Saga Sisterhood is a transformative performance project for women from communities who identify as South Asian that come from non-performer backgrounds but all have something to say. These stories come from Saga Sisterhood Part II and were generously made possible by the Alexandra & Lloyd Family Foundation (ALMFF).
Rekha Rajinder Sekhon has many names and many lineages. Descending from Kenya and India, Rekha shares her story of how through love, family and migration, she discovered how to make sense of all the disparate parts of her identity into one whole being.
Listen to a recording of Rekha’s story or read a transcript below.
Copyright © 2023 Rekha Sekhon
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was originally published on 8 December 2023.
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REKHA: So my name is Rekha Rajinder Sekhon. I was born on 20th April in Tororo, Uganda, and my grandfather gave me my first score, my first blessing. If I look at you, he gave me my first blessing, which was Gour. And my grandparents, my paternal grandparents, came from Thomson Falls in Kenya to come and visit me and bless me and welcome me to the family <laugh>. So when I was born, there was great rejoice, I’m crying, but there was great rejoice. <laugh>.
I had broken the spell in my family for generations and generations, the firstborn being a son, his wife would pass away early. And there I was a girl born and everybody rejoiced because of that. So my grandparents, my grandparents migrated from Gura. Separately, one settled in Kenya, that’s my father’s side. And my mother’s side settled in Uganda and, and they came and traded and set up trading posts in their respective countries and brought more and more of their families as they came across. My mother named me Rekha, which meant a dot or a lion.
My husband calls it heart, the Rekha, which is his future or destiny. In the Raman, it is called [inaudible words], which is a boundary or a line. My sister calls it a journey or a path. So as we grew up, I remember the day when I was running around and many children, I was running around with my sisters and many people came to our house and I kept going in with them and going out with them and playing around. I was wearing my shorts, being a tomboy that I was. And just as they did, they gave jal and tulsi to my mother’s lips. Time went by and we realized that we had lost. We had lost a lot. My father sent my sister and me to boarding school and I, being the eldest, had to look after my sister. We were little, probably the littlest there. In time, I remember traveling back to Uganda to and fro with my sisters and running around. I’m always running around. And my grandmother, my nanny bar, used to paste, put [inaudible words] paste on my face to make me whiter and lighter.
She tried <laugh>. My mamas used to call me Cali because I was very dark in complexion like my father’s side. And my sister was called Hordy because she was very fair like them. Time.. grew went by and I remember a night in Uganda when we were visiting and we were all under the beds, very quiet with just a candlelight. There was loud knocking on the door. It has been curfew time in Uganda. The military had taken over and these were very dangerous times for Asians and Indians. The next I found was that I was back safely in Kenya and my maternal family with all the other Indians and Asians had been expelled and became refugees, most of whom, who went to England and to India. Time went by and I remember a day, 1st of August, <laugh> from the corner of my eye, <laugh>. I saw a very handsome man and he was taking a photograph of me and I turned away because he was a Sikh and I was a Hindu and Sikhs had a reputation. <laugh>. A few days later he came and gatecrashed a party, an [inaudible words] party that we had at home with the same friend as whose party we had attended. And at the end of it, after all the guests had gone, he presented me with a rose. He was very charming.
After having a soft ice cream at snow cream, if any of you know, he walked me back and invited me for lunch one day. And I in turn, boldly challenged him to come to my home, which is where I go for lunch every day. He agreed. And so we went and surprised my parents, <laugh> after a very nice meal, him very good etiquette, charming manners, and dazzling smile. I fell in love with him. I with my jogging, my tennis, my badminton, my squash. He would follow me there and me. I would listen to his poetry, love songs and soap operas, and then one day my grandfather came and scolded my father that do something. Look after your daughter. What is everybody talking about? You know? And so the next time when he came to collect me to play squash, my father took him for a walk in the garden, and asked him, what is your intention? And he said, I’m going to marry Rekha. Boom, boom, boom. <laugh> [inaudible words]
My heart was pounding. And at that stage, I think his side of the family did not know about me. So there were many challenges, many, many challenges that came. And after they saw that we were not going to be separated <laugh>, we were glued <laugh>. They gave in. My father-in-law named me Rajinder. And what a blessing it was. Beautiful name. So a week before our wedding date, which had been set, I was taken to the [inaudible words]. And when I came out, I said, yes, I can grow my hair, I can speak in [inaudible words], I can wear Punjabi suits. Why not? I was in love. I could do it all. So we got married. We got married at the convent school, something different from where we are where my father said both communities can come out to space. And so we had close to a thousand people attend our wedding and we converted the assembly hall into a little guara with the grand side. Time went on, people sang songs. I forget the song, <laugh>. [inaudible words] And so we settled down with our ups and downs there. And I had my two blessings, <laugh>, my son [inaudible words] and my daughter [inaudible words].
The challenges were still yet to come. Everybody called me Rekha there. Everybody knew me as Rekha. So it was all fine. About 15 years later, we came to Australia and I thought it was going to be easy, very easy. After Africa traveling the world, what is Australia? As soon as we landed in Australia, people started to call me Rajinder. And they changed the name to Raj, Inder, Jinder, Rina, Rita, Rika, Melinda are following my car number plates. At first it was funny, but after a while it stopped being funny. I started to ask myself, who is Rajinder and where is Rekha? And so my first job at the contact centre, my first call was somebody who said, can I speak to somebody who speaks in English? At first, I laughed and I said English, I speak the Queen’s English <laugh>. And I asked my my team, is there anybody here who speaks better English than me?
After I told him, nobody speaks better English than me. I helped him. But when I went home, it was upsetting. It was quite upsetting. There was still more challenges to come. In Kenya, they had upgraded the ID card. And so every time I went back home, outstanding queues. And having done the paperwork, produced paperwork to change the only document that had my name Rekha into Rajinder, all the paperwork was there. But every time I went, they called me back. They declined it. They wouldn’t accept it. And so it was quite frustratingly painful. So year after year we went. And then one day I was called into the government office and there I was made to, made a seated down by a very kind spiritual man. And he explained to me that he cannot remove the name Rekha from my ID. And that is because it was connected to my roots, to my mother. And I cried. I did cry, but he did say that he can add Rajinder to my name. But after Rekha, so I got my name, Rekha Rajinder, R squared.
So my learning from all of this is that what is yours can never be lost. It’ll always find its way back to you. And I thank myself for being on this pathway and journey and to all of you for listening to my story and to my family, for my diverse cultures, my diverse languages, and my wonderful children.