1. Journalist Ian Hanomansingh
2. Ken Hussain: Academy Award winner
3. Dev Bansraj Ramkissoon: Indian musical teacher supreme
4. Evans Morgan St Vincent politician
5. Dr Unus Omarali
6. Pioneer broadcaster Jai Ojah Maharaj makes the Caribbean Connection
7. The exemplary Pandita Jasodra Prasad
8. Who's that dashing horseman there? It's Aakash Maharaj
9. Ram and Ruby Maharaj: Roti pioneers in Canada
10.Janet Naidu is a poet,writer, diversity leader
11. Steven Ramsankar changed education policy in Alberta
12. Young tabla artiste Ramona Sylvan one of Toronto's best
13. Coverden boy Mani Singh scales the heights in Canada
14. Indo-Caribbean achievers receive Music, Culture and Community Awards 2008
Bhim Singh, Sukhram Ramkissoon, Cyril Patraj Singh, Farooqui Baksh,
Heeranath Mohabeer, Jai Ojah Maharaj, Razia Khan, Ramdath Jagessar,
Satnarine Bansingh, Eeshri Singh, Kawalie Asha Maharaj, Ruby Khan-Guptar,
Nazimool Khan, Dhaman Kissoon
interviews Ian Hanomansing
February 2002 http://www.mybindi.com/gallery/adayinthelife/ianhanomansing.cfm
From East to
West, a Canadian journalist Through and Through
"There have been so many," replies Ian Hanomansing, anchor of CBC
television's national dinnertime newscast "Canada Now," when I ask
him about the most memorable moments of his career. After a few moments'
consideration, he is able to single out three: the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the
handover, and the L.A. riots of 1992. "We drove from the airport right
into the heart of South Central LA at about 11 PM and right into the heart of a
full-fledged riot. The next few hours are still firmly etched into my mind as
we saw buildings on fire, open looting, and police trying to restore even a
semblance of order."
It's surprising that Ian can even pick out of the numerous events of his long
and successful career. As a reporter for the CBC, he was also on location
covering the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Vancouver's post-Stanley Cup riot of
1994, the Heaven's Gate Suicides in 1997, and Philippine's Centennial in 1998.
But Ian's own story began a lot earlier than these events, in the town of Sackville, New Brunswick. Although born in Trinidad, it was in this place out east that
he spent his formative years becoming fascinated with radio. "When it got
dark, I often tuned in to WCBS and WINS in New York and WHDH in Boston. Although the world of broadcasting
seemed far away from the small town I was living in, I did dream about one day
working in radio."
His dream came true as he was graduating high school, when by chance he had
mentioned his aspirations to a local newspaper reporter. The reporter then
introduced him to the manager of a radio station in Nova Scotia, which led to a summer job filled
with reading newscasts, working as a DJ, and reporting. From that initial
experience, he continued to work in the media industry while completing a
Bachelor of Arts degree at Mount Allison University and a Law degree from Dalhousie University. "I sometimes wonder where I'd
be today if I had not received that break. It is quite likely I'd be a
frustrated lawyer somewhere dreaming about a career in broadcasting."
In 1986 he joined CBC television in Halifax, and two years later moved to Vancouver to become a television news
reporter for the CBC BC bureau. He has resided there ever since, making a name
for himself as an award-winning reporter and hosting CBC Newsworld's Pacific
Rim Report from 1995-1999. In October 2001 he became the anchor of Canada Now,
spending every weekday since helping to shape the newscast and broadcasting
several different live editions of the program to coincide with each dinnertime
in every Canadian time zone. "Five editions with fourteen different
co-anchors in cities across the country....Each show at least a little
different than the other."
With such national exposure, Ian is one Indo-Caribbean who is a very prominent
ambassador of CBC to the Canadian public. But he doesn't define himself by his
race, nor does he feel that the nation defines him by it. "I find that
people see me, for the most part, as a CBC journalist who happens to have grown
up in New Brunswick and happens to be of South Asian descent and happens
have a variety of other traits. I will often be asked what my ethnic background
is, but in a polite curious way which, I imagine, is not much different than
the kinds of questions my colleagues Joe Schlesinger or Sasa Petricic might
And what does he think of the increased South Asian/Indo-Caribbean presence in Canada's news industry? "I think the
best thing about [it] is that it is happening without it being an issue. I have
always felt strongly that if organizations make an effort to hire the best
people, it will lead to a diverse staff. For example, there was a time when law
schools were concerned about the low numbers of women students and wondered how
they could change that. When I graduated from law school, I think more than
half of my class was comprised of women and certainly almost all of the top ten
students were women. When I see new reporters such as Hanson Hossein on Canada
Now, I see a smart young reporter who happens to be of what [some people would
term] Indo-Caribbean descent."
From his fifteen plus years at CBC, Ian has many positive things to say about
its news department. "I work for a network that has a long standing
dedication to top notch news coverage because news is important, not because
news might mean more revenue. As someone who has a major [role] every day in
shaping our newscast, I can tell you that we are driven by journalistic
standards, not pandering to the biggest possible audience. Our programs get
stronger ratings than the commercial media might have you believe. Each night
the National attracts a million or more viewers. Canada Now gets hundreds of
thousands of viewers each evening, with some audiences reach into the six and
seven hundred thousands. While those numbers are gratifying, we remain first
and foremost a newscast of journalism, not entertainment. For many Canadians,
we are a trusted source of news. For many more, our work becomes a benchmark
for the coverage of our competitors."
His pride in "Canada's Own" extends to Canada itself. After listing off the many
notable Canadian television journalists who have left for prominent positions
in the American news industry, I ask him whether he's ever felt the lure of the
south. "It is nice to be 'wined and dined'," he answers, "but I
have always made it clear that I had no intention of leaving Vancouver specifically and Canada generally. I have been fortunate to
have a very good life both on and off the air and have seen no reason to change
Ian's decision to stay here could also relate to what he thinks of the American
news industry in general. "At the local level, U.S. television news in
many major cities is filled with helicopter shots of police chases, live
reports on crimes and natural disasters, very good looking anchors,
sportscasters, affable meteorologists and not a lot else. You can watch a lot of
six o'clock news in the US and not learn who the governor is,
or what is happening in the world beyond the latest update on US troops or
Mariah Carey. On the network level though, the United States has many thoughtful and intelligent
Lastly, since Ian has obviously succeeded in his profession on such a large
scale, I inquire as to what he thinks any good journalist needs to rise to the
top. "It is important to have curiosity about the world around you - from
your neighborhood to across the ocean - and to be able to think creatively.
You'll need to be able to handle intense pressure to compete, to perform, and
to meet an immovable deadline...There are no extensions in the news business.
You also have to have highly developed inter-personal skills to deal both with
people inside your own newsroom as well as people out in the field. Finally,
you have to be self-reliant. You will constantly find yourself in changing
circumstances for which there is no textbook. Having said all of that, I can tell
you that almost 23 years after I first signed on at that radio station in Nova Scotia, I love my job. I can't imagine
doing anything else."
KEN HUSSAIN: ACADEMY AWARD WINNER
By Ram Jagessar (1997)
audiences viewing blockbuster movies like The Thin Red Lines, Six Days Seven
Nights and Lost in Space did not see the
name Ken Husain in the credits or even know of his work in making the films
they were enjoying.
Ken's expertise in developing post production audio and video editing
controllers for the film and television industries has brought him the highest
possible honour in his field- an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences.
week he travels to Los Angeles to receive his academy
award in the technical field of
producing equipment for audio and video editing. Ken and colleagues Bob
Predovich, John Scott and Cam Shearer of the Toronto based Soundmaster Group
will be honoured for designing and implementing the ION ATOM, a machine that
controls other editing equipment.
ION ATOM has become the industry standard, used by major players like Universal
Studios, Fox, Disney, and Sony. Ken is
one of the people who designed and built the $25,000 US machine right here in Canada, and have made it the
leading edge technology in its field. That's why the Academy is giving him one
of its highly sought technical achievement plaques (the golden Oscar statuettes
go mostly to actors, producers, directors and designers).
a long road from West Demerara in Guyana to Los Angeles, USA, and when Ken receives his award on Saturday
he'll be in new territory as the first Caribbean person to do so. Jamaican
born actor Sidney Poitier has received an Oscar and as far as we know that is
the end of the list.
confessed to "feeling heavenly" at the news that he has reached the
peak, the milestone event in his career.
"It's going to be hard to top this, " said Ken, who is just 40 years
old, the parent of eight year old Nadia
and three year old Sophia with his wife Pam.
never dreamed of any such thing while working as a custom officer and with the
construction company Taylor Woodrow in Guyana, before moving to Canada in 1985. It was the
electronics course at De Vry Institute in Toronto, which landed him a job two
years later at the Soundmaster Group.
developed his abilities in hardware design on an earlier machine called the
Synchro, which is still in use all over the US and Canada and hit the jackpot with
the ION ATOM, released in 1995. Ken is now a principal at Soundmaster, and the
road is open wide for further innovation and excellence.
Dev Bansraj Ramkissoon:
A living legend
Imagine at 10 year of age, competing with adults in a
singing competition and being declared the winner by Hemant Kumar, one of the
most accomplished Indian singers of all times.
Legends are built on stories
like this. That was the start of a very successful journey in the world of
Indian music and culture. At the age of 17, Dev Bansraj Ramkissoon was awarded
a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. He studied in New
where he graduated with a Masters degree in music and has won numerous awards.
Today he is a professor of music and runs a successful Academy
of Indian Music, SAAZ-O-AWAAZ in Brampton,
Ontario. He has over 150 students of all
ages from all parts of the world.
Not only does Dev love the art form, he also takes pleasure
in sharing it with others in the hope that they too will further the culture in
the western world.
Dev is a professional and advocates proper voice and music
training. He teaches and sings Classical, Gazal, Kowali, Bhajans and Film songs
and play the sitar, harmonium, dholak, flute and other instruments. Dev's
performances in India,
Venezuela Barbados, Guayana and Trinidad makes him a
truly international star.
Dev's family is an integral part of his career. His two
teenage children are also musicians and performers. They accompany him on tours
and concerts.His wife assists in the administration of the academy. I asked Dev,
what do you think of an Indo-Canadian Centre for Arts and Culture? He had
thought for a while then replied, "that will truly be a dream come true.
It is well worth working towards."
