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An experience relived

We took a sabbatical from our present to visit our past. Life came full circle

It was an unlikely group on an implausible journey. Bound by blood and a common past, we liked to call ourselves ‘the originals’. By definition, we are not a legal family — a social unit of adults and their dependant children. Our parents are retired, but not tired octogenarians, and we, their offspring, are tiresome, middle-aged professionals who still depend on them to break up our fights.

It was a long-cherished dream. We had talked about it incessantly while growing up, many times in our youth and only occasionally now that we are responsible adults with families and careers. Caught in the business of living, it took us four-and-a-half decades to commit to the plan, but we did it. We took a sabbatical from our present to visit our past. We temporarily ‘abandoned’ our acquired families, spouse, children et al to retrace our steps to Canada and peek into our childhood. Almost half a century after we had laid our first tentative steps on an alien land and were blown away by its warmth, we returned to Montreal to an equally cordial reception.

The moment we swung into the McGill University campus, everything looked familiar. We quickly identified buildings and structures, excitedly named streets and landmarks. Our apartment looked essentially the same, though, keeping with its new name, Eco-residence, it is much greener now. Nostalgia gripped us as we noted that the brick pattern on the living room walls and the wooden floor tiles were as we had left them. The rooms had shrunk, though. It was difficult to imagine that so many happy parties had been catered from the minuscule kitchen which still had the old stove oven.

To our adult eyes it seemed that magically, things had been set to a smaller scale. Distances appeared shorter, objects smaller. The long, tiring walk to dad’s college, mum’s workplace and our swimming pool is actually a leisurely 10-minute stroll. The hill from which we would ride down on our bikes turned out to be gentle undulations in the green landscape. The patch in which mum grew vegetables is stamp-size but is still laden with fresh produce. Everything had shrunk, only the trees had grown taller and grander.

I noticed that dad, an alumnus of the university, had suddenly become younger. There was a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye as he proudly showed us around. When the director honoured dad, I wondered if this was what beckoned us. The need to see where it all started.

Yardstick

And I realised there was something else too. All our life, the Canadian experience has been a yardstick with which others were measured. Things were sometimes like Canada, rarely better and most often just not as good. The pancakes were never as fluffy, the doughnuts never as crumbly and the ice-cream was just not smooth enough. So it had become important to find out whether the past was as glorious as we thought, or just a fantasy we had carried into adulthood. I was somewhat relieved to discover that our adopted country was as vibrantly beautiful as in my dreams, and the citizens as warm. And in case you are wondering, the pancakes were as delicious as we remembered and the ice-cream was just awesome.

As my brother pushed mum’s wheelchair through familiar terrain I was reminded of the times almost half a century ago when mum would push him in his pram. Back then, my brother would insist he could walk just like mum did now. In both cases the wheels were just a convenience to avoid the crankiness of an over-exhausted child... Life had indeed come full circle!





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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 8:20:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/An-experience-relived/article14019625.ece

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