July 22 – U

363/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Wow, only 3 more gratitude posts left including this one!!  When I started this journey a year ago, I was a little nervous as to if I would have 365 people to thank.  I didn’t want it to come down to posts such as thanking my mailman for the flyers he delivers in that they were the ones that led me on to some awesome deal!! ; )  Early on in these posts, I started hearing from friends that so and so had made “the list”.  I didn’t understand what that was until I was told that it was my “gratitude list”.  That put some pressure on me to say the least as there was now a “list”.  I didn’t want it to be a list and I didn’t want it to be some type of contest.  Then I heard that some people mentioned they were in the 80s and others were in the 200s!  I do have to make it clear that I haven’t had an order as to who I thank and thus whatever number gratitude post it was has no relation to ranking.  Most posts are the night before or a couple of days before.  Yes, I saved my dad for his birthday as I did with my children for theirs, my mom was first because well she is my mom but save for them and the final two gratitude posts, no one had a day or a number.  The list by the end of Sunday is far from complete.  I could thank another 365 people who got me to where I am today and this is what today’s gratitude post is about – to all of the people I didn’t name and there are hundreds of you that have impacted me!  So many former students, co-workers past and present, family members, inlaws, bosses, professors, fellow students, random strangers, neighbours past and present, friends, backhanded gratitudees (bullies and the like), service providers, celebrities etc, etc – just so many people who have made me who I am and to all of you un-named in this past year, you are part of this gratitude journey just because you were not personally mentioned here doesn’t mean you weren’t recognized by me.  To all the new people that will come in to my life, thanking you in advance as some of you will change and influence me in new ways.  Thank you to all of you who came along with me on this 365 day journey as well.  Your encouragement and support has gotten me to this end point.

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July 12 – you did me wrong

353/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  How cliché? 😉  But it is so very true – I totally understand and live by that motto.  Everything that I have been through in my life has made me the guy you know.  Yeah, my life was tough but I know people have had it rougher.  I accepted my fate in life and dealt with it.  What I do wish though was that I had support growing up.  Yes, as I wind down these posts, I must throw in one final back-handed gratitude post to people who, without your non-care (for lack of a better word), made me even stronger.  You all should know by this time that my dad was a paranoid delusional schizophrenic.  We, as kids, were told to keep it hidden.  Deny it.  Don’t talk about it.  This was told to us by our mother.  But she was forced to tell us this as her in-laws wouldn’t accept/believe that their son/brother/brother-in-law had a mental illness.  I recall overhearing my mom being lectured that she was making things up and she had to stop phoning the police when my dad would lose it on her.  I remember also being told as a teenager that I was in collusion with my mom by having my dad institutionalized for that decade or so.  I was in shock and I had so much anger at my dad’s family.  They saw things from the outside.  We lived things from the inside.  As you may also know, my sister and I were in foster care for a short period.  We were living with different relatives at other times when my mom would be hospitalized because of my dad’s violence.  The anger stayed with me for most of my life.  I had to see these people at my dad’s funeral – these people who never were there for us growing up.  Any one of them could have stepped up and been a father figure, a true uncle but that never happened.  On my 18th or 19th birth year, my mom wanting to take me to see my paternal grandparents in India – I was lectured to by my uncles there that my mom and I (once again colluding) to steal my dad’s wealth and property there – no, they had no clue about the poverty we actually lived in growing up as my dad put my mom on an allowance and so she had to hold down multiple jobs just to care for us but I listened and festered.  I, however, did learn that three of his other siblings (two whom had committed suicide) were also afflicted by the same mental illness – I got a better understanding of my dad.  I was forgiving of my uncles and family in India as they did not have the same knowledge level as my dad’s Canadian family.  I have 100% forgiven my dad because none of what he did was in his conscious control but I can’t forgive my dad’s immediate family here in Canada.  You could have made a difference.  You could have acknowledged that there was something wrong.  You could have supported any of us, all of us.  Yes, you lay blame on us.  I’d like to think I’m a bigger person and can move on but I’m not that good – I can’t forget and I definitely can’t forgive.  I will say though that you have taught me a life lesson that not all family is there for you. Yes, this gratitude post might come off as very bitter but I think I’m entitled to this one.   I am so that much stronger in spite of/despite you and for that, you get the backhanded thank you!

