The Original Blueprint – Part 11

My younger son and his wife were working, from India, for a company in Canada when they got to know the company was hiring more people for vacancies in Canada. So two others, who were also working with them from India, decided to apply for these posts. The company agreed to give them the jobs and that’s how the first step was laid. I was glad for them but still, at the time, I had no inclination to travel here. Not even for a holiday! Life carried on for me the way it was and I was settled in sailing on even keel. I never expected things were going to be stirred up, disturbing the calm. A big, unpleasant surprise was coming up.

My elder son came to me one day, excited. “I’ve been transferred to the Chile office,” he said.

“Wow,” I responded equally excited. Then my brow furrowed in ignorance and the worry that comes with it for a mother. He had pronounced the name the right way, Cheelay, and I hadn’t heard of this country.

“Where’s Cheelay?” I enunciated laying emphasis on each syllable.

“In South America.”

“Oh! That’s not quite like North America, right?”

“No. It’s more Latino. The language is Spanish. It’s a small country. And even smaller if you compare it with ours!”

“How are you going to manage with Spanish?”

We only knew a few words one picked up from songs and movies… words like – gracias, adios, amigo, hasta mañana, muchacho, hacienda, vaya con dios… and such. Now, I wasn’t too thrilled with the foreign posting.

“I don’t have to bother about it at the workplace ma. It’s English at work. And I’ll learn the local language.”

I nodded in agreement. It was similar to a posting anywhere inside India, apart from the spoken language at home (for us it was English) one had to learn a smattering of the local lingo to carry on with daily life. I recalled how we, as kids, living in Cochin (now known as Kochi) knew a bit of Malayalam. My mother knew Malayalam and Tamil because she was born and brought up in the south, in a city called Madras (now known as Chennai) and she had studied in a boarding school in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru). She picked up some Marathi and “Bombaiya” Hindi when we were in Bombay (Mumbai) and Punjabi and Hindi when we moved North. I learned Hindi and Punjabi in Delhi and Punjab. And later, in Rajasthan, I picked up a bit of Marwari to get along with the maids and vegetable shopping. So this wouldn’t be any different apart from the vast distance.

I had no intention or desire to go to Chile either. Apart from the vast distance one had to travel… hours and hours in the plane and hours at airports on stopovers, if one took a cheaper option that took you on a circuitous route… I was in no mood to learn another language to get by.

But the original blueprint of my life was already set into motion. In fact, now when I look back, I see how the events in my life were taking me according to the plan.

My elder son was engaged at the time of this transfer and we preponed the wedding date as he wouldn’t be able to get back so soon for the wedding which was scheduled four months later. His fiancée worked in the same company as him. He left in August 2009 after they got married. Now both my sons had left. However, this time I had my daughter-in-law staying with me.

If I thought my son would come back in a year’s time because his wife was here, once again, I was reminded that life doesn’t always go even keel, for long, it has more twists and turns and adventure. Within months of his working there a vacancy for a job, ideally suited to his wife’s work profile, came up at Chile. She applied, online interviews were conducted. She bagged the post.

She left to join her husband and her new job in Chile.

My son was worried about me living alone. Apart from the security concerns, he was also worried about my physical limitations due to osteoarthritis and some troublesome discs that restricted movements and could also lay me down, bedridden.

About six months later, I was in Chile too! A place I knew vaguely existed at the back of my mind. A country about which I had zero curiosity and didn’t Google to learn more about it.

The company booked my ticket too, so I could join my family in Vina. The route was a circuitous one – Delhi-Mumbai-Johannesburg SA – Sao Paulo Brazil – Santiago, Chile – a longer route because it was cheaper! I bore my aching back, lumber disc and cervical disc acting up, and my knees hurting so much, whenever I had to walk, as in through the security check or down the aisle to my seat, or to use the facilities. I was in pain and on wobbly legs. But thankfully, I had wheelchair assistance and didn’t have to walk through those huge airports; five in all. That doesn’t mean I had no problems. The biggest one was when I had to visit the washroom. I would be stuck in my wheelchair without an assistant. The assistant would park me in the waiting area, put my bags near the wheelchair and disappear. There was no way I could walk to the facilities. which were no where near the waiting area. And even if it were near, I couldn’t leave my bags unattended. Dragging my luggage along would have created a medical emergency. It was torturous mentally and physically. Mentally, because I was so worried there would be an incident. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but there were close calls… I would get saved by a couple of minutes!

The layovers, in chronological order – at Mumbai [about 3 hrs. layover]. At Johannesburg [about 4 1/2 -5 hrs. layover]. At Sao Paulo, Brazil [between 2-3 hrs. I think]. Now came the last flight – Sao Paulo to Santiago! It was just the last flight not the last leg of my journey.

