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Parks Canada prepared for ‘exceptional levels of visitation’ for Canada 150

Posted on 12 August 2017 by admin

As of July, Parks Canada was seeing a nine-per-cent increase from the same time last year across its network, according a spokesman for the agency’s Canada 150 plans.

CALGARY—From avoiding burned-out workers to ensuring washrooms have enough toilet paper, documents show how Parks Canada painstakingly prepared for a record number of visitors this year.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Ottawa has made admission to Canada’s national parks and historic sites free in 2017.

Presentations and memos obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act cite traffic snarls, run-ins with wildlife and visitor safety as some of the challenges officials flagged in the months leading up to a projected deluge.

“While many Parks Canada places have the capacity to comfortably host more visitors, some of the most popular places are already heavily patronized at peak times,” Parks Canada CEO Daniel Watson wrote in a November 2016 memo to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

“The possibility of increases during peak visitation has the potential for congestion, visitor safety and ecological impact risks. Parks Canada is preparing plans and measures to manage these risks.”

The memo noted a potential increase in human-wildlife interactions, especially on roads and highways.

“Furthermore, increased visits by non-traditional audiences who may be less familiar with national parks may lead to entry through unauthorized points, use of unofficial trails or behaviours that may require safety interventions, such as visitors getting lost on trails.”

One strategy was to try to spread out the crowds by promoting some places with greater capacity more heavily while reducing the profile of others through the media.

 “Situations where overloads are occurring or can be expected will be clearly communicated, complemented by suggestions of alternative destinations,” the memo said. “Shoulder season activities and events will be given greater priority.”

It said staffing and training would be increased, particularly among janitorial and front-line staff. Seasonal staff were to start their jobs earlier.

Parks attendance had already been rising by six to seven per cent annually in recent years, said Joel Reardon, a spokesman for the agency’s Canada 150 plans.

There were 23.2 million visitors in 2015 and 24.6 million in 2016.

As of July, Parks Canada was seeing a nine-per-cent increase from the same time last year across its network, Reardon said.

“Some places are busy without a doubt, but nothing out of the ordinary and everything is manageable at this point,” he said.

“I can tell you all of our planning going into this summer, going into 2017, is paying off.”

This year’s visitor increase to date isn’t far off from the 27.3 million Parks Canada was forecasting for 2017-18 in an undated draft report on how the free admission would be implemented.

“There is no precedent for free admission at Parks Canada, which creates unique challenges for forecasting 2017 visitation,” the agency said in the draft.

“While Parks Canada believes that visitation forecasts and planning ranges are reasonable, the agency is nonetheless preparing contingencies for exceptional levels of visitation in 2017.”

A chart accompanying the draft delved into how the agency would be affected if visitation exceeded estimates.

For instance, if there were to be 50 million visitors, it could result in “significant negative media coverage and reputational impacts, staff burnout, and radical measures to deliver services.” It also noted the possibility of “increased costs for facilities and all services.”

Public washrooms were an area of concern. At Lake Louise, the picturesque Rockies tourist hotspot, the report said there would need to be 25,000 additional industrial-sized toilet paper rolls — a 25-per-cent increase. It also mentioned a “new janitorial rapid response team” and a bolstered vacuum truck operations schedule.

A document outlining communications initiatives in 2017 touched on the well-being of Parks staffers.

“Information on employee support services would be frequently disseminated to assist employees dealing with added stress, longer hours and potentially challenging public interactions.”

Banff National Park, Canada’s busiest, had just over four million visitors in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

A slide show presentation on Banff’s preparations said the park was bracing for as much as a 25-per-cent increase in 2017-18.

But Greg Danchuk, the Banff field unit’s visitor experience manager, said as of the end of July, the park is seeing just a five-per-cent jump from the same a year ago — in line with the annual increases it’s seen in recent years.

Banff has been offering shuttles from Calgary and between various points within the park to deal with congestion, boosted its staffing levels and encouraged visitors to book campsites early.

“We’ll be able to ensure that people have a really safe experience, but an outstanding experience as well with lots of opportunities to enjoy this wonderful place.”

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Artist Gives Disney Characters A South Asian Flair

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Thusyanthe Srisachiananthadasan, an artist based in Germany is known for taking well known Disney characters like Aladdin and Princess Jasmine and giving them a traditional South Asian look.

Art has been a passion for her since a young age:

“Since the age of 16 I have always loved painting and knew it was my passion. Hence why I enrolled into Croydon college and studied art and design to further improve my skills and knowledge. It also let me learn more about myself and what I desired in life, which is when I decided that my path in life was to become an artist.”

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Who I Am Toady…

Posted on 29 December 2016 by admin


Everyone has ups and downs, but even that statement is not widely accepted in our community.

When I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 14 and I came and told my parents, their response was that the doctor was an idiot and didn’t know what he was talking about.

Of course I believed my parents and never bothered talking about it again, nor did I even try and explore it further.

Almost a decade later, I was bitter, miserable, unhappy, and just sad all the time. It was like there was never a light at the end of the tunnel for me.

