George R. Willy Speech
President Sabaratnam, The Board of Directors, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Thank you for inviting me to address you today. I am especially honored to join you on your 25th. Anniversary, A silver Jubilee . Any organization that has lasted 25 years has earned bragging rights to success. But when an organization has been built by a group of people who fled trouble in their own countries, then they are allowed to multiply their success by the trouble they fled from. For Sri-Lankan Tamils the list of troubles is long and the pain is deep.
For this Chamber to have survived and thrived, there must have been some very able leadership. To navigate an organization through choppy waters of a collection of Tamil immigrants in a strange land is deserving of high award. This is a group that is headstrong, brilliant, suspicious and not easily swayed. They were also riddled with anxiety about what was going on in their motherland. I think Moses’ troubles in leadership would have been bearable in comparison. The leadership of the Chamber in the last 25 years must have been made of steel. I want to congratulate all who have led this Chamber over its life.
In your commercial life here in Canada, you have achieved much. In the fields of Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine,Dentistry, Law, insurance, Banking and in theretail business you have exceeded expectations of your host. But success in an immigrant community has a price. You have to share it. Those who are at the top of the ladder, look down at those who are midway or just starting their climb. Look down without looking down on them. Share your success story and show the path you walked so they can emulate you. Seek out forums to tell them how you succeeded and if you were to do it all over again, what mistakes you will avoid. Be proud of what you have achieved, but let that pride sit lightly on the shoulders of the one below you. Give them the introductions to people who can help them. You remember, when you were climbing, there were people who could have introduced you to the right people and they did not. Raise them up because when you raise another chamber member you are raising the whole community including yourself. Your Chamber sums it up well. “ We rise by lifting others”. Those who are half way on the ladder, hold on to the feet of the ones at the top. But you are already in a new environment than the one ahead of you. Technology takes quantum leaps and you can do what others did before you in less time and far more efficiently. Embrace the change and bust out of the cocoon of your familiar life and venture out. To those who are just beginning the climb, be patient. Nothing happens overnight. Make sure you have immersed yourself well enough in the field of your choice. Do not give up just because you did not like the way the big shot at the top preached to you. You will have to earn your own right to preach. This chamber has a lot of resources, but beyond that, the municipal, provincial and Federal governments have resources that you can reach out to. One of the great benefits you have in Countries like Canada is that information is freely available. The various governments genuinely help you to access the information you need. Knowledge is power. Sometime in 1977 while I was still at McMaster University in Hamilton, I came up with an idea to generate electricity by capturing the movement of cars on the highway. My wife Shanti painstakingly helped with presenting this idea to a government agency. Within a reasonable time the agency responded to me to say that they had assessed the idea and found it not to be feasible. On a foot note they told me to continue my study in Philosophy and leave the inventions to engineers. I am kidding of course. But the point is that they took our effort seriously. By the way about a year ago I found that someone patented a similar idea.
Do not shy away from political participation. Canada is an open society, a true democracy. Political participation in the process is fair and transparent. Join your local campaigns, or Provincial or Federal. Volunteering in these campaigns is easy and it will acquaint you with not only the process but with people who will carry you with them to places from where you can influence policy. During my time at McMaster I joined Premier Davis’ campaign. It gave me an inside look at Canadian politics .Rathika Sitsabaiesan, carried the Tamil community to the Canadian Parliament. I cried when I heard her speech in Tamil. Encourage your children to participate as well. Our own experience back home may not have been pleasant but here politics is a noble persuasion. This is your home now and most probably it will be the home for generations and generations to come. You are Canadians! “Vous etes Canadiens. What do you give back to a host who has embraced you with the warmest of heart. When we were fleeing with nothing but our lives, Canada comforted us and gave us a home. No one else was that generous. Canadians did that because they have a tradition of helping refugees and even though they did not know who we were they pulled us from our horrors. I know that not all of you came here as refugees. Many of you came here based on merit. Canada’s decision to allow us to enter their shores reflects what is noble about mankind. I want to thank them for their courage and compassionBut I also want to tell them why this decision was a good one.