From Santiago would begin a road trip to Vina Del Mar. If there was no heavy traffic, we’d be lucky and reach Vina in 1 1/2 hrs. But thoughtfully, my son had booked rooms at a hotel so I could rest. The last segment of my journey would be completed the next day.

After he and his wife had settled me into my room, my son sat me down in the armchair and said that he had to tell me something. When people do this I get the jitters. “Now what?” my mind screamed.

“Ma, we have a lot of quakes and tremors here. So, if you feel your bed rocking don’t panic.”

“Don’t panic! Tremors and quakes are normal everyday routine here! An earthquake happens and I don’t panic? I’m not that brave! I’ve experienced a few in India. And they are scary” I said already feeling quite scared and unsafe.

“Well yes, earthquakes happen in India off and on, not often and not all are very strong. What you might have experienced were like 3.somsthing or 4.something…” I interrupted, “And all were scary as hell! The whole building felt it would collapse.”

“That’s India ma,” he said patiently. “Here the buildings are built to withstand stronger quakes. Even 9.7!”

“How strong are we talking about,” I said with a sense of foreboding.

“Well, over here, a temblor, which is a tremor, would be something that’s less than 5.something. Anything above would be a terremoto, which is an earthquake.”

“You mean, what I experienced in India and almost died of fear were just tremors?! Things they aren’t scared of here? They have quakes that go beyond 7 on the Richter scale? And all of this is an often recurring nightmare and I’m not allowed to panic?”

“Yes.”

“So what exactly are you telling me when you say I shouldn’t panic?”

“I mean don’t run out of your room. Stay here. I’ll come to you if any such thing happens. You might feel slight tremors more than once or twice. No one bothers about these.”

“O Lord! What have I got into? Where have I come?”

“I can understand your anxiety and fear but Ma, honestly, don’t be scared. It is unsettling for someone who isn’t used to it but given some time you will get accustomed to it. The buildings won’t collapse they way they do in India. These can withstand strong quakes.”

Now that I was in the middle of a soup, there was nothing I could do but put on a brave front, while my heart palpitated, my mind conjured up images of fallen buildings and me under a rubble. So I assured him that I would not get out of the room and run down the corridors screaming. But I wasn’t sure if I would keep my word.

Sure enough, the tremors came rolling in. My bed was rattled more than twice. Twice I jumped out of bed. Twice I ran to the door and held it half open. And the third time, I ran down the corridor to their room and knocked on the door. They were sound asleep and didn’t hear the frantic knocks nor feel the building shaking or trembling. Thankfully, I had remembered to take the key card of my room with me. I crept back to my room shaken and scared to death. I didn’t come here to die, I thought miserably. If I don’t die in a building collapse, I’ll die of fright!

Thank god for tiredness. I fell asleep against my will and woke up to the kids knocking on my door. It was time to go down for breakfast.

I had survived the night, the temblors, and I was feeling very hungry. I would tell them about how I disregarded their advice and how I ran down the corridor and knocked on their door real loud, later on. When they’d eaten and would be in a better frame of mind with a great brekkie tucked in, I’d be safe from some admonishing and reminding that I could injure myself too just by running helter-skelter.

We had till noon to check out so they took me out for some retail therapy. That always works. I forgot the tremors until one came up while we were in the mall. Being in a huge building that’s shaking and seeing the escalator sway, even though not too much, triggered the fear again. And trust me, it’s hard to control the panic and keep oneself standing quietly and wait for the tremor to subside. I watched people go about their business calmly. I wondered if I’d ever be able to build that sort of insouciance towards tremors.

You can read more about all the interesting and funny things that happened, in detail, here: Chile Diary – 1

If you haven’t read Part -1 here’s the link: The Original Blueprint – Part -1 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

The third and final part of The Original Blueprint will follow soon.

The Original Blueprint – Part -1

Canada had never been on my list-of-places-to-visit! Though, I did advice a lot of youngsters, including my son, to move to Canada. But I never ever felt inclined to visit here, and living here was not even a possible thought.

Yet, here I am!

Destiny? God’s plan for my life? I guess it’s both. It’s the result of the original blueprint for my life. One that I altered in some places, and the others altered without my consent at some juncture.

I often wonder about my sojourns to two countries that never figured in my travel-hungry dreams and desires. Surprisingly, apart from Canada, USA also didn’t make it to my list! While my friends in college went on about the States I dreamed about countries in Europe. I didn’t realize my Europe dream and, of course, never went to the States. But I came close to it when I ‘lived’ in Chile! A place that wasn’t even on the periphery of my travel thoughts. Though, I must add here, I loved it. The city I lived in and the memories of my stay there are embedded in my heart.

