Only Timepass


IMG_0430Its 9am and I can barely get out of bed! Ok so I’m not a morning person, never have been, not one to go for a run in the morning unless coerced to.   But wait a minute, I’m not one to wake up at 9am, or barely, in a foul mood, take an hour to read the paper and drink coffee. And then decide on how to schedule my unscheduled day.   It hits me like it does most morning for the past 3 months; I’m afraid that I do fall into the bracket of doing just “timepass” (passing the time).

In India there are thousands of timepass young people. But what I discovered there were more of us doing the same thing i.e. doing nothing really in the middle age bracket. Friends, mostly women, who like me reached the peaks of our careers in our late 20s early 30s, and for reasons only we know decided take a break.   Not always intentional but a break neither the less. And have got into the spiral of doing “timepass”. I justify it by saying my friends do it to. And while I attempt now to get back to “finding” my passion, doing something worthwhile to fulfill my pocket and time, I find myself competing with the youth of today going through the same quandary as I am.

So we are a whole bunch that is doing basically nothing.

Atleast I don’t stand around at tea stalls or bus stands pissing the day away. But that’s also because I’m a woman and it wouldn’t be ideal to do so.  As I travel across India, with the intention of documenting stories and lives of these unemployed youth, I stop, take a breath and admit to myself….. “I’m just doing timepass na”.


My mothers daughter

I am around the same age my mother was when she died.

This is what I remember, her telling me to get along with my father, ‘talk to him’ was her precise words a week before the car she was driving crashed a tree, killing her en route to the hospital.  I would never have imagined her prophetic words would affect the rest of my life.    Her clarity of mind and tenderness even as she spoke these words, makes me wish I had a wand to pull them in, keep them with me forever.

In the disorienting years following her death, I often felt like I was drowning in loneliness.   Weeks, months and years passed during which I was simply treading the turbulent waters.    I realized in my late twenties how little I knew of my mother, how little of herself my adolescent self recognized.   Would she actually approve of this angry woman I had turned out to be.

I set out to find out what her deepest thoughts would have been her dreams, her struggles, her wisdom.  My mother was a beautiful woman with fair skin and light brown eyes.  She loved my father and loved creating drama, was a radical soul, a socialist by nature, supported the PLO, knew Yasar Arafat’s brother, and made us walk in ‘Save the tiger’ rallies – this all after watching born free.  That she loved romance books, her parents meant the world to her, she loved art and poetry, was a dreamer, was highly strung and emotional, and was a Christian.

Over the years I’ve often grudged the fact, that besides her eyes I looked nothing like her.   I was told I was like her, had her friendly personality, and like her was a trickster, full of mischief as my grandmother would say.   Now as I write on the eve of her 25th death anniversary I wonder what she would say about how we her daughters lived our lives.    What would her reaction be to her youngest sister being the head of our family, with more love to give, and had taken good care of their parents, as they grew old.    That her sisters and their family had given her 2 daughters more love and support than she would have ever imagined.   That her parents gave her daughters a place called home But most of all I miss not having her advice, her retributions about my temper, my inability to keep my emotions in check, my bouts of depression.    A hand to tell me that it was not love in my 20s, I wish I could tell her I finally found it in my 30’s with a foreigner, the radical she was I’m sure she’d approve.  But most of all I wish she would tell me how to handle my delicate sister, to stop mothering her, and how I could make my sisters worries go away.

1, to fear in this ode I’ve exposed more of myself than my mother, but I’m my mother’s daughter, and this ode is for her.

Story in the skies

It’s true what they say – some of the best stories are often told by complete strangers – people that in all probability we will never meet again. On my Air Canada flight from London to Toronto, I met such a stranger – Paul something – a Polish name that I couldn’t pronounce. After the basic pleasantries – I was told by Paul that he had just returned from a 2 week trip to India. I asked the next inevitable question- where did you go? “Valivade, near Kolhapur”. First I thought I hadn’t heard correctly, or maybe the pronunciation was off. Or maybe Kolhapur meant Kerala. What followed was a conversation that completely engrossed me for 4 hours with meal breaks in-between. Here is the story in a nutshell. Paul was 6 years old when the USSR that was initially an ally of Nazi Germany, invaded Poland from the East. Countless Poles were deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, etc, as forced labor – ethnic cleansing in modern terms. Paul’s family was one of them. Stalin, under pressure from the West, released the Poles. While the men joined the Allied Forces in North Africa, Paul, his mother and sister were then sent to India. To Valivade, near Kolhapur. The camp housed about 5,000 Polish refugees. They were on the whole single parents- mothers whose husbands were either dead or in the allied forces- and the elderly. It was here that Paul lived for the next 2 years. The families lived in barracks and had two rooms and a kitchenette where they prepared their own meals from supplies they were able to purchase) from the 40 rupee allowance they were given every month. The kids attended school, where all instruction was in Polish. Paul remembered once when the boys had climbed over the wall into the Maharaja of Kolhapur’s garden to pluck mangoes, and were reprimanded by the priest at the camp. Though interaction with the locals was kept at a minimum, he remembered the locals being gracious and there never being any bad ‘incidents’ with them. Paul remembers a smattering of Marathi and Hindi. The small community thrived into a bustling town with a barber shop, shoe shop, postal service that regularly brought letters from Poland, a restaurant, and even a theatre that showed Hindi movies. There were masses held daily in the camp church, often memorial services for family that had lost their loved ones, or just for solace. With the Allied Forces winning World War II, the families were resettled in new territories like Canada and Australia if they had families there. Others didn’t have a choice but to remain in what had formerly been Polish land and was now incorporated into the USSR. Seventy years later a bunch of those young Poles decided to travel back to Kolhapur. Did he see a change? Of course some of the old buildings remained were now government offices. The conversation was peppered with anecdotes from his trip to India and clichés about what he saw. I took his number down on a piece of tissue, envisaging Paul’s story being made into a documentary on PBS. I did call him once and though he was friendly, he made it clear that our conversation was a one time hear, in the air, and to let some things rest. Incidentally Valivade was not the only Polish camp there was the smaller camp at Balachadi camp near Jamnagar. Valivade was disbanded near the time of Indian independence- it was renamed Gandhinagar.

Being free

The other day a coworker, exclaimed, “I wish Guyana was still a British colony at least then there would be less corruption and crime.” Yes, my coworker is originally from Guyana. Her statement did not shock me, I would in my own prejudiced mind categorize her as someone wrapped in her own cocooned world, a common trait among many north Americans I’ve met. Before I could react, give her a history lesson, something pressing came up. It did however later give me a minute to think about that she said. Some of the thoughts that crossed my mind were. Did this obliterate a Gandhi or Mandela? Were their struggles and struggles of millions to be ‘free’ in vain? It’s the 4th of July one of the biggest holidays in the US? Isn’t it about freedom? So why does a 3rd World country’s struggle, be it India, Jamaica or a Malawi mean so less to so many. Does being free equate to more crime and political unrest? I’m just thankful that all those years ago someone took up that fight to ensure I am free today. That I’m free to live where I want, that I’m equal to all. For me freedom means thinking as big as I dare …. So sorry coworker I do not share your sentiment that ‘Guyana or anyone else should be a British colony’, actually your sentiment makes me a bit ‘cross’.