trauma of displacement.

Being an outgoing and amiable person, she was able to make friends easily, bond with people not too different from us. However, she worked on transforming herself. The result was not manifest when we went to India in 2011, but within a few months, when 2012 began, Mahrukh joined Home Depot, which changed her so completely that she is no longer the woman she was when she left India.


We returned to Toronto after a month’s stay in Bombay. Somehow it’d felt strange to go home on a vacation, but when we returned, it didn’t feel strange to return to what wasn’t yet home.

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