“On Wednesdays My Father and I Eat at Masala Delight” by Jaime Jacques

Jaime Jacques


and it smells like nag champa and vinadaloo.
Our waitress, fresh from Kerala,
wants to be a nurse, smiles
when I say I’ll write her a good review.
I have seen the documentaries—
eight students to one room.
The failure of both governments
stands before me, exhausted,
with an extra serving of raita.
In 1966 my father arrived from Bombay.
Growing up, we were surrounded
by Murphys and McDougalls,
and one terrible Indian restaurant,
where the owner knew us by name.
Now, with gratitude,
we are spoiled for choices.
My father says he never suffered
despite his strange accent and nervous stutter.
I still remember his oversized suits
Sunday nights at Swiss Chalet for supper
wouldn’t let the waitress load her tray
until we finished all the food on our plates.
These Sikh separatists, what they don’t understand
is that when you come to Canada you become a Canuck!
he says while serving himself biryani.
Leave what you are fighting for behind.
Forget about where you came from.
Focus on where you are.
My father says he never suffered—
fell in love with blonde hair and double doubles,
named me after Jaime Sommers.
Now eighty years old, his hand shakes
as he lifts a glass of water to his lips.
Stutter gone, the lilt in his voice still sticks.
These days he talks more about his childhood:
his sisters, scattered around heaven and earth,
how they loved to dance, eat cashews,
kulfi and fruit from the bimbli tree.
Make sure it has some heat, he still says
every time he orders curry.
His eyes light up when he tells the waitress
he was one of the first ones here:
23, all arms and legs, no winter clothes.
You should have seen him, my mother says—
thrifted sweaters and a little
space heater to get him through.
My father says he never suffered
and I pretend it’s true.

from Poets Respond
October 8, 2023


Jaime Jacques: “I live in Nova Scotia, a part of Canada where people of color have historically been marginalized and treated poorly. In recent years we have had a massive influx of Indian students, without the infrastructure in place to support them when they arrive. At the same time relations between India and Canada have plummeted in recent weeks as our prime minister has asserted that a Sikh separatist was murdered by the Indian government on Canadian soil. With all this in the news I couldn’t help but start to reflect on my father’s experience living here when he was young. Despite his determination to assimilate, I can see how India imprinted him. It’s critical to have freedom of movement, but immigration also seems to create an internal split that is never reconciled, a lifetime of longing and nostalgia.”

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