Commencing my career with Standard Chartered Bank in 1976, one of my first roles was managing relationships with embassies and their diplomats; these included the Australian, British, Canadian, Nigerian High Commissions and the Chinese Embassy etc. Over a period of time strong personal bonds developed with a large number of diplomats from several countries.
There was a special person at the Canadian High Commission that I recall fondly. Mrs. K was a very friendly and efficient accountant at the High Commission in the late 1970s. She visited the Parliament Street branch everyday for banking transactions and as we became good friends, she took it upon herself to mentor me. She repeatedly asked me to consider immigrating to Canada. My consistent response was that while on my radar, such a move would only happen after establishing my credentials at the Bank and once I had “proved myself”. At the time I had no idea about Canada and did not even know that Ottawa, not Toronto was the country’s capital! Yet, there was some unknown pull, some affinity that eventually brought me here. And 20 years after arriving in this country, I was most pleasantly surprised that Mrs. K managed to track me down and called me one morning from Ottawa! We had a wonderful time reconnecting and getting up to speed with our respective lives.
As we started to settle in the new country of our choice, there were some aspects of social behavior which while possibly not unique to Canada, I found most appealing. When first starting to use public transport, the concept of POP – Proof of Payment fascinated me. It relied on self-honor and self-policing. I must have used the trains each day for several years before finally encountering a “ticket checker” on the GO Train one morning. In all these years one has witnessed a handful of cases when people have inadvertently overlooked to cancel their ride, but I have not yet come across any deliberate attempt to cheat.
Arriving from India, I was blown away by the concept of the All-Way stop, where everyone honored the right of the others. It was such a pleasant surprise when occasionally drivers waved others who arrived at the same time at the stop sign to go first. Such civility and respect was something one was not accustomed to.
Self-deprecating humor. An office colleague, C, who became my first Canadian buddy showed me how to engage with others and lighten the mood. Self-deprecating humor has been his hallmark. This was quite a change from humor one had grown up with, typically laughing at another person, a particular community or race of peoples etc. One has to be “comfortable in one’s own skin” to be able to laugh at oneself; it can also be a great lesson in unpretentious behavior.
An older gentleman in my neighborhood intrigued me as I noticed him out for his evening walk wearing gloves and clutching a few empty plastic bags. I later discovered he would gather discarded napkins, empty water bottles, Tim Horton cups etc., littering the trails and place the debris in trash bins. Another colleague at work would pointedly pick up used, wet tissue papers and serviettes thrown carelessly in washrooms and put them away in the disposal bin. His logic is that if one piece of paper is seen lying somewhere, it just encourages accumulation of even more garbage.
Several role models have served to drive home a singular message, “Hold your own self to a higher standard”. All else falls into place.
The Nobel Laureate of India, Rabindranath Tagore had penned so aptly:
“Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe tobe ekla cholo re…”
[If no one answers your call, (be not afraid to) walk alone (my friend)…]