By SUNIL RAO
“We couldn’t get Lata Mangeshkar,” emcee Jake Dheer said. “So we got Farzana instead.”
The popular Rogers Station Manager for Mississauga and Brampton was referring to gifted singer and erstwhile Panorama India Idol Farzana B. who gave a soulful rendering of the Indian patriotic song ‘Ai Mere Watan Ke Logo’.
That set up the day for the crowds of Indo-Canadian community members thronging Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto last weekend.
India’s 67th Independence Day officially falls today, Thursday, Aug 15. While the official ceremonies are scheduled to be held at India’s consulate and elsewhere later today, the celebrations were held Saturday, Aug 10, at Yonge-Dundas, in the heart of Toronto.
People of Indian origin from all across the GTA congregated at the popular annual India Day celebrations last weekend organized by apex umbrella organization Panorama India, in collaboration with the Indian consulate in Toronto.
Premier Kathleen Wynne led the list of dignitaries gracing the event.
Consul-General Preeti Saran, who is preparing to take on her fresh ambassadorial mandate in Vietnam after having served out her popular four-and-a-half-year extended tour of duty in Toronto, led the celebrations by unfurling India’s Tricolour, to the strains of the anthems ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and ‘O Canada’.
“Every year, the celebrations continue to become larger, with more firsts being added as our community itself expands,” said Panorama India Chair Jibanjit Tripathy. “This year for instance, popular television services provider ATN is beaming the India Day celebrations live on several of is channels.”
Panorama itself has grown under Tripathy and Co-Chair Ramesh Bangalore, a retired commander from the Indian Navy, with more than 180 professional, community, cultural and faith groups located in all parts of Canada operating under its wing.
The patriotic theme was emphasized by the members of India Ex-Servicemen Association in Ontario, who as every year turned out in full battle regalia to lead the annual parade that wended its way across the streets of Downtown Toronto. Representatives from various Indian states, stretching from Kashmir and Punjab in the north, to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south, and from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west to Orissa, West Bengal and Assam in the east — all turned out in their cultural costumes, even as wider Toronto cheered them on.
A series of cultural programs followed right through the day, with the crowds also partaking of the typical Indian dishes and other products on offer at the square.
As every year, there were a few dissenting voices, from Khalistan and Azad Kashmir — which only reinforced the community’s tolerance and accommodation of plurality under its wider umbrella.
On the occasion, South Asian Focus spoke to a cross-section of prominent community representatives present — an erstwhile senator, a serving parliamentarian and key member of the Harper Government, a top cop advisor, and one who serves with Canada’s finest. We present below what they told us about India’s Independence Day, on being an Indo-Canadian, and what we as a community can do, going forward.
Prominent businessman and community member Vim Kochhar, who is the first person of Indo-Canadian heritage to have been appointed to the Senate of Canada:
What does India’s Independence Day mean to me? Well, when we got Independence I was 12 years old, and I was at the Red Fort, seeing our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru giving his speech.
I heard him on Aug 14, 1947, at midnight, on the radio — there were no TVs at that time — so it means a lot, it’s like my mother, it’s my country.
I’ve been here in Canada since 1955, but (this feeling of ‘Indianness’), it’s like your mother, you never forget, it’s my homeland, that’s where I got my birth.
(While) I’ve been a Senator here in Canada, and I’ve been in the mainstream, it means a lot to me, because we came out of slavery, we saw the new dawn of a new era on Aug 15, and lived through history. I met Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, I met Nehru, I got Mahatma Gandhi’s autograph; in fact I was only 10 feet away when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated… so it means a lot to me. India means a lot to me!
Although I’m here and my loyalties are with Canada — my upbringing’s here and my family’s here — but like I said, India’s like my mother… and you never forget where you came from.
My message to our Indo-Canadian community here is that they should always have good feelings for India, an attitude of helping their motherland — but their loyalties are to Canada. Canada comes first.
When you’re helping Canada, then you’re (or I am) helping India too, by being recognized as one of the Indian community.
When one Indo-Canadian gets recognized, the whole Indian community gets recognized.
Prominent community leader Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one of the key faces of the Harper Government especially at most Indo-Canadian and South Asian community events:
We are delighted to see India celebrating Independence Day. India’s come a long ways from its Independence. The country is today one of the major powers of the world.
Canada has very strong relations with India. We’re satisfied with the way things are progressing — we’ve had two visits by the prime minister (along with myself), and we’ll continue building on these initiatives.
But coming back to the Indian context, India’s journey has been remarkable, and has been an inspiration to many countries around the world. India stands as a beacon of democracy, with the rule of law, human rights, and is quite an example to the rest of the world.
Alok Mukherjee, Chair, Toronto Police Services Board, and a voice of considered opinion and reason, especially with Toronto’s finest finding themselves landing with unfailing regularity on the hotseat of public opinion:
I was two years old when India gained Independence, and lived through the years when India was making an effort to stand on its feet, and survive, having come through the terrible experience of partition.
So when I look back now, today, as a Canadian of Indian origin, I feel a great deal of pride.
’Course, there are big challenges, but India’s trying to deal with them through the rule of law, through a democratic process, through a parliamentary system. And unlike so many other countries, it has not only managed to maintain that democratic society, but strengthen it.
