‘Khushamdid’ in Toronto !
By C. Naseer Ahmad
‘Khushamdid’ – is the unambiguous welcoming message awaiting visitors as they step off the plane at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. This feeling of warmth continues as one walks along the streets of Toronto – from University Boulevard to Elm Street. Colorful signs hang from lamp post along these streets with welcoming messages in Urdu, Hindi and other languages.
Canada is a multicultural society where you will see signs in different languages, people speaking in different dialects while dressed in colorful variety of garments and cuisines of all flavors. In Toronto – and its suburbs one finds different cultures meld quiet harmoniously. An example of this blending is the “Sapore – Halal Italian Eater” on Hurontario Street in Mississauga. “Italian home style food. Service was very nice and prompt, but the place is new and all.. affordable and OK taste. Hope they keep the quality good over time,” wrote a reviewer on Yelp earlier this year.
Down at the lower levels in Eaton Center’s food court, plentiful spicy and aromatic cuisines whet one’s appetite. And, to offer thanks afterwards to the Higher Authority aka the Creator there is the “Masjid Toronto” just down the street at the corner of Dundas and Chestnut. And, if one is so spiritually inclined there is the “Peace Village” – a stone throw away from Canada’s wonderland.
Back in the 1970s, there was no Peace Village and things could be rough. In those days, venturing too far from the Union Station could be risky. Reminiscing the rough period, Raghu Krishnan wrote in This Magazine: “A few months before my 20th birthday in 1987, I scrawled ‘No Sandinista ever called me Paki’ on the back of a Viva Nicaragua Libre T-shirt and wore it proudly around the University of Toronto campus.”
“I hope you have something nice to say about our city,” said the receptionist at the Delta Chelsea hotel on Gerard Street as she went out of her way to give me a room with a great view of Toronto.
Each morning sunrise brought a new dimension to appreciate some of the great things that Toronto offers. The hospital for the Sick Children, the Toronto General Hospital and the Princess Margaret are just some examples. There are few places more inspiring that to start the walk on University Avenue where the sign “Believe it. We will conquer cancer in our lifetime” awaits you. That inspiration alone will get to Union Station in a jiffy, unless caffeine makes you stop at the University Club for some calories.
Heading east along Gerrard Street in a few kilometers one might have travelled through many time zones and culture. The ambiance at the Lahore Tikka house make you feel that perhaps you might actually be in Lahore because of the colorful rickshaw and the “charpais” to lie down for those who over indulged on the kabobs or “Karahi”.
“We have been expecting you” are some heartwarming signs that hang from the electrical poles at many downtown street corners. A walk on Elm Street, however, helped me appreciate the real beauty of Toronto. A knock on the door of the “Arts and Letters Club” let me into a great adventure. There I found real warm hospitality of wonderful people like Scott R James. One could not have found a better host in big city like Toronto. In his professional career, Scott had been Toronto’s Director of Records and City Archivists. And, at the Club he works as the archivist. We had only met five minutes earlier but it seemed we might have grown up together in an earlier life. Scott invited me to the TGIF lunch where I met past Club presidents and other good folks from different walks of life. By the time the lunch was over, I knew more about Toronto that perhaps might have taken years on my own to find out.
Yes, I did notice the CN Tower. Sure, it is pretty high and noticeable like many sky scrapers. But, I prefer jazz and all the other things - down to earth - that this beautiful city offered me. In this vein, a visit to Toronto would have been incomplete without having a meal at the Simcoe Dining Room at the National Club on Bay Street. Choice menu selection – not to mention the Grilled Alberta beef tenderloin medallions - and great service from Al and Everald was something to write home about. After a delicious meal, one realizes that the welcome mat in Toronto seems to stretch from the Pearson Airport hallways to the National Club. And, the “we’ve been expecting you” message is not just an advertisement prop but a determined effort by dedicated professionals like Clubhouse Manager, Laurie Farnum who makes the visit a barrel of fun.