There’s something about travelling that really brings people together. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re in a place where you don’t know north from south, or a rupee from a dime, that seems to make your other troubles seem irrelevant. The single most beautiful part of India was the sunsets. Whenever we were fortunate enough to be on the road come dusk, I would gaze out and admire the multitude of colors that adorned the sky. It was all really indescribable, like Michelangelo himself reached from beyond the grave and used his divine skills across the sky. The hot Indian air combined with the frequent cloud-less days showed me baby blues, coral pinks, soft peaches, and millions of other shades of colors shifting in the sky as the sun dipped behind the horizon. Sometimes I felt that the sunset represented my family. We were a beautiful entity at one time, caring and loving and happy as can be, but eventually the bright colors fade away to the darkness that comes with the night. It seemed like, as a family, we found our equilibrium every time we left the comfort of our house.
I don’t know when it started, but when I think back, I remember when I started to notice. There was this ugly red sweater that I had when I was a ten year old, just when I was beginning to become conscious of what the other little girls in school wore. I began to despise this sweater for no reason at all, except for the fact that my mom chose it for me and obviously it was super lame if your mom shops for you. We went grocery shopping one day and despite my mom telling me to put the sweater on I continuously refused to and stormed out of the house without it. For the rest of the day neither of us would speak to each other. Now this was normal for us, I got my stubborn streak from her so we were always having silent fights with each other. But this time it was different. Perhaps it was because I was trying to prove a point, but I absolutely refused to concede like I usually do. Our silent fight was now a war, and neither of us would raise the white flag. It came to the point where my father actually had enough and made me apologize at the end of the day. After I shamefully asked for forgiveness, my mother simply rolled her eyes and told me to put the sweater on the next day. As a ten year old the matter was quickly forgotten, but looking back on it now I wonder if that tiny insignificant issue was a sort of foreshadowing for what followed.
Tim Horton’s, 2010
My mother and father, despite being married for two decades at this point, did not always see eye to eye. My father is a very traditional man. He firmly believes in the importance of reputation and family image. He disapproves of the type of people who live life without a core purpose or ideals. You could even say he abhorred laziness, especially being a man in his fifties who still visits the gym three times a week without fail. My mother, on the other hand, is a woman who changes with the times. She told me about her life in her home country and how different it was to live in Canada. Young women were told to exercise caution when travelling alone between their homes and to public places, whereas in Canada, we are able to have this freedom without fear of who may be watching.
My mother is the quiet introvert who balances out my father’s frank personality. She loved to sit by herself in any nearby coffee shop with a warm cup of tea and her thoughts to keep her company. The local Tim Horton’s was a favourite for her. It was the perfect distance away from home for her to walk to on the beautiful summer days when she felt she needed the alone time. She never thought it was a big deal until she casually mentioned it to my father in passing one evening at the dinner table.
“Guess who I saw when I was out walking earlier today?” She asked my sister as my dad and I heaped up steamed rice and chicken curry on our plates.
“I don’t know, who?” Pooja asked through a mouthful of curry.
“Wait, when did you go walking today? Where did you go?” My dad interrupted before my mom could reveal which old friend she had randomly seen.
“Oh I finished cleaning early so I went to Tim Horton’s and sat for a while,” she replied. “Anyway, Pooja listen! I saw your homeroom teacher from last year!”
Before my sister could process which teacher my mom meant, my dad turned to my mom and quickly started speaking in our mother tongue, rapidly going on and on about the dangers of sitting at Tim Horton’s by yourself. He thought that people would think my mother was waiting for someone to eat with her, such as another man. People will always be quick to make assumptions about the strangers they come across, and my father was afraid that people would jump to the worst case scenario when they saw my mother alone.
My sister and I exchanged incredulous glances; we never thought that our father would be worried about this sort of thing. I could understand my mother’s need for her private time. I acquired my own introverted nature from her. I would frequently find myself wandering to the Tim’s alone and would often order cup after cup of peppermint tea while immersing myself in my latest book obsession. My father kept going on about how our family’s reputation would be tarnished if any sort of rumor about an affair spread through the community. This was the single most ridiculous thing I had ever heard my father say. There was a greater chance of me being struck by lightning than either of my parents having an affair. He later told us that he knew my mother was loyal and faithful, and that he was worried about the vipers in our community who would find any small excuse to gossip about a rumor, whether or not the rumor was true. After this, my mother didn’t walk alone to the Tim Horton’s again.
