Uma Parameswaran


As Interviewed by Keshav Srinivasan, March 15, 2017

Uma Parameswaran: In Her Own Words

I was born in Chennai, in South India, at my grandfatherís house. I grew up in central India where my father was a Professor of Physics. I had three older brothers and a younger brother, as also an older sister. We lived in the college campus which was a place of great natural beauty with a lake where we used to row boats and tennis courts where we used to play. Now, having a father who was a teacher, we developed good study habits and did very well at our schools. In those days, girls were married off early, and even girls who went for college education were usually married by the time they completed their Bachelor of Arts degree. However, in our family, higher education was a priority, and my sister and I were encouraged to go on to graduate studies and, like our brothers, both of us got our Masterís degrees.

My mother was a trailblazer, and she always said that since we had a good education we should make use of it and take up jobs. So both my sister and I taught English literature at the college level. I got a Fulbright Scholarship. By then I had two brothers and a sister who had all gone on scholarships to the United States. The United States was indeed a distant land in those days. We traveled by ship, letters took three or four weeks to reach, and my parents did not have a telephone at home. Indeed, phoning across the world was very expensive, and connections were not easy to get and phone calls were made only in cases of emergency, so we had to wait three or four weeks between our letters. Most importantly, it was uncommon in those days for young women to travel abroad on their own. But my parents, especially my mother, encouraged us to take up the scholarship even if it meant traveling all by oneself to a distant land. So I came to Indiana University to study American Literature. When registering for courses, I saw that Creative Writing courses were an option and since I was always interested in writing stories, I took the courses.

My husband had several job offers when he was applying in 1966. He narrowed it down to Edmonton and Winnipeg. Now, we knew Canada had a very cold climate. We looked at the map and since Winnipeg was farther south than Edmonton, we figured it would be warmer! I got a job as a lecturer next year. Those who came later usually wore office attire to keep in step with everyone else, but I wore a sari to work from Day One to my retirement.

The other big thing that I did that I am really happy about is that I started producing a television show called PALI, an acronym for Performing Arts and Literatures of India. On this television show, I had guests who were either touring musicians and dancers from India or local professionals who were doing well in their jobs and who spoke about their specializations. The aim of this show was to make Indo-Canadians stand tall, proud of their achievements in the new land. I am glad to say that is the effect my show had on younger Canadians, to make them proud of their Indian culture.