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David Miller shines a light on the Gerrard India Bazaar in his book, Witness to a City

When David Miller first met Trish Mahtani, owner of Rang Home Decor  on Gerrard Street East, he was struck by how she seemed to embody Toronto's multicultural character. Trish, born in Hong Kong, sells Canadian-style bedding using colourful imported Indian fabrics. Her shop is across the street from Nucreation, specializing in Indian wedding garments, which attracts clientele from across North America. Its owner is Trish's father, Gavind Mahtani, raised in Mumbai but who first established his business in Hong Kong and brought his wife and their five children to Toronto in 1982, when Trish was just 9 years old.

When Miller, a frequent visitor to the Gerrard India Bazaar, first met Trish he pegged her for an OCAD student, not a University of Western Ontario commerce graduate.

"At the time she had dyed blond hair and about 26 earrings in her left ear and 9 in her right ear. I thought here is this young girl, so Canadian, so Toronto, running a small business across the street from one her dad's had since his arrival over 20 years ago. She has her dad's entrepreneurial spirit but with a twist on the traditional. I love the connection with her and her father, who has at various times headed up the local BIA, and with city policies that encourage diversity, helps newcomers succeed and supports small retail businesses."

Trish had been working at Nucreation for awhile when her father took her on the buying trip to India that became the inspiration for Rang, a way to combine her family's heritage with her Canadian upbringing. "I watch all the home decor TV shows and I've always been interested in designing. I wanted to offer Canadian styles inspired by India."

Rang is indeed a feast for the eyes with deep blues, ruby reds, rich golds and every shade of green imaginable. On display is anything from artwork, decorative pillows, purses, umbrellas made from Indian fabric, to pieces of furniture and, of course, lengths and lengths of luminous fabric. 30-year-old Trish, recently married, has been running the store for 6 years, with some sewing help for the custom designs that are her trademark.  "It's a lot of work. My husband and I have different schedules but he knows how much the store means to me and he helps out. He came to India this year; just me, my dad and him."
Trish's story is one of the eighteen that Miller, with the help of writer/filmmaker Doug Arrowsmith, brings to light in his book Witness to A City: David Miller's Toronto. Others include Laura Reinsborough, founder of Not Far From the Tree; a non-profit that collects and distributes local fruits and vegetables; and Nadia Beckles, the mother of Amon, who was gunned down on the steps of the West Seventh Day Adventist Church in 2005. Beckles has managed to turn her grief into support for others families who've lost loved ones to violence through United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere (UMOVE). There's also Tom Heinzman, founder of Bullfrog Power and Mehran Bermah, an Iranian philosopher/hot dog vendor near Old City Hall.

The idea for the book came about because Miller wanted to tell some of the stories he saw as part of his everyday activities around the city. "I am a bit of a story-teller, that's part of being a politician, but I just felt compelled to put these stories on paper so Torontonians could get a glimpse of what I saw as part of my everyday activities as mayor." He started with about fifty subjects and with the help of Arrowsmith and Cormorant editor Marc Cote, distilled the project down to stories that, first, touched his heart the most and second, showed the range of Toronto.

David Miller's Toronto, the one he helmed for seven years, is a far cry from the small English village of Thriplow where he lived with his mother and grandfather after his father died when he was just two and before emigrating to Ottawa in 1967 at the age of nine. "My own self image is a little boy in this little tiny village. I've got three friends who live in the council house or government housing. There's an egg farm and a milk farm. And then all of a sudden I'm the mayor of Toronto. That's how my life seems to have jumped. Well, there were bits in between."

While the book isn't a memoir, Miller does reveal selected details about his early life ; his mother's struggle to ensure the highest level of education for him (Lakefield College School, then Harvard), the forming of his values of social justice, and fair treatment and opportunity for immigrants; his reasons for entering politics (moving to Ottawa at the height of Expo 67 fever was an influencing factor), the painful loss of his mom just as his political star rose, and some of the early City Hall challenges and triumphs.

Once thing is certain, David Miller's memories of being a newcomer to Canada have set his interest and support of newcomers in stone. "I think what most defines Toronto is this magical and unprecedented and occasionally awkward -- but mostly not -- melding of people from everywhere in the world. The fact that more than half of the people who live here are first generation immigrants creates this excitement and vibrancy that I don't think is equaled anywhere else.  And that's one of the layers I tried to present in the book because that's what I see."

What does Trish Mahtani think about being singled out by the former mayor?  "My dad introduced me to David Miller; he really has been so involved in our community. Knowing he's that inspired by my store and my relationship with my father; that he could see what I always thought was great about my business idea, and understand what we are trying to do, is pretty amazing."

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto-based writer, TV producer and essayist for TVO The Agenda with Steve Paikin. She keeps a blog at www.herkind.com.

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