It was in 2011 when I was an incoming first year to the University of Waterloo. I was a starry-eyed ordinary girl who was finally leaving the nest. All I could think about on the car ride to Waterloo was how life was good and how I’d finally be leaving my home to have new adventures. This big-dreams bubble was quickly burst by the hour long lecture that my dad gave me in the car. Of course I tuned him out. I practically knew the whole lecture by heart. It was all “don’t mess up” and “work hard” and “get good grades so that you can graduate into a good job”. I wondered when my dad would realize that I wasn’t the screw-up who he thought I would become. I was the straight-A’s nerd in high school, and I was the ray of hope and the bag of expectations in the family. I already knew, from years and years of it being reinforced, that I had no choice but to do well in life. I felt like the Mulan of my family, constantly expected to make sure I don’t bring dishonor to the family name. We finally arrived in Waterloo just as I was mulling over the implications of disowning my family, and I couldn’t have been happier to unpack my life from the boxes into my new residence room.
We brought cardboard box after box up four flights of stairs and into the little suite with the dons bustling about making sure we had all our things. My dad gave them the eye, making sure that they didn’t drop my printer while they helped us. I rolled my eyes and continued to haul my bags up the stairs. A few hours later we collapsed out of exhaustion in the living room, my mom was laughing at the irritation in Pooja’s face as she complained about being hungry and tired. My dad smiled and promised a Macdonald’s stop on their way home. We sat around the little blue table in the living room and laughed at how my weak arms couldn’t come close to lifting the box with my books. It was a great moment, the curtains were open and the sun was streaming in along with a light cool breeze through the open window. My roommates were just beginning to arrive with their parents; the once cold empty suite was now brimming with life.
The Restaurant, 2013
It was a quaint little Indian buffet that my family decided to go to when we had a discussion on marriage. We had all just sat down after getting our second plate piled high with food when I asked my parents why they even wanted me to have an arranged marriage. My mom looked at me a little wide-eyed and amused at my forthright attitude on the subject. My dad just stared at me, most likely wondering why I was bringing up such a topic at dinner. We waited in silence as the waiter came by and refilled our glasses of water and left before we began our debate. For years I had thought that my father wanted me to simply comply with whatever his wishes were without having my opinions weighed in. I never really thought about his views on the matter. He told me about the struggles that other people in their lives went through to find suitable matches for their children. Then, he told me about love marriage horror stories where a groom broke up with his soon-to-be bride on the day of their marriage, and how a bride eloped with the groom’s best man only two days after her wedding. It seemed like my father simply believed that love was a myth.
My dad said that he wanted me to have a happy and successful life. By choosing the man I would marry, my dad would be certain that I would fulfill his desire for me to be content. At first I was a little offended. It was like he had no faith in my ability to find a man who would be a great husband and father. I was insulted that he saw me as some sort of hormonal teenager instead of the mature twenty year old woman that I had become. After huffing about it for several minutes, I realized that he was right to be concerned. I was someone who was just beginning to get her own life on track. I was in no place to actively seek out a life partner when I was just learning to take care of myself. I thought maybe he was right and that I should trust him. I knew that my parents’ marriage was a successful arrangement, after all. I wondered if my parents knew me well enough to find the right man, I was just barely beginning to understand my own psyche.
We ate the rest of the meal in silence, watching as the other patrons came and went around us until we, too, were finished with our meal. As we were waiting for the bill, my sister and I admired the colourful sarees that were used as accent pieces draped over the beams in the ceiling. The restaurant was painted a lovely shade of burgundy with golden trimming that gave it an air of royalty. My mom noticed the little candle centerpieces on the tables. She leaned in and sniffed the candle, noticing how it had a mildly spicy and slightly nutty aroma, like cardamom. My dad scoffed at her childlike excitement and told my sister to stop leaning over her plate when she tried to smell the candle as well. He told us how it reminded him of masala chai tea, a brew that was widely popular in the South Asian community for its rich flavor from the different spices that were used. The first time my parents took us to try masala chai tea was an experience in itself. My palate was already accustomed to an array of spices but it was unlike anything I had tasted before. It was the perfect beverage for the early spring chill.
