Wolkswagen,General Motors,Takata…The Car Karma

Some three-letter words are Universal.Go to any inhabited part of the world and say Mom or Dad or Kid or Bro and people will know what you mean.
There is however one three-letter word which even more universally recognized and understood and that word is CAR !!
The institution of marriage and human relationships may be overrated but the concept of loving your Car more than your wife is globally quite well accepted.That is because cars have been and will continue to be central to human lives.
In fact,in many cases, a person is conceived in the back of a Car, his/her mother goes to the hospital for delivery in a Car, he/she goes to the school and football/hockey practice in a Car, goes on a first date in a Car, gets married by being driven to the church/temple  in a nicely decorated Car and probably goes for the honeymoon to Niagara and beyond in a Car !
In today’s date and age particularly in Canada,a Car is a cornerstone of a person’s life.Just think about it…take out the car from your life and you’ll be sure that life sputters and comes to a grinding halt.From dropping the kids to their respective schools to going to your place of work and then onward on the 401,403,410 or 407 ETR for office related work,to picking up the kids from their schools and bringing them home.One simply cannot achieve all this without a car.
And then there are various errands like grocery shopping, banking, paying different utility bills, socializing and family outings that are impossible to run without a Car. In fact,drive through businesses of Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s would suffer huge losses if the Cars decided that grabbing that daily cuppa of Coffee is not good for the health of the Car owners and simply drove on without stopping at a Mac’s or Timmy’s.
In other parts of the world,especially in the Asian subcontinent,a Car is  a measure of a person’s social standing.More expensive or bigger the car, bigger the owner’s perceived stature in the society. In fact,in the predominantly tourist areas of Dubai, the police routinely patrol the streets in :
a Maserati,a Bugatti,a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and even a Bentley.After all nothing gets good swag points for the most swag conscious place in the world than an expensive blingy cop Car that most of us can only aspire for !
Typically,a man’s relationship with his car is fundamentally romantic in nature. He has,after all, fallen for a particular ‘model’ despite being wooed by a slew of other beautiful ladies Nee cars from different parts of the world belonging  to very good ‘Car Families’. The Car is his muse and he leaves no stone unturned to enhance her beauty and keep her safe.Thus,the original upholstery is bolstered with genuine leather,music system is upgraded to a  Bose and like a protective lover, he makes sure that the car changes into winter tyres from November till March at least !!
Quite often it happens that a person’s car is much better groomed than the owner.A car owner may or may not have life insurance but a true Car lover ensures that his beau has comprehensive insurance.This  ‘ Caromance ‘ usually ends after a lengthy period and then,the car only merits a third-party insurance.
Lately,however the usually reliable universe of cars seems to have been possessed by mysterious evil forces,severely testing the trust and symbiotic relationship that has always existed between a man and his machine on four wheels.
Only yesterday,Volkswagen Cars with their impeccable heritage and obsession with precision engineering and quality,were found to be exceeding the emissions norms of US by more than thirty-five times while knowingly programmed to cheat during the regulatory emission control tests.
Also,in the year 2015:
General Motor’s Cars were held responsible for at least one hundred twenty-four deaths in the US because of defective ignition switches due to which the airbags would fail to deploy in a car crash.It was also revealed that GM was aware of this problem since at least 2004 but did not take any corrective steps.
Chrysler’s Jeep Cherokee was remotely hacked while on a highway and the hackers were able to remotely control various functions of the vehicle like transmission, wiper blades, braking system and on board entertainment system.That Car finally ended in a ditch by the highway.
Takata Corporation,one of the world’s largest supplier of Airbags to virtually every major Car manufacturer including Honda,Toyota and BMW announced that more than 33.8 million air bags manufactured by it were defective and may cause serious injuries to a Car’s occupants if deployed in a crash.
Now,as we all know,Cars have always been a little feisty and known to throw tantrums from time to time like,refusing to start in extreme weather conditions,not going fast enough when urged to do so via press of the accelerator pedal or sometimes leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere by running out of gas or battery life.One learned to accept these as problems which could easily be avoided by careful nurturing of the car and taking care of its needs and demands,
It is imperative to believe that the recent life endangering behavior by different types of cars is a mere aberration and the balance soon will return between the car and the human universe.After all,at the end of the day,for majority of us,the final journey to the other side will commence in the back of a car….be it an Ambulance or a Hearse.

