The land of the beautiful Maples trees, the gold and red Maple leaves, the sweetest Maple syrup, the Niagara falls, the Great Lakes, the golden Fields of wheat and corn, the enchanting Rocky Mountains, the Tar Sands full of oil and natural gas, the tiny Fishing Ports and the massive Container Terminals, the beautiful clean Cities and the magnificent cultured People –is the great nation called Canada. O! Canada –I love you so very much but, I lack words to describe your beauty. All I can say that you have a million lakes and thousands of rivers; and only a handful have even seen your mighty Mackenzie River-- although she is mightier than her beautiful sister the Mississippi, which millions traverse every year.
The Mackenzie flowing from the South to the North in the Northwest Territories is pristine like the day she first appeared, unpolluted, untouched and hardly even seen by any one. O! Canada, this is only a tiny testimony to your vast expanse and great outdoors. Visiting your immense Northwest Territory – is only a dream for anyone and everyone. You are surely, beautiful Canada, God’s precious gift for all humanity. And, whenever I envision your beauty, I am reminded of a quotation attributed to Jahangir-- a Mogul King of India—“If there is heaven on earth – this is it, this is it, this is it.”
After Columbus, looking for India came to America, another great explorer John Cabot came to Newfoundland in 1497. Some say He was an Italian, Giovanni Caboto others that he was a Spaniard Juan Caboto –who so ever he was, John Cabot discovered the path to the most beautiful Country, God’s repository of all the precious natural resources, Gold, Silver, Platinum, Timber, Oil, Gas, coal, Water, Land, Lakes and Rivers that He put there for all of humanity. We can only but admire Cabot’s courage to come to Canada in 1497, in a very small boat, from the shores of the mother country England opening up untold opportunities for everyone, for prosperity and peace, for now and forever.
Canada is the most peaceful country of 35 Millions, who have the highest standard of living in the World and they give, and spread their wealth and love and kindness and their unique cultured classiness and style of living—to the poor huddled masses of the World—with joy and graciousness, which is uniquely Canadian. Canada has a very open immigration policy and fully recognizes that countries like India and China and Indonesia and many more, each individually add 40 Million to their population every year. Canada’s infrastructure developed for 35 Million must be added every year, by these aspiring nations of Billions, just to keep up. An average Canadian uses a towering 2000 Watts of electric load per hour per person compared to 50 in India and 250 in China. And yet Canadians work harder with their hands and bodies than anyone else does, to provide grains and fish and fruits and coal and oil and gas and minerals and timber – to all their brethrens who too, aspire a 2000 Watt standard of living—like that of a Canadian. Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and Indians take from Canada --coal, Iron ore, oil and gas, timber and grains, process them and ship them back; to the whole World as Cars and Machines and toys and lumber and Cell Phones and TVs and Appliances and Cakes and Pastries. Canada knows that God’s gifts are to be shared joyfully and with love—Canadians live in the harshest of the Winters, brave the fiercest storms of the Oceans and yet, use only as little of their resources for themselves as they can, knowing full well “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”
It was a really cold day in January and I was in an Air Canada plane sitting in the middle of the three seats, ready to take off, from Montreal to Halifax. I was very tired, had just arrived from Paris, where I had flown in from New Delhi. This was my first ever trip by air. I was young although tired, yet, very excited to go to Halifax and continue my education there. I could sense the cold howling winds outside, and thought, “How great technology is that I am warm despite all the weather hazards of the Canadian winter, hazards that only a few years ago would forbid one from even coming out of one’s home, and here I am confident that in the next few hours I will be in Halifax meeting my professor.”
And then there was an announcement, “The weather in Halifax is absolutely not suitable for flight landing – this flight is cancelled”. For me it was a very new situation –one who had no money, and was in a city 12000 miles away from the familiar grounds. In those days the Government of India allowed only $4.00 to be taken out of the country—not only that, before flying to Canada the only mechanical vehicle I had used, like almost every other Indian, was a bicycle. I had no idea what I will do on that cold, awfully cold, icy, windy dark, night in Montreal. I knew that Montreal is a magnificent city, they had just put on the World’s Fair with a flawless brilliance—I had read about it written in glowing terms in the Indian News Papers. I wanted to visit Montreal and spend some time there – but, not like that, penniless, tired, hungry and sleepy and after a 36 hour flight. I was hungry and wanted to shower, eat and sleep – and suddenly the announcement.