By Ram Jagessar
Evans Morgan: Politician
Jagan, Bhadase Maraj and Basdeo Panday are well known is Indo-Caribbean
politicians, scarcely anyone nowadays remembers the name of Evans Morgan, an Indo-Vincentian who won a seat in the
Legislative Council of St. Vincent in 1951. At first, one may think that this
oversight is yet another example of the snobbish dismissiveness so readily and
rudely applied by fellow West Indians to "small island'' places like St.
Vincent; except that genuine mystery appears to surround Evans Morgan who served only two years and
two months of his four-year term as an elected member
Legislative Council of St. Vincent before
resigning his seat and emigrating to England in
grandparents were immigrants from India, but he and his parents were born in St. Vincent. He attended a Seventh Day Adventist
elementary school in his home island before going to high school in Trinidad,
and returning to St. Vincent where he
was appointed Assistant Principal of an elementary
school. He was nineteen years old as the time. As if this was not precocious
enough, merely two years later, he stood as a candidate in St. Vincent's first election under universal adult
suffrage. Not only did he win a seat but, by his account, he polled more than
2000 votes while the three other candidates in his constituency polled
respectively 35, 14, and 3 votes. Nothing could be more decisive.
Morgan, his party won seats in all eight constituencies on the island, but
dissension set in after the election, when four of the elected members refused to
attend the swearing in ceremony at Government House, on the pretext that their
attendance would mean they were bought over by the British administrator (governor).
Morgan himself, together with George Hamilton Charles the party leader, and two
other elected members attended the swearing in ceremony and were immediately viewed
with suspicion as having sold out to the British.
The fact is
that Morgan's party was not a genuine political party for it did not have a
common political ideology. His party was called The Eighth Army of Liberation
which consisted of members of a trade union- the United Workers, Peasants and
Rate Payers Union (UWPRU) founded by George Hamilton Charles in January 1951.
Charles and others, including Ebenezer
formed the Eighth Army of Liberation with the purpose of contesting the
election in 1951. They won, and soon after the election the Eighth Army split
in two, one called the “little four” with Charles, Herman Clive Tannis and Evans
Morgan, and the other known as the “big four” consisting of Ebenezer Joshua, Julian
Baynes, Rudolph Baynes and Sam Slater; and whether it was true or not, the big four
led by Joshua believed that the “little four” had sold out to the planter class
and the colonial office.
Morgan, the worst effect of division within the party was that it became
impossible for all members to agree on bills and motions that were being
considered in parliament. When this difficulty was added to the fact of a power
of veto held by the administrator (governor) over all legislation, it quickly emerged
that the elected government could not function effectively.
that it was this legislative stalemate that disillusioned him, and induced him
to abandon politics and seek his fortune in England. It was a fateful decision, one for which
he has no regrets.
Morgan studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic, then at London University, where he gained a M.Sc. degree in
economics. He was offered employment by the oil company Shell, and in 1959 went to Trinidad to work for the company. Shell then offered
him a scholarship which he used to go to England and qualify as a chartered accountant. He
again worked for Shell in Trinidad until 1968 when he immigrated to Canada; but in 1971 the government of St. Vincent, led by Milton Cato, offered him
the position of Deputy Accountant General which he accepted in the hope that he
would replace the Accountant General who was soon to retire. When this
promotion failed to materialize he returned to Canada in 1974, and served the Ontario government as an accountant/economist for
In 1993 he won
an award as top civil servant in Ontario, but in 1996 he took early retirement and
now works as chief internal auditor for the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ontario.
Even if Evans
Morgan did not achieve the political fame of leaders such as Cheddi Jagan,
Bhadase Maraj and Basdeo Panday, his story is memorable both for its intrinsic
human interest and for the light it sheds on the post-colonial inheritance of
West Indians. For one thing, when he ran for election in 1951, Morgan states
that he encountered no racial discrimination or hostility from a constituency
that was 95% African. Yet when he returned to St. Vincent in 1971 and failed to get the promotion
he expected, he suspected that race had become a factor.
accurate that might be, Morgan’s story sheds light on the feudalistic, planter-dominated
social economic structure of colonial St. Vincent in the 1950s when, as a
fledgling youth of twenty-one, he plunged into a political career that was to
prove so sadly abortive.
Here, in his
own words is his description of St. Vincent when he was elected in 1951: “St. Vincent in those days was owned by 17 men, and
these men - mostly white, owned 95% of the arable land in a country where
agriculture was the chief source of revenue. Our chief crop was arrowroot with
some cotton and sugar. But unemployment was rife; ordinary people without
housing simply squatted on open land; the education system was archaic; and the so called internal self-government was
governor could veto all bills. For someone with such passionate views to voluntarily
end his political career after only two years in office seems totally contradictory.
And who is to say how good a politician St. Vincent and the Caribbean may have lost when Morgan resigned in 1953!
speaks ruefully of West Indian politicians. “They all want to lead,” he says, ”they
don’t want to follow.” This was one reason, he claims, why the West Indian
federation fell apart in the early 1960’s. But when one recalls the tragic
division in the People's Progressive Party engineered in Guyana in 1955, mainly by Forbes Burnham who
wanted to be “leader or nothing,” Evans Morgan- the man who would be a
politician- may have a point after all.
Al- Hajj Dr Unus Omarali (1927-2005) - an appreciation
By Manshad Mohamed
A major icon of the Indo Caribbean community in Toronto has passed
Dr Unus Omarali died on April 6, 2005. He was ailing for some
time since he closed his medical office some 10 years ago.
For over 20 years, Dr Omarali occupied the same building on Danforth
Ave and Greenwood in the east end of Toronto. He had a huge clientele
which also included walk-ins. Dr. Omarali graduated from the Royal
College of Surgeons in Ireland on July 1,1955.
was a rotating intern at the Beth El Hospital in Brooklyn, New York,
from 1955 to 1956. In 1957, he went to England and attained Diplomas in
Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) studies and in larynxology and otology. That
same year he married Phirosa. and set up his practice in Don Miguel Rd,
San Juan in north Trinidad. He left T&T for Canada in 1965.
Dr. Omarali set up a practice at 2372 Lakeshore Blvd in Mimico in May of 1972. He moved to 1172 Danforth until he retired.
Dr. Omarali developed a reputation as a champion of the downtrodden and
needy. His clientele was mixed, comprising people from Albania,
Mauritus, India, Pakistan, the Middle East and the Caribbean. He spent
many hours counselling travellers to Mecca who were on their way to
perform the Holy Pilgrimage of Hajj.
Together with Phirosa, he he performed Hajj in 1974. He administered
inoculations and helped non speaking English people fill out their
travel documents, etc. In this office as well, he performed many Muslim
marriages as he was a licensed Marriage Officer. On many occasions, he
also served as a marriage Counsellor.
He was also an outspoken community activist and rallied to the cause of
many refugees who were seeking asylum in Canada from various parts of
Dr Omarali was a member of the Doctors' Lions Club of Toronto. He was a
Member of the Executive of the Ontario Society for Studies in Indo
Caribbean Culture (OSSICC) and received an award in 1996 for
outstanding service to the community. The OSSICC group was founded by
Dr. Frank Birbal-singh and was based at York University where Dr.
Birbalsingh was a Professor of English. Sometimes, the meeting place
for this and many other groups was in the waiting room of Dr. Omarali’s
office on the Danforth. Here also was the first set of meetings of the
Naparima Alumni Assocation of Canada.
Another thriving group that had its genesis in the same waiting room on
the Danforth is the Trinidad and Tobago Fifty Plus and Seniors
Association of Canada, founded by Rasheed Sultan Khan with much help
from Dr. Omarali.
Dr Omarali was born in San Fernando, Trinidad. His grand parents were
Haji Imam Ali and Hajin Najiban who had migrated from Uttar Pradesh,
India. His parents were Omar Eniath Ali and Hajin Afrose Omar Ali.
Dr. Unus Omarali attended Grant School (elementary) and Naparima
College (secondary). He had a fondness for the Canadian Mission as it
was then called.
Dr. Omarali’s family in Toronto is comprised of his wife Phirosa, a
retired School Teacher, sons Haidar, a Financial Advisor and Dr. Iqbal
(formerly of the Mayo clinic in Minnesota) now in San Francisco, and
their sister Zenobia, a school teacher and their spouses
Shaheen,Tasneen and Nabil respectively.He also leaves to mourn his
loss, brothers Luqman and Abdul and sisters Abeda, Sabera, Sherida and
Una, their children and grandchildren.
One of Dr Omarali's closest friends over the years was Dr. Joe Salek of the Danforth Medical Pharmacy.
Dr. Salek had this to say of Dr. Omarali: "He was a humanitarian, a man
who never closed his doors on any person who needed him. He was a great
human being with a big heart and someone who would go the extra mile to
help people. During his practice, he was unhurried and would take time
to listen to his patients and would quite easily develop a bond with
them.It was tragic for many people when he closed his office. I believe
that you cannot find too many physicians with his passion for his work,
his dedication, sincerity and sense of responsibility.In Iran, we have
a saying that it is possible for a human being to be able to reach the
front door of God. If this is true, Dr Unus Omarali was one of those.”
Representatives of the Imdadul Mosque, Haroon Sheriff and Ousman Khan
saluted Dr. Omarali for "dedication of services to humanity,” at a
ceremony which was held at the DiMarco Funeral Home where Imam Hosein
Br. Ramzan of the Taric Mosque described Dr. Omarali as "a pioneer in the propogation of Islam in Toronto."
Br. Fyzul Ali did a profound eulogy that spoke of the deceased as a
role model in many walks of life. After the Jannazah (last rites) at
the Taric Mosque Dr. Unus Omarali was laid to rest in the York cemetery
on April 8, 2005 with thousands of people in attendance.
Innah-Lillahi-Wa Inna-Ilahi-Raji-Un - From Allah We came and to Him we must return. May he Rest in Peace.
Pioneer broadcaster Jai Ojah-Maharaj makes the Canadian Connection
I came to Canada on September 16, 1972, but I didn't really have to come here. I am from a family of 12, my father was the late Karoo Ojah-Maharaj and my uncle the late Doon Pundit, who was responsible for the creation of a lot of the Hindu schools in Trinidad and Tobago and the Hindu temple in Arima. Doon Pundit created the temple in Chacachacare, which was run by him and my father.
My father was a founding member of the People's National Movement with the late Dr. Eric Williams and he was a personal adviser to Dr Williams. He was consulted by Dr Williams on several occasions. I remember a policeman coming to our home in Las Lomas Number 2 and delivering a message to my father that the PM wants him at his residence the next day Sunday. The meeting was held to discuss the possibility of having Eid and Divali as public holidays in Trinidad and Tobago.
