The Weather Network’s site says it’s 6 degrees C (43 F), and from our cozy apartment in the sky, we imagine how warm that must feel after weeks of -10 or colder. As I’m always cold from about October through April, I still bundle up. Sage puts on a hoodie and we get in the elevator and go outside. As soon as we get outside, we are hit by a blast of icy wind. Yes, it’s 6 degrees, but it’s cold and damp. Sage, always the warmer of the two of us, is freezing. We’re lucky in one sense, though. Within 3 minutes, a bus arrives and takes us north where we have one more bus transfer to take us to our destination.
Along the way we play Upwords – like scrabble but you can put tiles on top of other letters. We start by continuing a game we started on another bus trip when Sage was very tired and I win handily. $1 is added to my “allowance” – winning games of upwords is the only way either of us can increase our allowance other than doing household chores. It’s OK, though. Sage wins the next two games – one by nearly 100 points.
While I’m taking my turn, Sage practices sketching people. Like Daegan, she’s taken to drawing pictures when she’s out in the world. When I finish my turn I hand her the phone to take her turn and pick up my book. Right now I’m reading No Presents, Please by Jayant Kaikini. I picked this book up while I was in Mumbai and it is like I brought a little bit of Mumbai back with me to Toronto. The book is a beautiful series of short stories. In some ways it reminds me of watching improv scenes. We drop in to someone’s life mid-stream, watch their life for a short time and then leave. Somehow, though, the author is able to not only fully introduce the character, but we’re also invested in them. We want to know what happens next, we hope they’re going to be OK, and we’re sad when we leave. I’m only part way through but I’m hopeful that like an improv Harold show we might go back and visit some of their worlds again even if we don’t get to see them.
After an hour or so of reading, riding, and losing at Upwords, we arrive at the Woodside Square mall in Scarborough. It is yet another place that in my mind I call the “town centre malls”. They generally don’t have big anchor stores. There is no Gap, no Future Shop, or even a Winners. Mostly there are independent stores – always a few cell phone stores, always a Chinese bakery, one or more dollar stores, and a food court that usually lacks most chain fast food restaurants, but instead can serve you a delicious goat roti, chana bhatura, or chicken pupusa. I dread going to the Eaton Centre or Yorkdale Mall – shopping centres that look like one’s vision of a North American mall, but I love the town centres. And Woodside Square is one of my favourites of these.
Ravenous, Sage and I head for Saravanaa Bhavan. It’s a holiday so instead of the usual fare, there’s an all you can eat South Indian buffet. Though it’s a buffet, there’s no worry that the food might not be fresh. Every seat in the restaurant is filled and the buffet is being emptied as quickly as it can be filled. We join the queue and load our plates with sambar, rasam, kootu, vada and pongal. There is really delicious pickle and we’re thrilled to see that there are also crispy deep fried red chillies. We dig in hungrily, always seeming to forget ourselves and inhaling just as we bite a chilli, the dust entering our lungs, causing us to cough and laugh at the same time.
As we eat we are occasionally interrupted with offers of fresh dosa and puri which we greedily accept. Soon the filter coffee we ordered arrives and we are happily caffeinating ourselves and gorging on the food.
Finally, we can’t eat another thing. It’s time to go. Back in to the mall we go and head for the library.
We walked back through the food court and to the other side of the mall, this time turning down a corridor with few stores. At the end of it was the library.
This is what I like about the “town square” style malls. Everything that I need can be found within. There are restaurants, a grocery store, and many of them even have a library. If you live in a highrise near one of these (as we do), you find you can walk to fetch nearly anything you might need.
As we enter we can hear a low hum of sound. There are kids talking in the children’s section, librarians are checking customers out, a “Children’s Easter Crafts” workshop filled with parents and kids is going on in a large meeting room in the centre of the room. Sage, ever the promoter of ‘analog life’, takes note of just how many people are not using smartphones or computers. There are people reading the newspaper, reading books, or studying for school, writing in their notebooks. A few people are working on computers in the adult computer section while in the kids’ section, two kids are on two different computers next to one another but working together to build a world on the same Minecraft server.
I make my usual check for foreign language books, always hopeful I’ll find Hindi books at my reading level. At this branch, though, there are none. There are books in Chinese, Tamil, and of course, French. We ask a librarian if there are any Hindi books and she says that the collections are geared to the neighbourhood demographics. She goes in to the catalog and looks to see who has a good selection of Hindi children’s books – I’m still at the skill level that reading picture books is a challenge. She tells us that the Agincourt branch seems to have a large collection. Of course Agincourt was where I was three libraries ago. I know something she doesn’t know: they have a large collection, hidden away in the back of the library. And so I decide that I’m probably not going to be able to actually browse for Hindi books but will, instead, need to just put them on hold and have them delivered to me. I know, poor me, right?!