I was sitting in the middle seat, a young girl to my right, and an older man, on the aisle seat, to my left. I tried to ask the young lady what should I do next, explaining to her about my University admission in Halifax, she was French and could not understand me. The Older man sitting to my left overheard me and suddenly said, “I am an alumni of the same University, if you want I can help you deal with the situation”. I was speechless, and breathed a deep a sigh of relief, and displayed a look of appreciation and gratefulness and thanks on my lonesome worried face. My gratitude needed no words to express it—the looks said it all. Yes I was lonesome and apprehensive, tired and quite worried. “It is so nice of you sir” I said, “Please help me—I will always remain grateful. I am new, very new to this country. I am not used to such frigid cold and really have no money with me. But, I have come here to study and soon I will become self reliant, but, at this time – I am helpless.” He said, “Not anymore, never ever and any more say that you are helpless—you are in CANADA”. Those words still ring loud and sweet – NOT ANYMORE.
Mr. Fred Buckley was a very distinguished senior executive in a Paper mill and a Power company – the Chief Engineer. He was very honest and always travelled frugally in the economy class, especially on company business- but that night for his new friend, he asked Air Canada, to put the two of us in a pent house suite of a five star hotel, one of the best in the World at that time, in Montreal. Those were the heavenly days of air travel, now gone forever, when Airlines did provide extraordinary customer service to their preferred customers and he was one.
After I had a shower in the best pent house suite in the World, we went for dinner. Fred, my new Canadian friend, and I had dinner, in the posh and beautiful dining room of the Five Star Hotel, bedecked with the fabulous chandeliers and ornate decorations, fit for Royalty, where piano was being played in the background and a violinist mesmerized everyone supporting a quartet singing soft songs to make the dining experience every bit worth the upper crest of the society, some of whom were dancing gracefully on the glamorous dance floor. Fred all dressed up in his fine suit, asked me, “What can I order for you my friend as your first dinner in this land of plenty, can I order the best thing in the menu – Filet Minion, with Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine that goes good with the stake.” He was looking like Hollywood handsome, and I—even the waiters were better dressed than I was, and I was bit apprehensive of what was to come, and said, “I am a vegetarian and a teetotaler. And do not know what is a Filet Minion or Cabernet Sauvignon. I really would like a Vegetarian meal and orange juice.”
Fred looked at me incredulously and realized that I was very different, that built up his interest in me even more, and he asked the waiter to fix for me a vegetarian dinner. And the dinner was served -----he had lobster and stake with his favorite wine and I was served a platter of boiled veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, potatoes etc. That was not my idea of a vegetarian meal. I wanted Dal, Roti and Sabji. But I was hungry and at that time any vegetarian meal was the best meal. I enjoyed the meal and the conversation. Fred told me all about Montreal – how it’s shops and offices are mostly built underground, with fabulous shops – like the Tiffany, the Nordstrom, the Chanel, the Louis Vuitton, the Neiman Marcus, the Versace and thousands of other retailers. He told me about the Montreal underground metropolis-- all underground, so people can work, shop , live and enjoy – remaining oblivious to the harsh winter above. For me it was a technological wonder and I was in a fairy land. Fred was a practical man – he next showed me around, showing me what he had so eloquently described, we rode limousines and the underground metro and walked at least five miles, underground, window shopping the fabulously decorated stores at midnight on that cold night, very very cold night in January.
That was my first night in Canada spent in the best of the five star hotels, dining in the music filled gorgeous dining room, window shopping in the best stores of the World – and I was dirt poor with no money. That night, for the first time I heard, “NOT ANY MORE” the most encouraging words of my life, from my best friend, my Canadian friend and mentor –Fred Buckley.
As we settled down in Canada I was amazed at the tenacity of those who opened her vast land for the future generations searching and finding a lifestyle – typically Canadian, prosperous yet, hard, adventurous yet, peaceful. After John Cabot arrived and established the outpost and the Colony, others could follow his path and they too reached the Canadian shores in his manner, most went back to Europe, enjoying the adventure. And the very first group who wanted to settle in Canada, in Nova Scotia, arrived in the spring of 1632, and developed a system of irrigation, building dikes, and settled near the Port Royale, coming in through the Bay of Fundy, in the Annapolis valley. They had the most beautiful summer a bountiful crop and really loved it there, and then came the winter – long nights of awful cold winter with little sunlight, merciless cold winds and snow and frozen everything –lakes, the ground and the spirit too. Most of them died a treacherous death inflicted by scurvy, caused by a lack of vitamin C, – they did not know what hit them—winter was never like that in the mother country and perhaps that is the first time one knew the absolute necessity of vitamin C for good health. But, immigrants kept on coming, braving the elements and other hazards and finally developed a great system, learned to live together—the French and the English.