But as I’ve learned, God’s plan for my life will go according to plan despite the detours I make from the path. I will, eventually, do, go, function according to the original plan – sooner or later.

Take my journey at this point in life – I’m in Canada! If I had not rejected an offer to travel to Ireland when I was nine years old; if my mother had not put her foot down (which encouraged me) on the offer of two wonderful Irish missionaries to adopt me, I would have been here decades ago!

The story that convinces me that it is God’s original plan starts in the latter half of the year 1963, in New Delhi.

My parents were members of an evangelical church. The congregation called themselves the ‘Brethren’. The church was in Connaught Place and was called Gospel Hall. It wasn’t a conventional church building. It was in a commercial area and was one of the shops/offices that had been rented for worship.

In those days, Christian missionaries abounded all over India, and we had a fair share of them in Delhi, and in our Gospel Hall as well. Among the ones at Gospel Hall was an Irish couple – John and Lily Walker. They had two sons, Johnston and Earnest.

My parents and the Walkers took to each other and they became friendly outside the fellowship-worshippers church circle. We’d have them over for lunch sometimes and they’d invite us over for a meal sometimes. I enjoyed the company of this missionary family, which I confess was not normal because, even at that young age, I didn’t care much for the many others whom my father had befriended when we were posted in Kerala, South India. They’d come over often and have lunch and tea with us. I recall a picnic or two. One at a beach and one on a house boat! I was younger then but I had a mind of my own. I liked and disliked my parents’ company according to my own judgments for what they were worth!

There were the Phoenixes, the Bones, the Taylors, the McGregors, to name a few.

But the Walkers were different. I played with their younger son, Earnest, who was a year and half older than me, I think. Johnston, the elder one was nice too. He would talk to me and joined his brother and I briefly sometimes.

Lily and John were jovial and easy-going and not the typical uptight Christian missionaries who judged everything we said or did and found it inappropriate according to their thinking. I usually made myself scarce when any of those kinds visited us. They didn’t understand our sense of humor, our cultural dos and don’ts, and they thought they had the God-given right to admonish me!

Well, I was the youngest kid in the family then, a bit spoiled by Daddy, and I couldn’t take that. So rather than ‘talk back’ I avoided them.

Anyway, to come back to the main part of the story. Lily and John had taken to me too. We, of course, were unaware of the extent to which they had fallen in love with me. They had already decided (before even consulting with my parents) that they wanted to adopt me! That was the reason why they began to spend more time with us. Even at Sunday School or at church, Lily would talk to me, sometimes sit beside me at church, and generally, give me a lot of attention. I loved it because it was free of judgement, criticism, and full of love, caring, and acceptance of my little personality as it was.

None of them, including the boys, ever tried to change or mold my natural self to suit them. I was accepted as I was. I was loved as I was.

We were brought up in an Indo-western environment with the western more pronounced than the Indian. Our etiquette, behavior, and environment at home was more western. So there wasn’t much that was different for me in their home, and I guess they didn’t find much to change in my behavior.

Well, finally their term in India was drawing to its end and they had to make their intention known to my parents. And they did. I was totally in the dark about how my fate was being decided between them.

While all this was going on, a severe case of jaundice laid me down. It was pretty bad because my parents hadn’t realized that it was more than an “ache in the side of my tummy” as I continued playing with the pain. No one noticed that the whites of my eyes had turned yellow until one day, Mummy did. The doctor was worried and hoped that it wasn’t worse than what he had diagnosed.

The result was that the Walkers postponed their return and extended their stay by three months. It took over two months for me to get better, but I was very weak and I had to be under medical supervision for a month more.

My father had put in his papers for an early retirement and wanted to go back to his hometown and get started on building our house. But as I couldn’t travel then, he asked for an extension on our accommodation for another month. So we were in Delhi while he went on ahead to get work started on the house.

Now, the Walkers who were apprised of the developments on our side, came home before Daddy left. As I lay in bed, I could hear them talk, but not clearly enough to get the whole conversation. I gathered bits and pieces and knew that it was something about me. I heard my name mentioned a lot. I heard the word travel. I heard the words “extend our stay.” I tried to put two and two together but couldn’t understand what was the big deal if I couldn’t travel. I presumed they were going to leave me back here with the Walkers and my mother and brother would go with my father to Punjab. I would be staying with these people and join them later when I could travel.

However, I soon learned who was planning to ‘extend’ their stay and why. It all came down to one person’s decision – Mine!

I heard footsteps coming towards my room and I perked up a bit. John and Lily came in and Lily sat on the bed and held my hand. They asked how I was and made some small conversation. Then they asked me if I liked their sons. Did I like their home and was I comfortable whenever I spent the day there. My answer was a big YES and a broad smile to all of these questions. Then came the last one.

