By far, the most treasured items in the Manak household on Gibbons Road in Duncan, B.C., were the twin portraits of Gandhi and Nehru hanging in the living room. Rajinder Kaur Manak frequently looked to those photos, to the greatness of these men of her former country, for courage and conviction as she confidently advocated for social justice with the many politicians and community leaders who visited her home. She was pleased that the two titans of the world’s largest democracy oversaw the many spirited political discussions she and her husband, Karm Singh Manak, had in that living room.
And, Manak was certainly not shy about sharing her views and feelings during these discussions. The Manaks had counted many influential political leaders as their friends, including former NDP leader Tommy Douglas who often came for dinner, enjoying her curry chicken.
Immigration was the issue closest to her heart. She longed to have her parents and siblings join her in Canada, from whom she’d been separated for 12 years. And, as her children grew, she wanted them to know their grandparents and extended family in the way that she and most Punjabis had growing up.
Manak’s young life was a picture of determination and perseverance: pregnant and not speaking a word of English, she’d sailed to Canada with her husband who was just 17. Though uneducated, she was quite well-read. Many of her ideas about the world were formed through reading translated Western literature, Dostoyevsky among her favourites. As an adult, she kept well-informed about news and politics. This knowledge gave her the confidence to advocate to Douglas and many others about immigration laws, which eventually changed, allowing her family to join her.
Throughout her life, Manak continued to find purpose and inspiration in the treasured portraits while they hung in the Duncan home for 40 years, where she herself continued to live for nearly her entire life, even after her husband died in 2000. When their children moved to other cities, one of her sons asked her to move to Vancouver to live with him, but she was attached to Duncan. When she neared her final days, one of her biggest concerns was the fate of the portraits after she was gone. They’re now hanging safely in her son Amrit’s North Vancouver home, still providing inspiration to the Manak family.