In my mid twenties, it got worse. Life just got harder with the pressure of graduating, finding a job, finding a husband, settling down, having a family. My way of coping with negative situations only got worse, and I went through a few personal problems on top of that.

That is when the thoughts came into my head. Wanting to end my life. For years I kept feeling that way, but never found the courage to actually follow through with it.

The one time I did cut my wrist and ended up in hospital, was when I was aware of how bad things really got. That was also the day, my parents understood what I was going through and they just had no idea where to begin.

I was a 23 year old woman, who did not want to live anymore, and I was surrounded by people who had no idea of how to help me.

I spent the next 5 years in and out of hospital, different psychotherapists, different types of anti depressants, several more suicide attempts, and a nervous breakdown. I lost my job, most of my family and friends disliked me because I pushed them all away, and I was not capable of being in a relationship.

Do you know what I did? I went to the London College of Fashion and enrolled to do a hair and make up diploma.

In the midst of all of that, I wanted to do make up! The one thing I enjoyed since I was a young girl. So I decided to just follow that passion. The only passion. The only thing I felt I was good at. You all know the story of how hard it was to even convince my parents to not pursue a career in science, since I graduated with a Biology and Psychology degree, so you can imagine what sort of stress that also added to my endless list of issues. They simply had no respect for my career choice.

My job is hard, it is very stressful, you work under a lot of pressure. It is not just doing make up on people, but you are running a business. You also have to be patient and tolerant. Qualities I did not possess. I was so focused and driven to pursue my career in this, that I knew I had to figure out how I can learn to cope in negative situations, and not feel like jumping in front of a train at any given opportunity.

The first thing I did was go to my GP and talk. He suggested the right kind of anti depressant for me, and I started off with a low dosage. Most people get so scared of anti depressants, and if you do google it, there are tonnes of pros and cons to taking them. There are also so many different types of anti depressants. You just have to figure out which one works for you.

I am not a doctor, so I cannot describe what it does and how it works scientifically, but all I needed to know was that it numbed the pain, the bad thoughts, the constant negative feelings. Equally I did not feel anything positive either. You feel nothing. I needed to feel nothing. Isn’t feeling nothing better than feeling sad all the time?

Once the medication kicked in, I started seeing a psychotherapist. I know the waiting list to see a therapist is very long, but if you can afford it, just go online and find a local one. Most countries have a listing. The NHS site in the UK has a very descriptive list of therapists; their expertise and experience. You can pick and choose depending on what the nature of your problem is.

I tried several therapists until I found a lady who was just the right type of therapist for me. She taught me coping strategies. How to cope in a negative situation.

I find that with most therapists they get you to talk about your past too much. I understand that finding the source, the root of the problem is key to eliminating the symptoms, but not everyone can handle bringing up the repressed memories of one’s childhood. Everyone suffers from different types of problems.

My mum used to always say “What problems could you possibly have? We have done everything for you, you have a roof over your head, food, warmth, luxury, we buy you everything, why would you be sad?” Of course she was right. But I came from a generation where we didn’t talk about what happened in our childhood. We were wise enough at such a young age, not to burden our parents with things we knew they would never understand. More than that, we didn’t want to tell them things that would potentially hurt them. We tried to protect them by suffering ourselves. Imagine that responsibility being a child?And then what do you think happens 20 years later? We blame our parents for not having been there for us, for not having protected us, for not having saved us from that big black hole inside our head.

But it is not their fault. They never knew, and they were never exposed to the things we have been exposed to in the past two to three decades.

Once I was able to cope better with everyday things in life, I focused more on my career. I was motivated to build something that distracted me from all the bad things in my life. Some of my friends who have suffered from depression, all found something that made them appreciate life. For some it was having a baby, for some it was gym, and for some it was changing their career.

For me it was my career, IS my career. I put my life and soul into it, and worked hard to be where I am. I am still very critical of myself and still feel I have a very long way to go to perfect my skills, but it is enough to keep me going. Enough to make me feel content and happy.

I know I have a big social media presence, and I come across like the happiest person on earth, who has it all; that magical walk in closet, the million Zara items, that costly chia seed lifestyle, and those damn expensive Starbucks cappuccinos every week. But I want to inspire people, not show off to them. I want someone to see the benefits in the things I do. And also help someone, anyone, see the brighter side of life. Even if it’s through my famous chia seed dessert. I know the Starbucks is not inspirational in any way, but the coconut milk substitute is beneficial to your health! There you go! Anyway joke aside.

I want to make a difference. I have not had it easy, and nothing was given to me on a plate. I worked very hard, and suffered painfully, to be where I am today, and to be who I am today.

I hope people can see that through my social media posts.

