A Month in Montreal

This post is in two parts, me being homeless (my drama) and the homeless in Montreal (not my drama).

Homeless in Montreal

Perhaps the most common question asked to me by all and sundry after “Montreal mein kaisa lag raha hain?” is “Are you missing India?” No matter what my answer, the response is “Awwww.”

This is my first time away from home for any period of time, both alone and on a trip that doesn’t include visiting relatives. So obviously, apart from the worries that people had (food, cold, new people etc.), I had my own. The first and the foremost included living in a student’s dorm that was very different from “home”.

I have had a really nice life as a student where albeit travelling for hours, I have always had the option of coming home and staying with family, eating meals at home and curling off to sleep in that cozy corner of my bed. Not being a fan of loud music/people and having never worked and cooked for myself, my biggest doubts were if I could cook, clean and work at the same time. The answer is a loud and resounding NO. I can do two of those three options on any given day, and yes I have systematically skipped one of those.

My stay in Montreal is divided in three: a week spent with my mentor’s Francophone family, a month at the UQAM Residences (dorm/hostel), and three weeks with an Indian family. I have now been to two countryside places for short trips and later this week will be spending a night each at Toronto and one at Niagara. This just fell into place so, but in hindsight, I think it is a perfect blend of experiencing a little of everything.

I write this from Sutton, a small countryside town outside of Montreal, that is so idyllic that I cannot even describe this. I am here on an invitation from a professor from UQAM who owns a cabin in the woods, literally. The cabin is straight out of a storybook and it does remind me of the very forgettable series of books that is the Inkheart trilogy. And I digress.

The point of this part of the post is simple, I am homeless here. Relying on the charity of the very nice people I have met and trust that it will be great no matter where I am. The people of Montreal deserve a post of their own in the stories of my trip, but it feels really home-like when my roommates on a trip to another city message to check in on me when unwell, while another girl who didn’t know me a month back, drops in with chocolate brownies after a long day at work because she knows I will appreciate it.

Contrary to my fears of not being able to adjust, I have managed to find a nice corner, so much so that I might just cry when I move out of the Residences early next week. Montreal and its people have been exceptionally kind to me; it feels like being at home.

Montreal mein kaisa lag raha hain? Montreal acha lag raha hain. Do I miss India? I miss Indians.  🙂

The Homeless in Montreal

Have you ever noticed how every person who visits India talks about the poverty and the beggars in India? Of course you have! Which planet do you reside in?!

One of the things I have had to face practically wherever I am in Montreal is the number of homeless men. I consciously say men because of the twenty odd men I have seen there has been only one homeless woman. According to a professor I met here, the women enter prostitution and related fields but few do stay at the shelters for the homeless.

The homeless here in Montreal are an eclectic bunch. While there are a lot who simply stand outside Dollarama (Dollar stores) to open doors and expect a coin or two, there are others who’re accompanied by huge dogs that earns the sympathy of passersby. There are others that genuinely help, like this one time someone was looking at a map, clearly lost, but was helped by the friendly man of the streets.

Between Two Worlds.

Between Two Worlds.

Then there is the tale of the man whom everyone on the block knows because he greeted all and had a family that would visit but he chose to be on the streets with his “pigeons and cats”. Finally those who have nowhere to go in the freezing winters of Montreal and sleep in the small area between doors of commercial buildings so as to not freeze or bother the people inside the buildings.

These are not the kinds that I am talking of. I am talking of the kind that spins a yarn for a living. Nope, not authors or professors.

One would expect, and a lot of Montréalais (that hopefully is the correct spelling) think that I would know how to deal with the situation when a homeless man comes up to me on the roads. Sadly I don’t. Back home it is drilled into your head, “ignore and walk”- that applies to beggars, eunuchs, crying kids on the streets and practically everyone that would demand money from you for doing nothing in exchange.

That is a little difficult here.