June 14 – gettin’ my Indian on

325/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Writing these posts, I’ve realized that there are many people who have influenced me on my life journey inside and outside of my ethnic heritage.  For any of you who have had to balance the fine line between two worlds, you will understand this post.  I was born and raised in Canada.  My parents were immigrants but they immediately assimilated into the Western culture as that was the way back in the early 1960s.  Growing up, I knew that we were different – yes, obviously because of skin colour but also because of “rules” that we were subjected to in our homes that my friends were not.  However, being the oldest and often just with my mom and sister, I was able to shape my mom into what was the ‘right’ thing as opposed to what her more traditional family was telling her.  I was proud growing up ‘western’ (no offense meant to anyone) as I was able to traverse life a lot easier back in the 70s and 80s without anyone really paving the way for me.  Our parents, as well as those of our cousins (all, also born in Canada), tried to inculcate Indian/traditional ways but most of us rebelled as we didn’t understand the restrictions and limitations.  We overcame and basically moulded our parents.  However, we didn’t know what we were really missing about our heritage until the 4th and final sibling of my mom emigrated from India to Canada with her family.  Initially most of us cousins were a bit reluctant in hanging out with our new cousins as they were – well very Indian 😉  I felt I had nothing in common with them other than that our parents were siblings.  My mom insisted that I have all three of my new cousins (with their spouses) over for dinner and I argued against it but caved.  Yes, it was awkward and even communications was tough as their English was minimal as was my Punjabi.  However, our familial bonds started to entwine us and soon enough we were laughing and learning.  They tried martinis and wine, I tried my Punjabi language.  We looked at photos and they reminisced about how they first met the fat Randy in India when I was 7 or 8 years old and then the total transformed Randy of 19 once again in India.  I cringed but I loved it – we were family.  These were my cousins.  Over the years, they have bonded me to my heritage more than anything could have and I try hard to be worthy of their respect but I know they respect me regardless.  Thank you Jeeti, Jasvir and Gurmeet for making me feel proud of my Indian heritage and family.  I raise a cup of chai with a Crown Royal chaser in your honour ; )

April 22 – motherland

272/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  Today’s gratitude post is not about a person.  Today is about a bunch of people – a culture, traditions, a way of life and being – my motherland.  This morning and afternoon, I attended a Professional Development workshop about First Peoples’ (First Nations/Aboriginals/Indian) past and present so we as educators could better understand what they had to endure in residential schools/land rights in the history of Canada to where they are today and what is happening to their people.  Being an ethnic person, I had a different take-away experience as I started thinking about my “people”.  I don’t recall if I have admitted this but I coined my own moniker when I was writing my blog for the Vancouver Province newspaper – The Whitest Brown Guy.  I know very little about my heritage and culture.  The school that I teach at is about a 1/3 Indo-Canadian and the boys especially (in my classes) give me grief about being “too white”.  It’s friendly banter but today got me to thinking about my ethnicity and heritage and I have to admit that I am very proud that I have such a great heritage.  Even though I was born in Canada, my ancestors come from a land full of people with diverse cultures and traditions – my specific one being from the northern state of the Punjab.  I wasn’t very proud of being ethnic growing up because I was different – I was marked and it was easy fuel for the bullies.  Did I want to deny my ethnicity?  Hell yes – anything to get away from the turmoil of the teen years.  But here I am today proud of my heritage and where I came from.  I no longer deny who I am and who my people are.  I am only one aspect of a very diverse culture and that diverse culture is only one aspect of who I am but it has shaped me and for that, I am thankful for all that my motherland is and represents.  I am Ethnic.  I am Minority.  I am Indian.  I am Punjabi.  I am Indo-Canadian.  I am Me.  I am proud of my heritage!

April 8 – he’s Bollywood, I’m Hollywood

258/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, other than my skin colour, I’m probably the least “Indian” person you would come across.  I am often surprised when others ask me questions related to my ethnicity because I’m the last person who knows the answers but I do understand their motivations.  I have also mentioned in passing that I have shied away from other Indians lest I be judged based on my lack of knowledge in what should be our commonality.  For the last couple of years, I’ve ventured into the staffroom at work where very few staff are found.  You are lucky if there are more than two or three people there on any given lunch hour.  Some days I just need to escape my classroom and get some adult conversation going.  The one constant in the staffroom is another teacher – Amarinder.  At first, I didn’t really have anything to say to him – I mean the only thing that connected us was teaching – but he started up conversations and over the years, I have enjoyed talking to him about “our” Indian culture.  He is the very antithesis of me – he has an accent, is very formal in dress, reserved in emotion, conservative in several ways but open in others.  The students love him and I see him stop in the halls to talk to them and they high-five him (perhaps, I’m more the reserved one in that respect as I don’t really engage in the halls and save that for my classroom).  Amarinder compliments me every single time he sees me and tells me how my relative ease and carefree style is what he should adopt which does wonders for my ego but I too have learned things from him.  He has given me advice on dealing with aging parents and taking pride in being Indian but being Indian in my own way – very few Indians have ever said that to me and about me and I can say that that is a very important thing for me – to be me but in my own way.  Yes, we are complete opposites but our ethnicity does bring out commonalities and I do appreciate the camaraderie that we have developed over the years during lunch.  Here’s to you Mr Bollywood from Mr Hollywood – sat sri akal!