When I got divorced, my parents thought I was going to try and harm myself again. They were like hawks in my house; constantly watching me, analysing me, and trying to talk to me. It really helped that they understood what I was going through. They understood that this could trigger my depression. As I now strongly believe that depression is a mental disease, and it never really goes away, it lingers, and just waits to attack. I did suffer a nervous breakdown. I did feel suicidal, and I was seeing a therapist again. But after only a few months, did I realise that I did not want to go down that path again. I did not want to take medication nor sit on a couch and talk about my ex husband. Instead I joined the gym, hired a personal trainer, saw a nutritionist, and focused on my inside. I just wanted to love myself. Figure out what I needed, and what would make all this go away. And it did go away. That cloud hanging over my head during the divorce went away. And it was all because I did that. I made it go away, by wanting to live. Wanting to be happy. Desperate to have another shot in life again. Believing that someone will love me, and that I will have a happily ever after.

We all deserve it. But how one achieves that is in no one’s hand but your own. You have full reign, full control of how you want your life to be.

Getting professional help is the first step. And once you understand what is going on in that head of yours, you should be able to explain this to your loved ones, because we all need the support of our family and friends.

When you are depressed you do feel alone and you shut yourself off, but even if it’s just the one person you can talk to, only one, it’s enough. It is better to have one person who you can trust, than a million negative people who are waiting to see you drown.

People love a gossip, and people are nosy, and you think they care, but all they want is entertainment. When you type my name into google, one of the most searched words associated with my company name is the word divorce. Do you know how many people still want to know what happened? Why I got divorced after only a four-month marriage? I never gave in. I have never shared my story on social media in the past 2 years. Firstly, it is no one’s business, secondly, it has nothing to do with my career, and thirdly it is not beneficial to anybody else.

All I want people to know is HOW I got through this, and HOW I overcame such a painful time. Because I know that divorce in our community, is another subject that is brushed under the carpet.

The stigma of divorce, depression, and all the other terms that are taboo in the Asian community, need to be addressed. How else are we supposed to set an example to the younger generation if we are encouraging them not to face these big problems?

I received a message last night from a girl who was feeling suicidal, and after reading my article, she snapped out of it, and thanked me for motivating her to go seek the necessary help.

I was so heartbroken reading that.

But then I was so happy I opened up about something so personal to me, because it made that difference to one person at least. And I can say that it was definitely the first time I have saved someone’s live!

Let us all save more!!!

I am grateful for all the comments, private messages, emails, and even text messages from previous clients, for sharing your stories, for supporting me sharing mine, and for wanting to help people who have also suffered or still suffer from this illness.

I was having a few bad days, which is ok, and I received a request from Women’s Planet to write an inspiring story for them. So I did. Timing, I tell you! Never did I imagine though, that I would get such a response. It really overwhelmed me and threw me off. I had never planned to ever talk about my depression, but reading all those private messages last night, made me realise that people were expecting me to share my story of how I overcame it. So I did. And I really hope this explains just a notion of who I am today!

I might not be able to make someone’s problems go away, but I can surely beautify them just for that one special day, and make them feel like they are worth everything. That is the power of my job, and I find it most rewarding. It is my way of giving back to the world, because we all deserve to feel and be happy.

I hope my blog was useful, and whether you yourself are suffering from depression, or know someone who does, then please take the necessary steps to seek/provide help.

Thank you.

Images courtesy of MY Photograph

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Relearning My Grandmother’s Language Taught Me Where My Roots Lie

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

Hamza Khan

“Talk to Nani Maa.”

Growing up as an English-speaking son of Indian immigrant parents, I dreaded those four words. Each weekend, my mother would hand me the phone to speak with my grandmother in Mumbai. And each time, I’d try to escape with an excuse.

When speaking to relatives back home, my mother spoke louder than she actually needed to (perhaps she believed that her voice wouldn’t carry across the ocean otherwise). This always caught me off guard, because I couldn’t accurately gauge how far away she was and how much time I needed to run to the bathroom and hide.

The sound of her approaching footsteps would send me into a panic. Beaming with excitement over connecting her son with her mother, she’d hand me the phone and mid-gesture say, “Talk to Nani Maa.” And thus would begin an excruciating five to 10 minute call with my grandmother in which I’d shut the door to my room and speak in hushed tones in case my mom was outside, gleefully listening in on our awkward exchange. Mustering every phrase I knew in “Hinglish” (a messy combination of Hindi and English), I’d routinely ask this specific set of questions:

“How are you?”

“How is your health?

“How is the weather?”

“Did you watch any new movies?”

“Should I give the phone back to mom?”

That’s the grandmother I knew from my childhood; a disembodied voice from a land far, far away. Someone I couldn’t form a decent relationship with due to our language barrier. She only spoke Hindi, and I only spoke English. And we both somewhat understood each other.

Unfortunately through repetition of this weekly ritual, thoughts of meeting my grandmother in real life brought up feelings of dread, embarrassment and guilt. Dread over being far outside of my comfort zone; embarrassment of having others judge my poor Hindi; guilt over not making enough of an effort to be a present grandson.