Back to School…. In Canada via Dubai and Mumbai

Pre School

As any immigrant,new or not so new would  probably tell you, Canadian Education system was one of the most important reason they decided to pack their bags from their corner of the world and moved to this corner of the globe.

Having very recently moved to Canada from Mumbai via 10 years in Dubai,me and my family were no exception.
So there we were,enjoying  the last long and a wet weekend before the school opened for the first time in Canada for my elementary school going daughter and wife and I were sort of coming to terms with the fact that the public school students in Canada were not required to be ‘ uniformed ‘ !!
Although, I am sure there are socio-psychological reasons for this wise move, from the parents point of view this was every morning’s crisis as the kids when allowed to dress up as they want to  for school are liable always err on the side of throwing of throwing caution to the wind leading to a tense stand off with the mom or dad !
By the way,it is really quite interesting to see the term ‘back to school’ being completely hijacked in Canada by the marketers of different products and services.I mean, back to school promotions for stationery items,kiddy clothes, shoes, cereals and computing devices make complete sense but to see different banks,walk in shower companies,real estate agents,television service providers,mortgage agents and even lawyers trying to roll with back to school offers seems like stretching the marketing dollar a bit too far.
The School
First day of the school arrived and off we went walking those 400 metres to the school with me being totally grateful for the fact that in Canada,a kid cannot be denied admission to a school in his/her immediate neighborhood.All the schools
have their virtual boundaries encompassing the neighborhoods and students are admitted accordingly.
Coming from Dubai where my kids traveled 30 kilometers one way and Mumbai where although the distance was barely 3 kilometers,the travel time was anywhere between 30 minutes to 60 minutes due to traffic conditions this school was like hop,skip,jump and there.
At the school itself, the experience was…well… quite Canadian !! The principal himself came up and first chatted with me and then with my 9 year old making her and me completely at ease.My daughter’s teacher then came down with couple of students and escorted her to her classroom, chatting with her all all the time to make her feel comfortable. And I was remembering my time in Dubai where to speak with the school principal you probably needed to book an appointment at least  week days in advance.
It was back to the normal routine for me and pretty soon it was 3 pm and time to bring my fourth grader back from the school.The sheer joy on her face as she ran towards me to give a big hug told me that adjustment to a new school environment was not going to be a problem for her.
Post School
Lunch etc over, I asked my daughter, how was the first day at  School?Oh it was awesome she said, my teacher and other kids in the class were all so nice although they did have a tough time getting my name right.
Ok, I said, what did you do at school today?
She replied;
We all wrote our names on the board and the new students told the class from which school or country they moved here.
Then we played pop quiz in which we were asked to name all the provinces and territories that make up Canada although I could name only Ontario,Quebec and British Columbia, she sighed.
It was then time to eat although I was not allowed to as I had nutella sandwich in my lunch box and anything with nuts is strictly forbidden in all the schools in Canada as other kids may have serious allergies to different nuts !!
After that we all watched the movie DESPICABLE ME although I could not hear anything as all the kids were making too much noise !!
Our class teacher then distributed the ‘agenda ‘ to all the kids in the class which the parents have to fill and also sign daily.
By now I was totally perplexed and asked her, Hello…. were you taught anything in the class or it was only fun and games?
Of Course, we were, she replied animatedly, we had a very interesting lesson on Sex Education and tomorrow we have another one !!
I fainted..