Case One: My first week here. Friend showing me neighbourhood of the University when a man walks to us;

Man:    Excuse me Madam.
Me:      Umm… ya?
Man:    Thank you for responding. 90% of people do not even even bother to look at me.
Me:      Okay.
Man:    Would you have some change to spare for me because..
Friend: Keep walking. Don’t talk. Don’t talk.
And we walked off…

Case Two: Waiting for someone next to an old lady at a Metro station when a man walks up to me; (interestingly a lot of people have met this man.)

Man:    Madam, I need money.
Me:      Umm…
Man:    I need a surgery (points to stomach that is abnormally swollen), and have no money. I have no body to go to and I need food. Please, I need money.
Me:      (Not sure what to do and continue to look at him).
Man:    Please. It hurts. (Goes on about a story I didn’t half understand)
Lady:   Girl, keep walking. He’s here since years. (Throws a knowing-dirty look at him).
Man:    (Walks off muttering) Can’t a man have a beer!

Case Three:Walking back after making weekly grocery purchases;

Lady:   I need 50 cents. I really need to speak to my dad.
Me:      (Raised eyebrows)
Lady:   I have to get home. I need to speak to him.
Me:      Well…
Lady:   Never mind. (Walks off)

The most interesting tale that I have heard in India is of a man with a bag with him who says that he arrived in Mumbai, was robbed on arrival and wants to go home. The stories in Montreal are better, but always leave me with a ‘what if’ on my mind. What if that woman really needed to get home and I did not give her money? What if there were actually a man who needed surgery and people didn’t believe him?

Friend promptly juts in into this chain of thoughts: This is Canada. We have a comprehensive health cover and shelters. Nothing can be so as drastic as the stories you hear. This isn’t an Indian movie, you know?

Turns out this part was my drama too. -_-

P.S. What stumps me is all of these people whom I encounter know that I speak English and no French! How? Is it stamped on my head? And if it is stamped, then why don’t the bus drivers and people who ask me for directions on the street, read it.

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3 thoughts on “A Month in Montreal

  1. Here’s how I deal with people who ask me for money because their wallet was stolen or whatever – I make them do what they told me they would do with the money. I never give money to beggars if they lie.
    Once a kid came up to me and said that he hadn’t eaten for days. Luckily, he was right next to the place where my uncle’s restaurant is, so I took him there and fed him a plate of Biryani and a cup of tea. He insisted on money even after that! Now I firmly declined since I didn’t have the guilt of not helping him on my conscience.
    Similarly, when a woman once asked for Rs 100 to go to Panvel (she’d somehow been left behind by her family, she said), I took her with me to my school autowallah and asked him to take her to Kurla Station and buy her a ticket to Panvel. She declined and said she would like the Rs 100 instead. Then I asked her if she wanted it for something else. She refused to admit it, but after persistent questioning she admitted that she’s a beggar and she wanted to buy a pack of beedis and then have some food. So I gave her that and not the money and then advised her not to lie to people like that and also warned her about the ill effects of smoking 😛
    But all this I do only when I have a lot of time to kill. Other times, I usually just ignore them because I know that when I have time, I will make up for it by helping someone else.
    As for knowing whether you speak French or not, the beggars are very good at ‘spotting’ traits like these while the ones who ask for directions are usually desperate and don’t care as long as they get some help from you. Even if you don’t get French, if you know the place they’re talking about, you might just help them. That’s why they try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a perfect analysis of the situation! Yes, I buy food in India when I find someone who really needs it, but I never part with anything else. What took me by surprise was probably the fact that you’re used to seeing a certain “kind” of beggars in India who’re very different from the ones here. A well dressed man on the street starting a conversation with you might be someone running a scam from the streets. And though that is possible back home, I wasn’t ready for this!

      I have to look into this “spotting people with language” traits. It should be helpful! 😛

      Like

  2. Pingback: Conversations With the Homeless | I think, I over think!

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