By SHAGORIKA EASWAR
Dolly Bhatia-Frolick came to Canada as a seven-year-old in 1976.
Her mother wasn’t too keen to move, but her father wanted to explore new opportunities and a better life for his family.
“He said, ‘We’re leaving, let’s see how it goes!’” she recalls him saying.
They stayed with her mother’s sister in North York for six months while her parents looked for employment. Her mother, a teacher in India, found employment at a factory. Her father worked at Scotiabank, but also worked other part-time or weekend jobs to help pay the bills and save money for their own home as he didn’t want to stay in a rental. .
Their first home was in Markham.
It was a very different Canada from the one newcomers to Canada see today. Her parents would visit Naaz Theatre in Gerrard Street with her uncles, aunts and cousins “for the little bit of India you got”. Once the group was checking out the produce at one of the shops on the street when a man walked by. He used the P word and threw beer from a can he was holding in her face – those days one could walk around with beer, says Bhatia-Frolick. Her dad and uncle were furious and there was a verbal altercation.
“These things happened, they were common.”
Born in New Delhi, India, she was fluent in Hindi and Punjabi, but had only a passing knowledge of English. So along with trying to fit in and make new friends, there was the language issue. But she quickly settled in and did well academically, getting into York University to study Psychology.
“My mother passed away when I was 17, and my dad was persuaded by the extended family to remarry. I was the only child and everyone felt I needed a mother. He did it for me, I wanted him to be happy and I am fortunate that I am very close to my step family. But my mother’s passing had affected me emotionally and mentally and that sparked my interest in healing methods. I wanted to learn how to heal and help others heal.”
She was also working part-time at the bank and says like any young person who has money coming in but no real responsibilities, she felt life was good. “I didn’t see the need to study further, but my father convinced me to continue.”
Bhatia-Frolick finished courses in Mass Communication and Sociology, found work in marketing, got married, had two kids and worked her way up in the corporate world.
Life was now indeed good, but she was heartbroken at leaving her kids in daycare. “I didn’t want to lose moments with them that never come back. Also, daycare is expensive. I felt I was working to pay for daycare.”
Health issues nudged her in a new direction. She became a marketing and wellness coach and also teaches yoga and dance.
“I had taken courses in health, nutrition and wellness. Who knew a second career would open up for me from these? I am a one-woman show today !
“I have always loved dancing, but was told it doesn’t look good now that you are a mom. I remember on a visit to India, people thought it was extremely odd that I whistled! A woman whistling? Just not done! You know the cultural issues we have? There are different sets of rules for boys and girls. And I lived by those for much of my life but when I began dancing again at the age of 40, I faced those questions again. This time I was, like, I have followed traditions, but I am also Gen X. I work hard, I do well, I live by my own rules.”
She had introduced Bollywood dance to Whitby and when the family moved to Stouffville, she began offering classes there. Slumdog Millionaire had just been released and there was a surge of interest in Bollywood dance. “I piggybacked on it. I wanted people to learn the joy of dancing. I also wanted to teach the younger people something about their roots, about where they come from before they forget.”
Bhatia-Frolick finds it interesting that though desis now applaud her for promoting their culture, most of the students in her classes are non-desi.
“There is so much interest in yoga and vegetarianism, and yet, we are not healthy. We have all these health issues because we are not putting what we know into practice.”
Her husband, Nick, is a manufacturing manager. Her son Bobby, 17, and daughter Jazmin, 14, enjoy the fusion and blending of cultures in the Bhatia-Frolick home.
“My roots are strong, but I also believe in adapting and creating new ways. Of course, some things can be a challenge in a multi-culture family, language being one. My kids didn’t grow up listening to Hindi as I have no one to speak it with, but they did get my love for Indian music and Indian food. We celebrate Rakhi, Diwali and Christmas with equal enthusiasm.”
She tells newcomers to find ways to blend, but to stay true to their roots.
“Canada is a great country that offers many opportunities for growth and success. You don’t have to become something you are not. Enjoy the best of both worlds, of the east and the west.”
As an entrepreneur, she also advises newcomers who wish to start their own business to make use of the many government programs that are available to help them do so.
Bhatia-Frolick turns 50 this month. She had all these plans for the big day, she says.
“I thought I would go on a solo trip to India, spend time at an ashram, learn more about yoga and healing techniques, etc. Then I said no, I want to ring in my 50th with my family. My friends are asking what’s the big deal, it’s just a birthday! But I want to mark this milestone by sharing all that I have learned on my life journey as a wife, mom, employee and teacher.
“Maybe I’ll write a book to empower women. Yes, I have big plans for this year!”
If you’d like to share the story of your arrival in Canada, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.