Nilesh Jalan: When family is reason enough to start over
by Winluck Wong
This article is part of PRUDE, Inc.’s “Living Library” project, featuring Saint John’s newcomers and the diverse stories they bring to the city. It is funded by ONB’s Multicultural Grants Program.
Five minutes away from Nilesh Jalan’s apartment is Fort Howe. It’s his favourite spot in town. When he looks out to the lights of Saint John and the warmth of family they don’t yet carry for him, it strengthens his resolve to settle here so that his wife and son can share in the beauty he sees reflected in the harbour.
Finding his career path
For Nilesh, there is no greater motivator than family.
He saw how much his wife and son loved Canada when they first visited in 2019. “It was not my dream to come to Canada,” Nilesh said. “It was my spouse and my son [who] wanted to come to Canada…They liked the place. The way the people are very helpful, humble.”
When they returned to India, Nilesh went back to work as the Head of Strategy & Operations at JDK Impex, a Kolkata tea exporting company. He’d been a leader in the company for almost eight years, though it was not a position he’d ever imagined himself in.
While other children staked their futures on being doctors or engineers, young Nilesh wanted to be an income tax officer. He remembered seeing them in movies as heroes taking down corrupt companies.
He changed his mind though when he got to the exam room and found out there was no way he could pass. Nilesh was 18 at the time and it was his first epiphany that success took real dedication.
He thought hard about what he could actually see himself doing as a career. Still liking the idea of working with numbers, he decided to become an accountant. This time, he was determined to never again walk into a room unprepared.
Nilesh enrolled in 2002 at St. Xavier’s College, which was one of the top three commerce colleges in his region back then. It took him an hour and fifteen minutes by bus and on foot to get there. But he didn’t let that deter him. “It was from morning six o’clock till nine o’clock. So I used to wake up at around 4:30 in the morning to go to my college to attend lectures,” Nilesh said. “The street dogs at that time in the city wouldn’t have [woken] up.”
In 2005, Nilesh graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Finance. And with a chartered accountant certification in hand, he started working for G.S. Oils Ltd., a company in the grain and oilseed milling industry.
During the eight years Nilesh worked there, he rose from an entry-level position all the way up to Deputy Manager before he moved on to head JDK Impex’s operations. In total, since the day he got serious about his career, he’d worked non-stop for almost 20 years.
Leaving the rat race
Nilesh had a successful career. A spot at the senior management table. So why did he want to get out?
“The problem was that in India, some sort of competition is there,” Nilesh said. “Life is not simple. It’s like a rat race is going on. And I wanted to move out from that rat race.”
Even though he was following the typical path Indian society expected of him, he felt like he was just going through the motions. In fact, the first time life felt right was when he didn’t follow the norm.
Like how he met his wife.
It wasn’t through an arranged meeting as is still common in India. He simply met her through work. And they fell in love with each other.
He didn’t care that his family initially considered their marriage taboo. “It hardly matters to me. It’s love,” Nilesh said. “I [didn’t] know her at that time, but she knew me. She trusted me and I trusted her…13 years together.”
Their quality of life has become the focal point for Nilesh. He didn’t want to be like his father, who spent more time at work than at home. Time is what Nilesh wants more of with his family.
His thoughts kept going back to how happy they were during their Canada trip. Maybe this is how he could finally slow down.
“You can say that’s…destiny,” Nilesh said. “I came to Canada. I found out somewhere an option. A window is there for me.”
So he opened the window. And sent out his application for a study permit in Canada.
Working towards his destiny
Nilesh applied for the Master of Business Administration program at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). All was in order and the only thing left was for him to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam.
And in another cosmic sign that this was meant to be, he managed to get into the final IELTS exam in March 2020 – just before India went into a months-long COVID-19 lockdown. All exams were cancelled after that. If he hadn’t gotten in then, everything would have been pushed back by a whole year.
Even so, it still took a year before he could finally arrive in Saint John in April 2021. All that time, Nilesh was grateful the UNB staff was there to facilitate the whole process.
One of the UNB alumni, Pavan Maganti, even went so far as to help Nilesh find an apartment and pay the deposit on his behalf. Organizations like the Saint John Newcomers Centre and PRUDE, Inc. were also instrumental to settling him into Saint John life.
“I can say everyone was very helpful,” Nilesh said. “I’m not talking about only Canadians. Those who came from other parts of the world to Canada – they have also started helping others. It’s…in the water, in the air.”
Touched by the generosity of the people here, he immediately started volunteering as his way to give back. “I always believe in one thing,” Nilesh said. “Whatever community gives us, we should return back to the community in some way or the other.”
You can tell a lot about someone’s character by their willingness to embrace change. At the age of 38 when many people would cling to their established safety nets, Nilesh was not afraid to completely overhaul his life. He gave up his career, moved to a new country, and went back to school after 16 years of being in conference rooms rather than classrooms.
He did it for all the right reasons. And he won’t give up until the day his wife and son can join him here.
“I will give my best to stay here because it’s a very tough decision I have taken in my life,” Nilesh said. “I cannot waste my time…For me, my family is a priority. I have to settle them here.”