Himalayas in the north, the Shivalik mountain range in the south, the River Ganges in the east, and the river Yamuna on the west is a valley where I was born, the youngest of seven children. Dehra Dun, as the city is known, was a Shangri-La where people either came to retire or to leave their darling children in the care of some of the most exclusive schools.
Nothing much happened in my early life in this oasis until my father was struck down with a stroke. His prolonged illness and death was followed with the death of my mother. It stunned me as I entered my teen years. Suddenly life became a free fall. Soccer is called football in India. It kind of reflected what I had become.
My high school was a missionary-run institution—Bible class and all. I discovered the art of public speaking there. I excelled in debates and sports. I won 13 trophies in a single year. My next school was a Sikh public school. There, for the first time, in an otherwise academically ordinary career, I was awarded The Best All Round Student distinction. I went on to finish university with a degree in the sciences in a college run by a branch of Hindu faith. I continued to fight the ‘football syndrome’ more as a revolutionary than as a disciplined student. There I was in the Student Union and all, but my winning streak of debate contests continued unabated. My educational years in the three different schools of faith gave me an insight into spirituality that would be my guide forever.
God gave me many gifts but none more precious than my group of friends. They disciplined me, guided me and directed me. Those directions lead me to join Merck Sharp & Dohme, an American multinational in Bombay. In my move from the serenity of the Doon Valley to the breakneck hustle and bustle of Bombay, two magical things happened. I fell in love with my would be wife, Rani, and I also fell head over heels with subjects, which previously had bored me like pharmacology, physiology and pharmacodynamics. I was transformed from a rebel into an inquisitive student of sciences. I achieved scholastically and productively. Rewards came quickly as well. The youngest manager and tipped to be Divisional Head, I was moved to New Delhi.
Just when I felt that I was more of a player than a football, life took an interesting turn. A chartered accountant friend of mine applied to immigrate to Canada and applied for me as well. Soon, I found myself with a visa for Canada. With no dreams or plans for leaving India, contradictory advice and opinions hit me from all sides. Finally, I did leave, arriving on 01 January 1971 in Montréal, a few days before the expiry of my visa. Later, I regretted not heeding the Canadian Attaché’s advice not to leave the family behind. Bad choice to come alone, even worse time for reporting to the new assumed employers.
I had come confidently armed with papers and recommendations for Merck’s Head Office in Montréal. However, things did not turn out as per plan. The offices were closed and key people were on vacation or away on meetings.
The next nine months were cold, unfriendly and cruel. Employment agencies and newfound friends gave me the insight and knowledge to tame the dreaded pit bull, lack of Canadian Experience. In my quest for a job in my field, I met angels and devils. I met racists but I also met Canadians who thought Canada was richer for me. I continued to appear for interviews in -15 degrees temperatures of the winter of 1971 as well as the sweaty days of summer that followed.
Finally, I did break barriers, joining Abbott Laboratories in my chosen field. I topped the basic training course although there were fellow trainees with quite a bit of “Canadian Experience” and education. I passed mandatory industry accreditation. Courses like pharmacodynamics, endocrinology, infectious diseases and oncology as well as sales and management. Often, I would avail of Seneca College to sharpen my skills in computers and communications. I coordinated and attended medical conferences on a wide variety of subjects with some of the world’s most respected teachers and scientists. Rewards and advancement often came without expectation.
My assignment as a Regional Manager of South Western Ontario to Alberta kept me on the go. However, my family and I never cut short our social and community life. In fact, it was quite a routine for me to return home to a full house, kids of friends running around and the music party at full swing.
My wife, Rani, a classical Indian dancer of Bharat Natyam, appeared on stages like Harbourfront and Caravan. She happily tutored free of charge aspiring artists for community shows and functions. I also had keen interest in stage play and music. A small community setting gave me ample opportunity to act, direct and sing to my heart’s content.
My daughter Sangita was showered with community love and care. In fact, later she married a doctor from India who was a nephew of one of our community members. Her back and forth living in India and Canada is now a journey that quite a few first generation Indians go through. By the time she decided to permanently settle in Canada, I had fulfilled my dream of living on the downtown waterfront. I had two grandsons by then. It became a real heart warming routine to see them take the ferry to the Island School. Now they are 17 and 15, enjoying the serenity and care of a residential school in the Kawarthas. I am so proud.
These days I am an active member of the Toronto Doctors Lions Club. I have promoted Toronto Rehab Foundation on their website and billboard after my personal experience with them as a patient convinced me that I must spread the word for the good of all. I served as Secretary and Member of the Board of Directors of Panorama India, an umbrella organization for all Indo-Canadian cultural organizations in the Greater Toronto Area. I am also involved with the creation of a Virtual Reality Museum of Hindu Enlightenment at the Vishnu Mandir. My last escapade was storytelling at the Spadina Museum’s Sharing of Heritage Program partnering with Panorama India. Republic Day Celebrations at the Pearson Convention Centre is the next big project, apart from other minor ones.
Although exploring the wilderness was once my hobby, my passion for golf remains undiminished. In the spring I will once again take refresher golf lessons. After retirement, I have continued to take courses to keep up with the rapid technological advancement that promises I remain humble in front of my grandsons. Among others, I have taken introductory Dreamweaver and search engine courses and am proud to have created a website pretty much on my own. I love to write; some even get read.
I have made some good decision and some bad ones. But moving to Canada was certainly the best decision that I ever made. Canada has been very good to me and my family. I have no doubt it will be even better to my grandsons.
What lies ahead after Panorama India where my term expires in February 2009? Probably life closure to what objective I have set on my website—Mon Drishta: Service with a detached mind and soul.
My advice to would-be immigrants: Listen to the Canadian Immigration Attaché; don’t leave home without your wife.