Shapped By Commute

Shapped By Commute
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By: Zaid Noorsumar

Family. Friends. Partners. School. Work. Experiences. These are some of the things that shape our lives and mould our personalities. In Divya Rajan’s case, all of these aspects have had an impact on her but it’s her daily commute to and from school that perhaps affects her life more profoundly than anything else.

The Brampton resident spends about five and a half to six hours travelling back and forth from her house to Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre. Her commute dictates virtually every sphere of her life – her relationships with her friends, her parents and her sister; her education and the remnants of her leisure time.

Rajan, a journalism student who wants to make it into the world of broadcasting, began attending Centennial this September after spending the first two years of her undergraduate degree at University of Toronto Scarborough.

Both Rajan and her elder sister have been influenced to study journalism by their mother, who worked as a reporter in India before immigrating to Canada. Her mother’s gutsy reporting landed her in hot water more than once, including one occasion when as a hostage she witnessed her colleagues being gunned down.

“There was this girl who was kidnapped in a village. There was like a conspiracy theory that there were terrorists in the village so they were just going there to see if it was true,” says Rajan.

“It was one of those things that was really far-fetched and no one was believing (it) – so she volunteered to go. It turned out it was true but they really didn’t want media coverage which is why they shot them,” she says.

While Rajan lived on campus at UTSC, her parents wanted her to be closer to home when she came to Centennial.

“They didn’t really give me a reason. They just told me that they kind of want me to stay home,” says Rajan. “Every time I tried to talk to them about it, they were just very against it – me moving out.”

But taking an hour and a half long bus ride on Brampton Transit to the Wilson TTC station, transferring to the subway to get to Pape, attending classes, and repeating the tortuous journey back home has been taking a visible toll on Divya.

“I would get headaches and I wouldn’t talk to anyone because I would be too tired to talk to people,” says Rajan. “So I would come and just go to sleep and she (her mother) said, ‘You are not even a part of this family anymore. You’re not talking to anyone.’”

The physiological effects of her new lifestyle became increasingly apparent as Rajan lost 10 pounds in two weeks, a change that didn’t go unnoticed by her mother or her elder sister. The latter subsequently played the role of a mediator between Rajan and their parents, helping them understand her current predicament.

“She sat them down and was like ‘Listen, it’s very hard for her’,” says Rajan. “Because my sister’s trying to move out, too, so she was like, ‘If anything I can take her with me. She doesn’t even have to pay rent. I will pay it.’”

Realizing that her daughter’s health was at stake, their mother agreed that it would be best if she moved closer to campus. While Rajan hunts for a suitable residence in response to her mother’s acquiescence, her father has still not granted his approval to the proposed move.

“My dad’s still like ‘Why do we need to send her out?’ But my mom’s like, ‘Okay, this is not practical,” says Rajan. “She is also female so she understands that it’s really creepy to be travelling back at night.”

“On Wednesdays they let me stay at my friend’s house because I came home crying one day – I had a really bad experience on the subway,” she says.

On her way back home after a late evening class, a stranger who had been staring at her on the train, accosted her at a quiet station while Rajan waited to transfer.

“He grabbed my arm and pushed me against a wall and asked for a kiss or my name and then a lady saw this happening and yelled at him and he rushed away,” says Rajan.

Spending about a third of her waking hours on public transit means Rajan is forced to cram activities into time-slots that often have to be improvised. This can mean doing assignments on the train or squeezing socializing into a single late night of the week.

“I feel like school’s a lot harder, and my social life – I don’t have one!” she says with a laugh. While weekends are spent catching up on school work, her curfew-free Wednesday nights allow her to reinforce her bonds with old friends in Scarborough.

“On Wednesdays I don’t sleep. Like I go to Scarborough where my friends are and I literally have six people who want to do something that night,” she says, explaining that she tries to divvy up her time between friends.

“Normally, I would say, ‘No I’m tired’, but those friends mean a lot to me and I don’t want to lose touch with them so I try really hard to see them,” says Rajan.

Her friends in Brampton, meanwhile, get the short shrift. Even as they share a similar commuting distance from schools such as Ryerson back to Brampton, going out at night after recovering from travel is not an option for them due to her 11:30p.m. curfew.

The bizarre trajectory of Rajan’s routine will change dramatically when she finds a place closer to campus and is granted consent to move out by her father, about which she sounds optimistic. But her story speaks to the larger problems of commuting in the GTA, whereby swathes of the population don’t have access to efficient transportation options.

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