This time, for some reason, I’m attracted to the Adult Graphic Novel section of the library – here it is a bookshelf that is full from top to bottom. I see many books I recognize but a few new ones also catch my eye. I pick up Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and another book about someone I’d never heard of. The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia is about the life of French feminist Louise Michel, a visionary teacher, poet, and radical who fought against a reactionary regime that executed thousands. None of thatis the least bit familiar to me so I am very curious to read this.
I also learn of Nelvana of the Northern Lights – a Canadian superhero. They have a full collection of her comics here.
I had never heard of her before though admittedly I don’t read a lot of comics. Still, VERY interesting. According to Wikipedia:
Nelvana of the Northern Lights is a Canadian comic book character and the first Canadian national superhero, debuting in Hillborough Studios‘ Triumph-Adventure Comics #1 (Aug. 1941). She is also one of the first female superheroes, debuting before Wonder Woman but after Fantomah, the Golden Age Black Widow, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil and others introduced in 1940. Nelvana of the Northern Lights is Canada’s first distinctly Canadian female superhero.
We check out and I sheepishly pay over $30 in fines and lost book charges. For someone who loves the library as much as I do I can be very bad at following all of the rules.
As we leave Sage and I talk about how libraries have changed since we were younger. When we first moved here we would get a bit grumpy at people making noise in the libraries. Kids playing games in the children’s section or teens talking while studying felt wrong. Over the years, though, our mindset has changed. I don’t know what the official philosophy is of the library but it seems that in later years, the Toronto libraries have become much more inclusive – more like community centres that have books as well. To me this is a very positive step.
We leave the library and head for our next stop. The Woodside Cinema used to be one of the only places in the city to see Hindi films in years past. While they’re now available in many of the multiplexes closer to home, I still like seeing them here for a number of reasons.
Unlike most theatres in the city, the seating here is assigned. Your ticket has a seat number in it. As you look for your seat you soon realize that the seats are all together in the back of the theatre. You are no longer going to see a movie alone, you’re seeing it together. While not everyone’s cup of tea, Sage and I like this. It feels more like something we’re all participating in together rather than us all in our own little sections of the theatre, trying our best to pretend we’re at home with nobody around – just with a bigger screen.
Today’s film is Hichki which stars Rani Mukerji. Though she is quite famous, this is the first film I’ve seen her in and I was quite impressed. In the film she plays a teacher who faces a difficult time finding a job as she has Tourettes Syndrome. After many interviews she finally lands a job with a very difficult class of students who are the outcasts of a relatively posh school. You can get a taste of it here:
The film is really excellent. I won’t spoil it at all so you will have to see it for yourselves – and to my English-speaking readers: don’t be afraid. If it is playing in your town it almost certainly will have English subtitles and you will absolutely be able to follow it and enjoy the film.
As for me, I am here in part to practice my Hindi. I try hard to tear my eyes away from my crutch, the subtitles. I am somewhat successful now, following much better than I would have six months ago. I don’t think I’ll be able to fully follow a film without subtitles for a little while yet, but I also notice I’m only half-reading them – filling in the blanks. Over the years I can feel my Hindi movie experience morphing from one of reading a picture book to watching a movie and consulting a dictionary scrolling on the bottom of the screen as needed.
All I will say about the film is this: One of the side effects of being seated together in a large group instead of being scattered across the theatre is that you’re well aware of the reactions that everyone is happening. You laugh together at the funny parts. In a scary movie you watch your neighbour jump at the same time as you. And this time, you cannot be the least bit self-conscious as you dry your eyes because you hear the sounds of sniffling from all around you. It is a wonderfully touching movie.
When we leave the film there is no worries that we will be asked about why we have tears on our faces. When we exit the theatre, a cold, stiff wind blows new tears from our eyes and any left on our faces are now mixed in with raindrops. We rush to the bus shelter and silently cheer as one arrives one minute later, heater blasting. We resume our Upwords game as it takes us to the subway station.
The subway starts underground but briefly comes outside. A four year old girl behind us gasps excitedly and shouts to her parents “Look! Look! It’s morning again!” And then, as the subway cruises through the Warden Woods, she begins to make up a song, singing above the noise of the subway:
Listen to the water
Listen to the water
Listen to the water
Rolling down the window…
The song, and the joy with which it was sung, stays with us the rest of the evening…
If you’d like to read about more of Toronto’s awesome libraries and the neighbourhoods they’re in, visit the Toronto by Library page.