We were in Vancouver from July 7th to 16th, 2023. The occasion was a sort of reunion of three families: the Anejas, Behlas, and mine.
The three of us first met at Anand in the late sixties where we worked for many years with the then nascent National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) of India. Virindra Singh Behla joined in November 1967, I joined in May 1968, and Dr. RP Aneja in July 1968. At one time, Behla was the Director (Engineering), I was the Director (Human Resource Development), and Dr. Aneja was the Managing Director.
Dr. Aneja was earlier the Secretary of the NDDB before it became a body corporate under an act of Parliament in 1987. Dr. Aneja’s predecessors were Dr. SC Ray, Mr. AK RayChaudhry, and Mr. GM Jhala. I have had the privilege of having worked for NDDB during the period when the above four and Dr ( Miss ) Amrita Patel were at the helm of affairs of NDDB as Secretary / Managing Director under the Chairmanship of Dr V Kurien.
Behla was the first to leave NDDB in 1988 as he took over as MD, Hindpack (A joint venture of NDDB and Tetra Pak in India) followed by Dr Aneja in 1990. I left NDDB in 2000.
Dr Aneja was married some months before he joined NDDB in 1968, while Behla and I were bachelors. I had met my would-be wife Kiran a year earlier and our marriage was already fixed by our parents in 1960. Behla knew Rita his would-be wife but their marriage was not fixed. Behla and Rita completed 50 and Kiran and I completed 52 years of married life in 2023. For our children and us, it was also an occasion to celebrate our golden jubilee marriage anniversaries having completed 50 or more years of married life.
Our children grew up on the NDDB campus. They are now spread over three continents with homes in Canberra, Dubai, Toronto and Vancouver besides our India home base(s) in Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Chandigarh and my village in Gorakhpur.
Thanks to the reunion some of the children and grandchildren met after 8-10 years. It was a great occasion for all of us. On the last day there was an impromptu Garba.
In the picture gallery below, I share some pictures of our families gathering for a ten-day reunion.
How times change; it now feels like a ‘once upon a time’ when we lived in the NDDB Anand Campus. We are old now. I used to be proud of my memory, but it is no longer the case. However, both Dr. Aneja and Behla are very good at recalling old incidents. It is such a pleasure to be with them.
I was in Vancouver, Canada. I remembered my first that visit to Canada was in 1980 when I accompanied Shri GM Jhala. In 1983, I accompanied Dr. V Kurien. In 1987, NDDB sponsored my dear colleague (Late) Dr. SP Mittal and me for a three-month-long Training Programme in Canada and the USA. We attended workshops and seminars on Human Resource Development, staying in various cities and traveling from the east to the west coast multiple times. However, we spent a larger part of our time in Victoria, BC.
It was a lengthy trip, and we greatly missed Indian food. Dr. Mittal and I both enjoyed cooking. Rob and Carol Nelson, who were our hosts in Victoria, graciously allowed us to use their kitchen. However, getting groceries was a challenging task. Nevertheless, we tried our hands at cooking and our efforts were highly appreciated.
During the 1987 trip, I recall visiting Indian restaurants in Toronto, Victoria, and even Vancouver. However, I found them to be quite expensive. As a result, we opted for Chinese food instead. Not only was it served in generous portions, but it was also more affordable compared to the Indian restaurants.
That was in the past. Now, more than thirty years later, I spend 5-6 months or even more each year in Canada. Thankfully, there are numerous stores that sell groceries from India, and they have everything we could possibly think of. It’s wonderful to have access to such a wide variety of Indian products.
While I was in Vancouver, I fondly remembered Rob and Carol Nelson, who were the NDDB’s first International HR consultants, among others. Sadly, both Rob and Carol have passed away. If they were still with us, I would have taken a ferry to Victoria Island to meet them. Cancer took away two kind souls from us. Rob embarked on his final journey approximately seven years ago, while Carol left us six years later in 2022. They will always be remembered and missed.
I remembered Dr. A.H. Somjee, who is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Simon Fraser University. Unfortunately, I did not have his phone number or email address. However, I was able to find a lot of information about the books and papers he has written through a Google search. In 1987, Dr. Mittal and I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Somjee’s home, accompanied by Rob. The Somjees graciously hosted us, and we had engaging conversations while sitting on the balcony of their house in North Vancouver. The location, situated at a higher elevation on the hills, provided us with a mesmerizing view of the Vancouver port that evening.
I continued my search on the internet and came across an article from Simon Fraser University. It saddened me to learn that Dr. Somjee’s wife, Geeta Somjee, passed away in 2013. Considering that Dr. Somjee was born in 1925, I thought he must be 98 years old. It is worth noting that Dr. Somjee has generously donated 3 million dollars to Simon Fraser University. One can access the story I am referring to by clicking on this link.
I had no idea about Dr. Somjee’s health condition or whether I would be able to meet him, but for old times’ sake, I thought I should try. I wrote an email to the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University, where Dr. Somjee has taught since 1965.
After a week, upon my return to Toronto, I received an email from Dr. Somjee. I was excited to open it. After reading it, I experienced mixed feelings. I was glad that I had connected with him, but also saddened by the realization that I would not have the opportunity to meet him in person. Nonetheless, I was pleased that I would be able to communicate with him through email. The reply I received from Dr. Somjee is as follows
One day, a thought came over me, and I started recollecting the names of colleagues in NDDB who joined the organization before it moved to the fourth floor of the Amul Administrative building in 1969. I remembered Dr Aneja, Behla, PG Gore, BN Bhat, Arvind Patel, Mathew, George Kurien (GK), Fatteji, Martin, Sarju Ram, Talati, Manubhai Shah, Jashbhai Patel…I am sure I am missing many names. As I mentioned earlier my memory is no longer as it used to be.
I remembered my salary of Rs 421.20 per month. Entries in my 1968 diary of money that I lend and borrowed from friends. The amounts were so small Rs 5 or 10 or maximum 15. About 10 Canada cents at current exchange rate but may be a dollar in 1968/1969.
The other day I found this interesting passage in a book I am reading;
“One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter. This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life. And everything you think or do is elaborate Avoidance of it. We are inconsequential cosmic dust, bumping and milling about on a tiny blue speck. We imagine our own importance. We invent our purpose – we are nothing. Enjoy your fucking coffee.”EVERYTHING IS F@CKED by Mark Manson
The above lines, I thought, describe the impermanence of human life beautifully. But be it a curse or boon as long as we live thoughts, feelings and memories don’t leave us. I think that even the ideal meditative thoughtless state of Samadhi is for a limited time.
Let me end by a couplet by Firaq Gorakhpuri;
ये माना ज़िंदगी है चार दिन की, बहुत होते हैं यारों चार दिन भी !
These lines literally translate into English as;
Agree that life is just “four” days, even “four” days can be a lot, my friends!
I wonder what are qualities the “four days” in which the poet has imagined encapsulating entire human life.
Are those days the days that we keep remembering and then keep forgetting; days that remind us of our struggles and achievements; successes and failures; days that are filled with love that we get and empathetic conversations that we have had; days when humanity in us touches the humanity of those with whom we come into contact with …?