This app creator for Apple is a 10-year-old wunderkid

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Tanmay Bakshi, 10, has successfully developed an app for Apple. His aptitude for computing and coding has made him a celebrity in Canada and abroad. Photo by Radhika Panjwani

Tanmay Bakshi, 10, has successfully developed an app for Apple. His aptitude for computing and coding has made him a celebrity in Canada and abroad.
Photo by Radhika Panjwani

I am not usually intimidated when interviewing ten year olds, but while chatting with a pint-sized  prodigy whose app was accepted by Apple recently, I was momentarily speechless.

The reason probably had more to do with the fact the kid was clearly a genius, whereas, I have had a long-standing feud with numbers, integers and what have you.

Dressed in gray buttoned-down shirt and red sweater vest, a bespectacled Tanmay Bakshi, looked like any other elementary school student, until he started to speak. Not only could he hold on his own, his passion and love for coding lit up his entire face.

Tanmay’s app —tTables —helps children learn times tables. The premise of the free app is quite simple. As you answer multiplication questions, you will either be rewarded with the sound of applause at a correct answer or the ominous sound of buzzing bees when the answer is incorrect.

The cool fact is Tanmay tweaked and perfected his app while in Grade 4 after a chat with his teacher Vikram Ignatius. Turns out, that conversation was an eye-opener because an animated Tanmay, couldn’t wait for the dismissal bell at school to ring. He simply wanted to get home and start the process.

A couple of rejections later, last year, the family received news Apple was finally satisfied and had accepted Tanmay’s creation. The entire process of development took the then nine-year-old a little under two months.

“He has been breaking computers since kindergarten,” said Puneet Bakshi, Tanmay’s dad, a computer programmer himself. “I initiated his learning, but when he felt joy, he carried it on.”

Sitting on the knees of his father even before he could learn to walk or talk, Tanmay learned the basics. His curiosity and love for computers was so great that by Grade 3, he had mastered C, Visual Basic, Python, FoxPro, C, SQL, XCode and Apple-specific languages.

Today, he has lost count of the number of languages he’s skilled at. There’s simply too many. When his fingers fly over the keyboard of his Mac pro, his eyes decipher the meanings of algorithms easily.

The Grade 5 student at Great Lakes Elementary School, is adept at navigating the virtual world of coding, just as easily as an adult that has spend years studying it.

“His power of concentration can be absolute when he’s on the computer, yet he can multitask just as easily,” said Sumita Bakshi, Tanmay’s mother. “Some days, he will be watching a movie or a show, laughing at the punch lines and simultaneously coding on the laptop in front of him.”

So far, tTables has had 6,000 downloads. Not to rest on his previous laurels, Tanmay, the young entrepreneur, has followed his first masterpiece with an encore. His tTables+ is a bilingual app available in both English and French.

Every moment he can spend exploring, decoding and unraveling the world of operating systems and applications is a happy one. The only minor annoyances in the way are stuff like homework, dinner, sleep and probably explaining his work to adults who have no clue.

The Bakshis moved to Canada via England in 2004. Like most immigrant parents, they arrived with few bags of luggage and a whole lot of dreams.

!0-year-old Tanmay seen here with his dad and teacher Puneet Bakshi. Puneet proudly shows of the laptop that Tanmay broke when he was a mere toddler.

!0-year-old Tanmay seen here with his dad and teacher Puneet Bakshi. Puneet proudly shows of the laptop that Tanmay broke when he was a mere toddler.

Sumita and Puneet work extremely hard to create opportunities for their two children.

After the word of his app got out, more than three dozen media outlets—in Canada and abroad— clamored to interview Tanmay. He’s somewhat a minor celebrity. Tanmay basks in the love of his mom, dad and big sister Tanvi, 19, who’s an inspiration to her brother and vice-versa.

“When I grow up, I want to work with computers,” says Tanmay without hesitation. “What are my hobbies? Computers. What do I speak with my classmates about? Computers. If there was one thing I could do all the time? Coding.”

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Ethnic media and Teflon mayors

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According to the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These papers consider themselves "opinion builders."

There are some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the GTA. (Source: National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada) These papers consider themselves “opinion builders” and can be picked-up from any ethnic grocery store.

Last year, Brampton’s Mayor Susan Fennell, doled out her best wishes—through official press releases — to the city’s South Asians for a slew of desi festivals.

Fennell’s attempt to endear herself to the city’s South Asians may have something to do with the upcoming municipal elections.

If the editor of a Punjabi daily is to be believed, Fennell will win despite a controversy surrounding her use of taxpayers’ monies for travel and tourism.

While the mainstream media, including the one I work for, has been receiving a deluge of letters from citizens expressing outrage at Fennell’s penchant for first-class travel, the ethnic media is in a forgiving mood.

Similarly, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—a public relations nightmare — has the support of many from Chinese community, says Arjuna Ranawana, manager, OMNI Toronto.

Ranawana should know.

His news outlet is a fixture at ethnic events, be it a celebration, festival or an issue of national importance. In short, OMNI has its ears to the ground.

So, in the wake of Ford’s cocaine scandal, when OMNI News’ Mandarin and Cantonese speaking crew took to the streets of Toronto’s China Town, they found many people were still solidly behind Ford. Huh, who knew? But that scenario can change if Olivia Chow decides to throw her hat in the ring, said Ranawana, a member of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA).

“Our niche and our effectiveness comes because we are very connected to the ethnic community, not just to the newer communities like the Chinese and the South Asians, but older ones like the Italians and the Polish,” he said. “When two generations of families are born here, they become consumers of mainstream media. We serve the older generation and new immigrants. Our strength lies in the fact that we are able to report Canadian content in people’s language of comfort.”

This tenacious connection, believe it or not, is a huge deal to those otherwise isolated because of language barriers.