The grandmother of my adulthood is very different; she is a complete person, pieced together from longer and nuanced stories shared over dinner tables, through live commentary while watching Bollywood films, through genuine moments of human connection and through fading photos like this one:

When she flew in from Mumbai for my brother’s engagement last year, she looked more sickly and feeble than I’d ever seen before — more grey hairs, more wrinkles and a more noticeable limp. While nobody in my family dared acknowledge it out loud, we all knew this was possibly the last time we’d ever see her. And while my dread and fear of meeting her were long gone, I was still wrought with guilt over not bonding enough. And so I made it a priority to simply be in her presence and makes as many new memories as I could.

While I anticipated that we’d sit in silence for most of our time together, I was surprised by what actually transpired. In her twilight years, perhaps confronted by her own mortality and a reciprocal eagerness to forge a deeper connection with me, my grandmother was more talkative than usual. I mean, really talkative. To the point where my younger sister and cousins threw elderly respect (or just plain old etiquette) out the window and retreated into their respective digital devices.

Meanwhile, I sat there transfixed. I listened to Nani Maa’s stories. And I listened, and listened, and listened. And what I learned was nothing short of incredible.

Najma Mohammad, my Nani Maa, is around 70 years old. She is a seemingly ordinary woman who has led an extraordinary life. She’s had courtside seats to the tumultuous evolution of the country my parents used to call home: India. The breadth of historic events that Nani Maa experienced first-hand is staggering. Here’s a small snapshot:

  1. Partition
  2. Prohibition
  3. Freedom from British rule
  4. Three wars with Pakistan
  5. Presidential assassinations
  6. Rise of Mumbai’s underworld
  7. Race riots
  8. India’s nuclear proliferation
  9. India’s billionth citizen
  10. Mumbai terrorist attacks

She travelled around the world, was alive during Gandhi’s assassination, experienced the hysteria of The Beatles’ visit to India, saw broadcasts of Neil Armstrong walking the surface of the moon and recently used Snapchat filters. All within the same lifetime.

She told me amazing stories of going from riches to rags in the wake of her husband’s passing. She told me stories of police shootouts happening on her block, with police officers even stopping by her house to take water breaks before rushing back outside to resume their raids. She told me stories of having to discipline her sons for rubbing shoulders with neighbourhood boys that were part of street gangs (which would later evolve into the arms of India’s underworld regime). She told me stories of Hindu vs. Muslim sectarian violence in the wake of catastrophes like the tearing down of Babri Masjid, as well as the 1993 Bombay bombings.

The history of Mumbai is so incredibly rich, and the history of India is even more so. And hearing it told through the vantage point of an uneducated, tough-as-nails single mother was more more vivid than any photograph, book or movie I’d experienced. Her narrative was raw and human, held together by intertwining threads of grit and faith.

That summer, it hit me that her incredible stories would possibly die with her. That grim prospect gave me a sense of urgency to capture her stories when she’d come around for my brother’s wedding a few months ago, and to go deeper than merely a recollection of events. I wanted to know more about her specific context and her specific experiences in relation to these events. I wanted to ask, for each of her stories:

“Who else was there?”

“What do you think caused this?”

“When in the timeline of historic events did this occur?”

“Where exactly were you when this took place?”

“Why do you think it happened?”

“How did you feel before/during/after this?”

And as expected, these questions allowed me look below the surface-level conversations I’d previously held with her:

I learned that my grandmother was devastated by the death of her husband, and clueless as to how to raise six young children on her own. She sold every last one of her belongings to provide for them, including her wedding jewellery.

She was terrified by the police shootouts, but eventually came to befriend a prominent figure in the Mumbai police force. She counts it among her life’s biggest accomplishments that she guided her children to become strong, independent, hard-working citizens. She can recall the horror of bomb sirens during the wars with Pakistan, as well as the panic around trying to acquire baby food during states of emergency.

While she was here this past summer, we watched a few Bollywood movies with the subtitles off. And it reminded me that while I understand Hindi perfectly, I still struggle to speak it.

I spent half of my childhood in New York and the other half in Toronto. My family and the community around me always spoke a combination of English, Hindi, and Urdu (a very similar dialect to Hindi). Through osmosis, I was able to pick up the languages. But I could never speak it beyond a smattering of common phrases.

Knowing I’d meet my grandmother again this summer lit a fire in me to relearn conversational Hindi to not only better capture her stories, but to allow for a rekindling of our relationship. And I’m glad I did, because it allowed me to have one of the most human moments I’ve ever experienced, a heart-to-heart that changed the way I see myself…

Following a storytelling session, Nani Maa and I stood outside her guest bedroom. She looked at me with watery eyes. She began by acknowledging that her health was fading, and that she was saddened by the idea that this might be the last time we’d see each other. Seeing this rugged woman tremble and break down caused me to well up. With tears streaming down her face, she uttered these words to me:

“Mummy ka khayal rakhna, beta. Woh bohut hi strong hai.”

Which translates from Hindi to:

“Please take care of your mom, son. She’s a very tough woman.”

