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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Newcomer trips over nomenclature

Many communities in India have shorter, some say affectionate, terms for themselves and each other. Gujaratis, for instance, might be described as Gujjus, Tamil Brahmins as Tambrams, and as a Bengali, I am used to describing myself as Bong.

As newcomers, we moved into a rental apartment and got down to the business of settling in, getting the kids enrolled in schools and looking for jobs.

We also got to know our neighbours, many of whom were immigrants, some recent like ourselves, others who had been here longer.

One of them, Naraine, was from the Caribbean, his ancestors having moved there as indentured labourers.

That was another thing history lessons at school hadn’t covered and I was fascinated to learn of his family’s journey.

He, too, was excited to find someone from the land his grandparents had come from and asked me where, specifically, we were from. Did we share a cultural heritage?

“We are Bongs,” I said, blissfully unaware of the other connotation.

“Whoa, man!” he said with a laugh. “You must really be into that stuff to call yourself one!”

Stuff? What stuff? I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Well, that’s what Bengalis – you know, people from Bengal – call themselves...” I began to explain, realizing he was not familiar with the term.

But he was on another trip, so to speak.

“Do they use a lot of it there? I recall my grandfather saying they used to smoke a hookah,” he said.

“Hookahs? No, of course I don’t smoke a hookah! I don’t think anyone does, these days,” I responded.

That morning, I got a quick tutorial on bongs – water pipes generally used for smoking cannabis or tobacco – and the hookah lounges that I associated with the erstwhile nawabs in India that were sprouting across the Canadian landscape now!                          

                                                                                                                                                                    – Bimal Sen


What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Jan 4, 2020

May 2020

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