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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Winds of change

After a fierce wind storm, our neighbour Faisal Khan called to find out if we were okay. We were new in the country and the Khans, also from India, were very helpful. Mrs Khan took my wife grocery shopping and he, too, made it a point to check in on us.

I told him we were fine, but that I had never experienced such gale force winds in my life. He told me they were common in October-November. That there was actually a name for them – the Witches of November.
Then he said, “Looks like we are going to need new shingles.”

Shingles, as far as I knew, was the name of a very painful eruption, caused by the same virus that causes measles. Not something anyone would want, but here was Faisal, calmly saying he needed some!

I also wondered at the casual way he dropped that into a conversation about the forces of nature, but kept my thoughts to myself.

A few days later, he called again.

“Want to come see our shingles?” he asked.

Now it was “our” shingles?

The whole family was down and he wanted me to go over and see them?

What if I caught the infection?

I was debating polite ways of declining without upsetting a very good neighbour, when he added, “We’ve wanted this colour for a long time”.

Designer shingles? This, really, was too much, I thought.

“I’m happy you like them,” I said. “Please don’t be offended, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather not come see the shingles. As you know, I’ve just started in my new job and I can’t afford to take any time off.”

There was a puzzled silence.

“Sure, okay,” he said, and rung off.

Feeling bad and worrying over having been unfriendly, my wife and I went over the following weekend with a batch of home-made dosas.

“I hope you are feeling okay,” I said to Faisal, as my wife Usha handed the dosas to Rukhsaar.

“Of course I am feeling okay, why wouldn’t I be?” he asked.

“I’ve heard shingles can be very painful,” said Usha, coming to my rescue. “My cousin had them and he couldn’t sit comfortably for weeks.”

Faisal and Rukhsaar exchanged looks. Then they looked at us as if we had lost our minds.

“What do shingles have to do with sitting?” they asked in unison.

It was beginning to dawn on us that perhaps we were talking at cross purposes, that our shingles and theirs were two very different things.

I asked Faisal to tell us what shingles were. 

“The stuff on the roof,” he said. “Those flat, overlapping tile-like things. Ours came loose in that wind storm and we lost so many that we had to get a new roof. Why, what did you think shingles were?”

It took us a while to explain, between bursts of laughter.

– Prasad Srinivasan

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: Oct 2, 2012

May 2020

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