Grey Goose Notable: Dr. Neilank Jha has partnered with Grey Goose, the World’s Best Tasting Vodka, to celebrate an exclusive series of Grey Goose Notables: young professionals and entrepreneurs who are influential taste-makers. For the next 10 weeks, we will feature two unique Notables who have made it – young professionals who have reached success beyond their years. We’ll show you how these Notables enjoy what they’ve earned – how they entertain friends, where they travel, what drives them from the office to the golf course – and how they celebrate life and all it has to offer. So, raise a glass as we toast to the Grey Goose Notables…

Dr. Neilank Jha – a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital – was born in Edmonton, Alberta and spent the first part of his formative years growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan. He moved to Ottawa in Grade 7, but Grades 8 through 12 found him somewhere that couldn’t be more of a change from Western or Central Canada: India. Initially, this trip to India was a visit, but after a chance meeting with a spiritual teacher, Dr. Jha stayed for five years.

During his teen years spent in India, Dr. Jha lived at an ashram – a spiritual hermitage – where minimalist life and a focus on the forgoing of material items is part and parcel of the dogma. Allowed only a couple pairs of clothes and school uniforms, Dr. Jha grew up around classmates that ran the gamut from the extremely poor to the extremely affluent; though you’d be hard-pressed to tell what backgrounds everyone came from given the disallowing of belongings. Classes had a heavy focus on philosophy and worldly teachings. Along with his peers, Dr. Jha would rise at 4:50am for meditation, followed by a half day of school work and a half day of community service. This experience shaped his outlook on life, and taught him the importance of community work.

When Dr. Jha returned to Canada, he attended the University of Toronto, studying physics and life sciences. He then went to McMaster to get his medical degree and neurological training, and did his fellowship in spinal surgery. During his studies, Dr. Jha founded W.A.T.C.H. – words, actions, thoughts, character, heart – which seeks to create brighter futures for the youth in some of Toronto’s most underprivileged neighbourhoods. The W.A.T.C.H. Community was founded on the principles he was taught during his tenure at the ashram in India.

Dr. Neilank Jha’s perspective on the world differs from many of the young professionals in Canada – due in large part to his teen years being spent surrounded by students who didn’t have much to their names, but were happier than their more affluent counterparts. He is able to overcome many of the hardships of the work/life balancing act because of the like-minded people he has surrounded himself with, and his ability to help make a change in the lives of some of Toronto’s at-risk youth.

Dr. Neilank Jha is a Notable, and to him, notable is “a balance of confidence and humility. It’s how people are able to respond in times of adversity, and being able to be both accomplished but humble.”

What is your general life philosophy?/What advice would you want to share with others?
In my own life I have met with many challenges and failures. With my experience living in an ashram in a village in India, from the ages of 12 through 17, with no personal belongings outside of my school uniform, I have learned that happiness is not tied to material possessions. Health, family, and friends are our most valuable resources. It is easy in today’s fast-paced environment with Facebook, Twitter and smartphones to lose perspective on some of the things that may be the most important to us.

Why were the early stages of your career (which can be some of the toughest years of any successful business person’s life) worth what you are now able to enjoy?
I actually think I am still in the early stages of my career. I am always finding new ways to challenge myself and am constantly learning new things. Working as hard as I did early on and never really slowing down allows me to appreciate the moments in my life when I am able to help my community.

What do you do to keep active, healthy, and vibrant?
I enjoy playing hockey, running, and working out at the gym. I must confess that there are times when my professional work and the community work become all-consuming and I stray from my routine of healthy eating and exercise. But, the gym always makes me feel better…even though getting there some days is harder than others.

Please describe what entertaining looks like to you? What makes the perfect host?
Entertaining to me is providing a comfortable environment, good conversation and great food. A good host should welcome you and make you feel at ease. I always try to encourage my guests to feel at home in my place and help themselves to whatever they want. My home is definitely an extension of myself.

When entertaining at your home, what is your one staple item that you must serve, and why?
I always ask my mom if I can pick up some homemade samosas from her place to serve to my guests. I’m Canadian but quite proud of my heritage, and I enjoy sharing food from my culture with my visitors. I think food brings people together in a way that is comforting and enjoyable and there is no better way to take pleasure in life than sitting down to a wonderful meal surrounded by the people you care about.

Do you cook? If yes, what is your best dish? If no, what is your favourite dish to be cooked for you?
I do cook and I’m not afraid to tell you that I am a master at cooking eggs! Scrambled eggs are my specialty…with the right proportion of milk, salt and pepper, it really is a fine art. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best to prepare because they take very little time to make – which gets the food to your mouth sooner – and they always taste great. I enjoy food; it most definitely makes me happy.

What is one of your favourite lounges/restaurants? Why?
My favourite is an Indian restaurant on Gerrard Street called Udupi Palace. They serve homemade South Indian food. After living in South India in my teens, the food brings back fond memories of my time there. I also enjoy Susur Lee’s restaurant, which is just down the street from where I live.