August 17, 2017

Uprooted from Uganda, Vancouver engineer pieces his life with memoir, Life in Four Continents

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Prakash Joshi

Prakash Joshi

Prakash Joshi, AScT, Eng.L. was born in Uganda and began his post-secondary studies in Industrial Chemistry at East London Polytechnic. Political challenges in Uganda resulted in a family reunification in Vancouver where Prakash completed a diploma in Chemical and Metallurgical Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). In 1995, he earned a Limited Engineering License (Eng.L.) by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC). This was the first such license granted in Construction Materials Inspection/Testing and Failure Analysis. After nearly 30 years with Amec Earth & Environmental Limited (formerly Hardy Associates Ltd.), Prakash joined Metro Testing Ltd. where he is the Senior Materials Engineering Technologist for their Canadian Construction Materials Engineering & Testing Division.  Prakash has served as Director on the ASTTBC Council, a member of Awards Committee, the Appeals Board, Past-President of the Society of Punjabi Engineers and Technicians of BC and Past Vice-President of the Uganda-Canadian National Association (UCNA), Past BC Regional Coordinator of “Initiatives of Change”-an international reconciliatory non-profit organization. He is also a founding member and Past President of the Ind-Can Cricket Club, a league with nearly 75 teams. In addition to these endeavors, Prakash is a composer, musician, singer and author.

His book, Life in Four Continents, summarizes his life thus: “A memoir of a Renaissance man, one with international experience, reflecting his humanitarian and creative activities, and intriguing diversity of interests and talents.”

 

Vinita Kinra: What was the main motive behind your memoir, Life in Four Continents?Book-Cover

Prakash Joshi: Two main reasons: Firstly, to live behind a legacy for the children so they can appreciate their Indian heritage—the roots and the experiences in four continents. Secondly, to respect my father’s wish. As a volunteer journalist, he read my articles on His Holiness Dalai Lama, Rev. Desmond Tutu, spiritual chiefs of our native North American Indians, Rev. Pandurang Shashtri etc. and asked me one day: “When are you going to write about our family?”

Vinita Kinra:  Share with us the story behind the title of your memoir.

Prakash Joshi: I have tremendous love and pride for my Indian heritage, mainly due to the influence of my spiritual grandfather, even though I was born in Uganda and was a Ugandan citizen. The dictator Idi Amin Dada of Uganda expelled the Asians by giving us three months notice, allowing us to carry only two suitcases on our way out of the country of our birth. I was one of the 60, 000 Asians kicked out.  Upon landing in London, I carried on my studies, and during summer went to Europe as a volunteer to collect funds for war orphans. Thereafter, I joined my parents in Vancouver, Canada. My father was beaten up by Amin’s army men because they wanted to steal his brand-new car. He fled to Canada, and I joined him. My favourite memories are of childhood days, spending long vacations in India with my brother.  The continents thus include Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.

Vinita Kinra:  What is the biggest challenge in writing a memoir?

Prakash Joshi: Keeping in mind the interest of the reader at all times and gathering up historical/geographical family information which sometimes means speaking with relations settled around the globe.

Vinita Kinra:  Do you plan to explore other genres of writing one day?

Prakash Joshi: Yes!

Vinita Kinra:  Who has been the greatest motivation in your writing journey?

Prakash Joshi: My wife, Darshana Joshi. She inspired me to keep writing and finish the book when times were challenging. My other motivation was to share about the people who had Inspired me: Spiritual leaders, humanitarians and peacemakers, including people who fought for justice like Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekanda, Bhagat Singh, Rev. Martin Luther King, President Mandela, President Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few.

Vinita Kinra:  Talk to us about your humanitarian work.