Upcoming Federal Elections…A desi perspective

So, here I was,a new immigrant to Canada ( Class of 2014 ),sitting around a barbecue with some of my newly minted ‘ desi ‘ Canadian friends on a muggy summer evening.
After couple of beers each ( Molson Canadian of course ), the conversation inevitably veered towards politics and the upcoming federal  elections in Canada.
I must confess here that although like most Indians, I too liked to indulge in verbal political brawl, with no quarter asked for and none given,8 years’ of living in  a benevolent monarchy of Dubai kind of  auto-activated the mute button as far as open political talks went.
So, I decided to simply listen to my friends discussing Harper,Trudeau and Mulcair etc and keep my desi thoughts to myself..
Mulcair Harper and Trudeau
Mulcair Harper and Trudeau
Friend 1: That Stephen Harper has ruined our Country. Nine year a Prime Minister and all he has to show for it is are the  two recessions that he has dragged the country into!!The PM  always has that smile/ smirk on his face and hardly ever speaks. The only time one hears him speak passionately is when defending his buddies like Mike Duffy and others.
And I was thinking…Hey, is he talking about  Mr Harper or ManMohan Singh !!
 Friend 2 : I think, NDP’s Tom Mulcair seems to be the real deal in these elections.He himself looks pretty  ‘ middle classish ‘ and his public speeches and advertisements promise to uphold  Canadian middle class values. Also, His strong stance against Bill C-51 combined with his party’s success in passing the two bills the first of which abolished the  so called ‘ tampon tax ‘ on female hygiene products and the second banned  the ‘ pay to pay ‘ fee charged by the banks in Canada have helped built his creds among the voters.NDP’s landslide win in the Alberta elections this year has given momentum and added solidity to Tom and his party.
My looneys are on Thomas Mulcair !!
And I was thinking… Hello, Is Tom Mulcair the Narendra Modi of Canada? I mean both talk tough and sport that trademark beard too…Although I was not sure if somewhat like Modi, young Mr Mulcair also served steeped tea at a Tim Horton’s outlet in Quebec.
Friend 3( taking a large swig from the bottle) : You guys  really are fuddy duddy yourselves and are therefore  pitching for Harper and Mulcair who keep ‘ tom tomming ‘  and  ‘ harping ‘ their outdated policies and ideas ( puns definitely intended ) !! The future of this country lies in the hands of the youth and who better than the liberal leader Justin Trudeau to lead Canada back to its glory  days.His political inexperience is more of an asset than a liability  since he provides fresh and new perspective to the various issues.This country needs a boxer who punches way above his weight and Justin is the man! Also, there is no substitute for pedigree and in Canadian politics, it does not get any bigger than a Trudeau. So, to twist  Shakespeare’s words a bit…Trudeau or not Trudeau…that is the question my friends !!
And I was thinking…. Boy O Boy….He could have been talking about Rahul Gandhi, albeit  much before he became the  ‘ pappu ‘ of one billion Indians.
So it went on and on until the beer ran out on us and I came back home thinking that there exists a Modi, a ManMohan and a  Rahul in all countries of the world.