Her forlorn request whisked me through my memories as far back as they could go, illuminating nearly three decades of interactions with my mother. Having freshly listened my grandmother’s life stories, it gave my mother an entirely new dimension: the daughter of my grandmother.

It put into context that she was only a young girl when her own father died. Being raised by Nani Maa left an indelible imprint on who she is as a person today: a kind, selfless, tough-as-nails, tenacious woman. Someone built to withstand the vicissitudes of an immigrant experience during the ’80s and ’90s.

She lived through economic downturns, overt racism and strenuous demands on her mind, body and spirit. She tried to make it in America, and for some time lived alone with two children while my father tried to find new employment opportunities in Canada. Her early adult life and social life were uprooted in the pursuit of giving my sister and I a better life (a sacrifice we can never adequately repay). And she outlasted all of it. Because that’s what my grandmother taught her to do: persist. Just like my grandmother’s hut-dwelling mother, who lived through dire poverty, neglect and abuse.

I always thought I modelled my resilience after my father, but I was wrong. Most of it actually comes from my mother (and by extension my grandmother and my great grandmother). Tens of thousands of stressful experiences and interactions compounded to form the woman that raised me.

Today, I also see why grit is the defining characteristic of not just my mother, but all of her siblings as well. It’s not simply a reaction to being immigrants , it’s a latent skill set — a mindset, rather — forged in the crucible of an ever-changing and volatile country, that was simply activated by the stressors of changing circumstances.

Through my grandmother I’ve been better able to understand my mother and the values she imparted unto me. I am my mother’s son. I am my grandmother’s grandson. I am my great-grandmother’s great-grandson. And if I have children of my own someday, they’ll hopefully understand why I turned out the way that I did.

Working in marketing, I know that stories are the fundamental unit of human understanding — they are our connection to the past, our guide to the present, and our map to the future. Learning my grandmother’s life stories helped me to reconnect with my own Indian-American and Indian-Canadian identity in a way that Bollywood movies never could.

If you’re the first-generation child of immigrant parents, you owe it to yourself to learn the language of your grandparents. Spend some time with them and ask them about their life. Where were they born? Where did they live? What did they do for fun? What schools did they go to? Who was their first love? What was their first job? When did they feel hopeless? When were they most full of life? Get them to share the details of their most memorable days. And more.

Go deeper than the mere sequence of events you might’ve never ventured beneath because of language barriers. It could just be the key to unlocking dimensions of who you are. And if history is cyclical, perhaps who you might become.

Hamza Khan is an award-winning marketer & entrepreneur. Co-Founder of Splash Effect, a digital marketing agency with a focus on the education sector.

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Lessons from my magnificent ammi

Posted on 15 June 2016 by admin


Among the dozens of earrings I own is a pair of small gold hoops. They are dull-looking, slightly twisted and the clasp doesn’t quite shut for one. They are old, from the 1930s. They are always in a tiny red satin bag that sits in a corner of my closet.

I rarely wear them because I am terrified of losing them.

They were my grandma’s, the only thing of hers I now own.

My grandma died two years ago and I lost the person I loved the most in the world.

Her name was Harbhajan but few people knew that. Everyone called her ammi, which means mother in Urdu, a language spoken in Pakistan and parts of India.

Ammi was 19, married to my grandfather for three years, when India was partitioned in 1947. As riots raged, towns were burned down and thousands killed within days, the two fled their hometown of Lahore in Pakistan with nothing but the clothes on their back.

They eventually settled down in Chandigarh, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, and ammi had five kids over 12 years; my mother was her eldest.

I was her first grandchild. Ammi was there when I was born — small, wrinkly and two months premature. She was there when I was named and she was there, hovering, when the doctor gave permission to take me home.

But she wasn’t there a few weeks later when someone dropped me and I broke my left elbow. Within hours, ammi brought me back from my parents’ home and I never returned except for an occasional visit.

I was 6 weeks old and became her sixth child.

Ammi was thin, barely five feet tall, slightly bent and always walked with her left hand on her waist. She had been young once — there are photographs to prove it — but as far as I can remember, her face was a crisscross of wrinkles that got deeper and silver hair that got thinner every year.

As a child, I would pester her over dinner every night until she told me the story about how she got married to my grandfather and then discovered he had 13 siblings, all of whom lived in the same house.

It took away the shock of being married to a man she had never met, she often said.

Only on rare occasions would she talk about her life in Pakistan. But when she did, she never complained, never lamented the things she had left behind.

She counted her blessings for making it to the other side of the border with her small family.

One story she frequently told was from the India-Pakistan war of 1971.

My grandfather, who was in the Indian military, was posted in Ferozepur, a town on the border of India and Pakistan. Ammi was home with three of her younger kids when shelling started. She didn’t panic. She started throwing clothes in a suitcase. But when a shell landed in the backyard, she dumped the suitcase, grabbed the kids and walked until she reached the train station, a half-hour walk away.

Ammi and I were good friends. She gave me the silent treatment if I’d been bad, slapped me hard if I’d been really bad. But she was always the buffer between my grandfather and me, whom I had a great but tumultuous relationship with.

