I was born in India. The first child of my parents, whose marriage was arranged.
People always tell me that they are amazed by what I have accomplished. I am talking specifically of leaving home at only 18, putting myself through college and actually fulfilling my dream as a broadcast journalist.
But, there has to be a place where the inner strength came from. An example of sorts. For me, it’s easy to figure out; it came from my father. You see, he is the true hero. It is from his tragedy and how he rose above it, I was able to do the same.
My dad is one of seven children. When he was growing up India was in turmoil, in the midst of a civil war. Religious groups were fighting over territorial rights.
My dad’s father held a powerful position in this battle, but the stress proved to much. When my dad was only 14 years old, his father had a heart attack and died right in front of his eyes.
There was a lot of fear that my grandmother (My dad’s mom) would be targeted in this battle. So her protectors, rushed her to Pakistan. Tearing my dad away from his mother and most of his siblings.
His older brother stayed behind in India and vowed to take care of my dad. But, so much went so wrong so quickly.
India is an impoverished country. During that time, it was even worse. My father had little food and often went hungry. But he dedicated himself to school, vowing to secure a better life. That meant walking miles to study. I remember vividly him telling me, that he did not have proper shoes. The soles so worn, he had bruises and cuts on the bottom of his feet. This knowledge along with going hungry will become very important as I share more of my journey.
Back to my dad, he was a natural born athlete, a soccer player. The talent opened doors. He was able to go to college and get a degree in business.
He was very handsome as well. I know I am biased, but I have heard this from many people. He stood at 6’2 a rare height in that country and as many told me had the looks of a “movie star.” And, again, he was an athlete.
These details are important because it is how he ended up marrying my mother.
India has a “class” system when it comes to arranged marriages. I know that sounds awful, but that is the reality. My mom was in the most desirable category. But my father, now was penniless. He also did not have parents to even present a proposal of marriage. But, he had something else that’s priceless: determination.
It was my mother’s sister in law, who actually spotted my father at a market. She asked him if she could introduce him to someone, my mom. Instead of saying he had nothing to offer, my dad agreed to meet my mother’s parents.
Like any father, my grandfather (my mom’s dad) was very apprehensive when he met my dad. A 23 year old with not even two pennies to his name. But he saw that determination in my father’s eyes. So, defying cultural guidelines he agreed to the marriage proposal.
My parents married shortly after that. It was humbling on many levels though. My dad had to move in with his in-laws. But within days he secured a job as an accountant, slowly starting to build a foundation for his family that was growing.
I was born a year later. Then when I was three, my sister, Shala was born. We were still living with my grandparents. That turned out to be a huge blessing because I started to get very sick. I could not hold anything down and I was withering away.
My parents used every dollar they had on doctor’s to figure out what was wrong. It was not good news. Physicians told my parents I could not withstand the environment and if I continued to live in India there was no doubt I would die.
My parents were fearful, but my dad channeled that fear into action.
He contacted my mother’s brother, a successful architect in Seattle to sponsor them into the United States. Another huge blessing the sponsorship came through and more quickly than anyone thought.
So, we got on a plane. The month was October and even though I was only three, the memories are as clear as yesterday. My handsome father carrying me across the airport. I felt so safe and secure in his arms.
Only later would I learn, even though he never showed it. How scared my father must have been. He was a husband with two children and one on the way. In his pocket: only $24.00.