As part of the array of people whom we portray in our Dossier section, the NRI Achievers team has this time chosen four persona to portray, one of whom is Dr. Harinder Dhanju, an Indian Canadian dentist par-excellence, who also feels passionate about his responsibility to society, both in Canada and in India. So apart from furthering his career in the field of dentistry, has earned plaudits for his social work, aimed at enhancing benefits to the community. Our bureau brings you, our readers, vignettes about his and her life trajectory …
Canadian dentist from British Columbia, Dr. Harinder “Harry” Dhanju, is of the firm belief that NRIs need to invest resources in India so that young unemployed youth in the home country can learn skills. “What we lack here is a skill development programme for youth. We have air-conditioned offices and mobile phones have made inroads in villages, but we need trained people to repair them. And here NRIs can help by putting in money and helping youth gets vocational training,” he opines.
Dr. Dhanju always strives in giving back to the society. “Whatever I have earned, I have always aimed at giving back. I have earned all I have on Canadian soil. I am paying millions of dollars in taxes which I should have utilised for doing well in India. So I need to give back to the society. Canadians are working under our umbrella. Besides money I have employed more than 14 people from Canada in my offices, and apart from that, when the construction happened, 100 plus people worked on the site from day one and the entire process from start to finish lasted two long years,” he adds.
Dr. Harry and his wife Dr. Jas are running two dental clinics in the Canadian towns of Richmond and Newton. On the social responsibility front, Dr. Dhanju is the President of a not-for-profit organization – the Pacific Oral Health Society. The Society, sited at Surrey, is a world-class facility that provides oral health care for many underprivileged community members. The first event organised by the society took place on December 4, 2010 and was attended by 350 patients seeking dental treatment – which convinced the Board and stakeholders about the pressing need for such a clinic. The Society also offers training courses for international dentists who wish to take the National Dental Examination Board of Canada tests and certify themselves. International dentists apropos need to clear these exams if they wish to practice as a general dentist in Canada. “When I went to Canada in 1996, I had to take the examinations in order to get a licence to practice. There was hardly anyone to advise me and it was very tough indeed to clear the exams. It was then that I decided to help and counsel such aspiring dentists so they don’t have to go through the rigour which I went through,” says Dr. Dhanju.
Recalling his life in India after passing out as a dentist from Government Dental College under Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Dr. Dhanju says: “I had a luxurious life and was living in my own home. With six years of dental practice in India, I realised there is not much opportunity for growth here. One thought came to my mind that in the next 10 years, I would be making double the amount of money than I am making today, but life won’t change. Communication wasn’t that good in the mid nineties and opportunities in the private sector weren’t all that great. Everybody was in the reckoning for a government job. I didn’t want to be part of that rat race. I thought of shifting to Canada because I wanted to get a flavour of staying abroad. It was a simple thought and I followed my heart on this.” Hailing from village Majitha in Amritsar, Dr. Dhanju never forgot his roots and that’s one reason he keeps coming back. In fact, he has just got his son admitted for a dentistry course in India.
Talking about life in Canada, Dr. Dhanju says, “All my immediate family members are in Canada and we have loads of friends from our community. We have retained our village culture in Canada. That’s the reason I never feel homesick. To the contrary, when one comes to India you get to see how the country has changed so much, become so advanced. Lot of people have gone from the villages of Punjab to Canada, and they have successfully retained the culture of their respective villages in Canada. In fact schools are teaching Punjabi as a language there. Also the government has made sure those signages are available in Punjabi in Canada. You will see local street names in Punjabi and Hindi. That’s how we have preserved our culture in a foreign land.”
However it is the Indian Chai that Dr. Dhanju definitely misses in Canada. “Cow’s milk in India makes your tea tastier. One gets only pasteurized milk in Canada,” he quips. Talking about his family, Dr. Dhanju says, “I have two kids – a son and a daughter. My son is studying dentistry in India and my daughter is still in school. They both understand Punjabi, but their reply normally comes in English. My children understand Hindi as well as they watches Bollywood movies,” he adds. However, Dr. Dhanju laments about the Indian system and the need to change it. “We have been spoilt by North America. You don’t have to run for gas, you don’t have to complain about electricity, life is pretty easy there. For me to come back to India, the system has to change. We got the independence, but life in India is still that of a slave,” he rues.
