Raju Parikh, P.Eng. of Sandwell Engineering in Vancouver has spent much of his career supervising the construction of pulp and paper mills. But in his private life he builds bridges between cultures. ...
Raju Parikh, P.Eng. of Sandwell Engineering in Vancouver has spent much of his career supervising the construction of pulp and paper mills. But in his private life he builds bridges between cultures. Ever since he arrived in Canada, Parikh has been helping to forge links between his fel- low immigrants from Gujarati state in India and the wider Canadian society.
Parikh came to Montreal during the heady days of Expo ’67. He had already studied and received a master in engineering degree in the U.S., and had worked for a year in Chicago before returning to India. Now his wife Minaxi wanted to travel, so he applied for work with Swan Wooster in Montreal and was quickly accepted.
From Bombay, a tropical city teeming with six million people who shared his culture, he found himself in the chill northern climate of Quebec. He and his wife took French lessons, and searched the telephone book to find a Gujarati name. He called one and found out there was a community of about 20 people.
Soon their numbers grew, bolstered by Indians arriving from Uganda who were being expelled by Idi Amin. Parikh had always found Quebecers to be warm people, but now he saw “issues” arising. “We were a visible minority,” he says. “Some people had problems getting jobs.”
He felt something needed to be done. “I thought that some kind of interaction was required…. Our lifestyle was different in India, and we had to adjust it. I started helping [the new immigrants] and talking to them about what is necessary to do in order to adjust to the new life, how to get into proper clothing and lifestyles so that you can become a part of the system.”
They formed a Gujarati society and would gather for pot luck suppers and folk dances to celebrate holidays like Diwali, the New Year, or Navratri, Thanksgiving. One day a letter arrived on Parikh’s doorstep. It told him he had been appointed an honorary Justice of the Peace. Now he could seal legal documents for people in the community.
Today Parikh lives in Vancouver, transferred there when Swan Wooster merged with Sandwell in 1986. He is the manager of municipal, institutional and light industrial projects at Sandwell. Both his sons are doctors practising in the U.S.
His community too has prospered. Parikh estimates there are about 250,000 East Indians living in the Vancouver area alone. Recently he supervised the conversion of a Post Office building into a centre for the Gujarati people. Over 600 were there for the opening, he recalls proudly, and the Swami Chinmayanand came from India to bless the hall.
Parikh still encourages Gujaratis to reach out to the wider society. For one thing, he is a director of the India Club, a group of professionals who give scholarships to students at universities and high schools, no matter what their background. By building these kind of bridges between cultures, people like Parikh take us to a better world.Bronwen Ledger