April 4 – i’m finally not the oldest!

254/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me.  I’ll just say it – I hate being the oldest.  All my life I have had to set the bar and through both conscious and subconscious pressure, I have set it very high so that my siblings and cousins had something to aspire for (or so I thought).  So many times I wished that I had an older sibling or cousin who I could look to for guidance but unfortunately for me, I was the oldest.  I have a sister two years younger than me.  I have another sister 15 years my junior – yes, 15!!  The cousins who were born in Canada and that I grew up with are 7 to 16 years younger than me.  In my 30s, my mom’s sister’s family emigrated to Canada and along came a few more cousins.  These ones were older but I was still oldest.  It was contested that my cousin Gurmit who was born in the season of harvest was older according to my grandmother as she had heard about his birth in India and then recalls my birth in Canada but harvest season is probably after this Leo baby.  However, I recall going to the motherland when I was 18 for four months – yes, when your parents take you out of school for a trip to India (and for me, it was out of university), it was for an entire semester!  My mom took me to probably marry me off – LOL, I kid (although I was hot property back then and had a lot of offers – I didn’t want an ESL tag-along!!).  So I was dragged along to countless homes and met cousins that I had heard about and finally, finally I was younger than two!!  My dad’s niece Baljit – stunning beauty – was about 3 years my senior.  She literally and figuratively took me under her shoulder and I let her.  First time I let go and was able to be someone who had an older sibling (re-read my earlier post about cousins being sibling in Indo-Canadian culture).  Although I was 19, she took care of me like her younger baby brother doting on me.  I let it happen because I so wanted to look up to someone and let go of having to be the oldest and role model and whatever else came with it.  A similar thing happened when I met my mom’s nephew Amarjit.  Handsome and having the same stutter as me.  Also 3 years my senior.  He took me on his motorcycle to various sites and kept me within arm’s reach and looked out for his Canadian cousin whenever we were out in public as I didn’t really know what I was getting into.  Although I only met them briefly that first time in India, they made an indelible impression on me that has been everlasting and they allowed me breathing time away from being role-model and just revel in the fact that I could be the younger one looking to my older siblings/cousins for guidance.  I have never forgotten that trip and they will never know how comforting it was to have them for those 4 months and have an experience I longed for all my life for however brief it was.  Thank you Baljit and Amarjit for being my older cousins and just making me feel that much more at ease and allowing me to be me without having to be an example for others.

March 15 – speaking in tongues

234/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. I’m very fortunate to have a second language. I was born and raised for the first seven years of my life in New Westminster, BC. I learned English and Punjabi at the same time – perhaps a little more English and a little less Punjabi. I will admit that my Punjabi skills are not the greatest – I think in English and then translate to Punjabi which inevitably creates a small lag time that is often commented on by my relatives to my chagrin. And yes, I don’t have all the words/vocabulary/grammar down and yes, my pronunciation and enunciation is not the best but I still try. I have to thank all my relatives from my parents to my uncles and aunts and to the aunties and uncles (extended and not related) who kept on speaking to me and my sister in Punjabi regardless of our understanding – you forced us to learn our mother tongue and although I’m in no ways an expert, I can definitely get by. I also have to thank you in allowing me to speak Pun-glish (a combination of both) when I couldn’t come up with terms to quite express myself in Punjabi which still increased my knowledge of the language. Although I would have loved to have had one of the Renaissance languages as my mother tongue (let’s be honest, Punjabi is pretty guttural although German takes the cake on that one), I’m still glad that I do have a second language and it allows me to connect with some of the older relatives and immigrant relatives who have never, ever had the opportunity to learn English. Thank you to all my relatives for giving me a skill that would have eluded me if I had any say in it.

