A Pakistani in Montreal
April 5, 2012 2 Comments
I warn you that this is a cautionary tale and not for one who looks at the world through normal lenses. They would say that this is just the ramblings of a person who has analysed life too often and not taken the fruits on offer. In effect ‘khattay ungoor’ (sour grapes)…. Arriving in Montreal yesterday evening, I took my customary walk through the city, yesterday and today…it has been my customary way in some 45 countries and many more cities. I say this not to boast, but rather to get across that this is a tried and tested procedure, which allows me to see reality unblemished and becomes a window to understanding the culture and the city in itself. Perhaps, I also wanted to resolve the conundrum of my friends and acquaintances spending millions in search of the ‘promises of jannah’.
The air was cool and the temperature was bordering on the cold. And as usual what has fascinated me from my first trip to the hallowed temperate regions of this world almost 40 years ago. How do the women manage to wear these skimpy outfits without a shred of discomfort ? Are they superhuman? and if so,why the male of the same species and background go more or less fully clothed? It is a conundrum yet unsolved in my mind.
Anyway, the flashes, which this morning have left some impressions of this society are put on paper for you all to read. I do not conclude, as it is not my place to pass judgement on others. Let me also add that this is one of several trips to Canada, which I have taken in these last few years, but none of them were to Quebec. But there is little to show any differences…except the French language and Gallic architecture. These signs of the past have been sanitized and crushed into a more homogenous present, more in line with the global environment.
Watch the eyes and the tread of people. Anywhere in the world they give you a peek into the character of the society, but not necessarily all its individuals. In this case the eyes were vacant, they did not meet you when you looked directly into them…there was no focus. The tread was deliberate and slow, on a Thursday morning for office workers, approaching a destination where they would spend a large part of the day. Did it show that these were a people without any desire, perhaps stripped of the essentials of human conflict which allows us to surface stronger and better? Had economic certainty led to a lack of desire. Were the vacant eyes, lacking all emotions, showing us where we should not have gone at all? Is this too deep a probe into what the surface merely indicated.
Stranger than reality is the lack of children. Where have the little ones gone. In a city of 3 million, one would see more? But in a whole day, in downtown Montreal I have seen a handful..There are no explanations, but perhaps the Anglo-Saxon grows more infertile, as their millennium of rule begins to vanish from the realms of this world. There were many in the 25-35 years bracket, so they must have been children once. And then the old, oh! so many.. So is this the answer to some of the questions? Is an aging, infertile society, staring its doom in the face, reaching to other races to extend its traces. As Moses once was invited by Midian to pro-create and leave his progeny in its place of rule.
The old were generally bunched together. The young did not have time for them. So they walked and talked, mainly in French, frankly a language whose logic and structure escapes me. So what would they be discussing? Perhaps their demeanor would give one a clue. But soft, they do not show much emotion. That has been the eternal strength of the Anglo-Saxon. For long they have held their emotions in check. It’s all turned inwards. Maybe its the cold temperate climate – as opposed to our hot blooded, boiling environment. But then are we humans or machines. Did not the Divine make us out to feel some of what is happening, or did he want us to kill our insides and make it a processing central unit.
So the mystery of the old remains? Not really, there were other places to look. See that old man standing at the corner, staring at the thick grey wall across the road. Surely he is lonely, and does his frost bitten, purple nose suggest pain endured? Is that all he has left of a goodly strive through 65 years of existence?
Or see that pony tailed one, in silver grey hair. He is coming out of the age of Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and Easy Rider…why does he proudly show an emblazoned T-shirt, which must be 35 years old. For its faded facade exhibits the Dark Side of the Moon. Is this then Roger Waters, his stardom years behind him and now standing in the midst of nowhere, waiting for recognition? Should I have leapt forward and hugged him, as a star I watched 30 years ago. Why is this old man, way out of time and all crumpled, standing there…he does look lonely. Where are his friends? or children? or the social security people. If he is Roger Waters, I hope someone gives him his due.
