Magic at Niagara Fall

Sun, 2006-01-01



Asim arrived at the Pearson Airport from San Diego. There was going to be no one to meet him at the airport as he had not informed his fiancée’s family about his arrival.


As he waited for his baggage – Fiancée! he had not even thought about her for years…he had left home at nineteen immediately after his A levels results were announced in Karachi. His parents had chosen Rukhsana their good friend’s daughter, when he was leaving for the American University as an insurance policy! To keep him from marrying a ‘tohfa’ as they called any foreign girl married to a Pakistani boy! How old could she have been then, he wondered... fifteen.. sixteen?


Asim had enjoyed his life at the University, studied hard and also partied hard! And having a fiancée’s photo on his bedside had insured relationships free of entanglement leaving him free to enjoy the company of the Western and Eastern girl friends without commitment.


He had found a job at the campus and with some fees being paid by his father, he had managed to graduate and find a good job, he was now wishing to apply for the Master’s program.


When he mentioned the masters program to his parents, they reminded him of his long engagement and expressed disapproval over his disinterest in that! His mom said that before Rukhsana and her family moved to Canada she kept sending her gifts and clothes, chocolates and mithai at Eid and birthdays etc. even that had to be discontinued!


So here he was, visiting Toronto to meet his fiancé, he wondered will he have the courage either to honor his engagement or to break it? the consequences of both seemed shocking ...he snapped out of his reverie as his suitcase came into view at the baggage------


At the Pakistan Community Youth Association Meeting a program was being discussed to initiate a branch of the IYA for Matchmaking. Rukhsana was listening to the girls debating its dire need –Roxanne said “dire need?” her friends retaliated by “Of course” another said, “You are good and secure, being already engaged but look around you here!”


The Muslim boys can and are marrying Jew or Christian girls as our religion permits them, or any other girl they meet and like, or they go to Pakistan and marry girls from back home while we are left sitting around getting older!”


“We are told we can go to our community centre but must not mix with the boys much, we are not permitted to hang out with other students. With great difficulty we are now at least allowed to go out in a group. Most of our extended families too have immigrated to Canada so we don’t make trips to Pakistan either.


We have to safeguard our situation and find a way to meet and get to know boys from our faith at least”.

“Yes Of Course” said Rukhsana “but I am working on the day you are planning the meeting”.

“Oh no, you have signed up for that tourist hostess thingy” the girls wailed.

“Where are you going to take the tourist?”

Yes I have signed up for that, I am taking them to Ottawa. The first day we go to Niagara Falls, do the Maid of the Mist, and Shopping and visiting all the attractions and Clifton Hill then Niagara on the Lake and back to spend the night at the Falls – see the Lights Show and the Casino.


It gives them a chance to see the Falls with the lights at night and then the fabulous sunrise before we leave for the 1000 Island Ferry Ride visit the castle and then back to the Bus for the to drive to Ottawa.”


Asim put off telephoning his own parents and his fiancé’s family – putting off the dreaded meeting, he decided to take a tour of Toronto, when he saw an Ad of a midweek trip to Ottawa and the package included a visit to the Falls and the Thousand Islands. He decided to take this tour as it was better to contact Rukhsana and family at the weekend anyway.


When Asim met their Guide, and other guests in the lobby, on a beautiful sunny morning it was a mixed group of, there were Chinese, Europeans Americans and South Asians. The guide a well groomed attractive girl with a pleasant voice of no pronounced accent who introduced herself as Roxanne.


In the bus he found himself on the front seat with a middle aged person appeared like a senior executive type. Not in a chatty mood himself too, he was glad to enjoy the view and listen to the commentary alternately in English and French by Roxanne and the young man named Sam.


At the Niagara Falls he took every opportunity to chat with her, asking questions, getting information and finally also to sit with her. Her confidence and charm impressed him.

Asim said, “Having seen pictures and postcards of the Niagara Falls I knew exactly what I was going to find but this is absolutely Awesome!”

Roxanne: “Yes nothing prepares you for this sight of the fall – I am thrilled with the sight every single visit here!”

Asim, “I am deciding not to go and visit the parks and the Museums. I think I would like to sit here while the others go around.”

Roxanne, “You can’t miss the experience of going behind the fall in the Maid of the Mist, that boat ride is some experience. We will be returning to see the Niagara Fall lit up at night and the Firework illumination tonight”.

