Dr. Setty Pendakur
Dr. Setty Pendakur was born in Karnataka, India on Febraury 11th, 1934. He grew up alongside seven brothers, living with his parents until high school. Due to the lack of schooling available in his village, Dr. Pendakur moved to his uncle’s home to complete high school where he stayed for six years. His uncle resided nine kilometres away from his home village.
After completing high school, Dr. Pendakur finished two years of college in Bangalore. When this was completed, he had to compete to gain admission into engineering which he was able to achieve. Dr. Pendakur chose to go into the engineering field because his father knew some engineers. During this time period, schooling was considered to be uncommon. He joined the BMS Engineering College in Bangalore, recalling that the college was new and the laboratories were not quite ready at the time.
After he graduated he passed a competitive examination and joined the Indian Administrative Service, being posted to Shillong, Assam. This job enabled him to have his own bungalow as well as a cook and a driver. He stayed here for about two years until he received admission, alongside a scholarship to pursue a Masters degree at the University of British Columbia. His job gave him a one year leave, which they were not willing to extend, and so Dr. Pendakur chose to quit his engineering position.
Dr. Pendakur was always driven to the idea of completing a higher education. He feels as though this comes from his personal life circumstances having come from a smaller village and seeing the way that educated people tend to have good jobs only further ignited his passion to pursue further studies. In addition, his parents were very progressive and also wanted him to study.
Dr. Pendakur headed over to North America in 1955 with a United Nations scholarship alongside a UBC scholarship. He arrived via plane, first stopping in London. This was his very first time leaving India. Initially, Dr Pendakur had a scholarship at the University of Florida so he first headed over to Jacksonville, Florida. He landed there at night time. The next day in the morning he got on the bus, sitting in the front. The bus driver told him to move to the back due to the existence of segregation in those days. After this incident, Dr. Pendakur decided to move north to Canada. Dr. Pendakur recalls that there was hardly any segregation in Canada during this time period. He took the train to Montreal, Quebec and worked as a porter on the trains until school started in September, at which point he headed over to Vancouver, BC, to continue his education in urban planning. He got to know about the UBC academic program during his time as an engineer in Assam. Here, he met a Canadian liaison person, whose wife was very helpful and encouraged him to apply. She came from Vancouver and helped him with contacts and connections.
When Dr. Pendakur first came to Canada, he did not have any difficulties adjusting to the new environment. He attributes this partially due to coming from South India and going to school in Bangalore, where he was exposed to the international community.
Once at UBC, Dr Pendakur joined the UBC Indian Students’ Association. He recalls this was quite small, with a total of approximately 21 or 22 members. This meant that all the members got to know each other. During this time his hobbies included playing a little bit of tennis. Upon graduating he took a job with the Ministry of Transport to work on airport construction in Prince Rupert. He stayed with the Ministry of Transport for five years after which he decided he wanted to study again to earn his PhD. After completing his PhD, he took a job at a private company in associated engineering services where he proceeded to work for nearly two years. Two years later, in 1966 there was a vacancy at UBC, where he received a job as a professor.
During this time as well his wife Rajinder also became a teacher, teaching at at an elementary school, and supporting her husband and the family while he completed his PhD. By this point, they had a child, Ravi, who was born in 1961.
Dr. Pendakur was married in 1959 to his wife, Rajinder. Rajinder was also a student at UBC, and the couple met while at a cafeteria café line up. Rajinder was born in Canada although her parents immigrated from Punjab.
Dr. Pendakur is the first South Asian individual to be elected into the Vancouver City Council. He decided to run for city council due to his interest in the green space. His big platform was the ‘Waterfront Walkway.’ He notes that the City of Vancouver had a lot of water but individuals were unable to walk in front of it. So, he came up with a slogan, ’99 by 99.’ Their goal was to create 99 kilometres of waterfront walkway by 1999.
He was elected in 1972 to serve for one term and then went back into teaching. He feels as though it was a good experience- one that was able to make him a better professor. He was heavily focused on policies as opposed to representing one ethnic group, particularly due to the low population of Indians at the time. He feels as though any potential discriminant behaviour against non-whites in politics was all hidden and it was not out in the open.
Dr. Pendakur was vocal throughout his time in city council, which attracted both publicity and criticism. His goal was to express his views and focus on talking about the future of the city. He was not interested in being continuously elected- particularly as he viewed his main job as being a professor at UBC. If he stayed with the city council for too long he felt that it would be difficult to return back to his job.
Dr. Pendakur has also worked as a visiting professor. He recalls that his major visiting professorship role was in Thailand where he would go every summer for two months, for twelve years in order to teach at the Asian Institute of Technology. His family would come alongside him for this position.
His time as city councillor displayed his wife’s resilience because it was quite tough on her. She had to look after the young children as well as balance having a full-time job as a teacher. He wasn’t there long, but he had to discuss with his wife regarding what would happen to his family during his time as a Vancouver city councillor.
Dr. Pendakur has seen remarkable changes in Vancouver since he first came to Canada. He feels that it has evolved from being a European-centric city to one that is very multi-cultural, to the degree where it is difficult to determine which community is the dominant culture, because there are so many. He also notes that there has been a lot of inter-marriage within the past two decades, which further encourages tolerance amongst the community.
Dr. Pendakur’s entire family has been involved in the academic field – his eldest son Ravi works is a Professor at the University of Ottawa after having worked for the Government of Canada for fifteen years. Meanwhile, his younger son Krishna, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently a Professor of economics at Simon Fraser University.
Dr. Pendakur continues to remain strongly involved in the community. He is part of the society ‘Theatre Conspiracy,’ which looks at modern societal issues and produces plays based off of these issues. He has continued to be involved in this for more than 25 years. He is also a part of the 411 Seniors Centre Society where they are currently trying to build a new building for the society. Alongside this, he is part of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Pendakur was also an integral part of the beginnings of the Akali Sikh Society Gurdwara. He helped the temple committee negotiate the acquiring process of the land including negotiating the price of purchas because he was the chairman of the building committee. Through this role, he has been able to see the Gurdwara grow and develop throughout the years. He recalls that prior to the building of this Gurdwara, people would attend a temple located on 12th Avenue. Although religiously he doesn’t feel as though he belongs to one religion, he notes that if he wanted a place to worship, he would come to the Gurdwara. He continues to help out the Gurdwara in any capacity that he is needed.
Currently, Dr. Pendakur continues to remain involved in policy advising through his role as a senior advisor to the State Council of China, a position that he has held for twenty years. On major policies revolving transport planning, studies are performed, which provide recommendations. Many times these studies and recommendations are referred to Dr. Pendakur for a secondary opinion. This role has enabled Dr. Pendakur to travel to China more than fifty times.
He has returned to India many times since he moved away and continues to have family who reside there, including a brother living in the village, as well as two brothers living in Bangalore. He sponsored his youngest brother to Canada when he was fifteen years old, who then established his life in Canada through education and family and continues to reside in Vancouver.
Dr. Pendakur notes the strides India has taken to improve the educational status of its residents. Currently, a lot more people know how to read and write compared to when he was growing up. People are better informed. Furthermore, there is access to many different viewpoints through media platforms such as the radio and television. He notes that India has a very vibrant culture.
Dr. Pendakur hopes to send the message to the youth about the importance of volunteer work. He feels as though volunteer work is a very important part of life which teaches one a lot about society. Volunteer work also teaches individuals how to get along with people and how to work as a team.