It was the summer in between my second and third year at university. I was still in the process of figuring out the person I was becoming and discovering who was worth keeping in my life. My mom and I were sitting together watching a Tamil movie on the television set one day when we began to get talking about our family and how large my father’s side was. My mother must have noticed how Pooja and I had begun to grow distant with our father’s side of the family. She told me, with great candor, about how she thought my dad’s family was too big for comfort. I wondered if I saw it coming, I knew that my mother was very introverted and that she did not like to be around large crowds of people. I immediately felt a surge of empathy.
My cousins and I used to be very close when we were children, but over time we seemed to grow apart. I no longer felt as close to them as I once did. At family gatherings, my sister and I would make small talk with our cousins and then return to the conversation between the two of us for the rest of the evening. I never really emotionally connected with my mother before, but now I really understood why she was always so hesitant to attend a family gathering on my dad’s side. I had always thought that my parents lived on a cloud of dreams and happiness, but obviously not every marriage was problem-free. There was no doubt that my mother and father loved each other, but the size of my father’s family was the one thing that my mom had to settle for.
It was like everything had changed with that conversation. I felt a strange indifference towards my cousins, a new feeling that I never really thought I was capable of. I was someone who always tried to find something to love in the most evil person, and you are obligated to love your family. My cousins had definitely changed over time, as did I. I no longer felt the need to try and reignite the childhood closeness with my dad’s side of the family anymore. With a sigh, my mother dismissed the glum topic and went on to discuss the carrom tournament that the characters in the movie were having. My mom told me how my dad was a carrom genius; he loved the game with a passion and was always excited to play a round. My mom said she wasn’t as great, but she was better than me. We turned back to the movie and sat with our own thoughts, watching the characters play carrom and wondering when we would get to play too.
I absolutely loved the road trips we took in India. For the entire three weeks that we spent in the southern regions, we embarked on many long drives exploring the state of Tamil Nadu and its neighboring states. It was the road trip to Kerala in particular that made the trip incredibly extraordinary. The long, three day drive was full of multiple stops at noteworthy locations and the most breathtaking scenery I had ever had the joy of experiencing. We visited thousand year old temples that were still standing and admired the intricate architecture and statues that were on display within the walls. We watched as priests performed sacred prayers and blessed us with good fortune for years to come. We drove around mountain ranges and through windmill farms, the grass was a brilliant shade of emerald green and the wind in select areas was unpolluted and clear.
It was on the second day of our road trip when we arrived in Kanyakumari, a town that was on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We were at a beach that was rumoured to be the meeting point of three different oceans as well as being the only place in India where you can watch both the sunrise and the sunset on the same beach. We had arrived in Kanyakumari just in time to join the thousands of tourists who were watching the sun setting behind the distant mountains. The four of us sat on some stone benches and marvelled at the view. My father flagged down a nearby mobile snack vendor and bought some dry chickpeas in a paper cone and passed it around. We sat in peace for another hour, munching on the dried, spicy chickpeas and watched as the day came to an end.
After waking up at five the next morning, we had managed to make it just in time to catch the sun rising on the other side of the beach we were at the night before. The Kanyakumari townsfolk had all already opened their businesses, with the smell of fresh masala chai teas being brewed filling the streets as we strolled around the sloping buildings to the beach-side. We weaved through the crowd to stand by the ocean side where the morning wind was making the waves crash against the rocky shore of the beach. To our dismay, the sun was partially hidden behind clouds. Despite that piece of unlucky weather, the dawn was truly as lovely as the rumors boasted. After watching the sun rise full and high in the sky, we set forth on our journey to Kerala.
