Rahul Handa CA: ‘My parents came to the UK with nothing but their education’
As we mark South Asian Heritage Month, Rahul Handa CA joins our Championing Unique Perspectives series to tell us what his heritage means to him, how it has influenced his life and career and how views on diversity differ from the UK to the US.
Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Head of Commercial and Vice President of Finance for a national business. I also sit on ICAS Members Board. I live in a nice little suburb called Hinsdale, just outside Chicago, which is close to where McDonald's used to be headquartered. I've been in the area for about 12 years. I wasn't planning to be out here for so long, but time just flies passed.
What’s your connection to South Asia?
My parents are from India originally and moved to the UK before I was born.
What was life like for you growing up?
My parents, both of whom are doctors, came to the UK with nothing but their education. That's probably why they invested in sending my brother and I to the High School of Glasgow. We had a good comfortable lifestyle, but it wasn't luxurious. We rarely went on foreign holidays and didn’t eat out much, but it was fun and we definitely never felt like we needed or wanted for anything. I can tell now, being a parent myself and having all the related expenses, that my parents must have put a lot of effort into making sure they sent us to get well educated at the cost of other things.
As a boy in Glasgow, were you particularly aware of your South Asian heritage?
Yes and no. I never really talked about it with friends at school or even felt that different. Maybe part of that was a subconscious effort to fit in. I think the ethos of us as kids was very much, ‘when in Rome do as Romans do’, and there wasn't really that much diversity when I was at school. The High School of Glasgow was great, I just don't remember many other South Asian kids.
Day to day, it's not something that was necessarily overtly considered but there were aspects of it, for example, the food and the importance of family, education and cultural aspects that you might typically associate, such as hard work, giving back, doing the right thing and being respectful.
So, I wouldn’t say it was that much of a diverse background. I think if things were reversed and we started again as of today, we’d probably recognise that it's good to celebrate and get immersed in all aspects of your culture and heritage.
Has your perception of your family heritage altered over the years?
I feel it’s now much more a part of my identity and one that I’m actively trying to associate with more. I've definitely got more interested in it as time goes on and I’ve got a two-year-old son, Nathan, now and I want to make sure it's part of his culture as well going forward. Because I'm not necessarily expert on it, I do find myself tapping into my parents a little bit more in terms of just wanting to find out more from them, ‘what is this celebration for, what's that celebration for?’ So I can then explain it myself and so I can pass on to Nathan as well.
So having a child of your own has enhanced your perception?
Yeah, I think so. Nathan loves visiting family in Scotland, has already been about three times and he definitely has an inkling of both his Scottish and Indian heritage. When we were in Scotland a few months back we were on the Royal Mile and he wanted a kilt, so we got him a kilt. He was really excited about that, and then right afterwards he said he wanted to get some Indian food from ‘Gum’s’ house, which is what he calls my mum instead of grandma. So, I think he's getting the best blend of all cultures.
And then my wife is half Chinese, so I feel like Nathan’s going to be a little bit like the United Nations.
And I'm trying to put a lot more emphasis on it, trying to show more interest, and I feel like I’ve got a duty, one which I'm excited for, to pass on some of those aspects to him.
...when you come from a country which had as much poverty as India did back then, I think you appreciate things a little bit more.
When you were growing up, did you have any South Asian role models?
I think my parents and their friends in the community were all great role models. They were generally polite, studious, ambitious, they worked hard. Most of them came to the country with nothing and so they all became successful through hard work and just living respectfully and doing the right thing. I would say that when you come from a country – I mean, this is just a supposition – but when you come from a country like India, which had as much poverty as India did back then, I think you appreciate things a little bit more. And a lot of that definitely rubbed off on us as children of immigrants. You got that sense of the need to work hard and the need to be grateful for what you've got and not take things for granted.
Did your parents want you follow in their footsteps and study medicine?
Well, actually, not only were both my parents doctors but also at least one of my grandparents on each side was a doctor as well. And on my dad’s side, he was a very well-known doctor in the local community. He never used to turn a patient away, whether they had money or not, used to look after all the poor people.
But it wasn't like a big push to do medicine. There was more like a gentle encouragement to think about medicine as a career, but at that stage I found business very interesting. My parents and I just wanted to ensure that I at least had a professional qualification and so that led me to the CA, and I think they just kind of happily accepted that.
Thinking of the acceptance of cultural identities, have you noticed a difference between the UK and the US?
I would say that in the UK diversity is becoming normalised a lot more, rather than being something that’s not talked about, and so I think the UK is definitely a little bit ahead. For example, until recently, the UK Government even had a Chancellor who has South Asian heritage, but I don't think you really see that much in the US yet. I think there's a lot more to be done but I feel it's trending that way. It's just a little bit, maybe 10 years, behind the UK.
There's definitely more and more discussion everywhere, even here in the States, about accepting diversity and allowing people to be their authentic selves.
Finally, in a sentence, what does your South Asian Heritage mean to you?
It means the importance of family, respect, education, hard work, giving back, doing the right and honourable thing, community service, big get-togethers with friends and great food…all mixed together.
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