Malkit Parhar accomplished great many things in his life, but the theme that ran through all of them was a passion for helping people. He followed that passion down many paths, including running a travel agency, taxi company, import business for hard-to-find Indian gift items, sponsoring wrestlers from India (starting a local Indian wrestling tradition that continues to this day), operating a grocery store near the Burrard Street Gurdwara, and, perhaps his best-known, newspaper and radio journalism. Although he did not achieve huge success in these ventures (other than radio), he blazed a trail for other South Asians following him, who did achieve greater success.
One of the earliest South Asians to get involved in media in BC, Parhar considered it his service to the community. He got his first job in radio in 1961, at a station based in Bellingham, Wash., which became quite popular and was even syndicated to several other American stations. The Punjabi-language programs featured both music and public affairs content, and he displayed a particular interest in political and social issues of concern to the South Asian community.
Parhar became quite well-known and loved in the community, referred to by many as ‘Vada Bhai’ (elder brother). People approached him for help with such matters as immigration, sponsoring families (tellingly, he befriended many immigration officers), even settling disputes. His daughter, Manjy, recalls that he was frequently on the phone giving advice to women in abusive relationships. His generosity and big heart, combined with his ability to network and make important connections, drew people to him for assistance or advice.
In one notable instance, a community health organization asked Parhar to help educate Indian women about the importance of breast exams, to check for signs of cancer. It was a taboo topic at the time within the Indian community, which resulted in little awareness. Though his wife advised caution, he was unfazed. He considered the issue of greater importance than any taboos or embarrassment that might prevent its discussion. “[Dad] was a bit of an activist,” says Manjy. “But, he did it. He did it in his own way.”
Certainly it would have been easier for him to ignore the request, but that was not the path Malkit Parhar traveled.
Malkit Parhar was born in the village Karnana, in India, to Mr Wariam Singh and Mrs Ishar Kaur. He came to Canada at the age of 3 in 1927, with his mother and brother, joining his father who had been in the country since 1906. He passed away in August 2006. He has 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.