  • Member of international reconciliatory group: Initiatives of Change—former Regional Coordinator for “Healing Canadian Communities.”
  • Advocate for foreign trained professionals, making sure their credentials were recognized and the Canadian Government appreciates the fact that it is a form discrimination to invite and encourage skilled professionals to come to Canada and then expect them to do only menial jobs. (ASTTBC, Applied Science Technologist and Technicians of BC– former Council Director, Awards/Appeals Board committee member. I have also been working closely with APEGBC –Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC-Part of the Committee for Internationally Trained engineers).
  • Bridge Builder—worked with various communities and often writing about their struggles e.g. First Nations People, Chinese community. I headed tax apology by Canadian Government, Nepalese Community-mentor engineers and assisted in work placement for Bangladeshi Engineers and Technicians. Past President and founding member of SPEATBC-Society of Punjabi Engineers and Technicians, assisted in setting up a workshop regarding Muslim Youths in Canada. Motivational speaker, invited by MOSAIC for their workshop to assist new professional immigrants.
  • My wife and and I once provided for an eighty-year-old homeless grandma and gave her shelter for one and a half year without expecting any compensation.
  • As an Environmentalist, I was Past Chair of TD Canada Trust FEF ( Friends of the Environment) board.
  • I take active part in funding for natural disasters. While working with my previous company, I was part of The United Way Committee. I was awarded a humanitarian award by the company which employed 60,000 employees.

Vinita Kinra:  Out of all the continents you have lived in, do you have a favourite?

Prakash Joshi: North America, Canada. I liked this country due to its stand on neutrality, but it seems to be slipping recently. I admire its natural beauty, landscape, vastness and hopefully we learn from other countries about the importance of dealing with global warming and take a leading role.  Ignoring this whilst witnessing frequent disasters around the globe could lead to serious negative effects on us and our generations to come.  As an example, Canada, once a pioneer in wind energy has lost its position to European countries like Germany, Holland etc. that have made greater strides. Once nominated by UN as the best country to live in, Canada is losing that privileged place due to its treatment of First Nations People.

Vinita Kinra:  You also like to compose songs and poems. What inspires the music of words in your life?

Prakash Joshi: I truly believe this is a godly gift, and deep hurt and joy and love of life experiences bring this out in the form of music or poetry. I have also chosen music as the path towards spirituality and godhead. My wife is my inspiration as she supports me in supposedly the good work I’m doing and therefore I’ve dedicated a chapter to her in my book.

Vinita Kinra:  Your profession is very different from the art of expression. How do the two mix?

Prakash Joshi: I’ve often been asked this question, but for me this is easy, as I have a sincere desire to help, and also the desire to keep learning and keeping an open mind. These qualities takes one through different facets of life and the almighty “makes time for you”. I once took part in a comedy skit that resulted in a lot of compliments, and in fact, I was called upon to give input and direction for the next community play. I quickly decided to stick to music. Being a founding member of a very popular musical group called Kala Mandir (Art Temple), which had lot of talented artists from India, I took interest in organizing events, learning about sound system and stage management, and communicating with the control room.  This gave me an overall appreciation of every participant and I heartily acknowledged them during my performance.

Vinita Kinra:  How does it feel to freeze the past in the frame of your memoir? Do you think your successive generations will learn from the experiences of their ancestors?

Prakash Joshi: At first, the kids, who were born in Canada, had no interest in my book, but surprisingly, as their friends showed interest, so did they. I’m pretty positive after learning about the African slave trade and the suffering that the First Nations People went through, over time, there will be a strong desire among coming generations to learn about their roots, too. Hopefully, I can play a little part in raising their curiosity and have them dig up the past to learn more.

Vinita Kinra:  Our readers would like sample an excerpt from your memoire, Life in Four Continents.

Prakash Joshi:  One day my grandfather asked my aunt for some clothes and I helped him to load them on the back of the truck. Then we went to the shop to get some books and stationary and he said to me, “Son, let’s go for a ride.” After about half an hour’s ride, on the outskirts of Masaka, we pulled into a small village. For the first time I was face to face with Africans who had leprosy. Seeing disfigured faces and limbs was shocking and remember feeling very sad and to this day I have never forgotten those faces. From then until now, I have also been asking people from Uganda the same question – if they had ever visited a leprosy village. I still have to find one person who did. It has been such a proud moment for me that at such a young age my grandpa made me realize the true meaning of giving and sharing without expecting anything in return. There were a lot of Africans who worked in the “printing press” coming on their bicycles from the small villages surrounding Masaka. They were all well looked after by the company; they were paid well and all appreciated having their own kitchen and shower.”

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily,  The Times of India.

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