Immigration: The Reluctant Immigrants

by Teenaz Javat

A lot of seniors follow their adult children to Canada. Most often they are retired people sponsored by their children who have decided to make Canada their home.

According to Stats Canada, from 2001 to 2006, approximately 10 percent of all immigrants to Canada were 45 years old and older.

Many are left with little choice but to leave their country of origin as their kids move away. They are what we call “reluctant immigrants.”

Presented here is a snapshot of three newcomer seniors and how they have managed to adjust to their “new life in their old age.”

Shawak Jamshedji Hira (Age 92)

“Drink one peg of whisky every day and you will know no sorrow.”

With this motto, 92-yearold Shawak Jamshedji Hira not only feels vibrant and young at heart, but also makes others feel happy and young all over again.

After living in the Rexdale neighbourhood in Toronto for over 10 years – five of them alone, since his beloved wife Roshan passed away – Hira remains active in his community.

As president of the York Condominium Corporation (YCC60) he oversees the feasibility of renting apartments to newcomers. Hira takes his job seriously. “I used to work in the newspaper in Pakistan, so I view everything with a critical eye. I may be old but my mind is very sharp,” he says.

Hira does miss his past life in Karachi. He was operating the lino printing press for Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper, Dawn. But after coming to Toronto in 1987 he got involved in his community. He was an avid sportsman having represented his community as captain of the field hockey and cricket teams. According to him his team spirit has allowed him to thrive in this cold country he now calls home.

“No point in brooding over the past. The quicker you decided to accept that Canada will be your home, the happier you will be.” His message to immigrant seniors is that many older immigrants come here not out of choice, but just so that they are not left behind.

“Even after living here for over 20 years, it is very difficult adjusting to this cold climate as Pakistan is quite warm,” he explained. “We figured that we would have been all alone in Karachi, so even though I was 70, my wife and I left everything just to be with our children.”

As a member of two local clubs, Hira, with his sense of humour made many good friends. He lives alone, but his two sons and three grandchildren live close by in Brampton and Mississauga.

Two years ago Hira was hospitalized for a fairly long period of time. But his positive attitude and his one-scotch-a-day habit pulled him through.
“I have never been a burden to my children and hope that I can live on my own till I die.”

Edal Minocher Khambatta (Age 87)

Having lived in Basra, Tripoli, Beirut, Baghdad, Kuwait, Cairo, Jerusalem, Gaza and Galilee, moving yet again should not have been a problem for Edal Minocher Khambatta.

Sadly, it was…

The journey across the Middle East was when he was a young soldier in the Indian army, fighting for the British in World War II.

The move to Canada was different.

“I love going to different places. As a gunner for the British Army I was posted all over Asia, but I was 18 years old at that time. In 2002 when my son decided to move to Vancouver I was 80 years old so I resisted the move.”

Even after living in Canada for seven years, Khambhatta, a war veteran, who winters in Vancouver, B.C., still misses home. But his son and three grown granddaughters live nearby.

His daughter and her family live in Mississauga, so summers are spent in Ontario. He also has a sister who lives on her own in a senior’s building in Mississauga.

Khambhatta’s wife died of cancer almost 20 years ago, but a large group of friends used to meet at the corner of his street every morning and they would spend time reminiscing about their youth. This camaraderie is what he misses in Canada. Though fluent in English, he has not yet overcome the culture barrier and pines for home.

“I like to go for my daily walkabouts, which I cannot have, as even in the summer, I still feel cold. My friends are not here, my children and adult grandchildren are involved and busy with their own lives. Basically I am lonely.”

On arriving in Canada, Khambhatta suffered a massive heart attack and has a pacemaker in his heart. He often goes for walks along the Vancouver waterfront accompanied by his grandkids. But he still feels cold.

“The day I can get used to the weather in Canada, will be the day I think I will like it.”

Maybe… maybe not …as adjusting to a new place at the age of 87 is quite a tall order.

Manijeh l. Doctor (Age 77)

Manijeh L. Doctor has seen her share of hardship. As a young widow, she struggled to bring up her two daughters on a low wage, working as a chef’s assistant in Mumbai, India.

For over 35 years she toiled in a kitchen where the average temperature was 35 degrees and even more once the humidity was factored in.

Little did she dream that in her old age she would be living in a place where the temperature in winter would sometimes dip as low as minus 35 degrees.

“In Mumbai, even the industrial freezers were not so cold,” she says to her daughter in Gujarati as we visit her in her senior’s home in Scarborough.

Doctor came to Toronto in 1994 at the age of 62. Both her daughters were settled in the city so there was no one left in Mumbai to look after her.

With advancing age and a frail heart (she suffered a massive heart attack a few years ago) her doctor recommended that she be moved to a nursing home where medical help is available 24/7.

Unable to speak any English, Doctor was at first a little scared as almost 60 percent of the residents in the senior’s home were white Canadian.

However, being a friendly person, she started helping those older and frailer than her with their meals and slowly but surely, won over the hearts and minds of all around her.

“My daughter visits me every day and on special occasions she takes me home,” she says.

Quite content and independent, Doctor would most certainly have liked to stay behind in warm Mumbai. But being around her children and watching her grandchildren grow feels even better, even if it is from the window of a senior’s nursing home.