A quick lesson of Canadiana from an outsider who has been on the inside of the workings of a country learning its identity at the same time he learned his.
Essays are usually centered around the principle of arguing a point or side of an argument. However, this essay derived from the perspective of the feelings of an Indo-Canadian Sikh man who has struggled with one aspect of his character: his name.
I was born Karamveer Singh Hundal, otherwise known as Bablu, and currently as Karam. This transformation of the name has confused, angered and left me without a sense of self throughout my forty two years of existence. I have never been Canadian enough to fit in with the Canadians, nor Indian enough to fit in with the Indians. I am caught somewhere in the middle and my name, which is to serve as my ultimate label has provided me with nothing but confusion and derogatory name-calling over the years.
I was born in 1974 in Toronto. Forget about the hostilities that Indians faced during these initial years of multiculturalism in a new country, as the notions of equality and freedom were relegated to the select few of the white persuasion. There was systemic racism everywhere and it filtered down to the streets of the country. Moreover, the Indian community at the time was very small, so I don’t recall having Indian friends until my school age years. But, back to the name. One day, as a baby, my beloved massi decided to squeeze my bubbly cheeks (on my face I assume) and label me Bablu. The name stuck. Such that my parents started to call me that for the rest of my life. I do not ever recall them calling me Karamveer except on the first day of school when my father took me by the hand, and said “Bablu, tell people your name is Karamveer.” The irony didn’t escape me then, nor has it since. He never actually called me Karamveer. To this day, he still calls me Bablu, or Bobby for short. Even though it is endearing, I am not sure how I will feel when I am a grandfather and my grandchildren refer to myself as Bablu baba.
My cheeks are no longer bubbly, but instead covered by a scruffy beard and worn by the wrinkles of time. Yet I am still referred to as Bablu by my family. Or is it Bubbloo? How do you even spell such a ridiculous and juvenile name? I AM FORTY TWO! How am I still being referred to by a name given to a baby?
Fast-forward to the 1980’s when I first started to attend school. My teachers had never met a Karamveer in their white lives of John’s and Joe’s. By then, since I had only heard my name spoken once, thought with the infinite wisdom of a six-year old and the phonetic lessons I had learned thus far, thought my name was pronounced Kare-am-veer. How was I to know. I went on like this until 1993. A decade of humiliating name-calling and taunting from white kids who did not understand that the name means “working son.” For about two years of this I was called Can-a-beer or Carebear by my so-called friends. So much for the radical multiculturalism of Canada. We mustn’t forget that Canada too has a racist past as much as that of any other nation including the neighbours to the south, the United States. Even though I too was born and raised in this country, I didn’t even feel like a citizen. It all stemmed from the fact that I was name-less. I had no identity. There were few Indians to identify with, and the so-called open-minded Canadians, couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to pronounce a proud and sophisticated name.
1993 – My first year at university. Here I met several Indians who taught me the correct pronunciation of my name. Karamveer. Here I was born. I finally felt accepted. I had peers who not only respected me but cared for my well-being. The drinking, drugs and sex-capades notwithstanding, they cared. For a few years I felt like I belonged. But that was only tranistory as my ultimate acceptance came from the one source I will always feel like I belong to.
1994 – I met a woman. Her name is Sukhvir, but her nickname is Lado. Not quite ladoo, and not quite pado as I jokingly call her. We fell in love. Unbeknownst to me, she started to shorten my name to my beloved Karam. Before long, I started to introduce myself as this. I even changed my name at work to reflect this newfound identity. I have found my true friend and a place where I truly belong. I cannot picture my life without her and our three beautiful daughters. I have found a home with her in a country that finally takes the time to learn our true names. It only took thirty years, but the country that boasts of its multiculturalism has finally learned its lesson of acceptance.
– Guest post by Karamveer “Bablu” Hundal from Canada