In Salmon’s Shoes
Gurpreet Nain (+Video)
When Gurpreet Nain arrives in Canada from India, in her luggage are handcrafted silver Punjabi jutti. They lie forgotten in her closet while she wears sensible walking shoes to her job at a dollar store. Slowly, her difficult life becomes more joyful. The time is coming to bring out her Punjabi jutti once again.
On one of my walks beside the Credit River, I stood on a bridge looking into the water flowing beneath. I saw a couple of salmon furiously flipping their fins. They had left the calmer waters of their home and travelled almost 30 kilometres upstream. Their struggle was to lay their eggs in a place that would give their babies the best chance to thrive.
This set me thinking about my journey. Wasn’t I a salmon, too?
In India, I had a full life, a teaching job that brought me joy and a feeling of accomplishment. I had a marriage, not a happy one, but one that I had built with the support of the larger family. We left all that security to provide a better education and future for our teenage children.
I remember stepping on the soil of this country, afraid and uncertain, mirroring the state of mind of countless immigrants who stood on the shores of the promised land. When I unpacked, I brought out my dearly loved, handcrafted, silver Punjabi juttis. The master craftsman had made them exactly alike. They had neither a left foot nor a right. Each time I wore them, I made sure that I reversed the way I’d worn them before. They were comfortable, beautiful, and so flexible! They reminded me of all the celebrations I had worn them to, of good times, the joy and laughter that went with them.
In our new home, I would stand at the window and look out. Not a single person would pass by. I would remember the bustle of the streets of my city in India. Friends would be walking any time, and we’d talk for hours. Here, the days had a dull routine: one task followed by the other.
I wrapped my juttis in a soft muslin cloth, kept them at the back of my closet and bought myself a pair of dependable walking shoes. I would walk down to Lake Ontario, find a spot that looked eastward towards India, and pray to the powers beyond to call me back to where I belonged.
The trials of immigrant life began to fray my marriage further. The larger family that had kept us together was far away. I felt so lonely. Each day would start with a fight and end in a shouting match. I would walk for hours till I could think no more. I remember standing on a train track one day and wishing for it all to end for me. My thoughts were beginning to scare me now.
I was at my lowest.
Finally, I decided to move out, renting a tiny, cold, windowless room, leaving behind all that I had. For the first time in my life, I was truly alone. These were days of tears and self-pity. Many times, I packed my bags to go back, ready to take on my unhappiness rather than this. But I did not go back. I started working at a dollar store. I handled the cashier station, emptied boxes and cleaned the bathroom too. Little by little, finding comfort in small joys. I made some friends, engaged myself in things I love to do. One small step leading to another.
Today, I have a beautiful little home where there is no place for aggression or strife. My children have completed their university education. I work as a teacher in a local school board, and I am working on developing a friendship with my husband.
The salmon has planted her kids in a safe place. They will find their way to their own lakes. As for me, I will surely bring out my Punjabi juttis. Right foot or left, either one will fit to begin the celebrations.
GURPREET NAIN moved to Canada from Chandigarh, India in 2012. She is a teacher by profession and loves working with children. When not at school, she enjoys reading, taking long walks and gardening.