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.

Lonely Afternoons

Note: If you cannot stand meaningless posts, then you must stop right now! 🙂 You have been warned!

I decided to defeat my fears today. As I peeped in from the kitchen window, I could hear my tormentor’s voice over the din of the cars from below. How could I miss it? His was the voice that I was scared of since time immemorial. Those red eyes, how often had I hoped that I wouldn’t spot them when moving in the house alone in the afternoon? But they’d find me. Yes, he always knew when I was alone, and when it was likely that I would step into the kitchen.

Sometimes he’d wait for me there, and then take to his flight, like a ninja assassin ready to strike at the slightest move of the target. At other times, I would deliberately make noises and be ready with my arms to attack him. But today, alone, I decided, it was enough; I’d had enough of these mind games. My tormentor was worse than a person; he didn’t even need words to rattle the bones off me.

I took two tentative steps towards the kitchen, knowing for sure, he’d be there waiting for me. Like those numerous times when I was alone in the house, unarmed and scared. I mentally marked his usual spots, and the way I would tackle him at each one. With a steely grip on the stick, and a mental framework which I hoped was strong enough to face him, I decided to step in. Sure as hell, he was there, at his usual spot. On the kitchen counter.

I don’t really remember when was the first time I saw him there, staring like I had stepped into his home. Claiming my food and my space for him. But yes, he was there for as long as I could remember. Once I even came close to removing him from the kitchen, failed at the last step. He wouldn’t budge. With talons of steel, and a stare that’s burn the best soul, he’d remained the subject of my nightmares. Often I’d see him wait for me, like a stalker marking his obsession. Other times he’d just wait for me, knowing that sooner or later I would be there, to face him.

The evil soul that he was, he didn’t need anything that I possessed. But somehow, taking away my mental peace gave him some sort of sadistic pleasure. Be assured, he not so much as ever touched me, or harmed me physically; but often made it clear that if he chose to, I’d stand no chance. My fear fuelled from the fact that he was the one in control; he was the one who decided what I would look like that day. A bruised enemy, or a forsaken one.

As I walked into the kitchen, staring at him, his red pupils looking back at me; I thought of the numerous times my family had come to my rescue. None being scared of him as much as I was. How knowing that they would come to my rescue, my tormentor chose the time carefully. He always knew! And what did I know about him? Nothing apart from the fact that he was my tormentor.

I should have pushed those thoughts out of my head then, but I didn’t. Suddenly, my mind didn’t seem so strong when I saw him sitting there unperturbed. Seemingly undisturbed by the change in me, or did I change at all?

I spread my hands in front of me, my palms stretching out as if to push him away.

“Shoo!” I said.

He looked at me.

What was I thinking? Would that scare him!? HIM? Uncertain, but desperate, I tried again.

“Shoo?”

He sat there, clearly not bothered about what  I was doing. His legs tucked neatly under his body, his vajrasan would have made my mom proud.

Realising that it was again a one sided battle, he stretched his legs out, as though readying them for action. I stepped back. He stood as I moved back towards the kitchen door. He steadied his body bit by bit as I moved steadily into the hallway.

Whooooosh!

I knew the devil had taken his flight now, but then.

Twaaaaaaaaang!

He’d just landed closer to the door, as though challenging me to come get him. I knew I had lost the battle then. Something I should have realised long back. By now, whatever Jhaansi ki Rani feelings I had in me, were long abandoned, I just wanted him to leave. I’d curl up in peace then.

Just then; the bell rung. And he heard it too, I am sure. He came to the kitchen door, gave me a look that chided me. Obviously, the battle was not over. He was not done yet. As I moved tentatively to open the door, he opened his wings and flew out from the window. Knowing the exact spot where he wouldn’t get stuck, and knowing that I was still an easy prey for him.

And me? Well, I guess there is always a tomorrow to face my tormentor and kick him out of my life. Till then, I guess reinforcing the window grills with an anti-pigeon wire mesh would be wise.

The crocodile who does the dishes…

The vacations have had different meaning for me over the years. Back in school, it used to be a cool time to hang out with friends, play till you were drenched in sweat, visit places, then hang out with a gola in hand.
In junior college, it was more of a break from the SSC-HSC competition and spent mostly in tutorials preparing for what we planned to do in degree. And now, once in BMM it’s the time for the internship hunt. After making my work fun last year, I decided to stay home this summer and simple “build” my health and enjoy my LAST summer vacation.
Guess what? In less than a month since my exams have ended, I have now perfected one thing. To be a crocodile. Yes you read that right!
All that I do after getting up in the morning is lie down, on my stomach, first in the bedroom, then the living room, alternately. And I must say I have perfected the task at hand. I do nothing for the first 6-7 hours of my day. Simply curse the heat and get back to lying down aimlessly.
My mother, obviously, doesn’t take kindly to this.
So, now this crocodile also does the chores. Chutti mein to kuch kaam kar! Which by the way, involves, washing the vessels when the kaamwaali bai takes an off. And guess what? I can’t even complain “Tai tumchya ghari bhaandi khup aahet!” (Too many vessels in your house, sister.)
Last night, after the second day off in a row, I washed vessels post dinner. At 10.45pm to be precise. So now here are some of my top five findings from this late night excursion.
  1. Banging the vessels at the end of the day is a lovely way to unwind.
  2. Washing vessels is an easier and energy saving way of venting out your anger.
  3. Your hands may become rough, but the diversion of the frustration at the vessels keeps your relationships soft (or wherever they were previously).
  4. Attempting to finish a research paper in 24hrs is a lot easier than getting the malai off the doodh ka bartan.
  5. Although playing music is helpful when you’re to do this task; your mom won’t object to you screaming “Mala zaau dya na ghari aata vaazle ki baara” at the top of your voice, as long as the dishes are getting done! *wicked grin*

There is something so depraving about removing the food from the mori, so that the sink doesn’t get choked up, that it actually is very liberating. You’ve finally overcome your disgust at touching the remains of 8-9 dishes from last night, which might even include the remains of half chewed drumsticks and tomato pulp. *shivers*
I always wondered, why non-Indians did the dishes post supper. It’s usually done in the daylight in most Indian families. I know the reason now; it’s a nice way to be happy when you’ve had a bad day and most of all, the best way to enjoy some moments of solitude without complaints of being unproductive.
By the way, in these odd 30 days, I’ve also made paneer kofta, fried palak puris (both of which were eaten by 10 people and all of them are very much alive.), cleaned out my bookshelves and my clothes’ cupboards, wiped all surfaces of the house more that thrice, successfully opened a jar of honey (It needs to be heated over the fire), and watched all those soaps on Star Plus, including hold your breath..Maryada…aakhir kab tak? Sigh!

So yes, you may now inform bharatmatrimony/shaadi.com that there’s a crocodile in town that can do the dishes. I, on the other hand, will get back to perfecting my art of being a crocodile!