Friday, September 16, 2005


I often hear my parents refer to people's kismet, good or bad.
Those affected by Hurricane Katrina are picking up the pieces of their lives. We've heard many stories about those from New Orleans. I just wanted to add one more.

My uncle* lived in New Orleans and now finds himself ensconced in Houston with his his wife, daughter, her husband, and 2 children. He is retired professor and 1) had the good fortune of having family close by that he could go to when asked to evacuate 2) actually had a car to enable him to evauate 3) being retired, didn't have to worry about work 4) being retired comfortably with a pension, doesn't have to worry about finances.

So, he and his wife managed to leave with a couple of suitcases expecting to return home once the hurrican had passed. They have not yet been back to their house but have been told that their neighbourhood was extensively damaged. Not being familar with New Orleans I have no idea which neighbourhood it is.

He was visiting my mother in Toronto. I spoke with him on the weekend and he sounded perfectly sanguine. You see, he's been through this before.

He was a child living in Punjab when India gained independence. The decision was made to split Punjab giving part of the area to a newly created Pakistan and part to India (aka "The Partition"). My uncle's family being Sikhs had little choice but to leave their home in what was now Pakistan. They packed their belongings onto a cart he said, and joined a long procession of people making the exhausting and trecherous journey to India. He doesn't recall taking anything other than some clothes, and household items (pots, linens). Everything else was left behind.

As he grew older and completed his school he decided to pursue studies abroad. If you were bright, in those days, you were encouraged by Indian universities to seek higher education in America, Canada or Britian. He chose Canada. Again, he packed all his belongings into a suitcase and headed for London, Ontario to work on a PhD. Eventually he graduated and was offered a job in New Orleans. A tempting offer since the Canadian winters were taking a toll and he longed for sunny days and warm nights.

He got married and together with his new wife settled in New Orleans. He began teaching Math (or is it Chemistry?) at a college. They raised 3 children. On the side he pursued his real passion: poetry and languages. In addition to the Punjabi and English he spoke and wrote fluently, he taught himself Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. He wanted to be able the read the 'classics' and poems in the language in which they written.

What I fear most, he says, is that all the books and papers I've collected over the years have been destroyed. He had amassed quite a unique collection of old books of writings and poetry in Sanskrit, Urdu and Bengali. Many of them were in fragile condition. Many of them existed in limited print. And he has most likely lost all his notes, his transcripts, and the drafts of two books he was writing. A life's worth of collected treasures.

But as I said, he is resigned to his situation. It's my kismet he says.
At the age of 74 there's little chance he can regain what he has lost. There's little time for him to rewrite what he had written, re-seek the books he'd sought.

For the third time in his life is living from a suitcase. I'm not a materialistic person he tells me. I'll be okay without my house. I can buy new furniture and clothes. But ohh I wish I'd thought to pack my books.

*well, he's not really my uncle. He's one of those Indian uncles- a close family friend that is thought of as family. In any case, he was a childhood friend of my father's and my father's brother (who he was also classmates with). So they've been friends now for over 60 years I think.


At 7:19 AM, Blogger Thalia said...

Maybe he'll be able to recover some of those books and notes. I will keep my fingers crossed for him. And oh, to be as unmaterialistic as he is!


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