Krishna Rani Virdi was born on October 14, 1934 in a small railway town in Kharagpur, West Bengal, to parents Haim Singh and Kirpal Kaur. She grew up alongside one brother in India, Gurbachan Singh. Prior to marriage she did not hold a last name and neither did her parents.
Krishna had a unique childhood due to her father’s work in the railways. He used to transfer to different stations and decided to place Krishna in a boarding school to enable her to stay in one spot. Furthermore, from a health perspective, the climate of Kharagpur did not suit her because it was a humid climate which was poor for her health. As a result, she headed over to Jaipur, Rajasthan where she attended a girl’s boarding school in Pilani, Rajasthan. Through her schooling she became fluent in both English and Hindi.
Krishna used to go back and visit her family in the holidays. Due to her father’s job in the railways, she was able to receive first class passes to go back home. In high school, she completed her First Year Science (FSc). Upon completion, she decided that she wanted to enter the medical stream to become a physician. In those days there was only one medical college, Lady Harding Medical College, which was exclusively for girls. As such, she studied and passed the all-over-India examination, and was invited for an interview. Unfortunately, due to her application being from a different province, she did not receive admission to the medical college.However, Krishna’s father was very resourceful. He went to the Member of Parliament (MP), Amrit Kaur, who advised Krishna to start a home science (also known as home economics) program at Lady Irving College in Delhi. Krishna started her degree in 1957.
Krishna stayed in the residence at Lady Irving College to complete her home sciences degree. She took classes at Delhi University and completed her practicum in the public schools until she graduated and became a qualified teacher with a BSc and BEd in 1959. Krishna’s father was very supportive of her. He was passionate about education and was proud of Krishna when she completed her schooling. This was rare at that time.
Krishna’s thiya ji (dad’s elder brother) and her husband’s dad were close friends and that is how she met her husband. Krishna was married to Harbhajan Singh in 1959 upon the completion of her degree. Her husband was very intelligent and was an architecture student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, a very prestigious, world-renowned institute – a first of its kind in India.
Upon her marriage she moved into the staff residences at IIT Kharagpur. About two years after her father-in-law was transferred to Kharagpur. As a result, the family wanted to move in together as was considered to be part of the customs. Krishna recalls that she did not even question it at the time; furthermore, she was pregnant, and felt that her in-laws would be able to help her with the newborn.
Krishna and Harbhajan Singh gave up their housing and moved in with the family. Her younger sister-in-law was only in the third grade at the time and Krishna took her to the railway school in Kharagpur which was the only school there at the time. Upon arriving, Krishna found her old headmistress. They caught up with each other and by complete coincidence, the headmistress told Krishna that they were looking for a teacher with her exact qualifications. Krishna went and discussed it with her family, who agreed, and she started working there the very next day.
Krishna continued to teach at the Railway Higher Secondary School for Girls for approximately a decade. After her father-in-law was transferred to a port in the south of India, Krishna, Harbhajan Singh, and their first daughter moved back to their original house at IIT Kharagpur. She had another child born on the IIT campus. Krishna continued teaching at the Railway School and hired a nanny to look after her two daughters. While at IIT, they bought their first vehicle, which was a Renault. She remembers admiring the fact that they owned a car. At this point, Krishna had yet to get her driver’s license. Her husband finished his master’s degree and became a professor at IIT Kharagpur after pursuing further studies in Liverpool, England. Krishna recalls that they were well-settled and comfortable in India. Her husband was offered a job in Ghana, Africa, because they required an architect. He debated whether or not he should go. Meanwhile, Kitimat, British Columbia was an ‘up and coming town,’ located close to Prince Rupert and Terrace. However, many planners were not willing to go up north to help with the planning of Kitimat. One of Harbhajan Singh’s classmates had already moved to Kitimat and told the head of the IIT department about this job opportunity. Harbhajan Singh saw this special opportunity and decided to take it without consulting Krishna who was still working as a teacher. At the time, Krishna did not know too much about Canada. Harbhajan Singh wanted to use this opportunity to further develop his skills. The two of them believed that they would come back from Canada so they took leaves of absence from their respective jobs. They decided to move to Kitimat, BC arriving in August 2, 1969. Krishna recalls that Kitimat was ‘nothing but snow’ prior to its development. The main grocery store was Shop Easy and there was one school. After two large companies were brought to the town, development began to occur.
The duo and their two children headed over to Kitimat on a minister’s permit. The country even provided housing for free, which Krishna is very thankful for. She feels as though everything was provided ‘on a silver platter.’ They were picked up at the airport by one of Harbhajan Singh’s IIT students, Gurdarshan Matharoo, who moved to Vancouver to do his master’s at UBC after receiving a recommendation from Harbhajan Singh. Then, they took a small plane up to Kitimat. It was here that she decided she needed a driver’s license and she obtained it.
