The Big Ben was striking noon as I stepped onto the premises of Nathan Philip Square in front of City Hall in downtown Toronto. The heat was unbearable as I walked towards the centre stage, on the side of which was written in bold letters "The Scotia Bank: Proud Sponsor of Caribbana Festival." This Summerlicious Festival was supposed to start on July 4th and continue until July 20th. There was this exotic summer wind with its sweet fragrance whispering through everything and everyone around me. I took in a deep breath and looked up at the dazzling blue sky with the fluffy floating clouds, each cloud telling a thousand tales. There was promise in the air. There was magic all around as Torontonians laughed and ate and mingled with the super attractive Caribbean girls walking by in their sparkling, artificial, flamboyant beautiful costumes.
I looked all around. There was an undeniable air of festivity on the streets. There were organic fruits, vegetables, jams, pickles, honey and other specialty items being sold in bulk. There were chefs from renowned restaurants cooking exotic, scrumptious fresh food in front of you in order to popularise their specialities and lure you in. After an unusually cold and snowy winter, and the onset of an exceptionally late spring, the summer was long awaited for by Torontonians and the season was welcomed with a grand celebration. Musicians were singing and dancing on the stage. The exotically dressed Caribbean girls posed for pictures with me. My friends often teased me for my being overweight but I felt remarkably slim when I saw my photos with these handsomely sized divas. I am tall by normal standards but I felt dwarfed by them. They were so elegantly dressed in multi- coloured beads, plumes and costumes. They were smiling warmly and reminded me of the Caribbean Sea and mountains. Super hit songs by Bob Marley filled the air.
In this country of summer, fall, winter and spring Canadians are forever looking for excuses to enjoy life. In between the responsibilities of day to day living, working five days a week, paying home mortgages and rent money, taking loans for the latest model cars, navigating the complex terrain of ongoing education, paying for medical insurance, saving money for annual vacations, if possible, people were constantly searching for an outlet - newer and newer means and ways of having recreational fun. Restaurants in Toronto, like any other country of this world, compete with each other for the best prices, decor, ambience, food standards and quality to bring in as much customers as possible. The term "Summerlicious" may not be a normal dictionary term but who cares! The invention of a term that combined the words "summer" and "delicious" was sure to capture the intrigue of any food lover. During this annual event, the higher grade restaurants put forth their best food products, spices, ingredients, menus and chefs and offer freshly prepared food in front of the many customers who visit them. This culinary style of live cooking is appreciated by many food lovers as the chefs cook in front of them and serve them hot scrumptious items at discounted rates from their otherwise expensive menus. The prices and portions are smaller than when served in their restaurant, but they are more affordable to many. The idea is that once you try how amazing the food really is at a restaurant you may normally find too luxurious and pricey, you will be hooked and bound to go back. The dreary cold winter months in Toronto make for a great time to spend leisurely time in warm and cozy restaurants, if not to escape the snowfall, for the undeniably good food.
The people kept on coming and coming. The multicultural mixture forming the mosaic of Canada was transparent. People belonged to many nationalities and cultures from many countries of the world. Refugees, immigrants, citizens and visitors formed this rainbow. So many languages of so many people being spoken all around me. Yet, they all belonged to the same sky, the same country. The buzzing of their dialects, mixed with the common bondage of the English language sounded so musical to me. I looked around me. The different colours of skin tones, white, black, brown and copper moulded into one even hue in front of my eyes. There is similarity in diversity, uniformity within differences and conformity in understanding variations. I felt very proud at that moment to be a part of this entire homogenous mixture.
There was a mixed group of young people, sitting in the far corner on the wooden tables, next to the road on Queen Street. They were probably returning from their academic campus. They had their stacks of books and laptops pushed to one side of the table, and they completely ignored the live band music and open food preparations in the background. They were gulping down hot dogs from street vendors, along with the infamous fresh cut chunky fries with the brown potato skins left on, and of course, a can of coke - the agreed upon drink to complement this traditional Torontonian street meal. They were engaged in extremely heated discussions. This caught my attention and I inched forward towards their table. At that time all the young people were raptly listening to an Indian youth who was quoting from Wendy Doniger in TLS on August 02,2002, " AHIMSA: often translated as ''non-injury" - a concept that Gandhi, in particular, made famous - but literally "the absence of the desire to injure or kill. Ahimsa represents not a political doctrine or even social theory, but the emotion of the horror of killing." If only older people all around the world would listen and take the good lessons learnt from history!
I turned to the next group on the table besides them. They were cracking jokes about Rob Ford, the infamous mayor of Toronto who had put our city on the map of the world too many times with too many scandals. A mayor of any city epitomizes popularity, integrity, sincerity and honesty. He failed us many times in these aspects, (like urinating in a public park) yet some Canadians were of the opinion that he is still human and could be forgiven for his mistakes, since it is human to err. He had the "man next door" appeal. My best friend told me that although he did many things beyond what would conventionally be considered inappropriate for a man who held the status of mayor, his flaws made him human and allowed the common man to feel connected to him, despite his anti-common man policies. Many people disagreed. They insisted that politicians must be held to higher standards because they were our elected officials. The debate was one that was tearing the city apart.
The vendors were all wrapping up. The singers and musicians were closing their acts. I tried to read the faces of the people who had been so engrossed with these activities for the last few hours. Some were happy with the food, others with the music, while still others with their purchases. And some were like me, dissatisfied with bits and pieces of happiness and distraction when the entire world was still enveloped in violence, war and injustice. The small pleasures of everyday life could not change that. Yet, I, like many others, continued hoping for a brighter tomorrow.
Rummana Chowdhury writes poetry, short stories, columns and analytical articles. She was thrice national badminton champion in the 1970s, was a keen debater and a presenter of World Music on Bangladesh Betar. She writes from Toronto, Canada