Asim, “Okay if you say so, you know better”.


The others had fanned around to take pictures with their friends and families or looking for better vantage points. Asim and Roxanne stood in awe and wonder in a companionable silence – out of the blue the rainbow appeared in its many colored brilliant splendor.


To Roxanne it was a magical moment encompassing the two of them! She felt enclosed in a bubble with this stranger she felt breathless...and decided she must break out of this captivating reaction...mumbling something about the Maid of the Mist she left his company.


Asim too had been touched with the spell of this magic moment and wondered whether it was the sudden appearance of he Rainbow or the enchanting companion by his side!


After the ride on Ferry Maid of the Mist Asim decided it might be as thrilling to take the ride in the Air Balloon over the Niagara Fall or the Helicopter ride next time. At the Niagara on the Lake later in the day Asim savored every moment of the Studio Set scenery of its Main street, and the


Charming little shops, the 17th century Tea room and Hotel and the splash of flowers in their shocking pinks, crimson, purple, yellow...the beds of flowers the baskets the flowering bushes, it was a breathtaking sight!


As they crossed the Bernard Shaw Theatre, Asim asked the guide, “You do not include this in the tour?” Roxanne said, “We do not, I myself have been wishing to come on a visit during the months it is open but none of my family or friends seem to be free to accompany me”. Asim said, “I am going to visit the Shaw theatre when I come next to Toronto”.


Roxanne thought to herself ‘Oh so he does not live in Toronto’; he was listed with her as Mr. Khan. Returning to Niagara Falls they retired to the Hotel, had their dinner and sauntered off to see the fall all lit up and await the Firework display.


The awesome natural beauty and power of the Niagara Falls in the day is highlighted by the rainbow of lights that play up the natural wonder every night.” The guide was saying in her low pitched fluid voice. She continued to tell us that the illumination of Niagara Fall actually dates back to 1860’s when 200 lights were installed around the cascading waters in honor of Prince of Wales who was visiting from England.” She continued, “Fourteen million visit the Niagara Falls each season – it is the Honeymoon Capitol of the World. It’s not that Niagara Falls does not generate enough star power of its own...I quote from the Toronto Star said the guide but part of its romantic appeal comes from the rainbow of lights that plays up the natural wonder every night. Recently it has been the hundredth anniversary of the Niagara Falls as the Honeymoon Capital of the world!


21 lights play in different color combinations on both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. The lights have undergone many changes since their initiation to reach the current system. Roxanne continued; an upgrade in 1997-98 resulted in brighter, more economical lights that use only 4,000 watts each and last 1,1oo hours.”


Roxanne again found the khan passenger beside her as the display of fireworks started and the evening air was crisp and chilly but Roxanne had never felt the enchanting exhilaration this beautiful night display evoked in her with this handsome stranger beside her, she felt under a magic spell...wishing both to break the spell as much as desiring it to last forever.


The schedule for departure for the 1000 Island was 10:30 am and Roxanne appeared serene and fresh as everyone was aboard, the bus started and she announced that ‘The 1000 Islands’ region is known for its spectacular natural beauty, a water wonderland along the St Lawrence River and the shores of Lake Ontario. Theirs was to be a 3 hour trip which included a visit to the Boldt Castle.


She went on to tell them about Boldt a Prussian Immigrant to America whose success story was from rags to riches, he became the most successful hotel magnate in America he owned the most famous Waldorf Astoria in New York. Boldt spent $2.5 billion to build a replica of the Rhineland Castle, bringing the finest of artists and skilled craftsmen for his project. He wished to present it to his wife for Valentine’s Day...his monument of love for her. His wife died before its completion and heartbroken he stopped all work and the incomplete structure was left to the mercy of wind and rain.


There was also a popular story of an official dinner at the Boldt Castle where dignitaries were invited and the cook discovered at the last minute that he had forgotten to bring the salad dressing from New York to the Castle and he concocted a dressing which was so liked by the guests who wished to know which dressing he had used in the salad so he came up with the name 1000 Island Salad dressing!


Before starting everyone had been told to have their travel papers and passports with them and during the ferry ride they heard the commentary about the islands and saw them passing by.