February 13 – the brown boys

204/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. Yesterday, I wrote about the white boys – most of them in my senior Marketing class and today it’s about the brown boys, most of them in my junior Marketing class. As I’ve made mention on social media, the school I am presently at has the most ethnically diverse population of all the schools in the district I work in. Blacks, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Brazilians, Chinese, Whites, Indians – the list goes on and I absolutely love the diversity in my classes. Being Indo-Canadian and growing up and presently living in a predominantly white/Caucasian area, I’m always a little taken aback when I find myself with a lot of other Indians as I know deep down it’s because I don’t think I will/do measure up to my own ethnic background. This new semester, I find myself in a class of 30 students of which 17 are of Indian nationality (7 girls 10 boys) and 7 of those boys and 4 girls are of the same ethnic/cultural heritage as myself (Punjabi Sikh – although I don’t really practice the faith). I was overwhelmed and the boys have already commented on the fact that I’m not very Indian – at first, I took this as slight disrespect but I couldn’t really argue the fact but as the days have progressed, I can see that it wasn’t meant that way and they are joking with me as I walk by in the halls and asking me about career-related and life advice – I am being accepted. This is so very strange to me to be somewhat of a role-model to these young men that I have very little in common with except for my skin colour. One of them remarked that I am not like the other Indian male teachers at the school as this is my only and main job – LOL, because like the stereotype, a few of those other teachers build homes/develop properties on the side (or is it teaching on the side 😉 ). I am so very excited to have these boys in the class as I know they will learn a lot about the subject area but I also hope I can give them a different take on what it is to be an Indo-Canadian male and I also hope to learn from them to understand my own Indo-Canadian teenage boy. Cheers to a very different classroom make-up that will allow for all sorts of learning to take place.

January 20 – those white brown family members

180/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. Yesterday I spoke of my father’s family. Today it’s about my mother’s family but not her immediate family such as siblings and their offspring. No, this post is of her extended family – specifically her mother, my (almost centenarian) grandmother’s side. My grandmother was the oldest of her siblings – she had 6 brothers (or was it 7). Almost all the brothers were either raised or born in Canada back in the early to mid 1900s. All their wives were very modern Indo-Canadian women – I’ve seen pictures from the 60s (mini-skirts, bouffant hairdos, all class). Their children (who would be my mom’s cousins but are younger and older than me) all born and raised here were very Western – some moreso than others. As I grew up watching them, I envied them as they seemed to negotiate the Western world that I was born into with ease but my parents still had traditional Indian beliefs that challenged the very being of who I was. I would see my mom’s extended family drinking wine and other spirits, some smoking, speaking English, in western garb, modern haircuts and some in relationships with white people (oh the shock for a kid like me 😉 ) basically free with their being and no worries of what other Indians thought of them – and this was the female relatives as well as the males. As I’ve grown up, I have challenged the constructs of what it is to be Indo-Canadian and I have had to shatter some of the preconceptions that my mom and dad held. I have to thank my mom’s extended family as they subconsciously influenced me to not have to skirt who I was and wanted to be in order to fit into a pre-defined mould of what I was supposed to be. However, I do have to mention that I am glad that I received the morals and values instilled by my parents especially not forgetting my heritage as that also makes me unique and uniquely me. I thank my mom’s extended family for allowing me to dream and then be a part of the Western culture I was born into while still retaining my ethnic values.

January 19 – getting my tradition on

179/365 – people to thank who have had an impact on me. My family background is quite diverse. My dad’s side of the family is smaller and although they are from the Punjab region of India and Sikhs in their beliefs, the physical proximity of my dad’s village is closer to the Himachal Pradesh area of India (foothills of the Himalayas) which is predominantly Hindu and many of their beliefs have been filtered down and embraced in my dad’s family even though they are Sikh. I am more than a bit of a skeptic when it comes to religion and religious traditions – yes, heresy in some people’s minds – and have a difficult time believing in and observing some of the ceremonial customs that I must participate in. Upon various trips to India, I have had to walk barefoot through mud to a temple to make offerings, I had to take a 3 day pilgrimage up a mountain with my mother and uncle to the Chintpurni temple, I had to have my head sheared (I refused but did compromise), I had to bathe in water that I knew would never pass a sanitation test here in Canada, I had to sit in the back of a crowded truck full of people with no personal space whatsoever on a week long tour of temples, I had to dance with Hijra/Khusras – the list goes on. However, even though I fight the cultural obligations around religion and ethnic tradition that I must partake in, I realize that they have meaning to my family and thus, I honour them by (albeit reluctantly) doing what is expected of me. The more I reflect on it, the more I know that the Indian traditions and beliefs of especially my dad’s family have had a positive impact on the man that I have become and I can appreciate (whether I agree with them or not) what believing in and respecting does for self, family and community. Thank you to my dad’s family for instilling in me the values of Mother India!