Changing Definitions of Community: Moving from Ahmedabad to the GTA
Written by Aesha Patel
Spending ten years of my initial life in the heart of Ahmedabad, India had a significant influence on me. I lived in a 3-bedroom bungalow, situated in a relatively middle class neighbourhood called Navrangpura. Since it was common to live with extended families in India, I lived with my parents, uncle, and grandmother. Our house was marigold, and had a big porch with a wooden porch swing, and a spacious front yard. I loved everything about my home: the huge terrace, my mom’s garden, and even the cactus in our backyard that I fell on when I was five. However, the reason why I loved living there had nothing to do with the house itself; rather, it was the communal life of our neighbourhood that made it home.
During summer vacations, when school was out, I would get together with all my friends from our neighbourhood, and we would play hide and seek, tag, cricket, and other games. During summer, we would spend every single day together. Everyone would wake up, get ready, and gather outside my house. We would play together till noon and then go home for lunch. Often times, one of our mothers would offer to make lunch for all of us, and we would eat together. Since summer afternoons were really hot in India, we would spend them indoors playing Super Mario Bros at one of my friends’ houses. Later in the afternoon, we would either play outdoors, or ride our bikes together. At night, we would play cards, charades, or antakshri on someone’s terrace, and even have sleepovers sometimes. Our parents never worried about us since many of our dads played together when they were kids. Evidently, people often did not move houses for generations in India.
Not only were children strongly connected, but so were the mothers. Every day in the afternoon, women would get together, as most of them were housewives. They would discuss their family lives, tv shows, gossip, share new recipes or techniques they may have encountered. Families would get together to celebrate someone’s success, and they would get together to mourn someone’s loss. People even sent food to someone else’s house if they were unable to cook for a couple days. If parents had to go out, their neighbours would baby sit for free.
Moreover, people would even get together in our community to celebrate the important festivals like Navratri. For example, people would dress up and get together at night to dance during Navratri. During Diwali, people would light firecrackers together while others sat aside and watched. Similarly, individuals also celebrated Holi together as they would play with colors and water in the afternoon, and light a bonfire at night. Thus, it was a closely-knit community where residents knew each other personally and shared some of the most important aspects of their lives with each other.
Consequently, adjusting to my life in Toronto after my family moved here was difficult for me as the change was quite significant. I grew up in, and was used to living a communal life back in India, but after coming to Toronto, I did not even associate with my neighbours. Initially, my parents and I moved into an apartment building in Scarborough. The neighbourhood comprised of various, similar looking, apartment buildings surrounding each other. However, it was very difficult for me make new friends, since children barely played outside in larger groups.
Even after moving to Brampton, the lack of communication among neighbours surprised me. When I initially moved here, I believed that we would get to know some of our neighbours more personally since they too were Indian. My assumption rested on the fact that we shared the same background; thus, they would be accustomed to a communal life as well. However, I found that individuals here do not engage in meaningful conversations with one another. The individualistic culture that is prevalent in Western society deems it unnatural to have close ties within the neighbourhood one lives in. The idea of privacy dominates social ties to a great extent. For example, I do not even know the name of my neighbours here. I occasionally smile at them and greet them when I see them around the neighbourhood, and that is all the communication we have. Moreover, individuals even celebrate festivals confined in their homes. Be it Christmas, New Years, or even birthdays, celebrations occur behind closed doors.
Regardless, moving to Toronto was not bad by any means. Individuals may live private lives in Canada, but the community is very multicultural. Consequently, I was exposed to different cultures by connecting with Canadians. On the other hand, I only lived among Gujarati people in India, and was only surrounded by that one culture. Thus, after moving to Toronto, I gained a lot of knowledge about different cultures, which I believe has made me a more considerate and inclusive individual.
Aesha Patel is a 22-year old Criminology undergraduate student, studying at the University of Toronto. She has lived in Toronto for a very long time, but there is still a little bit of India inside.