In our English literature classes, we used to learn that Bernard Shaw was an iconoclast; when Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker of the US House of Congress, we heard that she has broken the glass ceiling for women; Mr. Nav Bhatia has played a significant role in being both an iconoclast and ice-breaker between Canadian mainstream and South Asian community in GTA.
Very spiritual in nature, but very private in the matter of religion, Mr. Bhatia had come to Canada at the age of 33, escaping the riots in New Delhi, leaving his job as a mechanical engineer. He started off as a typical immigrant who did multiple odd jobs before landing as a salesperson at one of the Hyundai dealerships. It was hard for him to find a job in Canada as he is a practicing Sikh who wears turban.
He took over his Hyundai showroom when it was going bankrupt, but with time, hard work and effort, he has made it a number 1 dealership in Canada. As the business grew, Mr. Bhatia began to realize the potential in Canadian society and believed that he could achieve a lot.
While auto industry and mortgage companies are in severe crisis, Mr. Bhatia’s dealership has sold record number of cars. Last Thanksgiving when employees around North America were afraid of their jobs, Mr. Bhatia told all his employees that no one will be laid off; everyone will have their job, but they must all work hard and he stands by his word.
Mr. Bhatia has never fired any of his employees except three. His criterion is simple. People should not steal, work hard and be honest with their work hours.
He feels that GM and Chrysler failed because “they weren’t working hard, they were easy going, and their philosophies were outdated.” He is not sure if the governments of Canada and the US should have bailed out the car companies. “I think they shouldn’t have done it.” For himself, he feels that “there is no recession. Till this June I’ve delivered 690 cars, last June we had delivered 500 cars, so we are up by 30% sales.” 26% of his clients are South Asians, and “I’m very grateful to all my clients. They are like my family,” he believes. He says “Hyundai is on top of the charts, so South Asians go for Hyundai rather than just Toyota and Honda.”
Back in 1990s, his aim was to introduce South Asians to mainstream through Bollywood movies and by being at mainstream sport matches. His goal behind this involvement was “to tell the mainstream that we might look different, but we’re the same.”
“They can be South Asians and still be assimilated in the mainstream,” Mr. Bhatia emphasizes to South Asian youth. He narrates his efforts to bring his first Bollywood movie to Canada. At that time, he says, no one wanted to play Bollywood movie at AMC and Cineplex and other theatres, however that has changed now.
He was touched by the stereotype that South Asians are all cab drivers when he was assumed to be a cabdriver by one of Bell’s agents in late 1980s. At that time, he decided to be a bridge between mainstream and South Asian community. He firmly believes that his predecessors did not do a good job of educating the mainstream about South Asian values. So he took on the task. He has a record in NBA of watching over 500 games as a fan. He buys 3,000 tickets at almost every Raptor game, and subsidizes them within South Asian community “to show the people that South Asians like basketball just as any gora, peela. I spend time in talking to players, so that they know about each other.” Through his involvement and dedication, where once there were only 20 South Asians watching basketball in the arena, now there are 800 wearing turbans and shalwar kameez.
He says South Asian youth “needs to feel that it’s okay to be South Asians, that it’s cool to be who you are, to keep your religion and your values.”
“We could be Prime Minister, member of parliament, mayor in this country. This country is great,” Mr. Bhatia says with a tone ringing with emotion, gratitude and passion. Regretfully he says “it’s South Asians’ job to talk to mainstream Canadians about our values and not theirs.”
Mr. Bhatia runs by example. He tells his own habits and traditions. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I take care of my 90-year-old mother, I’m back at home every day by 11 at night, so South Asian youth should know they don’t need to change, they’re cool just as they are.” He says “I’m naturally high. I don’t need liquor or drugs to be contented.”
Once Mr. Bhatia was misinterpreted to be a Muslim while walking around the Canada Centre after 9/11. Mr. Bhatia stopped him to confront him, to talk to him. He strongly feels that South Asian community “has not done enough to be engaged.” He believes that there is a perception in the mainstream that South Asian community “just use, use use. We need to give back.”
To give back he was on the Board of Ontario Trillium Hospital for a number of years before he resigned. Mr. Bhatia’s social work and recognition in the community has had compelled many people to suggest to him that he must run for a public office as a Liberal. “I don’t want to be a politician,” Mr. Bhatia says humbly. He proudly takes sick children, youth from mandir and gurdawaras to basketball games, but he is not willing to be a politician to do so.
Mr. Bhatia considers himself a blessed man. His desire is “to do something for old. Kids have to take responsibility of their elders. Kids’ are learning that from mainstream. I’m still afraid of my mother. My father used to give me third degree when I came after 11 at night.” It makes Mr. Bhatia sad when an old father comes to him to say that not one of his seven sons wants to take care of him. “ I want to do something for older people,” Mr. Bhatia says.
Mr. Bhatia speaks very fondly of her daughter. However he is a traditional father. She does not go for sleepovers because “we have to see each other every day,” he says.
Author: Asma Amanat