My Big Pink Hat
Smitha Rose Varghese
Smitha Rose Varghese’s cousin delights her with a big pink hat. He is a brother to her and a son to her parents. When he dies, she must take on his duties. In 2018 she and her husband immigrate to Calgary to support the family in India, the pink hat, a relic from the time before she became a ‘son.’
As a fourth-grader in India, I saw the movie Titanic. What caught my attention most was the fancy, wide-brimmed hats the high society ladies on the ship wore. I wanted to own a lovely, big hat like that.
My parents had no son, so my mom always wanted a boy. It is a tradition for sons to be the supporting pillar of the family. That is why my cousin Jaison, whom we dearly called Appu, became our world. Appu grew up with us as my little brother because he was a secret child from a secret marriage. His father’s family did not know about him until he was seven. Appu was a jovial soul and attracted everyone to him. He was an adventurous motorcycle rider, although we did not encourage that risky behaviour. Appu and I were best friends.
During my grade 12 summer break, our families took us to St. Mary’s Island in the Arabian Sea. It is a small island with columnar basaltic rocks. While the ladies enjoyed the beach, the men explored the island. When they returned, Appu gave me a beautiful big pink hat with a leopard-print ribbon which he had bought with his own pocket money. He knew how much I had wanted to own something like that! I took my pink hat on all my vacations.
Appu always said, “Main hoon na,” which means “I’m there” in Hindi. It’s an expression of support. One night he rode his motorcycle 300 kilometres to deliver my laptop, which I needed for my master’s degree project in Technology. On my wedding eve, even though he had a great bond with my fiancé Akash, Appu was concerned that I would be all right moving from the city to the countryside of a different state with a very different culture.
The last time I talked to Appu, I was getting my child, Joku, ready for his first Onam, which is Kerala’s state festival. Appu invited us to a party. He always included us. The next afternoon, we heard Appu had been in a motorcycle accident. Akash, Joku and I drove to my home. I sensed something was wrong when I saw a crowd there. My dad came to me, held my hands, and said, “Appu has left us!” Akash led me to where my little brother was laid on a broad stretcher, wrapped tightly in white linen. My sense of loss was beyond words.
We would never have thought about coming to Canada if Appu had still been with us. After his death, our families’ responsibilities, both Appu’s and mine, fell on my shoulders. I realized how much was expected from a son. I realized that without the support that Appu had previously provided for me, our future was much less certain.
To increase our security, I led Akash and three friends in starting a robotics education company. This put us in a financial crisis. That is when Akash and I applied for Canadian Permanent Residency, hoping to build a more stable future. We still worked hard, and within seven months, our company reached the break-even point. When we received our stamped visa in only four months, we couldn’t all move that fast because of our new company, so I came to Canada alone to find us a home. In September 2018, I landed in Calgary. It was snowing.
I struggled alone, trying to make our space ‘a home’ and fill it with all necessities before Akash and Joku joined me in February 2019. I felt happy and successful when I showed them our little rented basement. Seeing the pink hat in the cupboard, Akash exclaimed, “Appu would have been proud of you coming here alone and paving the way for us.”
The hat is crushed from my move here, but I keep it in memory of Appu and my life before I had to be ‘the son’.
SMITHA ROSE VARGHESE started her career in India in the IT industry after receiving her MTech and later went on to become an entrepreneur in robotics. She immigrated to Canada in 2018 and lives with her husband and four-year-old son in Calgary.