by Devanshu Narang (@devanshunarang) in Toronto
From the window of my downtown Toronto apartment, I can see a Canadian flag fluttering, facing the icy winds that are hitting hard on its already weary face. The world has long ago declared the arrival of spring and yet, as expected, the Canadian winter has stayed put.
For the last four months, I have seen my lonely companion fighting this lost battle. It is tired, battered, bruised. The harsh weather and gusty winds have taken their toll. The fabric is worn off and torn. In a few days, when people will notice its end, it will be removed and a new flag will be hoisted. It will flap happily in the summer, not knowing what is destined for it soon again.
With lost eyes I stare at my dying friend. After facing the winter of my Canadian existence, I too am worn and ragged as this dream, nay, nightmare, is coming to an end. As my story in this country concludes, another new entrant, an English-speaking laborer, which Canada jokingly calls ‘skilled’ immigrant, will take my place. Heard this before? Not quite.
A Wasted Existence
The story does follow the standard script of a skilled middle-aged professional with excellent educational background from his country, coming to Canada thinking that he is the chosen one and will touch the skies of success in the land of his dreams – only to realize within weeks that he will soon live a life of wasted existence here, because he does not possess the right skin colour, nor the right name.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Engineers, doctors, architects, teachers from foreign lands are a dime a dozen and are regularly seen working as security guards, taxi drivers, garbage collectors, gas station attendants or factory workers.[/quote]
Then, as the money saved and brought along starts to dwindle, and the pressures of earning the daily bread for his family breaks his self esteem, fate is accepted and whatever survival jobs are thrown at him are grabbed, and compromises are made, usually for life.
Engineers, doctors, architects, teachers from foreign lands are a dime a dozen and are regularly seen working as security guards, taxi drivers, garbage collectors, gas station attendants or factory workers.
They will talk about their houses, cars and cell phones, all obtained through jobs that pay just over minimum wage. Easy mortgages, loans, and even credit card debts, are used to accumulate that which will take a life time to pay back. They will harp on their Canadian citizenship and its merits in their pseudo accents as phony as the newly rechristened ‘Canadian’ names.
Bhuwanbhai Patel sees a dollar and starts calling himself ‘Bill’. Kashilal Tiwari dreams of the same dollar with wide eyes and starts calling himself ‘Kash’.
Over the second drink in a party, talks will move away from real estate and cars to the golden days once lived as highflying executives far away. And by the next drink, curses will start coming out towards Canada, its white majority and its system.
But my story does have a twist.
Back To Where You Came From
First the similarities: In 2009, aged 41, I arrived in Canada with the right pedigree – an engineering degree from IIT Bombay, one of the best institutions in all of India and corporate experience from various countries around the world, including from the USA. But within days I realized that pedigree suits horses and asses, not humans. Past experience carries no value in Canada. Period.
And then I met Buddha, in the form of a government servant. This was a woman who was supposed to be helping immigrants settle down in Canada. In her frustration at not being able to cajole me into accepting the odd job as a cleaner or garbage collector, she told me that if I really felt that I had higher value, I could always go back to where I had come from.
That thought stuck with me.
I left my job search, used whatever money I had brought along to buy a gas bar and a convenience store in Guelph, and later a motel in Niagara Falls. My wife, with a doctorate in economics, worked with me, hand in hand. Together we built our lives and provided for our family. Later we sold the gas bar and bought two more motels, larger ones. Amongst family and friends, we were rated a success story.
Even Canada recognized our success and within three years of arriving here, Canada’s leading immigrant magazine rated me as one of the ‘Top 75 immigrants’ for 2013. Seriously? Amongst the best success stories of Canada.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]This was all a scam. I was cheated. I applied for Canadian immigration under the skilled category and was selected based on a point system, which gave higher credence to my Indian education and work experience, both of which were rejected here.[/quote]
And while living this ‘successful’ Canadian life, selling cigarettes and groceries, renting or cleaning rooms, doing laundry, removing garbage or plowing snow in the gas station or motel, facing racial slurs on a regular basis from customers who visited our small businesses, this soul was waiting for the moment when it could follow the Buddha’s mantra, “If you want, you can always go back.”
I do not have anything against manual labor or doing the jobs that I did. Throughout my entire life, I have given as much respect to the janitors, the workers, the clerks in our factories, as to the general managers. We simply wanted to do our best, and offer our best to our patrons.
But this was all a scam. I was cheated. I applied for Canadian immigration under the skilled category and was selected based on a point system, which gave higher credence to my Indian education and work experience, both of which were rejected here.
I did not come to Canada to be a gas station attendant. Or a front office receptionist. Or a cleaner. I was an engineer and an experienced professional, and I expected opportunities where my expertise could have been used – even a supervisory role. I was never even short-listed for a job interview. Not even one.
Returning Home: Reborn as a Professional
After running my businesses for five years and relieved of some family responsibilities, the time had arrived to break free and ‘do’ what I was trained to do. But before that, just one last time, I wanted to try out Canada.
I sold my businesses and with my five years of ‘Canadian work experience’, started looking for jobs once more. Result? Again, a big zero, other than those offering positions at minimum wage.
I did at least develop a friendship with the Canadian flag, as we talked and scraped through the Canadian winter. The flag fought the forces of nature while I fought the very system that it stood for.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]By calling us outsiders and making us feel unwanted because of our skin colour, our names and our religion and by neglecting our professional background, you are becoming a mediocre ghetto and a place as cold and frigid as its weather.[/quote]
I now end my life as a non-descript entity in Canada and am reborn as a professional, while going back to the lands that trust my skills, my expertise and have called me back with open arms, entrusting me the responsibilities of managing companies and providing leadership to skilled people.
Vicious lady, my living Buddha, I am grateful and delighted today to follow your advice. Just to help you, on your behalf, I shout loudly to anyone who in his middle age still maintains a Canadian dream – do not come here if you genuinely value yourself.
Oh Canada, I cry for thee! In wasting lives of your adopted children you lose the very skills that they brought along. While throwing cold water over our dreams, you also end the warmth of belonging towards you that once ignited our loving hearts.
By calling us outsiders and making us feel unwanted because of our skin colour, our names and our religion and by neglecting our professional background, you are becoming a mediocre ghetto and a place as cold and frigid as its weather.
Good-bye, my adopted land and I may be gone for long and may just come back in the winter of my life. Perhaps in my heart, there is still some love left. I am not taking everything away. While leaving, I give you my biggest gift, my most beautiful creation for keeps. My children – the fruit of my life’s labour.
Accept them. Treat them as your own and not as the stepchild like you treated me. Love them as much as they love you.
My friend, our flag, fluttering, dying on that building there, is shedding one last tear together with me, for thee. I pray that for once, our tears melt your frozen heart and you open your arms and accept my children as yours and build a Canada of the future, a Canada of their dreams.
Devanshu Narang is a mechanical engineer with 25 years of corporate experience. He has worked in a variety of fields and industries. He is also a filmmaker, writer, and poet.
This article first appeared in Guelph Mercury News.