New Jersey, 2009
We arrived in New Jersey in the summer of 2009 after having driven through New York all day. We were on our way to Atlanta in a cramped 7-seater rental van with my mom’s brother’s family who came from overseas. The trip was full of loud Tamil music blaring from the old speakers and the three of us kids watching movies on the little portable television screen in the back row. Despite New York City being one of the most popular cities in the world, New Jersey was one of the most characteristic and remarkable places I’ve ever been to. We visited a very long dock on the edge of the state and walked up and down the length of the boardwalk, marveling at the bright lights of the casinos on one side reflected in the dark ocean water on the other. We walked by a carnival with a very tall Ferris wheel and several smaller rides that appeared to be loosely bolted down into the docks. We ambled along and found a set of steps that led down the ocean side where sand covered the ground like a beach. The area was empty since the sun had long since set and most people were inside, watching cabarets and gambling their savings away.
My sister and my cousin dragged me down to the beach; our parents were just steps behind us shouting at us to be careful. We stood by the edge of the ocean, the Atlantic waters just barely grazing our toes. I took my flip flops off and slowly waded into the ocean waters. The icy cold temperature felt refreshing against my burning skin. I stood like this for a few seconds, just enjoying the cool summer night air and listening to the cacophony of the ocean waves. I heard my mom calling for us to wash our feet at the little shower installed by the edge of the dock steps and to come back up. There were stray cats everywhere and our parents were scared that we would be bitten by one of them. My cousin turned around and went to wash her feet while my sister and I stood in the shallow water, the water curling around our toes and lapping at our ankles. I looked out over the darkness and spat into the water, my sister watching and following suit. “There, now our DNA is in the Atlantic Ocean.” I said to her with a giggle. There was something so enlightening about this, that a part of us was now absorbed into this huge, changing body of water. Maybe a part of me would end up on the other side of the Atlantic. Or maybe the ocean was just made up of all the spit of everyone in the world. The ocean is made up of drops, after all.
There are very few moments of total and utter peace in my life, and one of them was while we were on a boathouse in the wonderful state of Kerala. We had spent the third day of our India road trip arriving in the state and driving through it to the town of Alleppey which was renowned for its boathouses and abundance of lakes and fresh water rivers. We had picked out our boat and then checked in to a nearby resort to freshen up and get rest after the three days of driving. When day broke, we packed up again and went back to the dock where our boat was ready and waiting. My sister and I explored the boathouse, walking into each room to see what they looked like and ventured to the back where the three crew members were waiting for the boat to begin moving. We went back to the front of the boat where the captain sat behind the steering wheel and began navigating us down the river.
My dad was already attempting to converse with the captain in a mix of our Tamil language and their native Malayalam tongue. My dad had managed to find a topic that they could both relate well to: South Indian movies. As they discussed which hero they preferred, my mom, sister, and I each went to a side of the boat and sat by the ledge. I looked out over the open water and marveled at how profoundly silent it was. It took me a moment to realize that it was because my father and the captain had finished their discussion and my father had also decided to take a seat and immerse himself in his own thoughts. It was the first time that I had ever heard my family be this quiet while being in close proximity to each other. All I could hear was the gentle lapping of the river water and the creaking of the wooden steering wheel as the captain leisurely guided the boathouse down the river. I looked back at my family members and noticed how they were all admiring the vibrant foliage of the riverside and observing the villagers who lived by the river. I turned back to my side and closed my eyes, feeling the boat bob up and down as we sailed down the river. I inhaled deeply and smelled the faint spicy and slightly nutty smell of cardamom mixed in with the fresh scent of exotic flora in the humid air.
I counted the days and realized that it’s been weeks since my family last had an argument. The entire India trip consisted of my sister and me teasing my dad for his attempts to pick up the local languages and getting exasperated at my mom for taking what felt like eons to decide which saree she wanted to buy before settling on both her options. Maybe we were all too busy sightseeing to remember that we still had some unresolved problems waiting for us behind the fascination with the foreign country. Either way, I was happy. I didn’t want to ruin the tranquility of the moment by wondering what led to the serenity. Instead, I simply enjoyed it. A few minutes later, my dad called us all together with a sudden boy-like enthusiasm. He had gone rummaging through the rooms and found a carrom board and its pieces and was aching to play a family game. I pulled out the chair at the table and took a seat across from my mom to be her teammate. We shared a knowing smile at each other as we all settled in and began to play the game, feeling the boat rocking us gently over the river towards another beautiful sunrise.