By the third century BC Tamil people had already established at least three kingdoms in South India and parts of Sri-Lanka. There is conjecture that the Tamil Culture stretches to 6000 BC. Over this time they developed a language that by its own genius betrays its age. Had Tamil become lingua Franca of the world our poet Kamban would have taken the place of Shakespeare. One has to read him to understand the richness he brings to his poetry as his words dance in a pantomime of dizzying imageries dressed in the deepest of philosophy and yet they mock and scold and romance. Kamban wrote all this in 9thCentury AD. In 3rd century BC a poet called Thiruvalluvar wrote 1330 couplets called Thirukural which remains the touchstone of Tamil wisdom. It has been translated into 80 languages. Monsieur Ariel, who translated and published the third part of the Kural to French in 1848, called it “a masterpiece of Tamil literature, one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought. One of the finest works in Tamil was written by an Italian Jesuit Priest in the 17th Century,who was lured by the call of the Tamil language. His name was Constanzo Beschi. His ode to St. Joseph named Thembaveni to this day stands among the best. He was affectionately called Veerama munivar. He also translated the Thirukural into Latin. Canada you have now inherited a language that has expressed the deepest of thoughts and the widest of experiences. Before long you will yield to the temptations of this language too.
God gave Mathematics as a gift to the Tamil people. It is suspected to have originated in South India. Laplace the French mathematician and Physicist and sometimes known as the French Newton said this :
“It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by ten symbols, each receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity, the great ease which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.”
Those who saw the recent movie ‘The man who knew infinity’ would have appreciated the native facility with numbers in the Tamil culture. This movie depicts the life of Ramunajan who confounded the great mathematicians of Cambridge University with solutions to problems that had plagued mathematicians for centuries. It is not a coincidence that the three Tamil Nobel Laureates were recognized for their work in Chemistry and Physics. Their names are: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar,Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and C. V. Raman
It is a matter of time before some of your finest bridges, the next CN Tower or the bullet trains are designed and built by a Tamil engineer. Because their genes still remember the architectural and civil engineering expertise that built the wonders still seen in the Tamil speaking world.
Trade both external and internal has been part of Tamil history at least from 3rd Century BC. There is evidence that there was robust trade between Tamil Kingdoms and Rome. Pliny the elder and other Roman historians have made reference to this. In the Tenth Century there were very active merchant guilds that were formed to streamline trade. In fact during this time in these guilds there were apprenticeships of boys aged 10 and above, who were trained by elder tradesmen until they reached 21 years of age. Trade is in the blood too.
This Chamber can help Toronto, Ontario and even Canada get a bigger share of world Trade. President Sabaratnam said in his commentson the Chamber’s website:
“Going forward, we will focus our efforts to establish trade routes and to provide support to Canadian businesses seeking to enter the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. We are optimistic that our initiative, with the cooperation of local and international partners, will provide our members with the necessary resources to fuel economic growth and to capitalize on business and investment opportunities in an international environment.”
This chamber is poised to take Canada first to Sri-Lanka and then to countries where there is a large Tamil diaspora and then wherever Canada wants to go. Toronto as far as I know has only 4 partnership city relationships and 5 Friendship Cities.
• Chicago, Illinois, United States (1991)
• Chongqing, China (1986)
• Frankfurt, Germany (1989)
• Milan, Italy (2003)
• Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (2006)
• Kiev, Ukraine (1991)
• Quito, Ecuador (2006)
• Sagamihara, Japan (1991)
• Warsaw, Poland (1990)
This Chamber can start by making Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee the next partnership cities of Toronto. In fact I would like to initiate a relationship with Houston.
You are Canadian first and you owe your allegiance to Canada. Give them all that you have inherited over the last 6000 years. So that one day not too far in the future, when Canadian history is updated the author will say;
“In the 1980s we allowed some immigrants to come into Canada from Sri-Lanka. They came, they saw and fell in love with Canada. They built bridges in places people said it was not possible, they invented things that has changed the world, they found cures for deceases, they increased our trade with the world and they brought their language and translated all of their literary works into English and French, then we realized that our compassion was rewarded 1000 fold.
This is what history will say about you!
தமிழன் என்று சொல்லடா, தலை நிமிண்டு நில்லடா