After the passing of our respective parents, my husband and I felt the loss in all aspects of our lives and were keenly aware of the absence of grandparents in the lives of our sons. My mother’s dear friend stepped in as surrogate Dida (grandma), writing to them every month. Their correspondence, which began nearly 20 years ago, continues, without the parental nudging that it sometimes took when they were younger. She now also writes to our five-year-old grandson, who also calls her Dida.

There is much excitement when an envelope arrives with his name on it. Embellished with colourful stamps that she selects for him – lions, children dancing under a rainbow and the like – it is opened with much fanfare. After he responds to a particular letter, I am instructed to save it in my “treasure chest” for when he is older, just like I did with the letters his dad and uncle received. He knows she lives in a faraway land called India and recently, when his uncle gifted him a globe, the first thing he wanted to do was see where Dida lived.

“We live in Canada, right?” he asked. After locating both countries on the globe, he traced a line from one to the other.

“It’s pretty much a long drive,” he concluded, pretty much being his phrase of the moment. And then, out of the blue, “Why do there have to be countries?”

I was aware that he wanted to know why we didn’t live closer to each other, but there was a philosophical depth to that question. Why, indeed, do there have to be countries?

How does one even begin to answer that? Where does one start? At the beginning of time when there was one mother earth, before it was populated, divided into countries that were conquered, colonized, freed and so on? How fluid are borders that we once thought were etched in stone?

I thought of the marvellous book by Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders, which opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at borders.

Borders reinforce the idea of the alien, the Other, stories separate and distinct from ourselves.

Harris biked the Silk Road from beginning to end with her childhood friend and at the end of the journey came to the realization that for her “mountains and lakes and rivers are the oldest kinds of borders, and maybe the only sort I fully respect”.

I was still mulling over a simple answer that didn’t trivialize my grandson’s question when I felt a tug on my sleeve.

He had moved on to the next important item on his agenda.

“May I have your chocolate chip cookies, please?”

He has the right idea, I thought, reaching for the jar and a glass of milk.

Ramzan mubarak!

Happy Mother’s (and grandmother’s) Day!

Happy South Asian Heritage Month!


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