The French came to Quebec and also to the Annapolis Valley. This time they not only survived but thrived and established the first community in the Atlantic Canada, a French outpost, and called it Acadia. But, as fate would have it the British and the French had their Wars and in the wheeling and dealing and winning and losing that happens in all Wars, the French King abrogated his rights to Acadia and the French living there were mercilessly banished and shipped, yes shipped, to a treacherous land down south-- to the country of Louisiana. The Acadians—CAJUNS—thus arrived in a land infested by alligators, snakes, flees, mosquitoes, storms, floods and what not. But, they were no patsies or pawns of the war games; they were well honed had learned to live in the harsh environments in Canada, their Acadia. So they coped, and coped exceedingly well developed the famous city of New Orleans, and gave America her only cuisine – the Cajun cuisine, they were after all-- French. They also harbingered the only American music – the Jazz. They, like those who bravely fight adversity, in the most horrible circumstances, sowed the seeds that developed the best of the best music --- the Jazz. Music is the answer to the cruelty of humans on humans—“Jai Ho”.
In all Wars of revenge and land grab and religion –it is the children who suffer the most – always. And in the French and British War also-- they did; and there is a heart breaking story of Evangeline, who was an Acadian, put down in one of the longest poems written by H.W. Longfellow. I read the “Evangeline” when in school in India and little did I know that one day I will stand in the hallowed land where she lived. You too can read it in the internet. Such is the legacy of all wars – stories of children are the only ones whose memories live on forever – like that of Anne Frank.
Every war always ends and nothing really ever changes, so did end the British and the French Wars—and they started to live in peace and harmony in Acadia, and in the whole of Canada, because they learned the hard way whatever language they spoke, they worshiped the same God – Jesus Christ, whatever songs the sang they played the same Violins, whatever home they went to they drove on the same Freeway, whatever boat they took to the Ocean they brought back the same Lobsters. Canada thus became the country of love and peace and hard work and harder play; the country where everyone comes with dreams in ones eyes – for a bright future for ones family.
And on that cold January night I too came with the same dreams of a brighter future. Soon after that I met Mrs. Buckley, she invited me to her most beautiful home, the likes of which one sees and reads about in the Ladies Magazines—very Hollywood like. She had prepared a vegetarian dinner for me and was curious about my meals. I told her, I live in a shelter for the homeless and live on milk and bread only and an occasional potato chip snack, because I do not know how to cook. “I can understand your diet but why do you live in a homeless shelter?” she asked. I told her, “ I have many responsibilities and want to save every penny to fulfill my obligations. My parents have raised me with love, and like everyone else in India my father is a poor man, he wants me to help him educate my brothers and sisters and meet the expenses of their weddings. They too want to be Doctors and Engineers; and education and weddings are not cheap in India. The only way I can help him is by sending money, and the only way I can do it is by saving it, and thus obey my Father. That is why I live with the most beautiful people – the Homeless, Old, Sick and yet, full of joy and kindness, in a shelter for the Homeless—to save money to send back home.”
Mrs. Buckley looked at me with an admiring smile she hugged me and asked, “Do you know the other Nine.” I did not understand—“The other Nine?” I asked with curiosity. And she said, “The other Nine Commandments.” And she continued looking at me with moist eyes, “I am a Christian and try to live following the Ten Commandments in the Holy Bible and one of them is – ‘Obey thy Father and thy Mother and Love and respect them’. You Kam, are a good Christian.”
That day I got the name Kam, given to me by my Mom in Canada and that day I learned another lesson of my life – every Good Hindu is also a good Christian and vice versa. I was reminded of the sermon by our Shastri ji (Pastor) who told us that the message of the Holy Hindu Book Ramayana is ‘Obey thy Father and respect and love thy Parents and respect your Elder Brother’. He said those who do not do that waste their lives and live like those in the Mahabharata, -- jealous, angry and violent.
Mrs. Buckley learned to cook Vegetarian food for me—I do not know how. Those days unlike today –there was no Indian Restaurant or store in Halifax, no one in India had Telephones, Televisions, and Cars and Computers or anything Twenty First Century. There was no book describing Indian Vegetarian cooking. She still managed to learn it; only a Mom could do it, and greatly helped me remain a Vegetarian and a teetotaler.
The last time I met her was three years ago in Vancouver on the Mothers day. It was my greatest pleasure and privilege that we, my spouse and I, could take her out to lunch – a vegetarian lunch of course. She was 92 years old and had a sparkle in her eyes, a beautiful smile on her face, petite and stunningly gorgeous– she looked Bollywood beautiful.
O! Canada—I love you so very much.
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