Real Dreams – A Family Story

In honor of the New Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley
My parents came to North America with eight dollars in their pocket and a work ethic that most Indians are known for. This trait would be become one of several foundations of success for the Randhawa children.
– Work hard and do what you love; what you have passion for.
– Always do the absolute best that you can, with integrity and focus.
– Look to serve something greater than yourself.
– Always reach a little higher/farther than you think you are capable and you will attain it.
– You are not the one doing things, there is always a stronger force with you. Keep your faith strong.
Is it written somewhere? Fate, destiny, in the stars? Is it co-creation with a greater Source? Do the contracts we make with our chosen family of souls create the amazing tapestry of adventure, aspiration, valleys and mountains. In the end, is the true meaning of life dependent on just one question, ‘How may I serve?’
I can only speak from my personal experience but I would venture to guess my siblings are not much different in what we gleaned from our parents. Mom exhibited a strong willed and powerful, determined nature. She is the reason we have the drive, tenacity and stamina to move toward our dreams. Dad exhibited a silent, calm strength, one steeped in a deep spirituality and intense faith. He showed us how to appreciate the beauty of life and all experiences as part of a magnificent tapestry. Our core strengths and hearts are of him. In the end, those subtle messages were what shaped all of us.
My parents came to North America on a very practical matter. A foreign degree would avail my father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, with a first class job as opposed to a second class one. He received a scholarship to University of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada. While completing his education, my mother, Raj Randhawa, several months pregnant with me, worked. Beginning early in the morning until 7 AM, she would have a shift at the post office sorting mail. Next, she would care for two children until the late afternoon, one of which was handi-capped. After preparing the dinner meal, she would work at a local department store in the children’s area. After closing, Mom went to the college dormitories to sell Avon and pick up term papers she would type up during the night.
Life was this way for a few years with an intention to return to India. However, the call of an old friend and an open position at a college in South Carolina became an invitation to explore the U.S. for one year. This was the plan, but it was not in their stars. Circumstance or destiny…one in the same and all Divine.
Upon moving to SC, my maternal grandmother collapsed in India and was unable to be treated. She was flown here immediately and through the kind assistance of a local physician, Dr. Michael C. Watson, was able to attain some help. She lived for another year and a half. My elder brother, Mitti, was growing up as was I. My sister, Nikki and younger brother Gogi would be born in Bamberg, SC.
There was no reason to return to India as we got older. As children we had become accustomed to the language and society of the US. As years passed it was harder and harder to retain the language of our parents. Life became too busy. In addition, being one of the few Sikh families at the time, it was challenging to hold on to the culture, yet some parts were ingrained in us.
My Dad continued at Voorhees College becoming Chairman of the Department. My mother received a degree in education and taught in the public schools. Memories are many, some because of the beautiful gifts they were and others because of the disguised blessings they became. We encountered prejudice but also the kindness, compassion and openness of many. One distinct memory for me was initially having to move several times.
My parents were trying to rent a home in Bamberg and the same physician so kindly tried to help.  He found a wonderful small home and we moved in. That night he returned to take back the keys as the owners did not want an Indian family renting their home. He found us a second home and we moved. The next night he was back. Once again we were being evicted because of our brown skin. He finally found a third home for us. It was owned by the mill. We would be allowed to live there on three conditions: 1- We had to buy the house and sell it back to the mill when we moved., 2 – We were not allowed to have any alcohol on the premises. 3 – We were not allowed to have people of color at our home. We moved in that evening.
The beauty pageant story was also of significant impact. Both Nikki and I were in Little Miss Bamberg. However, unbeknownst to our parents, only a black and white queen were selected. We were neither. Just before intermission, Nikki and I were called up on stage, thanked for participating, told we were being disqualified and given crayons and a coloring book as the music began to play.
Ironically, Nikki was scheduled to sing during intermission. I always thought it was interesting that the song she sang was ‘This Land is Your Land, This Land is Mine.’ We each did something different with that experience. I went further into my shell, really feeling my difference within society. Nikki anchored more strongly in her right to be a part of this country. She believed the song she was singing despite the appearances. Interestingly enough, it was not until 9/11 that I integrated my ‘Indian-ness’ and my ‘American-ness’ and truly felt part of this American Society. It was then that I felt deep in my core that these were ‘my people’ that were hurt and killed in the bombings.
