Fortunately, the sun comes up every morning

The winter this year has broken all records. It had to; I was around. It continued to snow, well into the third week of April, something that hasn’t happened in the past 50 years. The sky remained grey and the rains kept coming, and the ground was often covered in snow. Spring was largely unpleasant, and summer arrived a month late. But it’s here now. And I am loving it!

For a large part of my student life in Vancouver, I lived in a home-stay (also known as P.G. accomodation). And let’s just say that I was spending too much time staying at home. Winter skies and sunset at 5:00PM had an overwhelming influence on my will. Desperate for a change, in February I moved in with Nav (a.k.a. Jugnu), another student pilot from India. We now share a 2-BR basement suite. This place is a 200% bachelor pad. Being so much nearer to school and living with another student pilot was an irresistible deal. I spent my first week cleaning the place, reorganizing the furniture, setting up my room and stocking up on food. When I was settled into the basement suite, it felt good, like I would finally get on with the studying. There was another student pilot living just 2 doors away. He was everyone’s friend, and Big Papa or Big Daddy is how everyone called him. I called him Godzilla. Godzilla is long gone now, back home in the Caribbean.

Vancouver is not a cheap place to live in. I have written about this so many times. And international students can find it particularly daunting to make ends meet. My monthly expenses were in the range of CAD $800 to $900, inclusive of rent, transportation, medical insurance and grocery. I know of several students who share a large apartment to save on rent and grocery costs. Grocery is something that hurts the most. Imagine paying CAD $1 for an onion. Yes, that’s about INR 40 for one onion. That hurts. When I pushed myself into staying here through the winter of 2007, I also came up with a rudimentary plan to trim my expenses and/or supplement my financial resources.

Now here is something that most people outside Canada are unaware of. The explosive growth of the oil-sands has lured several people to migrate to Alberta, leaving the service sector of Vancouver starved of staff. Small and medium commercial establishments, in an effort to stay afloat, have had to raise wages, hire inexperienced people, and pay cash. There are numerous jobs at fast food joints, pubs, gas stations (petrol pumps), construction sites, etc. I got a part time job at one such establishment. I was working 3 days a week, and was making just enough for my rent and groceries. This lasted me through the winter, and as winter rolled out, I went back to studying full time.

The work was only partially physically demanding, but it kept me standing for 8 hours. While I worked, I learnt again, how difficult it is to earn money. People here acknowledge and respect this fact. How much you earn or what work you do is of no consequence. One could be a waiter, cashier, petrol pump attendant, cleaner, taxi driver, kitchen assistant, anything at all. It could be a day shift or a night shift. Work could be physically demanding or not. It could involve direct interaction with customers or could be completely behind the scenes. The one common thing is that everyone works hard. If you are in the workforce that runs the vast service industry, you win respect from every person you serve. I served hundreds of people every day that I worked. If there is one thing I remember about them, it is their courtesy and politeness, irrespective of their color, age, status. Even if I were mopping the floor, people passing by would stop to say hello. It sometimes felt strange, because equality among all is not something I have witnessed very often. And this stark truth often overwhelmed my senses.

There was always the one odd person, who behaved like he owned the world, but there are always exceptions, and we should be accomodating. I must mention these two youngsters. One of them, in his early twenties, stopped when he saw me mopping the floor, and suggested that I take up mopping as a career instead of flying. The other, late teens I imagine, offered to pay me to mop his house. Would you believe me if I said that both these boys are Indians? Well, they are. And now, would you believe me if I said that both these boys are student pilots like me? Yes, they are. This was a surprising and disturbing experience. I can only hope that such people will understand humility, learn to give respect and become better people. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that all us Indians can some day discard the artificial walls of caste, status, income and the work we do, and just be simple, honest people who are respectful to one another.

Mayur Poddar

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