Interviews that explore the narratives and journeys of Canadian newcomers in our current times.
Over the past few month’s we’ve been documenting the diverse stories of Canadian newcomers. These stories explore the origins behind migration journeys to uncover the aspiration of newcomers looking to build a life here in Canada.
Ikram Patel never had any intentions of leaving India or coming to Canada. His father was the epitome of heroism, and Ikram wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by serving in the Indian Air Force. It was an accident that changed his path, eventually leading him to search for new horizons. Arriving in Canada just this January, I got a chance to chat with Ikram and learn about his journey.
Ikram, what was it like growing up in India
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. It’s one of the most happening and culturally diverse cities in India. The culture of Mumbai is amazing. It’s a city that never sleeps. I would say that Mumbai is a training ground for life. It grooms you on all fronts, whether travelling or living alone to getting ready to handle the obstacles of life. It’s all there jampacked, like a crash course. Also, if you have driven a car or a motorcycle in Mumbai, you could survive anywhere in the world.
My life was very simple. I’m the youngest in my family, and even though I’m 35 right now, I’m still considered the kid. My mom was my confidant, she was an English, and she has always been a homemaker. My father was an Airforce veteran, he served in the airforce for 20 years, and he was the epitome of heroism.
What are some of the fond memories that you have from back home?
The fondest memory was coming back home from school when my mom would be there waiting for me with a warm lunch. Sitting there and having that meal was priceless.
Every day would be something new. My father used to come back from the office, and I remember that I would wait for him when he would remove his bright red bike helmet, and I would wear it and feel like an astronaut.
He used to carry a briefcase, and I would wait for him to open it because at least once or twice a week, there would be a small surprise for me that could be a small candy, a little toy car or small comic books that you would get for 50 paise or 1 rupee. All those kinds of memories, they’re still alive in my heart.
I can see that you have a strong bond with your father. Tell more about the connection you have with him?
My father has a very inspirational story for me. He lost his father when he was six years old, and just after he completed high school, he joined the Indian airforce. He said that this was the first time in his life that he saw a new set of shoes and clothes, which were his uniform. He built his way up, and after twenty years of service, he quit the airforce as an accomplished veteran and started his career as a lawyer. He gave us an excellent upbringing, which was not very lavish or fancy, but forged us for life.
As a kid, I grew up seeing my father and believing that I would join the special forces like him and serve my country.
I’m sure your father taught you a lot, what’s one thing you learned from him?
My father always told me that having a title will not ever make you a leader. To be a real leader, you don’t require a title. Whenever you see an opportunity to step up, make a difference to either help or improve somebody’s life or contribute to society as a whole, do it. When you see something that needs to be done, step up and do it. What I learned was to bring out the human in me before the title.
Ikram, you mentioned you had aspirations to joined the Indian Airforce. What changed your path?
Apart from being very passionate about the armed forces, I was also passionate about automotive and motorcycles. There was a point in time that I had 11 motorcycles. There was an accident that happened. It wasn’t a stunt accident or anything. I was trying to save a dog and ended up slipping and breaking my ankle when riding. I could no longer be classified as a class one officer with that injury, so my armed forces dreams were shattered.
That’s when I realized that while you can have plans and aspirations, God has other plans for you. That’s when I realized that it’s okay when things don’t happen your way. If I were in the armed forces, I definitely would not have had this opportunity to come and settle in Canada.
Can you tell me about the significance of this photo you shared with me?
2018 was when we had our last reunion as a family together. My mom, my dad and my three sisters and myself. My daughter was born in 2018, and my two sisters had flown down from the US to meet my kid. This is our house in Mumbai, and this is my entire life captured at this moment. I look at these faces, and they open the entire stream of childhood memories.
Ikram, When did you decide to come to migrate to Canada
It was actually my wife who had the idea. She did the research and convinced me that we should look at migrating out of India. India’s an amazing country, but from the point of view of giving my kids better learning opportunities and the quality of life is what sold me.
My daughter has a specific interest in learning the life cycle of fishes and butterflies. My younger daughter, who is just three years old, wants to open a toy store in space. Elon Musk is already planning on sending people to Mars, so my daughter already has a plan that there will be kids there and that they will require toys. With these kinds of thoughts, I would not be able to give shape to these dreams for kids in India because the education system is very rigid and structured. Over there, it’s an engineer, doctor or salesperson.
I love my country, I’m very patriotic about it, but if I’m thinking from the long-term perspective of my kids’ lifestyle, that’s how our motivations for Canada came to be and why we are here now. So it’s all thanks to my wife. You should really be interviewing her, actually.
