& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 23

2015 was a significant improvement on 2014. My new job at Simmons da Silva introduced me to a number of colleagues, many of them became friends; a couple of them still are, although I’ve moved on from that incredibly dynamic firm.

The leadership of the firm is forward looking and progressive, committed to multicultural ethos, despite a majority of its members being white (or as Stephen Harper would refer as “old stock Canadians”). 

Although being a five-decades-old firm, and law being an endemically conservative profession, thanks to its leadership, Simmons da Silva constantly strives for professional excellence.

Howard Simmons

At the firm, I knew Puneet, who'd created the opportunity for me to work there, and Pathik Baxi, a person who owns the term ‘laid back’. After joining, I instantly became friends with Howard Simmons, the founder of the firm. Howard is a rare free-thinking intellectual in a profession that encourages and often ensures regimentation.

Over the next three-and-a-half years, I got to know nearly 40 individuals who worked at the firm. In any work environment, some colleagues become more important than others. And, as I said at the beginning of this blog, a couple of them remain important, even though I’ve not been able to maintain contact with them as regularly as I’d want to.

When my colleagues surprised me by
celebrating my birthday - the first time in more
than two decades that I celebrated my birthday
in such a manner

However, since there are people in our midst who have the tendency to turn everything pure and magical into prurient and ugly, I shall refrain from naming those who are still important to me only because I have no desire to embarrass them, and because what I shared with them was special and will remain so forever.

May 2015 was the last time the Festival of South Asian Festival of Literature and the Arts (renamed as the Toronto Festival of Literature and the Arts in 2015) was organised by the indefatigable team of MG Vassanji and Nurjehan Aziz.

I was involved directly in organizing the East Asian panel with the help of Diana Tso, a playwright and actor. Sang Kim moderated the discussion on ‘Is Asian-Canadian a helpful label in terms of the Canadian canon’ and included the following eminent Asian-Canadian authors as panelists: Denis Chong, C Fong Hsiung, Madeleine Thien, Diana Tso, and Terry Watada.

The festival filled a vacuum in the cultural landscape of Toronto because it gave representation to authors who were invited from across the developing world, and to Canadian voices that seldom found representation in mainstream cultural programming. 

However, it clearly needed a larger professional organisational strength that the group of volunteers was unable to provide. 2015 turned out to be the last of a great series.

If interested in reading more, click here:  FSALA-15

In the summer of 2015, my friend Kumar Ketkar and his wife Sharada Sathe came to Toronto. It gave me an opportunity to invite a few friends over to my place (the party room of Lexington on the Green) to celebrate a warm evening together. 

All those invited were friends who’d helped me in my journey to become a Canadian, and while not everyone invited was able to come, those who did, contributed substantially to making the evening memorable and loads of fun.

Kumar and Sharada with friends
What I remember most about that evening was the selfless and unselfconscious manner in which Jasmine Sawant took the responsibility of doing the dishes after the party.  

Nitin and Jasmine then invited Kumar and Sharada to meet with their Marathi-speaking group for another dinner reception. It turned out to be a grand success. Both Kumar and Sharada are committed liberal progressives who have spent their entire life for the left ideological causes. 

Here’s a post about Kumar’s visit to Toronto when we went to the Toronto Reference Library: Erasmus of Rotterdam

2015 was also important for another reason – Stephen Harper lost the federal elections. He lost because of an exclusionary political agenda that targeted Muslim immigrants during the last years of his tenure. 

In retrospect, I think, Harper’s sharp exclusionary bend was probably a couple of years before its time.

By 2016-17, the tumultuous events across Europe (in the wake of the Syrian crisis and the ceaseless influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa) and the unexpected victory of Donald Trump’s extremism in the Presidential elections in the United States the forces that Harper tried to unleash in Canada had gained ascendency in the political narrative across most of North America and Europe.

Despite this obvious shortcoming in his politics, I admire Harper for his visionary leadership in improving Canada’s relations with India. He went to India on two occasions during his tenure and expanded the Canadian trade office network across India. And more pertinently, he understood and encouraged the role that Indo-Canadians have and can play in improving bilateral ties.

Also, he was Canada’s prime minister when I arrived in Canada in 2008 and became a citizen in 2014. These are significant landmarks in my life and Harper was an integral part of it. Thanks to my involvement with the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, I was able to meet him on a couple of occasions.

With Stephen Harper and the ICCC leadership

I voted for the first time in a Canadian election hopeful that my vote would make a difference in making Canada a more just society, a society that treats all its citizens with respect. As they say, the jury is out on that one.

We lost many stalwarts in 2015, among them were: Charles Correa, the eminent architect from Bombay; novelist Gunter Grass; Narayan Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s executive assistant and an eminent pacifist; Lee Kwan Yew, the creator of modern Singapore.

Vinod Mehta, one of India’s finest editors; and Praful Bidwai, an activist journalist, also passed away. And we lost RK Laxman, the legendary cartoonist of the Times of India, the creator of the Common Man. Laxman shaped the sensibilities of three generations of Indians by his cartoons. I shared the same workspace with him briefly when I worked for the Times Group. Here's the link to a post that narrates my encounter with him:

Uncommon encounter with the creator of common man

In India, Hindu fundamentalists assassinated Govind Pansare, a Communist, and MM Kalbargi, a Kannada academic. A couple of years ago in 2013, they had assassinated Narendra Dabholkar, and a couple of years later, in 2017, they'd assassinate Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who was vociferous in her opposition to the right-wing Hindutva nationalist politics that has come to control India. 

I remain worried for my more outspoken friends in India, and have often told them that in case they perceive any threat to their lives, they should immediately hop on to a plane and reach Toronto. I'd help them in every way possible to get settled here and continue to wage their ideological battle.

I lost a friend – Najia Alavi, a Pakistani-Canadian, and an active member of Communications, Advertising, Marketing Professionals (CAMP), Canada’s first voluntary organization for the marketing fraternity. She died by drowning while on a family vacation in Dubai.

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