Kolkata to Kingston: A Journey of Nostalgia and Reflection
Lisa Macdonald tells the story of moving from east to west, including memories of her first big shoe shopping trip with her beloved father. Throughout this international journey she has learnt the power of values, relationships, adaptation and learning to overcome the fear of change.
The phone was ringing persistently. I looked at the clock: 2 a.m. I looked at the number. It was my little sister, my only sibling, calling from New Delhi, India. She whispered in an anguished voice, “Dad is no more.”
There was a long silence – and then a barrage of questions from me. Death happens to others. Now it had happened to me as well – death had visited my family too.
My mind went to the past, the future and the present.
My dad, who had inspired me to come to Canada, was no more – his sojourn to the UK and France had opened my imagination to the bigger world outside my little mining town.
And now here I was in Toronto all by myself. I had just got my dream job as a recruiter. I had not seen my family in 3 years because I was waiting for my citizenship. I longed for them every day.
After much deliberation, I resigned myself to the idea of not going for the funeral. I felt selfish and stone-hearted but I couldn’t afford the cost of a ticket and the time frame didn’t work with my new job which I knew was a big step towards being to settle down.
As I tried to gather my thoughts and emotions about life and death, the floodgates of memories opened wide. One was of a very special day with Dad. He planned a trip to the big city to buy school shoes for me in Kolkata – all because I didn’t like any of the black shoes available in my hometown of Asansol, West Bengal. He woke me up early at 4:30 am to catch the 5:30 express train, a 3.5 hour journey. Then we took the ferry across the Howrah Bridge and then the tram to finally arrive at the shoe market just as it was opening. We walked to all the shoe shops in Chinatown to finally find the black pair I liked. They had little heels, and they covered my skinny ankles with room to grow for my ten-year-old feet. I wore them every day until I finished school. By then they were completely worn out.
Now I am in Kingston, Ontario, no longer choosing shoes for the hot, hotter and hottest temperatures but now for all kinds of Canadian weather: cool, cold and colder. Several pairs are orange – orange being special, the color of fire and perseverance. It reminds me of Dad who supported my journey.
I think about all the hard decisions I had to make to be here in Canada. I have wrestled with my choices, emotions about my identity and where I belong. At times, numb with sadness and with no time to feel grief or celebrate the birth of my niece or weddings of close family and friends.
My shoes have always been my go-to – in sorrow, joy, achievement, loss – I went for a walk to reframe my thoughts and deepen my aloneness.
I felt l I had wheels on my shoes which take me to another world.
I think of what the famous Bengali Poet Laureate Rabindranath Tagore said – Akela Chalo re, Tobe ekla cholo re, ekla chalo, aekla chao re – if no one answers your call, then walk alone, be not afraid, walk alone my friend.
It has been 10 years since my dad’s passing over. Kingston is home now. I live in a house with an orange door. My family has visited me only once in Canada.
This is my world now, where I still dream of travelling to far-off places with my husband who walks beside me. The journey from east to west has been bittersweet, navigating my 2 identities.
Born and raised in West Bengal, India, Lisa Macdonald came to Canada 12 years ago. She has travelled all around the world and lived in Africa for a decade. Many people and places have shaped her life but her experience as an immigrant in Canada has had a lasting impact and shaped the person she is today.