I know you only recently arrive in Canada this year. Tell me, how has your experience been transitioning into Canada thus far?
There was excitement in breaking outside of your comfort zone and trying to test your metal. Ideally, it would be best to do that when you’re unmarried and don’t have dependencies. I’m taking the leap when I got two kids, and I’m the sole breadwinner, so that has been exciting.
In India, you’ve got your ancestral homes, your friend circles, you know the terrain and geography, people know you because you’ve been born and brought up there, so it’s like your a lion in the jungle.
Here everything was new, you don’t know how to commute from point A to B, and you don’t know the laws. I could have either failed miserably or been on the right track. By the grace of God, things worked out, and I am on track.
Even though it’s a short time, I’d love to know what you have learned about Canada since coming here?
The people are very welcoming and very friendly. They say a lot of sorry and thank you. These two words I hear a lot, and this talk about the culture of the country, which I do appreciate.
The weather you need to be ready mentally that the whether can swing like a ballet dancer. One day you have snow, the next bright, the next day raining, and then you got snow again. That’s actually a beautiful thing, and you need to enjoy how the weather can change within 24 hours.
Tell me about the significance of this picture?
This is our first Eid in Canada. Eid back home was always with a lot of family and friends, and this was our first Eid where we didn’t have any family. You can still see smiles and happiness on everybody’s face, and even though our family is not there, there’s this sense of satisfaction and achievement that we made it and that we are celebrating this Eid together.
Hopes & Aspirations
What are your hopes and aspirations for building a life in Canada?
I trained for the military, so my hopes will always be tactical and strategic. My first tactical goal is to get my driving license and car. The next tactical goal is to invest in a house, and if I get my parents to visit, you need a bigger space.
Apart from that, from a strategic point of view, I plan to open up a startup here in Canada, which is into smart products. I’ve been working on it with my friends, and I want to lay the foundation of that organization in Canada. Things are moving towards digital, and you got the Internet of things, machine learning and artificial intelligence. I want to enter into that space and start addressing the challenges with products and services specific to Canada.
Ikram, I’m curious if you have any thoughts on what it meant to be Canadian?
Being Canadian means being genuine. Having a lot of tolerance and having the confidence to open up your arms to strangers you don’t know. You’re opening up your arms to many people from different countries, different mindsets, different religions. You’re accommodating everyone around you and then progress to take everybody along with you.
I really like that, that’s a wonderful answer. I’m also wondering if you had any advice that you could give to another Canadian newcomer?
Do not come here with any kind of presumptions. As a newcomer, when you’ve decided to come to Canada, have faith in God and think on the positive side. Upskill yourself, study the industries in Canada, do your research and come with a positive and fresh mind.
There is a reason why you are coming to Canada. It’s a new chapter in life, so keep the book blank and don’t compare things to how they were before. This is an opportunity for you to write your new story again, which very few lucky people get.
Try to dig up your old scrapbooks as a kid, and maybe you have an opportunity to do it right now because there’s no pressure that you have to be a doctor or an engineer. You want to be a baker, why not? Get up and start baking! Open yourself up and don’t chain yourself to the fears that it will be tough and it won’t work out.
Love the just do it attitude you have Ikram! Tell me about this photo you shared with me?
I think this is my 12th bike. It’s a Honda C3 150. That’s my favourite colour combination and my riding jacket. This is how I used to look even when I was going to the office every day. It’s a very emotional picture for me because I don’t have any of this with me right now, but I still have my riding gear kept back home. So when I have a bike here, it’s definitely going to come back, so you’ll get to see another picture of me, probably a bigger litre class here in Canada.
Before We Wrap Up…
What would you do if you were to win Canada’s Luckiest Newcomer contest grand prize of $20,000, presented by CIBC and the Canadian Newcomers Network?
A part of this I would utilize for buying my first house, and I’ll ensure that the house has a big basement so that the remaining part of that I will use to build my start-up I was talking about and have an office in the basement.
Is there anything else you would like to share with others who may be reading your story?
I’m planning on launching a youtube channel, the name of the channel will be “in-transit.” That’s because you never reach your destination; in the journey of life, you’re always in transit.
As I reflected on Ikram’s story, I’m reminded that the colourful fabric of Canada is woven together by the many multicultural identities built by resilience, hard work and dreams. Stories like Ikram’s remind me that Canada is stronger today because Canadian newcomers bring the wealth of their experiences and diversity to make Canada a better place.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.