I am very proud of my father and proud of my family. The fact is that Divali is a public holiday and Indian people are on equal footing in TT and even higher because of the strides we have made.
My father used to censor films with the manager of 610 Radio Jimmy Bain and he knew of my intention to come to Canada to study broadcasting. I worked at Piarco as an assistant air traffic controller. The aerodrome superintendent Joe Maharaj and I were very good friends. He said, why you want to go to Canada? I can get you in the aviation school just like that. He didn't want to give me the recommendation to leave.
My father said, why you want to go to Canada? I can get you into 610 Radio because Jimmy is the chairman of the board. I said no, I want to be trained properly. So when I returned to Trinidad (I still planned to go back) I could go back there on my own footing, and not have to be assisted by people.
So I came to Canada in 1972 and found a job three months later at the Royal Alexander Theatre. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a clerk and went and met a Russian controller named Boris Sperber. He said just write me a name. So I wrote my name. He liked my handwriting and he said you have the job.
They sent me to work in the subscription office of the Royal Alexandra Threatre. The Theatre had just been bought my Ed Murvish of Honest Ed's and that's where I bought my first winter coat. My brother from England sent me 10 pounds in the mail.
The next year they send me to the box office. Coming from Trinidad , you had an accent. They gave me this opportunity to communicate with mainstream Canadians. I used my opportunity to talk to them every day, practising my speech. I became the assistant box office manager.
It was funny, but when you are working there is a strong Jewish white audience you are playing to. I must give compliments to Ed Mirvish. Many a time you would have to make decisions. People would come up with the wrong ticket, the wrong date and you have to take the decision you cannot see the show today. Oh, I want to see the manager, they would say. They don't want to speak to a little brown boy. But Ed Mirvish said Jai, I hired you to for a job and you make the decision. Don't involve me in that and that was very good of him. You don't get that everywhere.
I had more than one unique experience working in the box office at the Royal Alexander Theatre. You have to let everyone in through the front door. Debbie Reynolds came up one wintry day in January with a fur coat all hiding her face and sunglasses. She said to me, can you let me in? I said I don't know who you are. She said you sure you don't know who I am? I said I don't know who you are but I need to know. She said I am Debbie Reynolds. Well I learned a lot from the Royal Alex and Mr Ed Mirvish.
My boss was an Englishman named Brian James. He was in love with the Caribbean and Caribbean food. Had a special interest in me. I told him I need to get into radio. I went to the National Institute for Broadcasting and heard what they had to say. I didn't like it. Then I realized that Carl Redhead, the famous broadcaster from Trinidad from 610 Radio, was operations manager at CHIN Radio. I went and saw him and Carl advised me (he was on the advisory board at Humber College) to go to school at Humber College which at that time had a three year radio program.
The first year I applied I didn't get through. I applied to Seneca and didn't get through. I tried at Ryerson and didn't get through, so I went and did my Grade 13. I went back to Humber and met the coordinator of the course, Phil Stone. He said to me, you know you have an accent. I said yes, I know I have an accent. He said you'll never get a job in Canada, you know. I said leave that up to me. Can I qualify to get into your radio course? He said you will get in, but just bear in mind you will not get a job on Canadian radio.
In the seventies Canadian radio was really, really white. In CHUM and CFTR and in most cases they brought broadcasters from the United States. All the big boys you were hearing came from the United States. It was a difficult medium to get into. Over 150 persons applied to get into Humber College and sixty persons got in. I was the only coloured person who got into the course, the only brown one. But I did integrate well with the white kids because I knew more about rock music than they did so I could teach them about rock music.
After the first year at Humber an internship came up at CHIN radio and they called me to ask me if I wanted to go to CHIN radio. I said I don't care where I go but I thought it would be wise to go there because at the time Carl Redhead and Jimmy Wong, another good broadcaster from Trinidad and Tobago, were working there. So I went there for my internship and started working there on weekends as a technical operator.
That was way back in 1977. They had me working with JC McDonald on the Jay McD show, “the most frequently frequented frequency”. I developed a good relationship with him. But I was not allowed to go on the Humber school radio station. They felt I didn't fit in so I said, okay, how about if I do my own Caribbean program? And they said maybe that's an idea. Something new. So I created my own Caribbean program on the Humber College Radio. I had to create a niche for myself and that's how it started.
So when I went to CHIN it was a natural thing, being evolved now with JC McDonald and Carl Redhead. One day suddenly JC couldn't get in to the station. There was some problem at his home. I'm operating in the evening and Jimmy Wong calls me. “Jai, you have to go on the air now.”
This is a fresh, green operator who is only hosting his program at Humber College. And I don't know how many thousands of people would be listening to JC McD, which was the only Caribbean program at the time. I didn't have the key for his cupboard so I had to break open his cupboard and get the records and I went on the air at CHIN radio. That went on for a few months and unfortunately JC and CHIN radio had to part ways.
I got fired at Chin Radio. One December 26, all of the operators said we quit because we wanted more pay. So Johnny Lombardy said okay you quit and we were all out of a job. But when the problems came up with CHIN radio Carl and Jimmy kept in contact with me and said we want you to come back. They took me back and I got a slight raise in pay. I think it was because of my Caribbean connection. But it wasn't easy at first. Because here is an Indian guy hosting basically a Caribbean program where the music is basically black. I had to prove to the audience that I know enough about calypso like anybody else.
What I had to do as well and what I intended to do, was present the show in a very professional manner. I felt people should not turn off the music or the radio when they had Canadian friends at home. I felt that if you presented it in a professional manner that when you had guests at home you should say here is our music. And I hope I have achieved that to a great degree.
It was very very knowlegeable. I can say I got the best of knowledge and the best training. Then I took the other step. I had to change the show. The show was a music show every night. I said the show has to be different from everybody. I changed it and I made it more community oriented.
Then I took a bold step and I thought let's start playing some chutney music. And I did get a lot of flak for playing chutney music on CHIN radio. I used to get calls left right and center, what the hell you playing that coolie music here for? And I said it is not coolie music. It is music out of Trinidad and Tobago It is music out of Guyana, it is Caribbean music so why are you complaining? And I said do you know who you speaking to? I am an Indian, I am a Trinidadian and that is music of Trinidad, so why can't you accept it? I'm going to ask you if you feel you don't want to hear it turn off your radio. I persisted and we continued with chutney music. Today chutney is an industry by itself.
I had the pleasure in the seventies or early eighties when they had the first tassa and Indian band competition and I was invited to go down and emcee that show in Skinner Park. The winner of the Tassa competition got a trip to Toronto. They called me to arrange that, and the winner of that competition was the Sylvan Bharath Tassa group. They came to Canada and I am very proud to say I was the first person to introduce tassa in the Caribana celebrations, the Caribana parade . They played in places like the Phoenix Club, Reflections, Ontario Place and today tassa music is heard everywhere.
My first winter coat was from the army surplus supply on Queen and Bathurst, a long green coat for about $15. When I bought my first house in the eighties things were so bad I had to cash in my beer bottles to get some pocket change. That's the kind of struggle we had. You go to Kentucky Friend Chicken and you ask for pepper and they give you salt and pepper, black pepper. We had nothing like Ram for bringing in real pepper. It was not an easy task. We had to put up with a lot. We tolerated a lot because we had to integrate and today the children don't have to do what we did because they are born Canadians. They have rights and they deserve what they have now, so we must always give them support and remain strong with them.
Today I can say the Caribbean Connection is one of the pattern shows in this community. We continue to serve the community and we'll always put the community first. I feel the information we are giving out is worthy and there is lots of competition but competition is good for us. Fitzroy Gordon was granted a license for a 24 hour Caribbean radio station. Pretty soon we'll have a Caribbean station 24 hours a day and I look forward to playing a significant role there. And I can guarantee you Caribbean, but most of all, Indian culture will play a great role in that station.
It was a good experience, and it was a difficult experience getting into radio. When I was getting in to Omni Television cfmt I was given a call by Farouk Mohammed of Trinidad and Tobago who conceptualized South Asian Newsweek and Omni Television. When I went there they had a job for me but I had no television experience. So I said I don't have the television experience but I would like to take the opportunity and learn it. It was a learning experience for me but we proved to them the show could be done professionally. Congratulations must be given to Farouk Mohammed.
I had just started the show in September and two weeks after they called me at home. Jai, can you be at Queen's Park to interview then Premier Bob Rae? So I went and interviewed Bob Rae. I just had two basic questions and then it was ad lib. The interview ran for 18 minutes and normally in television they will take two or three minutes of it. They ran the whole 18 minutes in two parts. One day at the cafeteria in Omni Television Leslie Soles came to me and said very good interview. and that's how they knew I had the ability to interview and I proved to them that I can do the job. I remember going to Trinidad for the 150th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day and getting an interview with Basdeo Panday.
I think that our Indian members of community have the ability to do, and do much more . When you look at people like Ian Hanoomansingh and Harold Hosein and others and even when Monica Deol was here we looked at all of them. We the older generation suffered and today it is better for the younger generation to get into the media. We are still paying the dues. It was not an easy task to get into radio then but it's much easier now. I suffered but hopefully it will pay off for me down the road. I want to thank everybody for supporting the show and supporting me.
The Exemplary Pandita Jasodra Prasad
By Janet A. Naidu
You would not guess it from looking at her, but Pandita Jasodra Prasad carries with her a record of more than 60 years of service to Hindus in Guyana and Canada. She also has the distinction since 1986 of being the first Indo-Caribbean woman to become a Hindu priest in Canada.
Today you can find her providing religious services as a Pandita at the Vedic Cultural Centre or in private homes, serving as a dedicated volunteer in supporting patients at the Hospital near where she lives in Toronto. She makes care-giving part of her daily routine, consistently giving personal attention to others in need of consolation or encouragement.
It started when she was a young girl in Uitvlugt on West Coast Demerara, where she was born on April 14, 1933. Her father Komal Persaud, worked in the nearby sugar factory, curing sugar at the laboratory, and her mother Rukmin Ramchitar, originally from Windsor Forest, helped bring up the children, Jasodra and sister Sumintra.
Her father Komal was a Hindu with a thirst for knowledge of the Vedic principles, and a follower of the teachings of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement founded in India. He passed this interest on to Jasodra as a child, and also taught her that the highest goal was a life of service to others.