Even still, Krishna did not settle well to this new land. She recalls that she used to frequently cry and ponder over when they would return to India. She no longer wore sarees because it was too cold to wear them. She also didn’t want to stand out from others. Harbhajan Singh was the only turbaned man in the community at the time and in the province as a planner. For two years, he kept his turban. After he left Kitimat and went to Vancouver, he no longer wore it. Krishna notes that this allowed him to further his career opportunities. Although Harbhajan Singh continued to believe in Sikhism and do his prayers they found that cutting the hair was necessary to survive in this new land. She believes that nowadays people are more accepting because of the increased population.
Although Krishna was not excited about her move to Canada her children were excited to move to this new land. There were only five other families from India residing in Kitimat and so they used to get together on the weekends and reminisce over Indian customs and traditions. This small community atmosphere helped Krishna to settle in a bit better and they became her family away from home.
During this time Krishna did not work. She stayed at home and felt as though her life was placed on hold. Back in India she was always teaching and going out and meeting people; however, in Canada she felt stuck in the apartment. She always thought about returning home to India. She was particularly also worried about her younger daughter at the time who was quiet in school. She persevered for two years and then they were offered a chance to stay in Canada by the government, an offer they accepted.
They decided to move to Vancouver where Harbhajan Singh tried to work with the city as a junior planner, but he was not offered a role appropriate to his qualification level. He felt that his appearance may have been a hindrance in obtaining jobs relevant to his field which included a public-speaking portion that revolved around presenting plans to the public. It was at this time he became clean-shaven. This time was very uncertain and stressful for the family.
One of the families in Kitimat suggested that Krishna apply for her teaching certificate here. She learned that her education recognition would need to be completed by the Vancouver School Board in BC. But first, to get to Vancouver from Kitimat, they decided to drive as they wanted to see the country as well. She was given an interim certificate to find herself a job. Krishna gained some experience in the school system because she used to go and take her daughters to school and help the teachers out. She went to Canada Manpower, an employment services company where she was advised about jobs – however, all of the jobs required strong typing skills. Krishna realized that typing was not her strong point. During this time period, she found a job running after school programmes called Latchkey. During the day they would think of activities to do with the children.
While Krishna loved her newfound job, her husband was still searching. There was a senior position open in Kamloops where he went to go interview. Unfortunately, he got into a very bad accident on the drive there. A trailer hit the rear end of his small car, causing him to fall down in a ditch. He was taken to the Ashcroft Hospital for a check-up. Throughout this he remained resilient and took a taxi from Ashcroft to Kamloops, staying in a motel nearby. During this incident, Krishna had no idea what happened, but Harbhajan and their friends in Kamloops reassured her that he was okay.The next day, her husband went for the interview, where the director said ‘Gee, you’re pretty bashed up.’ He had cuts all over but since he was highly qualified for the job he was immediately offered the position. He took the bus back home to the Lower Mainland.
The family moved to Kamloops in 1972. Krishna had to give up her Latchkey job which was quite sad. This job had given her a lot of insight into the school system and into kids and how they behave. She recalls finding this difficult at the time as children raised in Canada tended to behave differently than children raised in India. For example, in Canada, children would question things whereas in India the teacher’s word was final.
In Kamloops they settled down and bought a house. After they moved into the house her daughters started going to school. She got a job as a substitute teacher (also known as teacher-on-call) and then she was offered a full-time teaching job in May, 1973 in an elementary school. Her third daughter was also born in Kamloops after Krishna had worked for two years. At this time, her aging parents came to live with her to Canada. She and her husband also sponsored her brother-in-law and his family to immigrate to Canada.
After working as a teacher in Kamloops School District for 24 years she decided to take an early retirement in 1996. Krishna still loved her early days of teaching home economics so she taught Indian Cooking classes at the University College of the Cariboo (now TRU) for four years post-retirement. Her husband, Harbhajan Singh, passed away in 2000. By this time, Krishna’s children had either gotten married or were employed and busy in their own lives and she was all alone. During this time, Krishna was very depressed and it was a difficult time, further amplified by her mother’s passing in 1994 due to cancer. Her dad also went back to India in 2001. Extended family looked after him until he passed away in India. Krishna decided to move closer to her daughters in the lower mainland.
Currently, it is Krishna’s fiftieth year in Canada. She has resided in Maple Ridge since 2003 and initially lived with her second daughter, Awneet, to help raise her grandchildren. She moved into her own house to be independent and build a new life away from her many years in Kamloops. It was a difficult transition but she has now established a very full and enjoyable social network with friends and family in the lower mainland. She does her own online banking, drives all over, and has an active social life of temples, movies, and tea parties. She enjoys quilting, cake decorating, and sewing and using her creativity throughout this. As well as this she enjoys attending musicals and concerts with a few of her friends.
She hopes to send the message to the youth the importance of being happy. She feels that first you need to be happy inside of you and accept yourself before others will accept you. It is important to keep an open mind and accept people as human beings. She feels that societal aspects such as inter-caste marriages and increased interactions between cultures are all possible for a better world.