A new emigrant’s first brush with a doctor in Canada

The  Walk in Clinic
So,here I was,middle aged hale and hearty on a warm Monday morning, having spent more than 14 months as a Permanent Resident of Canada and still shy of seeing a Doctor. Pretty Cool eh !
Little did I know that a change was coming…The day started routinely enough….a 10 am weekly meeting, with the boss hauling us over hot coals for poor billing and even poorer collections !
That barbecue session ended at 1 pm  and after a quick lunch with the guys it was time to hit the road to bring home the moolah for the company and rake in the commissions.
That’s  when the fun started…I had noticed but dismissed, breathlessness over the past two weeks especially while climbing up a flight of stairs but today it was more pronounced.
Uneasy lies the heart that experiences shortness of breath and so I decided to immediately see a doctor. But hey  wait….this is Canada buddy.. you cannot just walk into any doctor’s office and ask to to see the good doctor,hippocratic oath can go for a hike over the mountains of Vancouver !
For the uninformed, there are two types of medical clinics in Canada. Those, where the doctors will only see you if they are your ‘ family doctor ‘. This essentially means that all doctors fix their ‘quota’ of patients and those are only the ones they would examine,come rain,sun,snow and everything in between.And then there are clinics whose billboard go, ‘ We accept walk in patients ‘, which is where
I walked in.
And btw,in Canada, although healthcare is free for all, unless you are in imminent danger of dying, you cannot just walk into one of those big hospitals and ask to be attended to ( shortness of breath, palpitations, nausea and vomiting do not  necessarily count ). Anyways, I seem to be digressing from the main story…
After a  good one hour wait which was spent googling ‘ shortness of breath ‘, ‘healthy food ‘ and WhatsApping, I finally came face to face with my first  Canadian doctor who immediately proceeded to put the fear of god and most of his disciples into me by solemnly declaring  that he was ‘ most concerned ‘ after hearing description of my symptoms. A quick BP check ( 140/80)  and a stable ECG did not lessen his concerns who now  ‘strongly urged me’, ( a favourite Canadian term for ‘do it right away as***le ) to rush to the nearest hospital.
The Emergency Room
So, of I drove, alone, 10 kilometers away to the Credit Valley hospital in Mississauga, my mind full of  those juicy morbid thoughts of going before time to the land of beyond. Thankful for the ample parking while silently cursing the $ 3 per hour parking fee, I walked into the Emergency wing of the hospital.
At the entrance,the hospital’s first line of defence was a screening girl who after verbally ‘ screening’  me to confirm that I was indeed alive, strongly urged me  to stand ‘just behind that ‘  yellow line ‘ and wait for my turn to duel with the hospital’s second line of defence..the triage nurse.
This lady too, after verbally confirming that I was indeed alive, proceeded to cheerfully ask me my reason for paying an urgent visit to the Emergency Wing of the hospital.However, before I could take a breath to say..Breathlessness, she brilliantly deduced that it was probably my family doctor who sent me to her ! And that conversation ended there.
Once again a proof of life was given by me to her via BP, Oxygen level and thermometer check and I was then asked to go sit on one of the ‘blue chairs’ to await my turn for formal registration at the hospital.
After a almost 20 mins wait ( the time varies depending upon the number of ’emergencies’, I now got an opportunity to lock horns with the hospital’s third line of defence ,the registration desk.
Now here,although they did not verbally or clinically confirm that I was actually alive, they did seem to believe that I was not who I  claimed to be and so I had to handover my Ontario health insurance card over to them and then play  a rapid fire question answer round, accurately answering all the questions related to my place of residence and my spouse.
After  successfully passing this hurdle, I was double tagged on my wrist, one for my identity and the other for my penicillin allergy. I was then handed over a bunch of papers and asked to follow the ‘ black arrows ‘ on the floor and keep walking until I reached the actual emergency room aka ‘ Flex ER ‘.
By now almost two and a half hours had elapsed since my emergency was triggered and so I decided  that emptying the bladder &  re hydrating myself took precedence over undergoing some hardcore emergency room treatment.
The Treatment
This was it..I was inside the belly of the beast. Come what may,there was no going back now, neither for me nor the hospital. I was to get the ‘ full treatment ‘.
The drill inside the ER was quite simple. Sit in one of the chairs if any is empty and wait for your turn
( around one hour )…give samples for blood work. Sit tight again for about forty five minutes to an hour until one of the eight examination rooms become free.
Once inside change into hospital gown and wait  again ( 45 minutes) to get BP, temperature and oxygen level checked. Ultimately all that waiting, weighed me down and I start cursing myself for not having taken out a hefty life insurance policy and made my  ‘ will ‘.
After another hour’s wait the doctor finally docked in and the wide smile on her face as she started discussing my symptoms and results of the blood work, told me that I had managed to dodge a bullet at least today.
But wait, it wasn’t over yet for me…the doctor still had to sign off on my ‘discharge papers’. So there I was,waiting patiently once again, only this time I didn’t feel like a patient !!
After one more hour of waiting interspersed with a trip to Tim Horton’s ( my first liquid or solid refreshment  after more than nine hours),the doctor finally came up to me and declared that I was fit enough to return to my loved ones.
Not exactly jumping with joy but almost dizzy with relief, I drove back home quite mindful of the fact that the day could well have ended with me in one of the hospital rooms facing uncertainty and  further ‘ investigations ‘ and my family back at home, wondering when and where  they would be able to see me.