“Canada is a melting pot of cultures, a diverse fabric woven with elements from all nations. You can see the idea of United Nations in this one country. That’s the beauty of Canada and nobody can say I own Canada. Nobody owns the country, everybody is an immigrant here and everybody is an equal. And thus all contribute towards the betterment of society. I have tried to contribute too, both socio-economically and politically towards to my host country. I try to contribute intellectually towards nation building, give feedback on what is required to reshape a better Canada, make it more inviting for other communities and not just for Indians. And that’s the beauty of Canada,” he says.
However, with his son now getting admitted in India for his dentistry course, Dr. Dhanju’s India visits are bound to be more frequent. “I am paying back to India too. I am coming to India to train young trainees here. I am an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and I come with my team every year to train youngsters in the field of dentistry. India has invested in me by making me a successful dentist and now I it is time for a payback.” he adds. Talking about the relationship between Canada and India, Dr. Dhanju lauds the move of PM Narendra Modi visiting different countries, which will definitely help in improving relationship of India with those countries and people. “Narendra Modi is the first Indian PM in 40 years to visit Canada – it shows he is open, his policies are different than the previous government. Then PM Manmohan Singh didn’t go to Canada or Mexico though he visited the USA,” adds Dr. Dhanju.
NAVDEEP SINGH BANSAL
A TRULY GLOBAL SIKH
For NRI entrepreneur Navdeep Singh Bansal it wouldn’t have been a more auspicious date than 10.10.10 to launch “The Sikh Awards” at The Grosvenor House Hotel in London. After a highly successful five editions, he has now brought the awards to India for the first time this year. Delhi’s The Taj Mahal Hotel came alive on the night of October 3 this year, when it played host to the sixth – The Sikh Awards. NRI Achievers team, which had the pleasure to have been invited for the occasion, brings you a profile of the man behind the awards.
The Sikh Awards were instituted to pay recognition to the achievements of the sikh community across the world, to highlight their successes, energy, drive and passion behind progressive growth in all sectors. UK-based Bansal, the brain behind the august event, started his career by selling advertising space for the UK’s ‘Independent’ newspaper before making a successful foray into the real estate business in Central London. “That’s when I started the Sikh directory. The directory has seen its tenth year of publication now and is the very genesis for the Sikh awards. There was this direfelt need for a platform under which all business owners could come together. So I thought about the awards and launched it on 2010.”
Apart from the Sikh directory, Bansal has worked assiduously for 12 years collecting an ever growing database of more than half a million Asian business owners from around the world. The first year of awards were limited to the sikh community in UK. Sony TV aired the UK awards globally and it became an instant hit among the Indian diaspora around the world. “We started getting requests from different countries about sikhs doing exceptionally well elsewhere and it was thence that I decided to launch it globally in 2011.”
The Sikh awards also honour people from other communities working for the cause of sikhs throughout the world. Among non-sikhs, awards have gone to Prof Stephan Grosz and Lakshmi Niwas Mittal. In 2013 the worldwide sikh community took a step further and gave a special recognition award to British PM David Cameron. “David Cameron is the first serving PM to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandir Sahib, and the first to visit Jallianwala Bagh, lay a memorial wreath and sign the condolence book,” says Bansal, who has also held an advisory role to the British Prime Minister. This is also the very first such award accepted by any Prime Minister in the history of UK Parliament. “Since 2011 the British PM has also started celebrating Baisakhi at 10, Downing Street every year,” adds Bansal.
In his special message for this year’s awards night, British PM David Cameron had said: “I am delighted to send my very best wishes to everyone at this year’s Sikh Awards in India. This is a celebration of the enormous contribution sikhs make in India and around the world. Tonight we recognize an incredible wealth of talent – whether that be in businesses, sports, entertainment, education, professional services or charity. The award winners and nominees this evening will undoubtedly inspire many in India, in Britain and around the world to follow in their footsteps.” Cameron had further added, “I’ve made a personal commitment to strengthening UK-India relations as I firmly believe we can be one of the great partnerships of the 21st century and that is why I have visited India three times during the last five years. Later on this year, I look forward to welcoming PM Modi to the United Kingdom when we will have a further opportunity to strengthen our relationship even more. So let me congratulate the organizers and volunteers for bringing these awards together and I wish everyone involved – and all tonight’s winners – a wonderful evening.”
Replicating London’s regal award ceremony in India was no mean feat at all. Bansal’s budget for hosting the awards was over GBP 1,50,000 or INR 1.5 crore. This cost doesn’t include the cost of flying in the VIPs and award winners to the venue. “I wanted to bring the whole concept of UK to India so the event was funded just it was funded in the UK by ticket sales and sponsorships,” says Bansal. The call for the nominations for The Sikh Awards is done through a website. Any Sikh from any country who has done exceptionally well can be nominated through this website. The jury shortlists the nominated people in June every year. The selection process is totally objective and the jury remains impeccably impartial.