(He still lives in the house I grew up in, in Chandigarh, and turned 90 in November.)

She taught me to cook, to sew, even knit but rarely made me do any chores. Her philosophy was simple: “Life can throw surprises. Be prepared.”

The best part about being raised by grandparents is that they’ve become wiser with age and have learned lessons with their kids.

When I first cut my waist-long hair to shoulder length at 15, ammi shed some tears but took it in stride and even saved me from my grandfather’s wrath.

(We are Sikhs, it’s against our religion to cut hair.)

Years later, my youngest aunt still says she would have been in real trouble if she’d done that.

My grandparents were strict with their four daughters — there were curfews; sleepovers, makeup and skirts were out of the question; and certainly no boyfriends.

Sleepovers, makeup and skirts were a big no-no for me too but I defied curfew persistently and ammi always covered for me. And when I told her my boyfriend had proposed and I had said yes, she wept.

More than anything else, she taught me to love unconditionally, live honestly and do what feels right — not what is right. Because, as she said, “In the end, you have to live with yourself.”

It is what I do.

Six years ago when I moved to London, Ont., to go back to school, she was sad but approved. Three weeks later, she had a heart-attack and I thought it was the end. She pulled through but was never the same again.

A cardiac arrest killed her in October 2009.

It was a Friday and she’d just had dinner. As she tried to rise from the chair, she fell down and was dead within moments.

Grief is the loneliest place in the world. It’s harsh and it’s unforgiving.

I cope with it because through my sorrow, I hear her voice that says:, “Life is here, life is now, live it well.” (If she were alive, I bet she would also wag her finger and say, “Stop whining.”)

When I miss her more than usual, I wear the gold hoops.

At the end of last month, Star reporter Raveena Aulakh passed away. This was one of her most memorable pieces.

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Double Standards… Say What Now?

Posted on 29 October 2015 by admin

Well girls – listen tight, sit comfortably and get your reading glasses on. What I am about to tell you will either shock you or you’ll be agreeing with me so much that you’ll be gasping for air. And boys – some of you are probably going to hate me for writing this, but it’s time that someone set you straight. Remember throughout this article I say boys but I actually mean “some boys”, so please don’t bombard the comments section.

When you get to your mid-to-late 20s as a girl (not all girls but some), you start to think about the future and think “Hey, I think I want to settle down with a nice boy.” So you start looking. And as you put more effort into your appearance (M.A.C lipstick and all), you think “Ah this is easy. I am a nice decent girl. Any guy would be lucky to have me.” You become more open-minded to meeting new people and this is where you learn the most.

The above reflects me. Unfortunately, I’ve also met several individuals from the male species who have surprised me with their logic of something the cool kids nowadays call “double standards”.

What are “double standards” you ask? As Urban Dictionary puts it, it is “when a situation is desirable for one group but deplorable for another.” In the case of our Tamil boys, it’s “Enjoy now, settle later. But when it comes to marriage the girl has to be a virgin.”

You might think where is the logic in all this? Well you can look all you like because you won’t find it.

You might understand that virginity is important to a girl. Our back home mentality would say that kudumba maanam is hung up on a daughter’s virginity. As much as I am a huge fan of our culture and traditions, boys listen carefully: we don’t live back home anymore and it’s the 21st century. We are surrounded by people who don’t believe in the same things we do. It’s only natural for people to adapt, especially when they are into the 3rd or 4th generations after their parents moved here.

So boys let me get this straight. It’s completely acceptable for you to drink, smoke, have sex, gamble and other shenanigans. But none of the above are allowed to be done by your so-called future wife. I don’t know girls, if you ask me that makes total sense(!)

If you sleep with Tamil girls who you say the right things to and make them feel great and then leave – when it comes to marriage, trust me brother you won’t have anyone left. And to be honest, that serves you right. The saddest part is you would think boys with sisters, female cousins and girl mates would understand this. But you would be surprised.

If a girl wants to have sex, she will. That’s her right and her body. That doesn’t define her personality. I personally believe in sex after marriage not because of all of the above, but because I want it to be with that one person. And you might think I’m totally crazy, but I want my future husband to be the same. It is logical that I can expect that. If I can wait, someone out there can too!

To conclude, girls – this is where you have to spread the message and beware of these little fellas who probably don’t deserve you. They could tick all the boxes. But if that one box – “Could you imagine him being the father of your daughter or son” – isn’t ticked, you’ve got your answer.

Boys, this wasn’t an attack on your species – just advice that maybe you need to change your mindset a little and be a bit more open-minded. If you want to marry a virgin then be one. But don’t shut someone down just because they aren’t.

Hope you enjoyed this not so little article.


Your typical girl next door.

Disclaimer: All this is obviously my opinion, and if I mentioned anything above that hurt anyone’s feelings it wasn’t my intention to do so.


