This was my second ( or third, if you include the Nepal adventure ) foreign trip and I had much on my mind. This was my second trip to North America and the first hadn’t exactly been a carefree and joyous one, if you remember. I don’t think it is easy to describe the wealth of feeling and emotion an immigrant carries with him ( or her, if faux feminist). While the earlier trips were temporary excursions, this one had the element of finality about it. This was it. I was burning some of my bridges. I was forsaking the land of my birth, the friends I had made over the years, the memories of a thousand little events would fade, I thought. I was leaving my wife and two young kids behind me. I had no idea when I would see them again, if ever. I do remember, the chest clenching feeling of pain as the A310 opened up its engines and started its run down the runway on its way to Bombay. I hadn’t been expecting it. I hadn’t anticipated the lurch of emotion as we raced down.
And so The Great Immigration commenced. The A310 took me only to Mumbai, where, after some initial confusion, I boarded Air India Konarak to Delhi and on to London’s Heathrow airport. I sat in the aisle seat of three on the left hand side of the plane, or port side. Beside me sat an elderly Indian couple, a very polite and slightly sheepish looking couple. They seemed embarrassed by the whole business of flying to a foreign land. I got talking with them, polite conversation to satisfy my natural curiosity.
They were flying to Toronto to spend the summer with their son, an IT engineer, who had paid for his parents to visit him. They were painfully shy with the flight attendants, not knowing what to say, or how to respond to the queries about tea, coffee, lunch and dinner options. I helped where I could, but at one point during meal service all communication completely broke down. Most Indians believe that ice cold water is a terrible idea and seriously detrimental to good health. Most North American’s drink five drops of water with their ice to lie at the other end of the scale. During the previous meal service the attendant had done the usual scooping of ice cubes into the glass before pouring a few drops of water. This was in reply to the horrified response to the query about wine or pre-dinner drink. My poor neighbours knew not what to do with their glasses of ice cubes and thus drank no water after their first meal on the plane. The second meal service came around and the gentleman next me spoke up in his hesitant English.
“No cold water.”, he pleaded, accompanied by the Indian sideways head nod, “hot water. Hot water.”
The flight attendant nodded and continued with serving meals. She then disappeared back to her galley and came back a few minutes later with two steaming glasses of gently boiling water, which she handed out to the non-plussed travellers. It took a few minutes of confused conversation between the now very embarrassed gentleman, the irritated attendant and the immigrant interpreter in the aisle seat. Finally, the couple got what they really wanted; room temperature water with no ice.
I don’t recall the meals otherwise, but I think they were basic Indian meals, rice daal, some curry, maybe there was some chicken too… all those details I keep giving you are mostly useless bits of trivia that don’t do anything for this absolutely riveting story, other than enhance the flavour of boredom. I knew you’d see it my way! Soon, we were landing at Heathrow, where I had been before. We were all offloaded and herded out into a lounge, so crews could get in there and clean up the mess made by us. I also think, they must have refuelled and generally taken a look at the plane in preparation for the hop across the Atlantic. I’m guessing here, I’m not an aviation expert, even though I do know what ETOPS means and can tell a wing from an engine pod.
And then we were on the long boring Great Circle path south of Greenland and on to landfall over Newfoundland and Labrador before sweeping down on the north bank of the St Lawrence into the Greater Toronto Area. As we started our descent, a disembodied voice came over the PA system.
“As some of you may have noticed, we have started our descent into the Toronto area. The approach at this airport usually has some swirling winds, so expect a bit of a bumpy path in. Buckle in and thanks for flying with us.”
Around 2:30pm on the 2nd of June, 1997 I finally received service for the Right To Land Fee I had paid Her Majesty’s Canadian Government over a year ago as Air-India Konarak, VT-ESM Boeing 747-400 put its wheels gently on the runway at Lester B Pearson International Airport. The Immigrant was home, his New Home. I had traded in my old home for this new home. What would the new home bring? In future instalments we shall explore such topics as Jobs, Life, Food and other mundane details of the Immigrant Tales
Oh, yes, also we shall chat about the Great Canadian Okra Crisis! We don’t lightly forget!