Candles, sparklers and lamps lit up this year's Diwali Fundraiser and Awards Gala. Yet, it was the NetIP Canada's five honourees who shone brightest that night, including a local dentist with a flair for charity galas and a diplomat whose novel inspired an Oscar-winning film.
Ottawa’s South Asian business and professional community, along with the broader community, returned to the Infinity Convention Centre on Friday to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which this year officially falls on Nov. 7. They also recognized a select group of leaders, as well as raised money for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
Sid Kumar, president of NetIP (Network of Indian Professionals) Canada, heads up the gala's organizing committee. NetIP is a non-profit organization dedicated to the overall achievements and advancement of South Asian professionals.
The gala's honourary co-chairs are Raj Narula, founder and CEO of InCa Synergies, and Ontario’s former attorney general, Yasir Naqvi. The loss of his Ottawa Centre seat in the June election came with a silver lining: he's had more time to be a dad to his two young kids while deciding his next career move.
This year's Hall of Fame recipients were: Professor Uma Kumar with the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University; Ottawa dentist and community champion Nalin Bhargava, who’s also the team dentist for the Ottawa Redblacks, Ottawa Fury and Ottawa 67’s; and Indian High Commissioner Vikas Swarup.
The winners of 2018 Upcoming Leader awards were: former Forty Under 40 recipient Fayez Thawer, managing director for Tasico Hospitality, a family-owned hotel ownership and management company; and Raman Srivastava, director general at the Department of National Defence.
Special guests included Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod. She donned a traditional Punjabi outfit from Delhi (she considered wearing her sari but feared a wardrobe malfunction). Retiring Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson also took part in the festivities.
Also seen were: Goldy Hyder, who recently took over from John Manley as president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada; Phoenix Homes founder and 2017 Hall of Fame recipient Cuckoo Kochar; Infinity Convention Centre partner Anand Aggarwal; and the Royal Ottawa Foundation’s CEO, Mitchell Bellman, along with Dr. Zul Merali, CEO of the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research.
Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma was on the ball as the evening's emcee.
OSEG president and chief executive Mark Goudie and OSEG Foundation executive director Janice Barresi were part of the group from the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group out supporting Bhargava, who volunteers on the charitable foundation's community cabinet.
The formal part of the evening began with the ceremonial lighting of the lamps. There were cultural performances, an Indian cuisine dinner, and live auction led by community leader Pradeep Merchant, site chief of neonatology at The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus.
Bhargava's pal, well-known Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, made a special appearance on stage to sell a dinner for eight at the British high commissioner’s official residence.
The acceptance speeches from the Hall of Fame recipients were gracious, articulate and, at times, very amusing.
The high commissioner — who arrived to Canada some 18 months ago — received a standing ovation.
Swarup told the crowd he wasn’t sure whether his award was for his diplomatic career or for his novel Q&A, which led to the 2008 smash-hit movie Slumdog Millionaire.
"A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip."
“But, I’ll just tell you this: the two roles are not entirely compatible,” Swarup told the room. “A diplomat is supposed to be very nice and affable. The best definition of a diplomat that I have heard is: A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip."
“An author, on the other hand, has to tell it like he sees it without pulling any punches. So, at times, there’s this uneasy cohabitation in my head of these two split personalities: a diplomat and an author.”
Bhargava, who was born in the city of Jaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan, spoke about what it means to be an Indo-Canadian in Ottawa. He recalled his first day of kindergarten at Pleasant Park Public School in Alta Vista. The year was 1968. “One of the other kids said to me, ‘Does that peel off?’ I think they were referring to the skin colour. It led me to believe that there’s a line in this community. There’s them and us, and this line is separated by colour. That’s what I thought in kindergarten.”
Nowadays, visible minorities have become the majority in some parts of the country, with 51 per cent of Toronto residents identifying as such. Labels are becoming obsolete, said Bhargava, who, with his wife, Dr. Rani Telang, are principal dentists at Southgate Dental. He talked about how his niece in Brampton was teased at camp for her skin colour. The girl, who has a Caucasian father, felt she wasn't South Asian-looking enough to fit in. "We've come full circle here."
Bhargava believes that Indo-Canadians' three greatest strengths are their: strong families, good education and philanthropy. He's been instrumental in organizing a number of charity galas, including the South Asian-themed Maharaja’s Ball. More recently, he was part of the OSEG Foundation’s Gourmet on the Gridiron. It saw guests dine on the Redblacks’ home turf with the football players.