It was in October 2014 when Bansal first came to India to test the waters. “Before coming here I called up my previous award winners including Analjit Singh, Shivinder Mohan Singh and Vikramjit Singh Sahney and they helped me a lot with references and in coming months whenever I visited Delhi, my schedule was packed meeting people,” adds Bansal. Every hour from 9 am till 10 pm he was meeting different people. Regarding his networking skills, Bansal quips that its a gift of the God and he has been fortunate enough to be in such a vast network of professionals and industry captains. “I don’t even know how, but I know almost all Indian VIPs from around the world, be it political leaders or business owners.”
bansal, pioneer of the global Sikh ‘Orange Pages’ avers: “The Sikh directory is based on the concept of yellow pages. However it’s more than what YPs offer – it is a glossary of Sikhism itself. We started with just 10 pages on Sikhism in the first year of inception ten years ago, but many requests came to include the Anand Karaj in the directory as well. I approached sikh scholars to add spiritual content, and added history on sikh women. I took the help of my mentor and spiritual guru Bhai Mohinder Singhji from the UK, whose knowledge of Sikhism is vast and second to none. The Sikh directory today is distributed free of cost to all important offices in the UK and there is no room for errors here.”
However, one important fact is the question on why the award has so far eluded former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh – the most pre-eminent sikh in the country. Dr. Singh has been at the helm of affairs for 10 years. Bansal says, “I don’t decide on whom to confer the award. The beauty of the award is that I play no role in the selection of the awardees.” According to Bansal, a system is in place for the Awards and a due process is followed. And sadly though, no one until now has proposed the former PM for the award yet.
In 2012, Bansal had come up with the idea of making a list of most influential sikhs, where then PM Dr. Manmohan Singh topped the charts, followed by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) chief Prakash Singh Badal. Bansal still remembers publishing that list on a Saturday and then spending the entire following Monday answering calls from journalists around the world. The list hogged the limelight and front pages of almost all publications in India.
On being asked on his vision about where he sees himself and his endeavours after 10 years, Bansal says its all an evolving process. Every venture of his takes a lot of brainstorming. “It took four years to plan the Sikh directory, and I had no inkling I would launch an award night for sikhs then. It took three years of thinking before I could go public with the Sikh Awards. Similarly after I launched the awards, it took me three years to launch an influential list of worthy Sikhs around the globe. So I don’t have any answer what I will be doing in next 10 years time,” he says.
There’s literally no stopping for this mighty Sikh from UK, whose grandfather started a journey from a Ludhiana Village to Africa. His parents grew up in Uganda; his siblings were born in Kenya and he migrated to the UK seeking greener pastures. Navdeep Singh Bansal is truly a global sikh.
DANCER, MODEL, TV PERSONALITY & FILM-MAKER
Dr. MADHVI MOHINDRA
This article deals with the life and times of Dr. Madhvi Mohinder, a danseuse par excellence who has also done a stint in modelling, been a television personality promoting and furthering her art and the natural beauty of her adopted land, as well as venturing into the domain of film-making and programme production. NRI Achievers brings you a brief profile of the lady, her life and her current preoccupations …
Madhvi harks from a family of artists and educationists that has its roots in Haryana. Encouraged and gently but firmly guided by her father the late Rajendra Pradeep, who has served as an educationist and administrator, she has flowered to attain perfection and eminence, not to mention her winning international acclaim in her chosen domain. Though a stern disciplinarian who insisted his children train rigorously in etiquette, her father was also a liberal who was a guide and guru to them when the time came for his children to choose their own paths in life.
Madhvi grew up with five siblings, she being the second youngest in the family. Her eldest sister was a three colours holder (best Athlete, speaker and debater) of Punjab University in the 70s. Elder brother Shashi Ranjan, a gold medallist in acting from the FTII Pune is a big name in Indian TV today, as well as a successful television director and producer. Another sister Rita Singh perchance happens to have been a third runner-up in Femina Miss India beauty pageant during the early 80s. Yet another sister is an academic, an Associate Professor in Music. Her younger brother Hemant Pradeep, who too won a gold medal for topping his Psychology Honours started his career as a lecturer but soon afterwards followed in his brother’s footsteps to find success and recognition in Bollywood and the TV Industry, as a producer-director of several series for Star TV, Zee, NGC etc.