“Would you like to come live with us?”

“Okay,” I quipped happily thinking I was right about what I had picked up from their conversation earlier. Then I added, “How long will I stay? The doctor said it could be longer than a month before I can travel.”

They realized I was not on the same page as them. And that my parents hadn’t broached the subject with me.

Gently, both of them told me how much they loved me and how Lily had fallen in love with me from the first day she saw me. How she wanted a daughter and she saw that daughter in me. How her sons also accepted me as a sister if I agreed to be a part of their family.

It was a bomb exploding in my head. I was just a little nine year old going on ten, by then! This was in the beginning of 1965. And I wasn’t strong enough mentally and physically and emotionally to deal with such a big question about the future of my life.

They realized it immediately after they had said what they had to say. To their credit, they very softly and lovingly told me I didn’t have to make my decision immediately. They could wait. But if I could give them some hope, even a 50-50 one about their chances of becoming my foster parents, they could extend their stay by even six months, if need be.

I loved my family. I couldn’t imagine loving someone else as my parents no matter how nice they were or how much I loved them too. No one could replace my Mummy and Daddy! Not even the very nice and loving Lily and John Walker.

“Will you take me with you to Ireland?”

‘Of course. You’ll be my daughter. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Yes. But when will I see my parents?”

“You can write to them, talk to them over the phone. And you can come back to see them whenever you want. And they can come to see you too. We won’t keep you away from your family in India.”

“Have you spoken to my mummy and daddy? What did they say? Did my Daddy say yes? Did my Mummy say yes?”

The questions came pouring out. I still remember the dread I felt and the slight tremor of excitement at what this meant for me. I was scared to leave all that was familiar and that I loved behind and go with people I barely knew beyond a social relationship. Nevertheless, there was a bit of adventure and excitement at the thought of going on a long journey to another country and living a new life. One I could only imagine from movies and stories I had heard.

The thought that was troubling me was that if both of my parents had agreed to this, I would have to go. I thought I’d have no right to refuse if my parents had agreed. I wouldn’t see them for years maybe and neither my sisters and brother. It made my heart sink. And I was scared too. So far away from my parents whom I trusted and relied on. I had no notion of how I’d be able to bear that. Somewhere, was a flicker of hope that one of them had refused. Somewhere at the back of my mind, subconsciously, I was keeping that as my escape hatch.

I was waiting for their answer. My heart was pounding.

Lily looked at John.

“Your father said he had no objections if we let you keep in touch and allowed you to visit. But he said it all depended on your answer and not his. We could adopt you only if you agreed.” My heart leapt with joy. Daddy had given me the final decision. I wasn’t so scared now.

“And what did Mummy say?”

“She doesn’t want you to come with us. She flatly refused to let us adopt you.”

This made it easier for me to make my decision. Her flat refusal took the burden off me. Deciding to take such a big step, one that I couldn’t fully comprehend. To me it was just like an adventure. Like the ones I’d imagine and dream to come true. This gave me the escape route I was looking for and I made up my mind.

“No. I can’t go with you forever. I can come for a holiday but I want my Mummy and Daddy. My sisters and brother.”

“But your parents will still be your parents. Your sisters and brother will still be your siblings. Think about it. You’ll have bigger opportunities if you come with us. take your time to decide. Though not too long. We cannot extend our stay only to find you won’t be coming back with us. We have to get your travel arrangements done too.”

“Ok. Then please don’t extend your stay. I don’t think I can stay away from my family like this.”

They looked so sad. I felt bad and wondered if I should say yes. My mind was for it. But my heart wasn’t in it at all.

“I’m sure.” I said. “I can’t leave my family.”

Long story short. The Walkers left. Mummy and Lily kept in touch for two or three years via snail mail. We learned that they had migrated to Canada a year or so after they returned to Ireland. And that’s where the Canada connection comes in, in this story. If I had agreed to make them my foster parents, I would have been in Canada decades ago!

So, in the original blueprint, I was destined to come here. I never thought about it. I never hoped for it. It wasn’t an inviting place to even include in my dream list of holidays. But that was then.

This is a beautiful country. And one worth visiting and settling in, if that’s what you want.

But…

I had to go on a circuitous route, before I finally came here. I’ve lost so much in the detours I’ve made. Apart from the material things, I lost peace of mind, a sense of belonging, the company of age-old friends. It isn’t easy to adjust to new environs when you’re older. It isn’t easy to make new friends. It isn’t easy to leave the familiarity of social, cultural, and traditional aspects of one’s life. That being said… This senior isn’t doing too bad all things considered. Not quite there, yet, but getting there!

So how did Canada, the eventual destination, come about?

More about that in the next part.

To Be Continued….