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, whose mandate is to promote and integrate the interests of ethnic communities into the mainstream, says there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 television and radio outlets scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Those numbers reflect the group’s appetite for politics. It doesn’t matter which country they hail from, the desis are vocal. In Toronto, any grocery store that stocks curry powder, vegetables and condiments, will also house boxes holding stacks of free newspapers in Punjabi, Hindi, English, Tamil and Urdu.

Jagdish Grewal, editor/publisher, Canada Punjabi Post, believes Fennell will be re-elected again.

“The Punjabi community will still support Mayor Susan Fennell,” Grewal told me. “She’s very outgoing and has developed links with every single organization. She attends all functions and has build personal relationship with everyone.”

A few years ago, when the Indian International Film Festival Awards (IIFA) came to Toronto, Fennell walked the carpet in a cerulean blue salwar-kameez (traditional dress) to take in the premiere of a mindless three-hour Bollywood caper. At that time I remember thinking only a seasoned politician can sit through that ordeal.

Tradition! Tradition! Tradition!

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starbucksLast summer, during a visit to India, I was astounded by the “Starbuckization” of the country I thought I knew intimately. Having spent more than three decades of my early life there, I had witnessed the country’s gradual economic metamorphosis in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Among some of the welcome changes those decades heralded was the arrival of cable television. Cable television meant goodbye to state-run propaganda. The world had finally opened to us and Indian audiences had a glut of offerings to choose from including popular U.S. television sitcoms and shows.

At this point, people’s connection with their culture remained strong because while it was one thing to watch a Hollywood heart-throb saunter in acid-washed jeans, it was next quite impossible to emulate him because branded threads weren’t available or affordable to middle-class families.

Fast forward circa 2000.

India begins to shed its century-old hand-spun ideology in exchange for North America’s glitzy ethos.  Multiplexes and malls begin to crop-up like mushrooms after monsoons.  Today, the entire country appears to be caught up in a frenzy to own, wear or sample the western way-of-life.

Mom and pop run restaurants that once served sumptuous and affordable street food have been nudged over by KFC, McDonald’s, Subway and Pizza Hut. Merchants that stocked yards of handcrafted sarees and salwars have ditched them for “imported” jeans and tops.

Now, contrast this to the emerging scenes unfolding in the leafy suburbia of Brampton and Mississauga, Ont., literally seven seas away. The dichotomy is startling.

South Asians are the largest racialized group in the province. There are some 684,070 desis that call the GTA home. The political, economic and cultural make-up of cities like Brampton is largely immigrant driven. Cruising through some neighbourhood here is like being transported through bustling bazaars of New Delhi. Even the plaza names are a replica – Janpath, Jaipur, Karol Baugh. Get my drift?

Your travels through these cities will take you through boulevards housing sprawling temples with packed parking lots. You olfactory senses will awaken and lead you towards the tantalizing smell of tandoori chicken and samosas. Your eyes will travel, feast and come to rest on individual-owned ethnic designer wear stores sporting stunning mannequins decked in rich silks, chiffon and brocades.  The exquisite jewelry accented by elaborate head and hair accessories will leave you gawking.

While the Indian culture appears to be eroding in India, it’s alive and thriving here in burbs of Toronto. Not just as evidenced in the burgeoning small and specialized business sector, but in the mindset of the families who have become keepers of customs and traditions.

So, what has been the most telling change in your perception of India? Do share.

A helping of culture with a side of fitness

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Colour was one of the main component of a bhangra competition held by a Brampton-based dance school.

Colour was one of the main component of a bhangra competition held by a Brampton-based dance school.

I have never visited the verdant state of Punjab.

But in a strange quirk of fate, my life in Brampton addresses that gap.

So, one evening recently, I stopped to take in a bhangra competition hosted by a thriving dance studio.

I am no stranger to this dance form; yet, I was unprepared for the assault of colour, talent and sheer exuberance that unfolded in front of me.

While many businesses in the province are struggling to stay afloat and relevant, Nachdi Jawani (Youthful Dance) appears to be thriving. These merchants of culture appear to be hitting all the right notes, unlike Ontario’s limp manufacturing sector.

The school offers weekend classes in bhangra and gidda (both are traditional folk-dances of Punjab) along with drumming (dhol) lessons for youngsters. In the 12 years since its launch,  Nachdi Jawani has opened studios in four locations in the GTA. The school has some 1,000 students enrolled.

Come to think of it, packaging culture in North America makes for savvy business. Children who grow up here sample and imbibe both the Canadian and South Asian life without confusion. So, while the appeal for swimming and soccer exists among immigrants, as do products and services that play to sentiments of culture.

If you or your business has any connection to tradition and you are say, a religious leader, who can perform rituals at Hindu weddings and funerals; a music teacher versatile in classical Indian music or a tandoori chef specializing in ethnic cuisine, chances are you are busy.

Dozens of Canadian youth connected to their roots with their display of a high-tempo bhangra dance. Bhangra is a traditional folk dance of the state of Punjab in India.

Dozens of Canadian youth connected to their roots with their display of a high-tempo bhangra dance. Bhangra is a traditional folk dance of the state of Punjab in India.

Iqbal Virk, founder and president of Nachdi Jawani. Virk has been able to market his school in a rather ingenious way.  He says the high-energy tempo of bhangra not only gives participants a good workout, but the children learn the language and folklore of their ancestors. When you put it that way, it’s a win-win.

There’s something about bhangra that’s infectious. Every occasion comes alive when the rhythmic sound of dhol reverberates through speakers. It’s as if people have been given a shot of adrenaline.

Well, you have to hand it to Punjabis in the GTA. Their spirit of enterprise has given us all among other things: butter chicken, bhangra and blueprint for small businesses to succeed.