Around this time, Arya Samaj missionaries from India were spreading the word in Guyana, and after Professor Baskarananda built the Arya Samaj movement in the late thirties and early forties, he had Komal as a
strong supporter. Komal became the first President of the Arya Samaj in Uitvlugt, teaching Hindi in the school, writing letters for illiterate villagers and giving constant service.
This was the atmosphere in which Jasodra grew up, learning from an early age to read the Vedic scruiptures, perform religious functions like the havan, sing bhajans and recite mantras even before she was a teenager. She continued after she was married at 16 to 21 year old Harry Prasad , Secretary of the Arya Samaj in Uitvlugt.
Harry soon became a pandit whose home was described as a mandir and a school, as well as an ashram or institution of learning that inspired charity, morality and Sev Dharma (service).
While bringing up four children Rudrasen Aditya, Priya Darshni, Indira Sarojini and Ugrasen Mahipal, Jasodra would often accompany her husband to many homes in the villages to do havan, or recital of mantras of the Vedas. She helped him build the Uitvlugt Arya Samaj Mandir.
When the family moved to Georgetown in the 1960s, Jasodra and Pandit Harry made their home an informal school for training young aspiring pandits, and a printery for Arya Samaj education.
When they immigrated to Canada in 1986, Jasodra and Harry continued their dedicated service to the Toronto Arya Samaj. After Pandit Harry passed away that same year, the Toronto Arya Samaj applied for Jasodra to become an official “Pandita”.
She was accepted as a Hindu priest, and for the last 21 years has been unfailing in her service to members of the Toronto Arya Samaj as well as numerous other community members. Pandita Jasodra is a pioneer in her role as she is the first woman of Guyana to become an official Pandita.
In 1993, Pandita Jasodra was recognized for her many years of outstanding service and commitment towards the propagation and dissemination of Vedic teachings and philosophy. She has continued to be one in service, regularly providing spiritual readings and social services, whether in pubic forums or in the homes of families. In 2005, the Vedic Cultural Center in Markham, Canada gave her a Recognition Award for her selfless service to the Arya Samaj Mission and the general community.
Without doubt, Pandita Jasodra Prasad is a courageous woman who shows the perseverance to accomplish her goals regardless of the seemingly busy times of looking after her family and helping to organize events in her home, be it weekly havans or preparing for visiting swamis and missionaries. She displays a confident calmness and embodies a caring nature, a trait that was passed on to her from her parents, her late husband and other family members.
Pandita Jasodra is well respected in the community in Toronto. In her quiet and unassuming way, when she is not volunteering at the hospital nearby or performing religious services in someone’s home or the community, she is also creating beautiful needlepoint art work, many composed of landscape in intricate details. More importantly, she is always ready to provide support to her family, her children and seven great grandchildren, friends and others in the community in need. She dedicates her life to the philosophy and culture of the Vedas.
Who’s that dashing horseman there? Its Aakash Maharaj
It’s our own Akaash Maharaj, Canada’s top tent pegger in the thousand year old military sport of using swords and lances to catch tent pegs while at full gallop on a war horse.
Akaash, who was born in Canada of Trinidad parents, has quietly risen to the top of the sport and is current Canadian chamption. He will be heading to Oman on March 2 to represent Canada against the top rated Indians, while promoting the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and trying to raise awareness of suffering children throughout the world.
It’s a surprising change for a man better known as Oxford academic and Liberal politician.
Starting just two years ago, Akaash has made it to the top tier of one of the world's most obscure and challenging sports, according to a story by Peter Cheney in the Globe and Mail.
Although it sounds like a camping competition, tent pegging is actually based on the ancient military skill of skewering opponents (both elephants and humans)
“I took up the sport in 2005 as a member of the Governor General's Horse Guards. In September 2006, two friends from the Horse Guards and I recklessly entered the US National Cavalry Competition in Kentucky.
“Against all rationality, I took a red and a blue ribbon in Mounted Sabre III and Military Field Jumping II, respectively.
“Following results of the US games, I was invited to represent Canada at the 2007 International Tent Pegging Championships, to be held in the Sultanate of Oman, 02-06 March.
“With tent pegging dominated by nations with cavalry cultures, I will likely be the only New World athlete at the championships, and I am conscious that I am a novice in an ancient sport. Nevertheless, I can imagine no higher athletic honour than to carry the maple leaf in competition, and I will embark for Oman parrying my deficit of skill with a surplus of enthusiastic abandon, “ he says.
Many believe tent pegging was invented in the ancient Indian Empire, where war elephants ruled the battlefield. Cavalry officers came up with a bold tactic to neutralize the elephants: By stabbing them in their sensitive feet, the officers could make the elephants fall, or rear up on their hind legs, spilling off the humans from their backs.
How the art of precision stabbing became known as "tent pegging" is a matter of debate. Some believe it's because Indian cavaliers rode into enemy encampments at night and collapsed the opposing army's tents by slashing the support ropes.
Tent pegging has been practised at least since the fourth century BC, but became a competitive international sport only in the 20th century. Tent peggers compete on an 800-metre course, and must smite a series of targets. There are three elements: Ground Target, Suspended Target and Quintain Charging, where competitors attack a bobbing mannequin. In Suspended Target, riders must skewer rings hanging at approximately the height of a man's eye. In Ground Target, they stab small foam bull's-eyes set on the earth.
There are serious risks, as you might expect with a sport that consists of riding a horse while carrying deadly cutting instruments. The swords and lances are razor-sharp: "They're designed to inflict wounds that don't heal," Mr. Maharaj notes.
The lance event presents its own fiendish challenge. Stabbing a ground target with a pointed steel rod nearly three metres long calls for perfect control -- the slightest bounce or miscalculation can result in the lance jabbing into the earth and stopping the rider dead as the horse gallops on, in a catastrophe that looks like pole-vaulting from horseback.
India is the world's reigning superpower of tent pegging, with a cadre of professional riders who dominate the international scene. The Indian pros that Mr. Maharaj will face next month in Oman enjoy benefits that a Canadian tent pegger can only dream of: They practise the sport full time, as members of elite Indian Army cavalry regiments. They also get corporate sponsorship -- many ride with the logos of firms such as Rolex on banners attached to their saddles.
Akaash pays for his own equipment and horses. Instead of sponsorships, he has given the side of his horse over to UNICEF, and serves as a spokesman in the agency's fight against child labour.
He will have one special touch in the championship. His equerry, or horse assistant, will be Hal Jackman, former lieutenant governor of Ontario.
He is not deterred by his lack of experience and sponsorship. "I don't have as many resources," he says. "But that doesn't mean I can't do well. I'm going to give it my very best."
Military cavaliers have practiced tent pegging for more than two-and-a-half millennia, and it is one of only ten disciplines officially recognised by the FEI, the global governing body for Olympic and international equestrianism. In March, I will represent Canada at the International Tent Pegging Championships.
The most broadly accepted account of tent pegging's birth is as battle drill in the Indian Empire. The sport prepared horse cavaliers to charge and fell war elephants through finely placed lance strikes to the ponderous beasts' vulnerable feet.
The mainstay of tent pegging remains lancing ground targets. However, the sport also includes: ring jousting (threading a blade through suspended rings); lemon sticking (slicing suspended targets); quintain tilting (charging swivelling mannequins); Parthian (mounted) archery; and cavalry revolver. All events are conducted at a full gallop.
Akaash , has dedicated his team’s naming rights to UNICEF . This is the first time a Canadian is competing at this event.
(Indo-Canadian Times March 2007)
Ram and Ruby Maharaj: Roti pioneers in Canada
Today Trinidad style roti can be found in major supermarkets, in dozens of roti shops, and in restaurants all over Canada and United States. It is an appreciated and accepted food by many North Americans who are not connected to the Caribbean.
But it wasn't always that way. The pioneers of this multimillion-dollar food industry live right here in Toronto, still operating their business with the same name Ram's Roti Shop that they started with in the year 1967. In this the 40th anniversary of that event, Ram and Ruby Maharaj deserve to be recognized for their contribution.
Back in the year 1967 when other Caribbean people mostly from Trinidad were preparing to start Caribana for Canada's Centennial, new immigrants Ram and Ruby were thrown into the roti business by accident. The couple and their five children had migrated from Trinidad in 1964 and were doing well. Ram, a former Texaco worker, had found a job with DuPont Oil and had bought his own house within a year. Ruby was working part-time in a roti shop called Rotisera, which had been started by three Trinidad teachers.
The teachers were not very good at running a roti shop, and within three months the business collapsed. Ram was called in to help, and he assumed the bank loan and lease on the building at 490 Dupont Street.
Ruby ran the shop in the day and Ram helped out after work. So started the first permanent roti shop in Canada and the United States.
Toronto's first Caribana took place less than three months later, and the organizers placed a banner in front of Ram's Roti shop.
When the Caribana celebration took place on the Toronto islands Ram and Ruby sold over 2000 rotis that day. There was no turning back after that. In a short while, Ram's Roti Shop became a kind of community center for West Indians in Toronto. Trinidadians, Guyanese and even young men from India would come for a taste of home or a familiar and affordable meal.
Many of the customers were young bachelors who could not cook, or who were not allowed to cook Indian food in their rented rooms or small apartments. In those days, landlords did not look kindly on tenants cooking spicy Indian curries in their buildings. There was an Indian restaurant called India House, but its prices were beyond the reach of young men working for low wages.
Instead they would go down to 490 Dupont and content themselves with a potato roti at $2.50 or a chicken roti at $3.50.
Then, as now, a roti was much more satisfying than a hot dog or a hamburger.
Ram would play Indian music records, and he remembers the young Indians listening to Lata Mangeskar and Mukesh and crying out of nostalgia and loneliness. West Indians driving up to Toronto from New York would make a beeline to Ram's Roti Shop, because there was nothing like this where they lived.
Flyers and announcements about community events and music shows would be posted up at the shop. Visiting artistes like the Tradewinds band, calypsonians and prominent West Indians could be found at 490 Dupont soaking up the local news and trying out a taste of home.
For several years Rams' Roti Shop was the only business in town if you wanted to taste a roti in Toronto. Gradually others opened up, Ali's started selling Trinidad style doubles and roti, and the Caribbean Indian roti industry started to take shape. After many years of patiently persuading white Canadians and other immigrants to try a dhalpouri roti, Ram and Ruby began to see gradual acceptance from mainstream Canadians.