It’s also one of the countries of the world that is most diverse — in terms of language, religion, region, history, and so one — and it’s still maintained unity, while continuing to maintain a common objective, of prosperity, social justice, and deal with the challenges through a parliamentary system where people have a right to vote.
So it’s an example to the rest of the world — and it’s an achievement that all of us should be very proud of.
As Indo-Canadians, we’re a very interesting community. I myself came here in 1971. At that time we as a community were largely invisible, and had very little presence. Today we’re highly visible, and have accomplishments which are far greater than many other communities, especially given our size. So we should take pride in that.
I feel this has come about as a result of the culture, the history, the education, the training, that we’ve brought with us.
Today, we’re also one of the truly global communities of the world — you’ll find Indians living in every part of the world. And what’s unique is that, no matter where we go, and no matter how many generations we live there, we still maintain the connection with our heritage.
So living here, while we make the most positive contributions to our adopted home, we must also make sure that we don’t lose this connection, to our culture, our history, our pride in our ancestry.
Hari Panday, President & CEO, PanVest Capital Corp, who earlier launched the Canadian operations of Indian heavyweight ICICI Bank and who, as Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, also serves along with Canada’s finest:
I came to Canada 38 years ago, and so I’ve grown up on Canadian soil in many ways. I came here when I was 20, in 1975 — and I’ve seen the community evolve, from the stage of being total newcomers, to the maturity level that our community today has.
What I saw what we as a community should be doing coming now to fruition in the true sense, to become people of the soil.
I thought it important that we graduate from that plateau to the next level — to the level that shows Canadians we’re not here as merely as transient immigrants, but that we’re coming here for good. My own children are born here, we’re gonna die here, my first car, my first house, the beginning of my family — it’s all anchored here.
And so in that vein, in that process of my evolution, I though it important to be involved with the Armed Forces, because it demonstrates clearly that as Indo-Canadians, I didn’t come here only for education and for better prospects — but that now I’ve also reached that level when I’m prepared to die for my country.
This is when no one can really ask, ‘What are you here for’, or ‘What do you do’! The ultimate commitment is: ‘Look, I’m prepared to sacrifice myself’.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you put yourself in the line of fire — but you do that in spirit in many ways… possibly by donating blood, helping the needy, feeding the hungry — all that means sacrificing for Canada and building our society by being a very productive member of the country.
I have very strong feelings about this aspect, and I’m proud to say that I had the good fortune of travelling to Kabul last year, and (among other things) spent five days in the combat zone. I met Indo-Canadian soldiers who’re there — and we should be proud to know we have in my estimate around 500-600 from our community serving in the forces.
Our community perhaps isn’t fully aware, but we (in Canada) have great linkages with the Indian soil — for instance, there are two squadrons which performed together during World War II, in India, and in Burma, where the Indian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force fought together against the Japanese.
And there are Canadian soldiers who are buried in the War Cemetery of Delhi.
People often don’t know these realities. But we have historical links, modern-day links…
But our community here is also moving towards maturity — and I think this Independence Day celebration here at Yonge-Dundas Square is an example of how our community has matured.
Parting is such sweet sorrow: Saran
South Asian Focus caught up with outgoing Indian Consul-General Preeti Saran who, after a very successful four-and-a-half-year extended stint in Toronto, prepares to take on her fresh assignment, this time as Her Excellency Ambassador Saran, at the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Saran is due to leave Toronto this weekend, making way for Toronto’s incoming Consul-General Akhilesh Mishra.
The popular consul-general in recent days has had to run the gamut of attending a series of receptions and dinners held by several community associations, among them being Panorama India, Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, the Punjabi Media, etc.
“You all mean so much to me, you’ve touched me in a very special way,” said Saran, visibly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
Under her guidance, the community has forged stronger links in Canada, while serving as a ready bridge to India for wider Canada.
Along the way, Saran said she has many memories to cherish.
“I will have many warm memories of my stay in Toronto. There were so many events — Year of India in Canada, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the IIFA awards… but perhaps the most emotional moment for me was at the flag-hoisting here in Dundas Square. To see the Indo-Canadian community celebrating here, in such high numbers — that’s a special feeling.”
Saran was also quick to praise the several community and business organizations, and Indo-Canadians themselves, for her successes: “It’s all of you, the people, who have made this happen.”
She noted that both India and Canada share strong fundamental common values, which she felt would only grow stronger, both culturally and economically, through increased bilateral trade, especially given the willingness on the leaderships of both sides to foster closer ties.
On a personal note, asked about her distinctive choice of fare that greeted journalists, as well as invitees, to most consulate events — the Canadian staple of samosas, but together with aloo paratha, scrambled eggs, and interestingly, idli-dosa-sambar, Saran smiled: “I’m from Delhi, but I love South Indian fare!”
She also held out a warm welcome to all Indo-Canadians who might tour Vietnam in the years ahead: “Do drop in and stay with us… I’ve been told we have a couple guest-rooms there — but even if that should prove inadequate, don’t worry, do come.
“(Our) heart is large.”
By SUNIL RAO