Then there is the busker striding (?) towards an unknown place, his guitar hanging around his shoulder . Who knows he might perform today and go home with loads of appreciation and cash. The best song I have ever heard is by such a one, in Bond Street Station in 1983. I remember wishing the tube away when it did arrive, as I wanted to hear more. Alas this one is old and limping. Why does he do this then? And when it gets colder will he still come out to perform with frost bitten fingers? Does not anyone see this struggle and do they not show him a shred of empathy? No they just do not see him, as he shuffles along. That is left to me, because I am a stranger and new to this environment. Leave me six months and I too shall not see him.
My day was defined by 3 events which stand out.
The blonde woman in the Mini Cooper convertible. Her hair flowing in the air, her dark glasses shielding her looks,, her arrogance shown to the world at large, while the sun beats down on her hair and car. They both shone. She on the other hand seemed not to. You see many of these in every society. They think they are the beautiful people. But do they really count. Will they effect society? Oh so many affectations, will they spend their lives doing good or will they be spending lots of money. What will they be remembered for when their beauty and position will inevitably decline? I remember thinking Oh! I have seen her before, in my school, at various la-di-la parties, at media centric events and especially in rich peoples homes.
The man was maybe mid thirties and strode out ahead, when the passenger crossing light was red. There was no traffic at all and so it was okay? Probably. In his place I would have done it. But, I was on the other side of the road, watching interestedly. Hey, but look, three strides out and this warrior looks around and sees no one follows him. So watch him turn on his heels and go back to home base. Amazingly, watching the flock standing around him, there was no reaction! No one reprimanded him when he moved forward, no one was smug when he returned and no one was even appreciative of him. The lack of interest was the most frightening, as the detachment echoed what one saw in the eyes. So is this discipline? Sure, partially. Is this a population of sheep. Will they only exist within rules, follow rules and break no rules? And will they also function only riskless. Can this society ever produce tigers, or will they forever remain a bunch of sheep. How will the tiger survive, nay blossom in this environment, the system frowns and watches over one. A depressing thought !!!!
Lastly what made my day today. In the middle of this soulless time, I ran into an enchantress. Seemingly unaware, this youngish lady walked by and suddenly without reason or warning, broke into a beaming smile. Her rather normal face ( she did not stand out) suddenly turned Venus like. This would be my definition of beauty, when the ordinary acquires an extraordinary air. A little more review showed that she wore clothes which were different from the environment, she was darker and her features would lead one to hazard a guess and say South American. So maybe that explained it, but still it made my day.
Now for some quick one liners, before the summation.
- A strange sight of a long haired homeless asking for food at Burger King…they turned him away
- A middle aged lady playing the saxophone at a corner…not a bad job at all
- The veggie burger is to be avoided, it was totally tasteless
- A protest by University service (non-academic) employees, for equal treatment
- The supermarket service is oh so slow….as is the fast food joint.
- Breakfast place was not open in the morning, but open in the evening
- The fruit tastes tasteless…the organic food is expensive and small sized
- Why do they stop to kiss in the middle of a road crossing. Will they not wait till they cross to the other side.
- Where are the jewellery shops in the malls. Only costume stuff.
- The sordid side of town does come out on the roads in downtown in the evenings.
So to a summation. I walked out this evening and saw plenty go shuffling and lost in thoughts towards their well deserved rest, whatever their destination. Some to car parks, others to metro stations and still others to bus stations. Rarely one found bikers too. But they all seemed an army of beings, working like zombies to achieve the unattainable, a nirvana through their commercial enterprise. It left me wondering whether all the mannequin in the shop windows, are any different to what is available on the pavement of this city. So at the end, as I walked two simultaneous voices echoed in my mind. The voice of Patrick Stewart, beaming back through the ages from Star Trek Next Generation ” They are the Borg and you are assimilated” and the haunting voice coming out of Sloop John B, “I wanna go home, Let me go home”.