The New Yorkers soon realized that they needed their own roti shops, and started putting them up in Queens and other parts of the city. In Canada, roti shops began to spring up in cities outside of Toronto, in Montreal, Vancouver and many other places. Today roti shops can be found in Massachusetts and in Texas and in Los Angeles and other American cities. An Internet search for roti shops Canada and United States yields over 700 hits. Roti shops can even be found in Europe and the Middle East.
The thread for this powerfuly growing industry traces back to the doors at 490 Dupont Street in Toronto, the year 1967, and Ram and Ruby Maharaj. They are true pioneers who can be found at their shop at 130 Westmore in Mississauga still doing what they have done for 40 years now, which in Ram's words is, "making sure Trinidad style roti has a place in every North American kitchen."
Janet Naidu is a poet,writer, diversity leader
Janet Naidu is best known as a poet, with two books “Winged Heart” and “Rainwater” to her credit. But there is much more to this energetic young woman than a heart that beats for her Indo-Caribbean community.
She is a writer of short stories, essays on Indian Women of Guyana and Hinduism, Retention and Transculturation in the Caribbean, book reviews and profiles of elderly Guyanese living in Toronto.
Janet has been involved in the Guyanese Canadian Community for more than 20 years. She is a former Co-Chair of the Guyana Festival and was instrumental in the expansion of the festival that included the first Cricket Games and the Cultural Extravaganza. She is also a member of the Association of Concerned Guyanese, an organization advocating for democracy in Guyana and a member of the editorial committee of the Guyana Current, a monthly newspaper published by the association..
Janet has been a key figure in the creation of the newly-formed group called Pakaraima, an Association of Guyanese Canadian Writers and Artists located in Toronto. She initiated the formation of the group to function as a support system for writers in the Guyanese Canadian community.
Professionally, Janet is a Toronto leader in diversity training, serving as Manager, Diversity Management and Ombuds Office LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). She works to create awareness of the value and benefits of embracing a diverse workforce at LCBO and promoting harmony in the workplace.
Coming from the village of Covent Garden, East Bank Demerara, Guyana, Janet had an early interest in literature, and began writing poetry as a young woman in 1973. She was part of a group of young aspiring writers which was organized by the late poet and playwright, Rajkumari Singh. Among the group included Rooplall Monar, Henry Mootoo, Gora Singh, Elfrieda Bissember (now Curator) and the late Mahadai Das. Janet wrote two poems for the 1973 publication, Heritage.
She immigrated to Canada in 1975 at a time when many Guyanese were moving out to North America and Britain, joining her brother who had already migrated. She brought her cultural and social interests with her.
“ I am interested in the development of the Guyanese community and in Indo-Caribbean history. Being involved in the community often gives me an insight into the development of our people in this part of the world. I also love to reminisce about our homeland, people and celebrate our rich cultural heritage,” says Janet.
While pursuing a career in Human Resources, Janet began writing and becoming a community activist. Her first collection of poems, Winged Heart (published in 1999) was short-listed for the Guyana Prize for Literature, Poetry Category. Her second collection of poems, Rainwater, was published in 2005 and was launched in Toronto, New York and Guyana.
She is on the Editorial Board of the Guyana Journal, published in New York, and has written several pieces for the Journal, and for other publications in Canada, including the Guyana Current and the Indo-Caribbean Times.
Her future plans include “writing about the successes of the Indo-Caribbean community in the diaspora, writing more profiles of our folks who immigrated here, who are still a 'walking history' and have made an important mark in Canada, our new landscape. "
Janet is quietly gaining the reputation as an outspoken voice for Indo-Caribbean women in Canada.
“ I am helping to facilitate the formation of a group of women of colour to network and discuss issues affecting women of colour with respect to their advancement in their professions. Indo-Caribbean women can benefit from being part of this formation, to share their experiences and express their aspirations. We also want to be a support system for young people to gain from our experiences, " she says.
She is one of the small group of Indo-Caribbeans in Canada who take the time to look at the progress of our community, and try to chart a way forward towards a strong and vibrant group. She wants to see Indo-Caribbeans retain their culture and social strength, and preserve the heritage passed on by the our ancestors since 1838.
In her professional life Janet plans to continue promiting diversity and equity at the LCBO, where she has developed barrier elimination provisions in employment practices and produced an award-winning “Working in Diversity” video-based educational program.
She knows quite well the problems faced by visible minority immigrans in gaining jobs in Canada, and breaking the many barriers to promotion and success.
She has created a Workplace Diversity Calendar , which showcases national holidays, religious observances, national and international dates, and launched a “ Peace Tree” diversity awareness initiative.
In her daily life Janet oversees the LCBO’s Human Rights Policy and Program. She is the lead Investigator into allegations of harassment and discrimination and she provides educational programs to help managers and employees understand the meaning of/and prevent harassment and discrimination in workplace. She is a frequent speaker at Conferences on Workplace Diversity, Equity, Investigations and Violence Prevention.
Janet has a BA in Political Science and Caribbean Studies. She is a member of the Human Rights Practitioners’ Forum and is a former President of the Toronto Employment Equity Practitioners’ Association. She is also Certified Life-Skills Coach.
Steven Ramsankar changed education policy in Alberta
No Caribbean person in Edmonton was better known and more respected than educator Steven Ramsankar, and for good reason. Trinidad born Stephen showed Edmonton and the world how to handle one of the biggest problems in education- underachieving and unmotivated students in inner city schools.
Stephen, who died in Trinidad last month, was highly honoured for his achievement. He received the Order of Canada, an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta, a Citizen of the Year award from the Edmonton Journal, a Great Canadian award from the Alberta government and a Global Citizen award from the United Nations. A Canadian magazine named him as one of Canada's 50 Men of Influence.
Canadians understood the fact that an immigrant who came to Canada in 1954 as a 19 year old student could find a way to rescue students, parents, and schools that had long been given up as a lost cause by North American educators and school boards. He showed how to make winners out of students who had been losers, and how to get parents and the community to connect positively with the schools. His model has been extensively copied in Alberta, and throughout North America and other parts of the world..
After his studies, Stephen became a teacher in Edmonton and moved up through the system to become a school principal. His first appointment as a principal in 1970 was to the rough, tough, underachieving Alex Taylor School. It was one of the worst inner city schools in the district, filled with underachieving, problem students from poor neighbourhoods, alienated parents, unmotivated teachers, and a record of principals who had failed to turn around the school.Nobody expected Steven to do any better with this” “school from hell”
Stephen surprised everybody. Wiithin the first year Stephen had begun to transform Alex Taylor with a program he called “School as a Loving Place”. Observing that many students came to school hungry, he realized that a hungry child cannot learn. A month later a school breakfast program was in place. It was one of many innovations that reflected his belief that school must meet the needs of the whole child.
As principal of Alex Taylor, he set out to make the school a welcoming place not only for its students but for the adults of the community. He noticed that more immigrants were coming into Edmonton and worked to integrate into the city. He ran a hot- meal program for senior citizens, started an English as a Second Language program for students and their parents, plus a child care service for before and after school. He started a police liaison program so students and their parents would not be afraid of the police, and a summer school for students to catch up on their studies.
Stephen also opened up a clothing program for children and adults, started Cub Scouts, Brownies, and Guides program that operated during school hours (first in Canada), and a senior citizens' drop in centre at the school.
"He was one of the first ones that really spread out into the community and made a school more than a place to learn the curriculum," said former colleague Karen Redhead.
His program made the school a loving and welcoming place for students and the community. He believed in teaching children respect, trust and self-esteem , so that would have the motivation to do better in their studies. He was renowned for his interest in education and the welfare of West Indian immigrants living in Canada.
Steven Ramsankar was “the epitome of community school”, something he may have learned during his own education in Trinidad. He was perhaps recreating the 1950's community anchored Naparima College in San Fernando,Trinidad in rough, tough Alex Taylor School in Canada.
The results at Alex Taylor were spectacular. Steven transformed the school into a place bursting with activity, highly supported by parents and the community, and producing motivated, high performance students. It is said that he gave thousands of Edmonton’s inner city students a fighting chance for success. Edmonton, Alberta and Canada sat up and took notice.
He received national recognition for his unique approach to student learning, and schools all over North America started copying his program. Steven attended conferences talking about the Alex Taylor Community School model throughout Canada, the United States, and at conferences in Japan, Holland, The West Indies, Egypt, India, and the Netherlands.
About ten years ago he started visiting schools in Alberta as part of an Open and Caring Schools project organized by the Alberta government.Using components from the Alex Taylor School model, the program focused on safe and caring schools, native education and poverty. It aimed to enhance student learning and to make the classroom environment more enjoyable. Stephen's program has become education policy in Alberta.
For an educator there can be no greater achievement than bringing about a policy that helps hundreds of thousands of people. When that person is an immigrant who grew up somewhere else, the achievement is doubled. Like many other Caribbean immigrants, Steven Ramsankar gave so much more to Canada than he took from this country.
YOUNG TABLA ARTISTE RAMONA SYLVAN ONE OF TORONTO'S BEST
It's a rare thing to see young girls playing tabla in Toronto. Their numbers could probably be counted on one hand and Ramona Sylvan numbers among those few and certainly numbers among the best in town. Ramona is a percussionist par excellence. Her grandfather, the noted tassa drummer Sylvan Bharath, founded the Sylvan Bharath Tassa group in Trinidad, and her father re-created the group here in Toronto, thus making her a third generation drummer.
Lineage aside, she credits her phenomenal success most of all to Guruji Mohan Singh, cousins Randy and Raquel Mahadeo, aunt Sheila Mahadeo, and of course Mom and Dad. “Although tabla is my first love, I also play drums sets like the dholak and a bit of flute which I have not yet mastered. I prefer to play than to sing. I recently surprised my dad by playing tassa. Nobody ever taught me to play tassa. I learned by watching my dad play. Dad was totally astounded. I like to go with my dad when he is performing, in the daytime only, so I could learn and get the experience. The only thing that could count for teaching is when last I went to Trinidad my Grandad taught me a hand.”
Ramona is not all music, though. She has a parallel life in sports. “I love sports and I am good enough to be captain of all my school sports teams. I play basketball, baseball, football, soccer, soft ball sports and hockey. One of my teachers Mr Bruce Alexander saw how good I was and he has been very encouraging from Grade 5 to now in Grade 8. My sports life is in no way related to my music. I like to keep fit and stay in shape. I do not believe in sitting in front of the television eating junk food.”
She completes the trio of Randy, Raquel and now Ramona, the three young R's of music in the family.
