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Sunday, December 16, 2018

A decade in Toronto - 19

2014 turned out to be an unexpectedly tumultuous year.

Outside ICCC's previous office at 45 Sheppard Ave E
Just when you feel you’ve made it, have put your struggle behind you and as you eagerly look forward to building a life that you deserve, things come crashing down.

The year began propitiously, as I entered my fifth year of employment at the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. The institution, being one of the most democratic organizations in Canada where the Indian diaspora could (and does) fulfil its ambitions and aspirations, has forever been a hotbed of political shenanigans and chicanery. But the political jostling rarely, if at all, affects the employees, who, without exception, service members and directors.

However, the acquisition of a building by the Chamber led to an unseemly controversy that became messier as days passed. As the senior-most employee of the Chamber, I was unwittingly drawn into the ongoing tussle between the two groups.

There was little doubt in my mind that the meagre resources at the disposal of the Chamber hadn’t been utilised judiciously, especially in the way the building’s interiors were designed and renovated. Whether there was malfeasance involved is anyone’s guess.

Recently, after four years of wrangling, the Chamber’s board agreed to close the investigation after being satisfied by the responses it received.

The then leadership of the Chamber was no longer comfortable working with me because of my vocal opposition to the payment of brokerage to a board member who was also the broker for the purchase of the building.

There were enough indications that the situation would turn for the worse for me, because of my, at time vociferous, opposition to many patently objectionable decisions made by the then leadership. But I was unwilling to see what must have been clear to everyone at that time - that my days at the Chamber were numbered, primarily because I considered many members of the then leadership to be my friends,

At the office of ICCC
The mid-year elections led to the consolidation of the existing group that has wrested control of the Chamber a couple of years ago. 

I’d already prepared to go on my once-in-three-years trip to India in the summer and left for India in July 2014 for a month. We returned from India in the third week of August and were excited to take oath as citizens on 27 August 2014.

The next day, 28 August 2014, when I reached the office the then president, the immediate past president and a vice president called me to the president’s office and within 15 minutes terminated my services, citing restructuring of the organisation in view of the acute shortage of finances. There was little consideration for all the work that I’d put in for the Chamber.

My world came crashing down. I had a humongous mortgage which was due every month; I had insubstantial savings that could possibly tide me over for two to three months, but then my family would be on the streets.

Even today, four years later, when I look back, what surprises me is not so much the decision of the then leadership of the Chamber to remove me, but the silence of all those who I’d imagined were my friends and people who I could depend upon. 

I’d like to give them the benefit of doubt that they were blindsided by the act and were not in a position to move fast enough.

Fortunately, working at the Chamber for nearly five years had brought me in contact with innumerable influential and successful Indo-Canadians. And when I was scampering around trying to meet potential employers, realizing that not everyone can be a friend when you’re in need, three individuals stood by me and offered to pull me out of my troubles.

Yudhvir Jaswal, a young media baron, who has a footprint in print and broadcast media, was more than willing to take me. Yudhvir is a sponsor of the Chamber.

With Puneet
Haresh (Mike) Mehta, a highly successful entrepreneur, a veteran community leader and an important functionary of the Sanatan Mandir, offered me the Executive Director’s position at the newly-launched Cultural Centre of the temple. Haresh had been a director of Chamber.

Puneet S Kohli, a young lawyer, who was at that time vacationing in Italy, agreed at once to take me. He’d have to create a special position in the law firm to accommodate me. Puneet had been a corporate secretary of the Chamber.
Simmons da Silva LLP
Finally, in mid-September, I decided that I’d join Simmons da Silva LLP. It was a decision that changed my life for the better. I was there for the next three-and-a-half years, before returning to what I believe I do best – working in a bilateral relations promotion organisation – the Canada India Foundation in 2018.

I will never forget the kindness and the generosity of Yudhir and Haresh, and especially Puneet. All relations change over the years, especially when friends become colleagues or when colleagues become friends. But I will always remember Puneet’s support at a time when almost nobody else did.

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