Masala-Fried Sunfish

Fiction, on hold – interrupted by The Mango Stone.

Three brothers-in-law sit in a rowboat, fishing. They are catching, and keeping, sunfish: small brightly coloured but bony fish considered throwback in Ontario. They talk about the past, old times fishing in East Africa. Two of them think about, but do not mention, Idi Amin. They will take the fish back to the cottage, and their wives will fry them in a fresh masala. The smell will waft down to the neighbouring docks. They will pick the flesh from the bones with their fingers, mix it with basmati, and laugh with each other as they eat. They wash it down with 50 and O’Keefe from stubby brown bottles. Then they play cards.

In the mid-seventies, when Toronto the Good was still dominantly white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant, a young doctor bought a cottage. Peter Lobo was born in East Africa and trained in Britain, but his parents were from Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India. Peter’s eldest son was six when the family came to Canada. Every summer Peter invited his brothers, Felix and Omer, and Felix’s in-laws up to the cottage. Eight to ten adults and nine to thirteen children. It was a small, rustic cottage, but with a long history, as they learned from neighbours. They were the only nonwhites on the lake. Some locals and cottagers were not quite sure what kind of Indians they were.

Masala-Fried Sunfish is a series of linked stories set at this family cottage from its purchase until nearly twenty years later when the property is foreclosed. This was a period of great change in urban Canada as large numbers of South Asians immigrants and refugees arrived. Yet in contrast to Toronto, cottage country is still slow to change. Likewise, the children adapt easily, and the parents are more ‘traditional.’ The parents are marked by their emigration, and in the case of two families, their expulsion from Uganda. They try hard to fit in, to act Canadian. The children, though immigrants too, were young enough to escape the angst of arrival. With a second generation perspective, they do not always understand or appreciate their parents’ perspective and culture.

I am grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts for support which allowed for initial research and writing of this work.

Canada Council for the Arts

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