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Indian businessman gifts cars, homes and jewelry to 1,000 employees, calls it ‘social business’

Posted on 23 October 2014 by admin

Thursday marks Diwali, India’s festival of lights, which is a lot like Christmas in the United States. Usually Indians give one another small gifts during Diwali – brightly packed boxes of nuts and sweets, as well as cash and clothing. Some employers give bonuses, too.

But this year Savjibhai Dholakia, chairman of Hari Krishna Exports, celebrated Diwali in a big way — giving cars, apartments and jewelry as festival bonuses to hundreds of his best employees. His generosity set social media abuzz Monday; the jeweler gave 491 employees Fiat cars worth $8,000 each and jewelry to 600 more. A lucky 200 or so even received two-bedroom apartments.

Dholakia is flamboyant but also deeply grateful.

This year, his employees, whom he respectfully calls “diamond engineers,” helped the company reach more than $1 billion in diamond exports, he said. His company exports polished diamonds and jewelry to 72 countries, including the United States.

“My employees worked very hard,” Dholakia said in a telephone interview. “I had to reward them accordingly. I could not hoard all the profits, could I?”

Dholakia, who is in his 50s, is no Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey. He isn’t even a blue-chip industrialist like billionaire Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man. Dholakia is a fourth-grade dropout who began polishing diamonds at age 12 as an apprentice under his uncle. He started his own business in 1992 and now lives with his three brothers in a large joint family compound of 28 people.

He first began giving cars to his employees 18 years ago during Diwali. He started with three. Last year, he gave away 100 cars. Then came 2014. It has been a very, very good year.

The jeweler sees the gifts as kind of the company’s in-house loyalty and worker-evaluation program.

“What I do is social business,” Dholakia explained. “I am not a socialist, I am a businessman. But I don’t spend money on charity for strangers. I do social work for the people who toil for my company. I share the profit with the people who created the profit.”

Employee Mukesh Parmar, 36, usually polishes gems with a “calm and peaceful mind.” But on Monday, he nearly lost it when he got his first car.

“If you never even thought of owning a car, and you suddenly get it as a gift, how would you feel?” Parmar asked. “My mother has been excitedly calling friends and neighbors all day and telling them, ‘We have a car, we have a car!’ ”

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India showcased at Mel Lastman Square

Posted on 07 August 2014 by admin

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Indian High Commissioner Admiral Verma and Toronto Consul General Akhilesh Mishra, Senators, Ministers, MPs, MPPs, Mayors and Councillors, and thousands of people celebrated India Independence Day celebrations here on Saturday, August 2.

Panorama India which is an umbrella body of various Indo-Canadian organizations, organized the celebrations that was held at Mel Lastman Square, 5100 Yonge Street, this year.

The celebrations began with the CIBC sponsored reception with Premier, Indian High Commissioner and many dignitaries followed by India Day Parade which gave a glimpse of diverse culture of India.

Thousands of people attended the event during the day and more than 15 cultural troupes represented various parts of India and performed on stage throughout the day. Upcoming movie Dr. Cabbie’s hero Vinay Virmani and star cast Tia Bhatia were amongst the celebrities that rocked the main stage.

Panorama India chairperson Anu Srivastava said, “It was exciting to see Mayor Rob Ford dance to the scintillating bhangra beats of RDB’s lead singer, Manj”.

According to her, “The most interesting feature of this year’s Parade was the community’s enthusiasm. State of Gujarat’s decorated rickshaw had 400 Gujarati people in the contingent who came in 2 bus loads from Brampton, whereas State of Telangana had extremely enthusiastic crowds of 150 in the Parade with their traditionally decorated hand pulled Rickshaws. Some of the other States were Jammu & Kashmir, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Yonge Street closed down for 2 hours and Indian High Commissioner Admiral Verma with Consul General Akhilesh Mishra led the Parade’’

Throughout the day, several vendors served Indian delicacies like Dosa, Idli, Vada, Biryani, Chaat Papri etc. There was ice cream and nimbu paani to beat the heat since bottled water could not be sold in the Mel Lastman Square according to City By-Law.

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“Sithi Nakh”, An Indigenous Style Environment Festival Among Newars

Posted on 06 June 2014 by admin

Uttam Makaju


Newars, the ancient inhabitants of Kathmandu valley, have been preserving the cultural heritage through celebrating different festivals as it was hundreds years ago. Newar culture has diversity in their society. Similarly, Newari cuisine also has diversity in their taste. The social importance of food in Newar culture is readily apparent. Each Newar festival holds different kinds of food and connected with climate, health and nutrition.

Among the various festivals, ‘Sithi Nakha” is one such festival which pays special focus on environment. It is celebrated at the onset of rainy season and paddy plantation. This festival falls on the sixth day of bright fortnight of Jestha (May or June).

The legend is that on this day we bid farewell to summer and welcome rainy season. This festival is devoted to Lord Kumar’s birthday, the son of Shiva. So it is also called “Kumar Khasthi.”

 Kumar is the Hindu God who sits at the main entrance of each house in the form of eight petal lotus carved stone (Pikhalakhu) and gets first offering before lord Ganesh. Kumar Khasthi is also the last day of the year to worship ancestral god, which is mandatory to Newar clan each year.