Meet Ramona Bharath
Age: 14 years
First public performance: Age 6 ( I don't remember much about that. I was nervous but Randy was there and seeing the appreciation and approval on the faces in the audience comforted me and things became easier after that.)
Grade: Completed middle school and going on to Grade 9 in Sandalwood Heights
Fave teacher: My Guruji Mohan Singh. (Guruji is like my second father. We have a great father-daughter relationship. His whole family loves and respects me. He always gives me a hug when we start and finish classes.)
Fave sport: Basketball
Fave sport person: Kobe Bryant
Fave food: Roti and tomaties, roti and curried young green bananas
Fave colour: Red
Fave clothes: Casual. Jeans and top (but Indian clothes for functions)
Fave actor: Shah Rukh Khan, Eddie Murphy
Fave actress: Kajol and Rani Mukherjee
Fave movie: New and old Umrao Jaan (the music and songs are touching and showcase the tabla.)
First tabla certificate: December 1st, 1999
Tabla school: Tabla Kendra (I have been here for 9 years. I became a tabla player here. You can never learn enough tabla. I would only leave here when my Guruji says I've learned everything I could from him. And then he might recommend some places where I could get further training.)
My summer: Not thrilling, but OK so far. My performance schedule is full for the whole of August. I'm spending a lot of time going out to perform.
My mom: She is not into music or singing. She loves to keep house and hates it if she cooks food and we don't eat it and it goes to waste.
My siblings: I have two sisters. Sarah is seven and she prefers dancing. Four year old Alyssa dabbles into everything- she will imitate dances or play the tabla. She doesn't know her mind yet, I guess.
Practicing tabla: This is very important. I do two to four hours a day. Whenever I get bored, I would go and practice my tabla, sometimes late at night but then this disturbs my mom.when she wants to watch TV or go to sleep, so I have to stop. Practice is the key thing in playing tabla.
My favourite style: Classical, which has depth. Film music does not touch me. A solo really gets to me. I am into real classical like ghazals and bhajans.
Wannabe: I would like pursue sports to get a basketball scholarship and study forensic science eventially.
What it's like being a young girl playing tabla? Being a girl, being young appeals to people who know where I started and where I am now. People respect me for it.
How has tabla playing changed your life? Being a tabla player, I have to go to a lot of religious functions . This makes me want to be a good person and not want to get into drugs and that sort of thing.
How do you manage your public performances? I haven't had that much exposure but as time goes by and people are getting to know me better. Randy and I go to shows everywhere and if anyone wants me, they ask Randy to contact me. If my guruji wants me to perform, I make the time for him.
What is the reaction to your playing? People appreciate my playing and pay me good compliments. Those who know tabla come up to me afterwards and give me tips. Other professional tabla players older than me and who were in my class at Tabla Kendra think I am doing a good job.
Is there anything interesting about tabla that you would like to share? Most people don't know that you have to know mathematics to play tabla. There are many crucial mathematic calculations for each beat involving dividing and multiplying to fit in the beat and every beat is like this. You could do your own calculations and come up with any formation and that would be your own composition. But there is so much already calculated for you to practice on, you don't have to compose your own.
You have to sit for long periods in the same position when playing tabla. How do you do this? You have to sit upright and keep your arms straight to play properly. If you don't sit upright in the proper posture it could be painful. You still feel some pain and your shoulders burn but you get used to it.
What about the concentration demanded of a tabla player? A tabla player cannot be distracted when he or she is playing. It could disrupt the music and disturb the singer. You cannot even look around at the audience so see them having fun and enjoying your playing.
My guruji has brought me from where I was to where I am now. I owe all this to him. He is a great teacher. He takes his students where they are and helps them to improve and get better. He says I am here for you to learn. Anytime you want to learn, come.
Money is not a big issue with him. If you do not have money, he will say don't worry, come to class and pay me when you can. Everyone knows him. Our classes are supposed to be two hours but sometimes we could start at 7 pm and go on until 11 pm. Some students stay with Guruji for a long time. You really could play tabla forever.
Coverden boy Mani Singh scales the heights in Canada
Mani Singh's father Mahadeo Singh started his adult life as a cane cutter with no formal education and as a labourer with British Guyana Airways but worked his way up to becoming the Stores Manager for the airline, fluent in Hindi and able to read the Ramayan, president of the local Hindu templea and a village leader.
With that kind of example, Mani could do no less when he came to Canada in 1981 as a young man with no formal secondary education and no work experience. And so he has. Mani has educated himself and become one of Remax's top real estate agents in Ontario with a place in the Remax Hall of Fame, a frontline leader of the Association of Concerned Guyanese who has hosted functions at his home for Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo, a noted charitable fundraiser, and an NDP candidate who made a very respectable showing in last month's provincial elections.
He has remained true to his Hindu roots and culture, along with wife and four children, his burning concerns for fellow Guyanese back in the Caribbean and those here in Canada He has also mainainted his working class interests in social justice and equality gained from the People's Progressive Party in Guyana, and transferred them to the NDP in Canada.
A driving interest in education, passion for social justice and his Hindu heritage are the three drivers that have taken Mani from humble beginnings in the village of Coverden, East Bank Demerara in Guyana to a key position in the Caribbean community in the GTA. He aims to integrate into the Canadian mainstream but on his own terms and without surrendering his heritage.
He learned early to improvise when conditions were difficult, by educating himself when secondary education was not available in Coverden. Mani studied at home and passed the exams for the Preliminary Certificate of Education and then the College of Preceptors diploma. In his spare time he developed the Swastika Cultural and Cricket Club to bring youth into the religious circle through sports.
He read the Bhagavadgita with its message of standing up for justice, and followed the charismatci Guyanese leader Cheddi Jagan, then the country’s leading figure in the struggle against injustice on a world scale. These two teachers have remained with him ever since.
Mani needed the inspiration when he came with his family to Canada in 1981, following the death of his mother. His education was not recognized. He had no work experience, and could not get a job in Guelph where his elder sister and Canadian sponsor lived.
He had to move to Toronto, and took the first job he could find, a factory position assembling castors. He had to go to Westwood High School to get his Grade 12 diploma, and enrol in Humber College to study trade unionism and politics. All at the same time.
After four years he was fired from the factory job for trying to get equal pay for equal work at the castor assembly plant. It was an early personal lesson in injustice, and a signal that he had to boost his education to land something better than a dead end factory job.
Mani finished his Certificate in Labour Relations, started studying political science at York University, and moved into insurance sales before finally settling on real estate sales as his career. “Real estate was more lucrative and it gave me the time to follow my other interests in the social and political world,” he remembers.
Now came the work that he really wanted to do, which included supporting Cheddi Jagan and the PPP back in Guyana, and engaging in social and political work in Canada.
Joining the PPP support group Guyana Research and Representative Services in Toronto and its successor the Association of Concerned Guyanese, Mani put serious effort in fighting the dictatorship of Forbes Burnham in his native Guyana. He became president of the ACG and an editorial board member of the group’s newspaper Guyana Current. He worked to help Guyanese refugees in Canada who were fleeing persecution and racism in their homeland. And he rejoiced when Cheddi Jagan finally became president of Guyana in 1992, after the United States forced the illegal government in Guyana to hold its first fair election in 28 years.
With the great battle for justice in Guyana finally won,.Mani found he could focus on matters in Canada like his Hindu heritage, social and political affairs, and also on furthering his career. He has done well in all three.
After 18 years with Remax Real Estate, Mani has collected a bulging bag of honours. He is in the Remax Hall of Fame, has won the Remax Pinnacle Award, and recently was entered in the Remax Circle of Legends. With his title of “King of the Jungle, he is one of the company’s top
Thirteen receive Music culture and Community Awards
Thirteen Indo-Caribbean Canadians who have given selfless service received plaques and the appreciation of the community when the annual Indo Caribbean Music, Culture and Community award gala was held in Toronto on January 24. A sellout crowd at the Elite Banquet Hall was loud in support of the awards given by Shabnam Radio with the help of several community groups and individuals.
Bhim Singh re-affirms his passion for music and continually exclaims that as long as he is blessed with his gift, he intends to play on—to express his feelings through his instrument which he considers an extension of himself.
Born in Enmore, East Coast Demerara, Guyana, his birthplace was also the ground for his introduction to music. As a teenager, he began his life with music. Under the tutelage of Anand Persaud, he learnt to play the guitar and together they formed The Heart Beat Combo.
In 1968, Bhim joined the Vidyarthi Orchestra of Enmore and a couple years later, he became the leader. Inspired by Hank Marvin and The Shadows of England, he transformed his unique guitar tone and style into the band’s repertoire. He created a distinctive sound by integrating music from the East, West and the Caribbean. At the Guyana’s Republic Music Festival Competition of 1970 the band earned their title as “The Best Band”.
Bhim Singh migrated to Toronto in 1973 and soon realised that the venues and audiences were quite different. His passion for music would not be quelled however. In 1974, he performed and recorded with Tek-it-Ezie group, the Winston Hewitt Band and Traction. In 1976, the Winston Hewitt Band was recognised at the CCMA Awards as the “Best New Band of the Year”.
In 1982, Bhim toured and recorded with the all-Guyanese band, Phase 11. They won the “Canadian Music Reggae Award” in 1986 and the “Top Soca Live Band”. With the band, he received an invitation to play at the Parliament Building and the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. He was also leader of the band for a few years. He has performed with Innovations Band as the opening act for Performances of the Stars of India which featured the likes of Dharmendra, Oudit Narine and Salman Khan.
Bhim Singh recorded his first solo album, “Back Tracking” in 1994. This production highlighted for him the need to perform live, the genre of music which he did with Variations band.
A smiling giant, he is always willing to lend his musical talent to a worthy cause. One of the proudest moments for this remarkable artist was when he shared the stage with his son, Nirvan who is also a guitarist.
We salute Bhim Singh for his talent and contribution to music and community.
Sukhram Ramkisson is well known in the Caribbean community in Toronto for his expertise in immigration issues. For the past sixteen years, the column ‘Immigration Issues’ has been a popular feature of the Caribbean Camera Newspaper in Toronto and the T and T Mirror in Trinidad and Tobago. Mr. Ramkissoon has also appeared on popular radio productions where he has lent his expertise on matters dealing with immigration.
Born and educated in Trinidad and Tobago, he worked as an Office Manager with the prestigious law firm of Hamel Smith and Company prior to his immigration to Canada in 1975.
