& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A decade in Toronto - 35

With Dr. Lakshmanan
Is ideology nothing more than belief? Often, I have not been able to distinguish between those who fervently swear by an ideology from those who are religious. There is a deep sense of fanaticism about both. They are unwilling to question their belief and are deeply suspicious of any point of view that differs from their own.

I’m no exception. I’m not religious, but nearly everyone who knows me will say that I’m ideological.

Ideology is problematic because it reduces complex and multifaceted issues into binaries of left and right. It precludes the possibility of reaching a better, and a more holistic answer that would include all opposing viewpoints in finding solutions.

Most challenges have straightforward administrative solutions that don’t require ideologically driven approach to resolving them. In fact, ideology-based approach to resolving these challenges unnecessarily complicates the situation.

But there is no denying the centrality of ideology in nearly all human endeavour. Ideology is rooted in our lives and is the main cause of our societies riven with division and friction.

In 2018, I developed close working relationship with several people whose ideological orientation was diametrically opposite to my own. It was at once a strange, enervating yet enlightening experience. This happened with I joined the Canada India Foundation.

My tenure at Simmons da Silva had reached a dead end by early 2018. I could continue working there forever, if I was happy with the limited responsibilities that had been given to me.

With Pankaj Dave
I was looking for alternatives and that came my way when I met Anil Shah at a get together that was organised by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. At that time, he was the National Convener of the Canada India Foundation, and the foundation was looking for an executive director.

I met Anilbhai (as he’s usually called) along with Pankaj Dave in February 2018 and discussed the possibility of my joining the foundation. They didn’t show much interest but asked me to start freelancing for the foundation. I started doing that in March and by May, the Foundation offered me a job.

Leaving Simmons da Silva was not easy. I had strong emotional bonds with some of my colleagues. But more importantly, leaving would be perceived as betraying Puneet, who had stood by me and offered me a job when I needed one. It was with a deeply forlorn feeling that I walked out of the law firm’s Brampton office late May 2018 to join the CIF.

To me, the decision to join and work at the foundation was based on my professional competence and the foundation’s requirements – these matched perfectly. Not for a moment did it occur to me that I would be working for an organisation that had a distinct ideological mooring which on many occasions would be diametrically opposed to my own. I suppose that is true in most such relationship.

As an employee, one is required to perform all assigned tasks professionally and competently irrespective of one’s own way of thinking. And that is what I did throughout my brief tenure at the foundation.

The foundation is a public policy think tank formed in 2007. It has some of the most distinguished Indo-Canadians as its members, individuals who have contributed time and money to hasten the integration of Indo-Canadian community into the Canadian mainstream and improve Canada India bilateral relations. It is a non-partisan organisation and has consistently raised many issues that are often not discussed out of a strange adherence to political correctness.

I interacted closely with the core team comprising Anilbhai, Satish Thakkar and Pankaj Dave, and developed close ties with them. I also developed close working relationships with Ajit Someshwar, Ramesh Chotai and V. I. Lakshmanan.

Mayur Dave, who’d been introduced to me a couple of years ago, became a close friend.

During my brief tenure, and thanks in a great measure to the dedicated team of members, I was able to work towards a positive transformation of the foundation and increased its membership and programs.

I worked at Anilbhai’s Ni-Met Metals Inc. office in Oakville and was again in the midst of a multicultural environment, although the staff was predominantly Gujarati-speaking.

My tenure there was enlivened because of my constant interactions, arguments and debate with the members of the Foundation on many contentious issues.

It also offered me an opportunity to examine my own views on many issues that are important to me; issues that form the basis of my existence, belief and behaviour.
Issues such as secularism, the role of religion in public life and in the life of an individual, the responsibilities of the state toward the protection of the minorities, and similar other matters.

Examining my views on all these matters was an unusual experience because I had to evaluate the veracity of my opinion and consider the validity of opposing opinions.

I discovered that if one is able to build and maintain a level of trust with the person who holds a differing point of view, it is possible to conduct a civilized debate that can lead to a better understanding of the issue under debate.

It helps narrow down the differences to one or two core issues that are purely ideological.

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