Regardless of the situations and circumstances we experienced by being Indians in the South, they were the things that molded us into who we are. I would say there was an equal balance of what we experienced and certainly no different than what most people face anyway. We can focus on the fact that were were of a different race and culture, but even those within their own culture and race face the same obstacles, regardless of the country. The stories we each have simply make the movie more interesting.
Our parents worked hard because they wanted to provide for us. They saw within the society around them, families with antiques, heirlooms, and generations of things to pass on. India was very far away but the will of two young people was enough. Mom began a business of importing to maintain a connection to India. As a social studies teacher and a business owner, she desired to educate and expose people to the greater world that existed. We grew up with a great appreciation for all cultures, countries and religions. Even within the community, she began festivals that allowed for education and exposure of International cultures…all in the small sleepy town of 3500 people.
The progressiveness of our parents is to be applauded. In traditional India culture, where many were being raised with the stipulation to be doctors, lawyers and engineers, our parents gave us the power of choice. They told us to do whatever we desired but put 150% into it. They never limited us or fought our decisions. It is why we are all so unique and passionate.
As a family, we were tight knit. Being one of the only Indian families in the area, it was only natural to be close to one another. My eldest brother, Mitti, had a wonderful ability with people. Everyone loved him. His generous nature and smiling outgoing personality endeared him to many, particularly those at the nursing home where he would work after school. He would later go into the army attaining wonderful rankings and eventually serving in the Gulf War. Mitti has always been a strong voice of patriotism, taking great pride in the beauty and opportunities of living in the US. His gentleness, compassion, commitment and sincerity earned him medals and rankings. He now is in an executive leadership position with Johnson & Johnson.
I would go into the business, Exotica international. I began helping within the business at age 4. I had always been more of an introvert, so the security of being within a structure felt good.  I was attracted to the beauty of fabrics and texture. Working one on one with people was my comfort zone. The business shaped who I would become. It allowed me to discover the psychology of people and the depths of myself. I went on to blend that world with the spiritual world. I began publishing 11:11 Magazine ( ) which also has become a syndicated 11:11 Talk Radio show on Voice America Network, under the umbrella of a healing center,
Nikki too would work within the business. She began at age 12, working in the business office handling the books. It was natural for her and she was a quick study. Always a jovial and happy person, Nikki was mesmerized by numbers and business. She was more of the social butterfly, always surrounded by many friends and creating fun for the family. After graduating Clemson University and working a stint at FCR, Inc., she returned to become CFO of Exotica International. I remember her saying, from the time she was ten years old, that she would be the Mayor of Bamberg. It is of no surprise that she has become the Governor of SC. And it will be no surprise to watch her take that even farther.
The youngest, Charan ‘Gogi’ was more introspective and incredibly gifted artistically. He is probably the smartest and most talented of all of us. From the beginning his creative gifts were expressed through music. He also became a Web developer, producing amazing websites and now commercials and video production. His company is and I am always inspired by the beauty and authenticity with which he expresses.
As children we would spend many hours together, often playing Monopoly, The Game of Life and cards. Our favorite television shows began as Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch and became The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Nikki and I would build houses out of straw in the back yard and make Gogi be a part of it. Mitti always joked and tickled, especially bringing out ‘the claw’ that everyone would run from so not to be endlessly tickled into fits of crying laughter. It was a simple childhood where our times together, mixed with hard work began creating the set up for future lives and careers. Although we were 4 to 5 years apart, there was a special closeness. A deep undertone of connection always remained present no matter how distant we may become.
Although this story gives an overview of our family, this moment belongs to Nikki. She has attained an amazing achievement. The lucky ones however are the citizens of SC, the young people that have had glass ceilings broken for them, and girls who are now able to see a new example of power and leadership with grace and poise.
Nikki has broken a lot of barriers for people being the first Indian female Governor, the first non-white and female Governor of SC, and the youngest Governor of SC. Although these are her wins, these are everyone’s wins. I know my sister and she has the tenacity, strength and intellect to make a big difference in every office she holds…and she is not done yet! I am sure we will see continued powerful expression from my little sis. We are all extremely proud of her, Michael, Rena and Nalin.