Writers & Readers

Confined by the Calendar

Because I have to follow the Eurocentric calendar, it has been a decade since I have been able to train in India By Samyuktha Punthambekar
  • Photo by Nathan Dumlao, courtesy of Unsplash

A couple of months ago, I came across a thought-provoking statement by Bettina Makalintal on social media: “One thing I have been continually struck by last year is how many people do not realize that this situation of being unable to see your families for unfair reasons beyond your control is simply regular life for so many immigrants and people in diaspora.”

The above statement could not be truer, especially for first-generation POC immigrants.

For dance artists who can only train in their home countries, the situation is all the more challenging. The problem is that even in “normal” circumstances, IBPOCs follow a largely Eurocentric calendar that primarily recognizes Eurocentric festivals and holidays. Many artists from South Asia who immigrate to Canada are usually trained only in their primary dance practice, which they have dedicated most of their lives to learning and perfecting. But because of this Eurocentric calendar and how it dictates time off, making the time to travel and train can be nearly impossible.

As a South Asian artist, I practise bharatanatyam, a dance form not considered mainstream in Canada. The opportunities to seek world-class training in this country or, for that matter, North America, are extremely limited. Like how a car needs gas, training in India ensures that I’m technically sound and spiritually and mentally uplifted. This is especially true as Canada can get limited sunlight and we can spend up to eight months buried in snow. Bharatanatyam has its deepest roots only in India. One can bear the sweetest fruits of this tree only by experiencing first-hand the benefits of learning with some of the world’s most acclaimed gurus.

It has been a decade since I have been able to train in India and 15 years combined since my husband and I have visited our parents. Our time to visit our families cannot be labelled simply as leisure. It’s more important than that: a commitment and a way of reconnecting with our roots and loved ones. Therefore, the need for time off that enables us to be with our families on compassionate grounds is vital.

In February 2020, during the Cultural Leadership program at the Banff Centre, I was amazed to learn from Tim Cynova about the unlimited vacation system that his company, Fractured Atlas, adopts. I found it to be inclusive and mindful of the staff’s cultural, religious beliefs and their other needs. Such a system would most definitely have a strong impact in Canada.

This brings me to two key questions:

  1. How many IBPOCs actually celebrate the holidays included in the Eurocentric calendar?
  2. If Canada calls itself multicultural and diverse, why isn’t the calendar reflective of this very sentiment?

The lack of reflection in the calendar means we are stuck with the limitations that come with a full-time job and juggling our spiritual practices (such as dance), where we must go to other countries, like India, to train.

Some of the other key reasons why we don’t get to train as often in our home countries are:

  1. Our dance forms likely don’t offer the same level of training in countries that are easily accessible by flight, train or other modes of transport.
  2. In our full-time jobs and especially in the arts, we don’t get high enough salaries to book flights. It’s especially expensive for first-generation POCs who live in Canada without family support and generational wealth.
  3. Two weeks, the typical vacation time allocated, is not enough time to go to our birth countries, especially located in the global south, to train and visit family.
  4. From a scheduling standpoint, it can also be challenging to ensure that our gurus are available, noting that they themselves have performances and other commitments.

Canada is a country that calls itself multicultural. If so, the country needs to recognize and appreciate multicultural festivals and beliefs. Take New Zealand for example: if that country can ensure all its systems are so beautifully braided with the Maori people, can’t Canada do the same for the people who live here?

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