Our protagonist, Dr. Madhvi Mohindra, started learning dance from the tender age of three years and started performing on stage from the age of four. Dancing and Music were her passions from childhood and over time her passion became her profession as well. Dr. Mohindra recalls a time when Pandit Jasraj had come to her college to perform and she asked her father for Rupees 10. When questioned by her parent as to why she needed that princely sum, she replied in excitement that she wants to buy an autograph book to take Pandit Jasraj’s autograph. Her father smiled and said: “What achievement is there in taking an autograph from a celebrity ? Make yourself so capable that people will ask you for your autograph. That will be your achievement and I am confident you can achieve this. And here is your ten rupees.” Since then she has striven to excel and that has indeed brought her acclaim and approbation.
A well qualified musician and dancer from India, she has excelled in melding Indian music & dance with Western musical styles to create her own genre. With her degree in Kathak Dance and Music, a Masters in Hindi Literature and performing arts and a PhD in performing Arts, she is enough of an academician and enough of an artiste. She has over time spent her energies in subsuming several dance forms – Kathak, Folk, and Bollywood. Her gurus have been Premlata Allawadi, Pandit Vedvyas and Rajendra Gangani. Her exposure to the audio-visual media began when she started performing for radio at AIR when she was a mere teenager. As a drama artiste at AIR, she has written many plays and produced them as well. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in different Hindi magazines.
1992 was a turning point of her life, the year started with her first dream when she took part as a contestant in Femina Miss India beauty pageant and later got married with her childhood love. Her passion for Dance, Music, Radio, TV and the Stage took her to the next level when she kick started her own event management company “Tarannum” out of Gurgaon, organising many events, and working for TV Production houses in Mumbai. In 2001 she chose to migrate from India with her family and settled in the Fiji Islands. In Fiji, she is one among the few Indians who made a big name for themselves in the Archipelago. Just two months the Fiji chapter of her life, she flung herself at furthering and promoting the arts of her passion, becoming the president of the Music Therapy Association of Fiji, where she organised numerous workshops for special schools and psychiatric hospitals. She also started giving Radio programs for the local Hindi Radio stations. She played a key role in the National Hibiscus Festival grooming contestants for the beauty pageant and choreographing fashion shows, and organised Bollywood nites.
Her hard-work, vast experience and the name she had made for herself in Oceania saw Dr. Madhvi being offered a job in 2005 by a large Australia based Pay TV Company operating in the Fiji islands, to join them and look after all the programming for their channels. Zee TV Asia featured her as well, in thanks to her efforts to make Zee popular for that particular market. Dr. Mohindra’s contributions in marketing the Fiji Islands as a tourist destination worldwide are also considerable. Her contributions to the Fiji Audio Visual commission are also worth mentioning. It was Dr Mohindra who started doing Dance workshops for the Kula Film Awards, introduced by the Fiji Audio Visual commission in 2006.
She has done a few TVCs for Nestlé as a main model and has modelled for the National Telecommunication Company, as well as for Milk and Shampoo products. After emigrating from Fiji to Australia in 2009, Dr. Mohindra has started her own academy of performing arts under the name and style of “The Elegant Creations.” In her academy, students get trained in different forms of Indian dance and music, as well as learn Hindi and acting. Her path breaking work in her field for the past two-and-a-held decades or the BBC World News to focus their limelight on her for a story on global Indians they were doing, a series that featured on the Indian Diaspora. BBC was looking for some unique and interesting stories from Australia, and found Dr. Mohindra.
Dr. Mohindra works closely today with Bollywood and Television Infotainment Industry centred around Mumbai. She grooms and promotes local artists to help them make their careers in Bollywood. Elegant Creations organises talent hunts with Viacom 18’s channel ‘Colors.’ Dr. Mohindra also looks after advertising sales for Colors in Australia.
Her daughters have grown up true to the adage ‘like mother like daughters.’ Both are good dancers, singers and musicians. The younger one, Rupali, has represented South East Asia in Zee TV’ Lil Champ Sa Re Ga Ma Pa when she was 9. Her elder one, Mrinalini, has won several awards in dance competitions. Both the daughter, having taken professional training in dance and music, are following in their mother’s footsteps. Mrinalini, while still studying Business Accounting at the University, teaches Bollywood dancing and vocal Music at Elegant Creations and has choreographed and performed many gigs in Australia. Younger Rupali, though still in school, looks after administrative and creative work for Elegant Creations.
Madhvi is working on two big projects these days. One is a TV Series based on the journey of different NRIs, which is slated to be telecast by one of India’s leading Hindi Channels. The other project is related to the achievements of women NRIs.