My Sister’s Gift
Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to follow your dreams. My name is Joy, and I am from India, where being a woman means you don’t get to choose your destiny. I had to be brave to break with tradition, and I was lucky enough to have a very supportive sister, Bablina, to help push me to start a new life in Canada.
In my village outside Bombay, life was packed with a lot of dos and don’ts. In our community, living by rules based on gender and age was normal and right. For example, a girl must be inside the house by seven, but it doesn’t matter what time you come home if you are a boy. In my family, my uncles set the rules because my dad was working in another country.
Bablina, my oldest sister, is ten years older than I am. Between us comes my sister Loveleena, five years older—and I am the baby. When I was five, my Papa met with a terrible accident. He broke his thighbone, which put him into hospital for six years, and my mom stayed at the hospital to look after him. So I was practically raised by Bablina. She is my go-to girl for love, guidance and support. She knows me inside and out. On my twenty-second birthday, she gave me a pair of pink mojaries (traditional handmade shoes, like Indian ballet flats). They would be perfect for the birthday party with my pink salwar (the traditional Indian garment of soft cotton).
That was the day I came of age and could be married off. Proposals came in from near and far, but the family was only interested in prospects who settled abroad—it’s a status symbol to marry a non-resident Indian. Now I was even more closely guarded—every phone call for me was monitored. Being the youngest girl-child in India is most difficult. I was kept in cotton wool, expected to obey my elders and do what I was told without questioning. It’s not what your parents think about you that matters, it’s what will the neighbours think, what will your uncles think. I felt trapped in my safe house. I wanted to just be me and live a little more, fall and make mistakes and learn. Life is more than having the perfect husband or the perfect house! After a lot of thinking, crying, and fighting guilt, I decided to stand up for myself. I applied to colleges in Canada, which were less expensive than Australia or the UK.
Lucky for me, the first place I applied sent me an offer letter! I was happy but scared to tell my mom—but my sister Bablina helped me explain why I needed to be independent. Convincing my mom was only one part of it. Every place we went, we had to listen to things like, “She is a girl, she is going to get married, why are you investing in her studies?” or “Why are you sending her abroad? She is going to disgrace your name!”
But here I am today, the third daughter of the Gonsalves clan, settled in Canada for good. I am free, but I am still grounded in my roots. My first day at Fanshaw College was warm as summer for Canadians, but I needed a sweater! Although my feet were cold, I wore my pink mojaries so I could feel the love and care of Bablina. They made me feel brave. From the very beginning, my sister was the one who accompanied me on my first day of school, who held my hand, who took me to church. She comforted me when I had my first menstrual accident. I carry my sister’s soul in the pink mojaries she gave me. They remind me where I come from; they remind me of the paths I walked to get to where I am now.
JOYLINA GONSALVES left everything familiar behind when she moved on her own to Canada in 2012. She was excited, nervous and had no idea what life had in store for her. Today, she’s engaged and couldn’t be happier with her life in Canmore.