Every morning at 6am, 78-year-old Jeet Singh rises to head towards a nearby gurdwara, where he meets friends who join him for a brisk walk at a park opposite the gurdwara. After the walk, they sit together immersed in unending conversations, sometimes playing a round of cards, returning once again in the evening around 5pm with their grandchildren this time on bicycles.
It’s not an uncommon sight in Surrey, a city in the province of British Columbia in Canada. Yet, in a country that houses one of the largest populations of Punjabis outside India, it’s heartening to know that these Punjabi elders have found a way to keep the spirit of togetherness and community alive even on foreign land. Seeing them together in every nook and corner from parks, gurdwaras, and bus stops to shopping malls, you’d think you were back in Punjab. Mostly left on their own by working children, they have learnt to enjoy and make good use of their ‘alone time’.
‘SAATHS’ BEST PART OF ROUTINE
“Our get-together culture, which you may not even see in Punjab’s villages these days, has left no room for loneliness. Our ‘saaths’ are the best part of our routine and we feel incomplete without them. The unity and bond we share is often appreciated by locals here,” says Ferozepur-born Chanchal Singh Sidhu (77), who has lived here for 20 years now.
Amrik Khaira (65) who has roots in Tarn Taran, made Surrey his home about eight years back. He adds, “We have numerous responsibilities to take care of as well. We drop the kids to school and pick them up. Later, in the evenings, we bring them to the park. This gives our kids space to concentrate on work, while we get a chance to spend more time with our grandchildren.”
Resham Singh (80), who hails from Kapurthala, has resided here for 17 years. He says, “My wife and I would babysit for long hours when our grandchildren were small. Our children often thank us and say that had we not done so, it would have been nearly impossible for them to concentrate on their careers.”
HOLY BOOK FOLLOWED HERE
So, what has Canada taught them? “Firstly, all teachings of the Holy Book are actually followed here. For example, the principles of honesty, truth, work is worship, equality, philanthropy, cleanliness and respect towards nature,” says 77-year-old Bachitter Singh Dhaliwal, who has spent four long decades over here. He originally hails from Ludhiana.
Dua Singh Malhi (72) from Amritsar, who came here in 1989, says there’s a lot to learn from the little ones – their grandchildren. “They are quick to remind us if we break a queue at the bank or use terms such as ‘black’ for a person of African-American origin. It’s all thanks to the schools they go to and the society they live in.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU A HERO
They are equally impressed by Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau, who set an example by celebrating the Punjabi harvest festival Baisakhi in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa for the very first time. They feel such leaders are true and do not discriminate based on community and culture.
“Trudeau has praised the Sikh community and religion on numerous occasions. Even our state’s premier Christy Clark thanked the Sikh community for making Canada richer and better. We have huge respect for them,” says 68-year-old Charanjit Singh Randhawa, former president of North America’s oldest Sikh society – Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver.
‘WE MISS THE PUNJAB OF OUR CHILDHOOD DAYS’
Most of them have fond childhood memories of Punjab and hardly miss anything apart from that phase of their lives. Many say Canadian Punjabis are more rooted to their culture than those who live in Punjab.“We never felt disconnected from our roots. In fact, Punjabi population is on the rise over here. We celebrate all the festivals, speak in our mother tongue, and have numerous gurdwaras around. Banks here have forms in Punjabi and Punjabi employees. Even airports sport signs in Punjabi,” says 92-year-old Parduman Singh.