On the eve of “Sithi Nakha” Newar people make special dishes to offer the God. They prepare Newari dishes, specially “Bara “(pancake ) made of black lentil, green lentil, small peas, rice flour (Chatamari). Legumes like kidney beans, black eyed bean along with other dishes of Newari feast like bitten rice, meat and so on are prepared on this day.

Another special item of the festival is “Shattu” ( a fried wheat flour mixed with sugar or brown sugar). It is believed that different kinds of lentils and legumes bring lot of energy in the body which is accumulated for the upcoming paddy plantation work. Paddy planting work is considered as very hard, calling it “Sinaajya” (working hard like that you feel almost die) in Newar language.

The tradition and festivalmlinks itself with social and environmental awareness aspect apart from religious aspect. On this day, Newar people clean water sources, wells, stone spouts, ponds and surroundings of their respective communities. This shows the prime respect to the natural resources, specially water sources and its periphery.

It is their belief that if you do not clean water sources on this day , there will be paucity of water throughout the year and diseases may spread.

Realizing the festival’s core theme as an environmental aspect and sustainability, Nepalese government has decided to observe it in a great manner on June 4th and 5th, 2014 in coincidence with “World Environment Day”, which falls on June 5th. UN Habitat, an organization dedicated to promote environmentally sustainable shelters, has also supported the festival for its indigenously architected environmental sustenance activities.

‘Newar families residing around Greater Toronto Area and other parts of Canada celebrate this festival within their family members”, states a member of Canadian Newa Guthi (CNG), an organization dedicated to preserve, practice and showcase Newar culture in Canada.

It is the objective of Canadian Newa Guthi to inspire, create awareness, showcase and celebrate different Newar culture and festivals in a time honoured manner in GTA and other parts of Canada.

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Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Posted on 16 October 2013 by admin

When it was announced that Alice Munro had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, phone calls and e-mails from friends started streaming in. Some people were tearful. I suspect that these little explosions of joy are happening all over the world among Munro’s fans; I also suspect that this level of emotional response (more akin to receiving family news, like the birth of a child) doesn’t happen every year when the winner of the Nobel is declared.

Munro is one of those writers who, no matter how popular her books are, is ourwriter. This may have to do with the frank intimacy of her tone, which is stripped of ornament and fuss, yet also, in its plainness, contains huge amounts of terrible, sublime, and contradictory feeling. It may have to do with the fact that she writes mostly about women who want to escape some kind of confinement, who are hungry for experience above all else, and who attain it at a dear price, so that we can read about it. They are elegant, wry, determined women. They are also subversives, and because they allow us into their lives, we’re dusted with their secret glamor.

It’s often said of Munro that her stories are so packed with emotion and incident that they are like novels—generations playing out their compulsions and longings across a few pages. Writers study her work with devotion, trying to figure out how so much can happen in so little space. With Munro, it’s easy to pick out examples of miraculous economy: there are many, many stories and most of them are perfect. Look how she evokes a marriage in “Miles City, Montana.”

I wished I could get my feelings about Andrew to come together into a serviceable and dependable feeling. I had even tried writing two lists, one of things I liked about him, one of things I disliked—in the cauldron of intimate life, things I loved and things I hated—as if I hoped by this to prove something, to come to a conclusion one way or the other. But I gave it up when I saw that all it proved was what I already knew—that I had violent contradictions. Sometimes the very sound of his footsteps seemed to me tyrannical, the set of his mouth smug and mean, his hard, straight body a barrier interposed—quite consciously, even dutifully, and with a nasty pleasure in its masculine authority—between me and whatever joy or lightness I could get in life. Then, with not much warning, he became my good friend and most essential companion. I felt the sweetness of his light bones and serious ideas, the vulnerability of his love, which I imagined to be purer and more straightforward than my own. I could be greatly moved by an inflexibility, a harsh propriety, that at other times I scorned. I would think how humble he was, really, taking on such a ready-made role of husband, father, breadwinner, and how I myself in comparison was really a secret monster of egotism. Not so secret, either—not from him.

At the bottom of our fights, we served up what we thought were the ugliest truths. “I know there is something basically selfish and basically untrustworthy about you,” Andrew once said. “I’ve always known it. I also know that that is why I fell in love with you.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling sorrowful but complacent.

“I know that I’d be better off without you.”

“Yes. You would.”

“You’d be happier without me.”


And finally—finally—wracked and purged, we clasped hands and laughed, laughed at those two benighted people, ourselves. Their grudges, their grievances, their self-justification. We leapfrogged over them. We declared them liars. We would have wine with dinner, or decide to give a party.

I haven’t seen Andrew for years, don’t know if he is still thin, has gone completely gray, insists on lettuce, tells the truth, or is hearty and disappointed.

There’s self-knowledge and self-deception, the heat of argument and the coolness of time passing, sorrow and sarcasm, devastation and worldly indifference, all in half a page.

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