Since then, Mr Ramkissoon has been practising and specialising as a consultant in Canadian Immigration Law. He was employed with Charles Roach, a civil rights lawyer until 1989. At that time, he established his company, “Immigration Matters”.
Since the inception of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) in April 2004, Sukhram Ramkissoon has been a member and is considered a Certified Canadian Immigration Consultant (CCIC).
He has made significant contribution to the community, assisting thousands of non-status persons to establish their homes in Canada as permanent residents. Many of the concerns of immigrants are addressed in his weekly newspaper columns.
At age 70, this man of the people is the life of the party.
For his tireless work with a group of people who are often in dire need of a ray of hope for their sometimes desperate situations, Mr Sukhram Ramkissoon is being presented with the Indo-Caribbean MCC Award 2008.
Cyril Patraj Singh
Within the Indo-Caribbean communities of three countries namely Guyana, Canada and the USA, Cyril Patraj Singh at the age of seventy-nine, has had a lifetime of business, political, religious and cultural involvement.
In Guyana, Cyril was a renowned entrepreneur who had served his country and community both politically and in the sphere of religious work. In the sixties, he was the youngest elected secretary of the Guyana Maha Sabha. He subsequently resigned his position to begin his political career as co-founder of the United Force (UF) Opposition Party.
In 1968, he migrated to the United States and in 1973 to Canada.
In the days when there were few Caribbean-ethnic activities, Cyril took the task to bring together small groups of people from Guyana and Trinidad in order to have religious services in Hindu homes, including his own. With the growth of the Hindu community, he formed the Canadian Vedic Sabha and sought to obtain permission from the City of Scarborough to hold religious functions and activities. At that time, current Hindi movies were played in schools and community centres. There were Divali and Holi celebrations, fashion shows, Divali Beauty Contests and Melas among the events that were organised by Cyril Patraj Singh.
In a bid to make the new home-country comfortable for the immigrants from the Caribbean, Cyril’s vision included means by which Hindus could worship and practise within a nurturing environment. He was instrumental in sponsoring priests for migration to Canada and engaging the services of musicians from Guyana and Trinidad.
In 1977, Cyril collaborated with Dr. B. Doobay and Harry Panday to found “The Voice of the Vedas”. This organisation was responsible for the first Hindu television program on which Cyril was host and Dr. Doobay the officiating priest. That organisation evolved into what we know today as the Vishnu Mandir.
A stalwart in the promotion of Hindu Dharma, Cyril Patraj Singh was the founder of the “Voice of Dharma”. Again, the initiator of a television production, the organisation also started a group known as Ramayan Gold. Until recently, they have been performing at many religious events and temples.
Through the medium of radio, Cyril promoted Hindu Dharma. One of the best known of these programs was “Indian Memory Album” on CHIN Radio and was aired on various radio stations for twenty-five years. During this time, he also produced the “Indian Memory Album” magazine and the MegaCity Gazette both promoting Hindu culture and tradition.
Cyril Patraj Singh has served significantly at every level of society. He is not someone who demands the glitter of show business. Instead he humbly plods on serving those around him.
Born to an Imam and his wife, Farooqui Baksh comes from a large family of ten children. He grew up in a small village in Trinidad where his idea of Canada was that of Eskimos, igloos, polar bears and snow. As an immigrant to Canada in1975, the same year that he married his wife Shirin, he has since recognised the worth of what he describes as “the best country in the world”
In Trinidad, Farooqui’s love for music propelled him to become the Manager of Dil-e-Nadan Orchestra from 1967 to 1973. He was the first to highlight the talents of the late Chutney pioneer, Sundar Popo and in 1969 took him to Guyana on tour with Dile-e-Nadan.
Farooqui Baksh worked in Winnipeg for some time and then moved to Ontario in 1977. In Brampton, he initiated the formation of a Muslim organisation and was its president for three years. The Mosque is also known as the Islamic Society of Peel and still stands on Torbram Road.
Even as a successful businessman—the owner and director of Airpride Inc., Farooqui has been a hard working member of Human Concerns International. The group’s mandate outlines the task of “alleviating human suffering by investing in humanity”. Farooqui Baksh has risen to the challenge and for many years has sought ways to help people without barriers. He has travelled to the Horn of Africa, visiting camps and seeing firsthand the needs of the people in those countries. He is currently the chairman of Human Concerns International and they have been instrumental in helping the needy around the world. Millions of dollars of aid have been shipped to the Caribbean.
His musical interest and cultural enthusiasm have been responsible for his promotion of Gaanaa, Khaana Masti for the last five years. All proceeds of this event go towards helping the less fortunate.
Following in his father’s footsteps -- a religious advocate, he hosted an Islamic program on Hot Like Pepper Radio. Adhering to his religious compulsions, he completed Hajj in 1996.
Farooqui Baksh is an outstanding figure in the world of culture and community.
Most of us here are used to going to the music store and without much effort; we are able to buy recordings of familiar songs by familiar people. For the music lover, it is easy to find new recordings and encounter new artistes. But, for the Caribbean community, this was not always the case.
When Heeranath Mohabeer moved to New York in 1973, he noticed that the larger immigrant population was working hard to pay bills and simply to survive. While in Guyana, he was exposed to Indian music when he went to the movies or listened to the radio on a Sunday. In his new home, he experienced a yearning for the familiar sounds he had grown to love in Guyana.
Less than ten years later, Mohabeer Records was born with the recording of Yaad Sangeet done by Harry Panday.
Mr. Mohabeer’s hope was that immigrants would be able to fill that void that he also had experienced.
He began with bhajans but there were constant requests for local music. Thus came the first Chutney production which included the greats such as Yusuf Khan and Yankaran.
The first recordings were done on LP’s, then eight track recordings, cassette recordings and then CD’s that are so common today.
With over three hundred recordings to date, Heeranath Mohabeer has brought many artistes to the people. To name a few of these and I’m sure that you are very familiar with them: Anup Jalota and Vina Kathani, from India. From Surinam—Drupati and Ashnee,. From Trinidad-Sundar Popo and Rakesh Yankaran. From Guyana, Nisha Benjamin and Terry Gajraj. In addition to these the major bands coming out of the Caribbean have been able to reach the larger population via the vision of Mohabeer Records.
He did not keep his success to himself. Not forgetting the community in which he grew up, Heeranauth Mohabeer built a mandir in his former home, the village of West Canje, Vryheid in Guyana. He has also been a hero to individuals— children from Guyana, giving them a better chance at life He helped to arrange all the travel documentation and facilitate the medical attention which they needed. For his community work, he achieved congratulatory letters and awards from the American Ambassador in Guyana as well as from the Guyana Consulate in New York.
Heeranauth Mohabeer has made a tremendous contribution to the propagation of music, especially local music. There has been a two-fold result: the artistes welcome his service in delivering their work to the vast audiences and the people are ever grateful to this simple man who is so dynamic in the world of music. Today we honour the man and his work.
Jai Ojah Maharaj
Jai Ojah Maharaj is well known for his cultural presentations with over twenty-five years of service to ethnic broadcasting. A motivated, innovative and committed individual he possesses a unique and diverse background in broadcasting. He has been recognised for his commitment to integrity and has mentored and trained many professionals in the field of communications-media.
His popular name has become synonymous with the Caribbean community in Canada. Jai joined CHIN Radio/Television International after graduating from the Radio Broadcasting program at Humber College. Since 1979, he has been the host of ‘Caribbean Connection’ a source of music and information for generations of Caribbean people. On Saturdays, he produces Dateline News which is an authoritative presentation of events occurring in the Caribbean.
Jai’s commitment to excellence in broadcasting is highlighted in his work as President of Radio of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada. Among his notable achievements are his contribution as a Juno Awards Judge, five years as a host of South Asian Newsweek on CFMT and his work as a guest commentator and columnist for many radio and newspaper productions in Canada, Trinidad and New York.
With many years of contribution to the world of communications media, Jai has received numerous awards and accolades. Recently, he was awarded the Canadian Ethnic Journalists’ and Writers Award 2005 for the best radio news series for coverage of the effects of Hurricane Ivan – more specifically, for its destruction in Grenada, Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean.
In 2004, he received The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada Award for his long and meritorious service to the Caribbean community in Canada.
Whether he is interviewing top politicians, cultural ambassadors or serving up the music of the Caribbean, Jai Ojah Maharaj’s contribution to music, culture and community is extraordinary.
This petite, cheery lady is always known among her peers as a “worker” and a “giver”. Fondly referred to as “Sister Razia”, Razia Khan is a business-woman, a mother and a patron of many worthy causes; Migrating to Canada in 1979, she has worked in the financial industry for over twelve years and has earned her Business Studies qualifications at Seneca College.
The name that is synonymous with the popular Twins Products, a range being manufactured in Guyana, Razia Khan has been the force responsible for its successful marketing in Canada. Not only has she brought the warmth of Guyana to Toronto, she continuously returns to Guyana as a donor to and supporter of many charitable causes both religious and humanitarian. She is a member of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana – CIOG and is a founding member of the Canadian Chapter of that organisation. She has been applauded by many prominent organisations including The Three Rivers Kids Foundation.
With CIOG, some of her outstanding work includes sending fifteen dialysis machines to Guyana where the parent body is working on setting up a dialysis centre.
Last year alone, two hundred and fifty thousand Canadian dollars was sent to Guyana.
Razia has been working with Tools for Schools: a project which was initiated by CIOG and which has been sending stationary supplies and books to less fortunate children in Guyana.
And…with all these activities this dynamic lady still finds time to work at the Imdadul Islamic Centre where she organises a seniors day every last Saturday of the month. For Ramadan, she is the one who co-ordinates the annual Food Drive.
Never losing her humility, Razia has been described as a sparkling personality and a symbol of radiance and success. She continues to be a role-model for many Indo-Caribbean immigrants and especially for young women in the Caribbean-Canadian community.
Razia Khan is the recipient of an Indo-Caribbean MCC Award 2008 for her dedication and service within the community.
Ramdath Jagessar has been involved in community work for over thirty-five years.
He read for a Bachelor of Arts Degree at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, majoring in English and History. While there, he joined the Society for the Propagation of Indian Culture – SPIC. At a time when Indo-Trinidadians were struggling to find confidence in their unique cultural position in society, SPIC was instrumental in fostering positive Indo-Caribbean identity.
Other organisations with which he worked are: the Hindu Siksha Sabha, the first Indian Museum Committee, the Hindu Seva Sangha, the Committee Against Racism in Calypso, the Indian Revival and Reform Association.
