Shirin and Manish Chaturvedi love everything about Canada, but when they first moved here in 2002, things weren’t exactly easy.
Both worked at a travel agency in Mumbai. Shirin as an executive assistant and Manish in finance. With their friends and colleagues applying for Canadian immigration, they thought they’d apply, too, just for a lark.
“It’s true! We did it just for fun!” laughs Shirin. “We wanted a change, we were ready to try something new so we thought we’d apply
and see what happens.”
What happened was that the process moved much faster than they’d anticipated and in less than a year, they had their immigration papers.
“Actually, it would have been even faster. We were told we’d have our papers by December 2001, but then 9/11 happened and slowed things down.”
Even so, things moved very smoothly and without a hurdle, and the Chaturvedis came to Toronto with their daughter Shreeya who was then just two years old.
Shirin chose to take a break and stay home with Shreeya rather than pay for expensive babysitting, but Manish got going with the job hunt right away.
That’s when the lack of Canadian work experience hit home.
“It was a nightmare,” says Shirin quietly. “Everywhere that Manish applied, the answer was the same. He took up survival jobs to help pay the bills.”
Disheartened and upset, Shirin called their former employer in Mumbai, saying they were considering returning. He encouraged them to stick it out a little longer. If things didn’t improve, the doors at their office in Mumbai were always open for them, he assured them.
Manish, who had signed up with an employment agency, applied for jobs in his field with renewed vigour. One day they got a call. There was an opening for a data entry job. Was Manish interested? Shirin told the lady at the agency she was interested, too, and was told to send in her resumé.
Shirin says she had already done so, but with the lady as a contact there, things began to move quickly.
“Just sending applications does not work as well as establishing a contact,” Shirin tells newcomers now, having learned from that experience.
Today, Manish is back in his field, finance, and so is Shirin, who switched her field of work for something new. Both work for different financial institutions and feel well settled and comfortable.
They didn’t know too many people who could help them when they came, they say. Whatever they achieved they did on their own steam. Which is better, says Shirin. This way they are not beholden to anyone.
“It was hard in the beginning, but within six months, we knew we would make it, we were confident we would succeed,” she says.
They embraced life in Canada with that same positive attitude.
Nothing bothered them, not even the infamous Canadian winters. In fact, believe it or not, they actually love winter.
“We are from Mumbai where it is so hot and humid. We used to dream about being in a cold place. We used to say when we have our own house, we’ll install air-conditioners in every room. Our prayers were answered – we live in a place where one doesn’t need air-conditioning! We all love the snow. Even snowstorms!”
Having lived the fast-paced life in Mumbai where the daily commute by local trains can be tiring, they say they enjoy an almost retired lifestyle in Canada.
“I travel by local bus – it’s a 20-minute ride to work and it’s so comfortable, I feel like a queen,” says Shirin. “Life is truly good here. People respect you, your work is valued. We have our own house. It’s a townhouse with four bedrooms. In Mumbai, I couldn’t dream of owning such a big house.
“Since coming to Canada, we have gone on a cruise, gone to the US a few times, and every other year, we visit India.”
The only downside? Lack of househelp!
“We had three servants in India. One to cook, another to look after Shreeya and a third to clean and look after my mother-in-law. Here we have to do everything ourselves. Shreeya is older now and most things we manage fine but I hate cooking – that’s still a challenge!”
Shirin is not a big fan of the high taxes either, but acknowledges that they come back in the form of good roads, public health and education, etc.
They encourage newcomers to be flexible and open-minded.
“If they start by saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that’, things will be more difficult,” says Shirin. “Manish went from being a manager to having to start fresh. Of course it’s hard, but if you stay focused, you move up quickly. Your efforts are appreciated.”
“We love Canada!” they both say in unison.
“We’ve achieved in Canada what we could only dream of back in India,” says Shirin. “I feel I must have done something good in my past life to deserve this.”