Later that evening at Ottawa they retired to their Hotel rooms to rest and refresh for their late evening visit to the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill. They all walked in twos and threes in companionable silence or chatting in the balmy summer night. People were collected all around the grounds. Only some on the seating area others sprawled anywhere, children running around all awaiting for the show to start.


Asim’s brochure said...Get swept away by the poetry of the wind, captivating music, shimmering lights and stunning giant projections on the parliament Buildings...and discover the spirit of Canada. Another brochure said that the fronts of the parliament buildings are effectively converted into a unique movie screen!


Asim thought it described the ambience beautifully. From the moment it started the 30 minute performance held them absolutely captivated as through music, storytelling and dramatic light images flashed they sat enraptured! He seemed to have again moved to Roxanne’s side where she sat a little apart from everyone. Asim wondered at the serenity and harmony he felt in Roxanne’s company under the brilliant star lit night.


Roxanne wondered what she was feeling, something lie this had never happened to her. She was glad that the next day kept her busy as she flitted and floated with tourists from the festival of Flowers to the Prime Ministers residence, on to the Royal Canadian Mint... the long time spent at the National Gallery which is a spectacular addition to Ottawa skyline. The gallery was designed by Moshe Safdie and completed in 1988.


One enters and proceeds up a long glass concourse with a vaulted ceiling that leads to the Hall. This Gallery offers gorgeous view of the Ottawa River and Ottawa and Gatineau skylines. They enjoyed an outdoor lunch snack in the garden there. The Museum of Civilization was another very interesting place but one requires more days as one can spend a whole day at each of these places.


They still had a ferry ride to the scenic view from the river, other wanted to be on the Big Splash bus tour which enters the water, some wanting to spend the last hour in the market sipping coffee or ice cream treats just watching the world go by! There were rickshaw rides in sight and sitting in the sidewalk café surrounded by stores people and flowers galore was delightful.


The sun was setting the city lit up like a fairyland, Asim offered to fetch a large serving of ice cream and chocolate cake. Together they savored this last hour amidst the lights and people before turning homeward to Toronto.


Roxanne reached home tired and very upset, walking into her room and seeing the photo of the young boy on her chest of drawers she picked up the photo and flung it across the room! Being engaged had kept her immune from feeling attracted to anyone else. Though she realized now that she did not get opportunity like the girls were talking about in the Pakistan youth Association...they were justified in their concern about their matrimonial opportunities or rather the lack of it!


She decided not to think – and fell exhausted both physically and emotionally after over three days in the hectic tour...she awoke when more than half the day was over, when her younger sister awakened her excitedly shouting good news good News...


Asim decided to phone both his own family in Karachi and Rukhsana’s family here in Toronto.

Asim: Ammi I am in Toronto and will phone Uncle and go see them tomorrow.

Ammi: I am glad you are there yes I am so happy you are going to meet them.

Asim: Yes I will phone them now.


He did not phone them as he was too restless and his feelings in turmoil after having met Roxanne he couldn’t imagine his fiancé –could not even remember what she looked like or how she dressed! What if she turned out to be a Pakistani Geek? He should have broken the engagement without seeing her and her family – that would have been easier than rejecting her after a meeting...his thought raced on like cars on a highway...until he fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning.


He was shocked to see it was past noon when he woke up, he was glad he had phoned his parents before going to bed! He phoned Rukhsana’s home and her mom said beta why didn’t you inform us, we would have received you at the airport...we have been waiting for your phone call from morning as your mom said you had arrived in Toronto. He ended by saying he would be at their place by 6pm!


Wake up sleeping beauty – guess what! Your prince is in town – he is coming to dinner! Rukhsana could not believe her ears – of all the days...and after the long silence Asim here! That awakened her in a flash while the thundering of her thoughts and feelings matched the din and rush of the Niagara Falls!


Her mother came into the room and explained about Asim’s parents call and Asim’s call. She wished to talk of her plans for dinner and what Rukhsana should dress in etc... It was too much for Rukhsana to take in. Every one in frenzy of preparation...


It was chiming 6pm when Asim walked in tall and debonair confident smiling young man. He walked in and met the family and it was time for Rukhsana to come and meet him – he saw a tall slender girl in a Rose pink chiffon sari she walked up and she offered her hand with a tinkle of glass bangles...their eyes met with a startling look of recognition! They smiled each feeling the lifting of a great burden dissolving into an inner whoop of joy!





Hasina H. Sajun.