As secretary of the Indian Arrival Day Committee, major headway was made in revamping celebrations and culminated in making it a national holiday.
He was a journalist with two major newspapers in Trinidad. Also a school-teacher for some time he combined his expertise to continue the extraordinary work that was begun in Trinidad when he migrated to Canada in 1989.
He served as Secretary of the India-Canada Association of Sudbury, editor of the group’s monthly newsletter and in Toronto was a founding member of the Indo-Trinidad Canadian Association which helped to expand the celebration of Indian Arrival in Canada.
In 1998 he was Secretary of the Committee for Indian Arrival and Heritage Month which helped to bring about South Asian Heritage Month in Ontario in 2001.
From 1992 to 2006, he was a columnist for the Indo-Caribbean World (Toronto), a publication which highlights issues affecting Indo-Caribbean people in Canada.
Presently, he is the editor of The Indo-Caribbean Times.
Ramdath Jagessar’s long list of service reflects his life’s work which he describes as his “task to help Indians to fight for a fair and equal place…for equal treatment and a position of dignity and respect in the land of his birth as well as in his new home-land, Canada.
Making a life in Canada for the past thirty-nine years, Satnarine Bansingh is an established businessman owning many businesses over thirty seven of these years. On the verge of retirement, he is still the proprietor of Globe Insulation and High-Rise Insulation.
What distinguishes him from many other extremely successful businessmen is that has taken his duty to religion and culture very seriously. This man has been financially responsible for the building and establishment of the Shiva Ganesh Mandir.
Without the assistance of fund-raising ventures or donations from various companies and individuals, this individual has single-handedly built a mandir which is the forum for education, service and worship for an entire community.
Satnarine Bansingh did not leave his cultural heritage behind in California, Trinidad –the place from which he comes. It was always his dream to build a mandir which would provide for the needs of many immigrant Hindus like himself. This dream came true in 1995 when the Shiva Ganesh Mandir of 16 Reagan Road in Brampton was inaugurated.
In an area such as Brampton where there is a huge population of Indo-Caribbeans, the setting was ideal.
There is weekly worship as well as a regular Hindi class which focuses on the children who attend the mandir. In addition to the physical upkeep of the mandir, Brother Bansingh as he is sometimes called has been responsible for having many pundits from Guyana, Trinidad and India come to perform numerous yajnas. Some of these include Pundit Prakaash Gosai, Pundit Moonilal Maharaj, Pundit Vyas, Pundit Bheemaul and many others.
As an individual, Satnarine Bansingh has been keen on offering guidance and counselling to young people, even offering them employment at his companies.
In recent years, he has also been a key player in up keeping cultural events by encouraging artists to perform in Canada. This does not mean that he neglects the artistes in Toronto. He has hosted many a fund-raiser with groups such as the Canadian National Orchestra.
I wonder how many of you will remember the year 1965…I’ll tell you a little secret, I wasn’t as yet born into this world. But…in that year, the man we’re about to recognise was honoured by the Government and people of Guyana for his outstanding merits and achievement in broadcasting, social and cultural activities.
In addition to his accomplishments which earned him that award, he has continuously multiplied his efforts and the effect on the wider community has been phenomenal. Eeshri Singh has been described as a “legendary personality”.
In that same year, 1965, he obtained a BS Degree in Business Administration from the College of Applied Science in London, England. While there, he was invited to join Mr. Joe Sanders on “Calling the Caribbean” in the general overseas service of the BBC in London. For some time he assisted Mr Sanders in sending out greetings and dedications from London to loved ones in Guyana and the larger Caribbean. It was then time to return to his beloved home where he would continue his service in this field.
In Guyana, Mr Singh made a significant contribution to the quality of radio programming in that country especially with Radio Demerara and the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation. He also served as a permanent member of the Film Censor Board, Mashramani Celebrations Committee and the Indian Cultural Center.
In 1984, following political changes in Guyana, Eeshri Singh migrated to the United States.
He illustrated that no matter where he lives, he would be able to make a magnanimous contribution to society. In the U.S. he served on TV Channel UHF, radio 93.5. the Faith Station and also on WPAT 930 AM. He is presently the executive producer of many TV shows on Time Warner Channel which reaches out to the Caribbean community. His popularity prompted his association with the West Indian United TV Shows between New York and Canada.
Eeshri Singh has celebrated over fifty years in Broadcasting and Media Relations.
He has received two declarations of Proclamation—one from the Mayor’s Office in Central Florida and the other by Senator Serfin Maltese of New York. A living legend indeed.
Kawalie Asha Maharaj
For the past thirty years, Asha Maharaj has been working steadfastly in the community to make life better for many, especially for children. Among her most outstanding achievements, and there are many, she has raised substantial funds to equip the Cast Room in the new Hospital for Sick Children. She is also the first to develop a Blood Marrow Registry for Bone Marrow Transplants in relation to testing for Caribbean/South Asian Types.
In order to showcase our unique culture, she has involved all levels of the society including the Federal and Provincial Governments at Queen’s Park.
Her numerous awards include The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Provincial Amethyst Award and Ministry of Community and Social Services Award for Outstanding Volunteer Services.
Kawalie Asha Maharaj has been a social worker and a consultant in the sphere of community work. She has served on a variety of committees such as MicroSkills Community Services, The Canadian Cancer Society, Divali Millenium—Toronto, United Nations “Spread the Seeds of Rights to Walk – Toronto, The Daily Bread Food Bank and Save A Life Campaign.
Asha read for a Bachelor of Education Degree and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology Degree at York University. She completed a Master of Education Degree at The University of Toronto.
Currently, she is a member of The Ontario Review Board, a Provincial board that reviews the cases of individuals who suffer a Mental Illness and have been charged and convicted of very serious crimes. In addition to this, Asha is the Director of her business – The Medical Connection Inc. which provides health care to individuals at home and in nursing/retirement homes.
In spite of such a busy schedule and quite an impressive list of accomplishments, Asha finds time to assume the role of Auntie Asha when she guides the young children at the Devi Mandir in regular Sunday school sessions.
Their singing began humbly in the Beharry Sadhu Temple in Diego Martin, Trinidad. What’s interesting about this story is that Ruby Khan-Guptar and Nazimool Khan are not Hindus. What is even more interesting, given their popular recordings of Quasidas, is that they are not Muslim either.
What is it then? …A deep love for music and outstanding talent!
As children, Nazimool and Ruby sang together playfully.
As a girl child, Ruby’s grandmother objected to her singing career and it was her mother who insisted that she follow her talent and her love for music. The mother of Nazimool and Ruby was also a talented singer but due to the strictures associated with being a ‘girl child’ in those days, she was never allowed to pursue her musical talent. It would definitely be different for her daughter.
The Dream Team’s public debut came in 1976 when Nazimool entered the Mastana Bahar competition and reached the finals followed by Ruby in 1977 when she also reached the finals.
Subsequently, they joined the Dil e Nadan orchestra with which they toured extensively places like Martinique, Guadeloupe, US, Canada, Guyana, Surinam and other places in the Caribbean. Ruby has performed in India and London, England.
As individuals, Ruby placed first in the popular Ladies Singing Competition and Nazimool won the Mohammed Rafi Singing Contest in Trinidad.
They earned the title Dream Team when Rafi Mohammed of Trinidad remarked that their talent was indeed a dream come through. That was the early 1980’s and there has been no turning back.
After their stint with Dile Nadan they freelanced with Krishna Manoo and then the band “Dream Team’ was formed in 2000. It’s a family band featuring the popular duo as the lead singers with the sons of Nazimool as the key musicians.
As a team they have been awarded the radio 103 Hall of Fame award in the category for Best Bhajans and Quasidas. They have repeatedly won this award for five years.
They have become well-known in Canada as for many years they have been coming to the Devi Mandir to lend their service to numerous charitable events.
As The Dream Team, they have to date recorded four albums. As individuals, Nazimool has two to his name and Ruby, three.
When asked about which performance over the years has stood out most to her, Ruby talks about their singing at a night wedding in Surinam. It was broadcasted on the radio and many Guyanese travelled there to hear the performance. The Dream Team was so brilliant that people climbed into trees just to get a view of them.
Unfortunately, Nazimool suffered a stroke some time ago and has not been performing recently. As they value their fans immensely, Ruby’s goal is to accomplish much more so that they are not disappointed.
In the future, she hopes to be singing with other international stars such as Anup Jalota. She also hopes to be adding to her repertoire of bhajans and quasidas by including hymns.
Even though Nazimool is not able to be here today, we would like to pay tribute to the Dream Team and their remarkable contribution to the world of music.
When the name Dhaman Persaud Kissoon is sounded within the community in Toronto, there is an immediate association with the icon that he is. A successful barrister and solicitor known for his integrity, he is principal of the firm Kissoon and Associates and a hard-working philanthropist. He is also a devoted son, husband and father.
Born in Guyana, Dhaman Kissoon comes from a family of lawyers, High Court Judges and legal luminaries in Guyana, Barbados, England and Canada. For the last eighteen years, he has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University.
Dhaman’s work other than his legal career includes a list of well-known projects within his community as well as within the Canadian mainstream.
The Kissoon Annual Golf Tournament has helped to raise thousands of dollars for The Devi Mandir in Pickering. Last year, part of the proceeds from the Kissoon Annual Golf Tournament was donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. Dhaman also supports a number of other Hindu temples and other religious organizations in the Greater Toronto area.
Dhaman works with the Advocates for Etobicoke Youth, an organisation that champions the causes for young individuals in that area and touches the lives of more than one thousand young people each year. He assists in arranging youth conferences where judges, lawyers and other prominent business people attend and provide guidance and mentorship to high school students.
The annual Thanksgiving Lunch served by members of the Toronto Police Service, local judges, lawyers and other friends is a venture through which he expresses his care and support for the underprivileged youths and seniors of the community.
He arranges the annual Movie Day which allows two hundred children, who have never been to a cinema, the opportunity to see a current movie at no cost to them.
The Annual Christmas Breakfast for disadvantaged kids is a popular community event. Each year Dhaman distributes toys, which are donated by local businesses, and provides lunch to more than two hundred and fifty children and youths
He has not forgotten his country of origin. He has established an annual scholarship to be given to two deserving students aspiring to attend the University of Guyana.
Dhaman Persaud Kissoon is indeed a figure that has made a difference in our society; not only within the Caribbean community but as one of our representatives in the wider arena of our multicultural Canada – he has certainly made us proud.