Map Making

The cubicle slumbers with a whirr of weekday monotony.
Defying screen slavedom, we three meet for lunch. She
from China, I from India and she from Canada. School
harks back to the lunch table as I cajole her to share
my chicken pot-pie. We discuss roots. “South-western China,”
she says, hastening to add the immigrant’s near excusatory,
“but education in Beijing and Shanghai.” She nods
when I speak of women and their place in Asia. My
“decent-enough-to-earn-me-a-writing-job-English”
surprises her. We branch out into languages thus.
Mandarin is hers. She makes sure her child mutters
it too, even though he claims to be a Canadian. I
talk about my mother tongue and how it created a new
country. Their eyes brighten, ears perk up. And she, the lanky,
blue-eyed one is taking a shot at Italian, her husband’s
root tongue. “Oh Italian!” our Asian friend squeals,
“Do they all carry guns there?”

And so we begin making
maps with fleeting-floating stock images, hackneyed
threads–losing sight and redeeming it with a native’s
estimation. I tell them about India, its many topographies–
“each state a country unto itself,” the need for
its women to develop lateral vision and thick
skins. What’s her origin, I ask the blue-eyed one.
“Danish-Swede hybrid,” she says lamenting the inhuming of
both languages beneath the inter-generational sedimentation
over the arctic snow.

We part with sweet somethings, convoluted
cartography and a promise to “do this again.”

Immigrant’s Postcard: Manto and a Car

A series on my experiences as a new immigrant in Canada.

B, my husband, and I go to buy our first car since landing in Canada. The finance guy is a young man with Javaid as his second name. His first name sounds like an Americanized version of his original name.

J: So sir, where are you from?

B: We’re from India.

J: Oh great, where in India?

B: She is from Delhi, I am from Chandigarh, Punjab.

J: Oh that’s wonderful. Actually I’m also from Punjab. I was born in Lahore…our family came to Pakistan from the Indian side of Punjab.

“I see,” I say with a slight smile.

J: Yes, they moved to Toba, you know Toba Tek Singh?

Manto’s invisible presence is suddenly felt in the cramped cubicle.

“B’s father is also from Lahore,” I say.

“He was born there, too,” B adds.

J: Oh, good, good. See sir, it’s always good to come here and find Pakistanis, Indians…your own community.

Yes, in the land of immigrants, it helps to be one community if you are from India or Pakistan.

Sometimes, it also helps seal car deals.

PS: Listen to a superb telling/reading of Toba Tek Singh by Zia Muhiuddin.

MORE OF IMMIGRANT’S POSTCARD