My Own Horatio Alger Story: A Grateful Immigrant’s Journey From a Village in Punjab to America the Beautiful
- Writing my recently published memoir, “The Power of an Atlas; An Immigrant’s Tale,” has been a cathartic and strangely satisfying exercise.
The idea of writing the memoir (“The Power of an Atlas; An Immigrant’s Tale”) first took hold when I visited my older brother, Ranbir, in 2014. I learned that he was getting treatment for blood cancer. I knew the disease was deadly. The only unknown was how long he had left on earth.
Memories of growing up with him in the village came flooding back. My late dad started inhabiting my dreams. Here I was, retired from a successful career in corporate America. Our two children were grown. My wife Rosemary and I had three beautiful grandchildren. What did they, or would they ever, know of my origins?
More importantly, I needed to develop the moral arc of my story to make it compelling. How would anyone know what inspired me to come to America? How did I, as a non-white immigrant in an essentially white country, not only deal with the challenges but manage to thrive?
There too, was my own Horatio Alger story, of starting out very poor in a remote little village in India and achieving considerable success professionally and personally. Perhaps native-born Americans, too, would relate to it.
The idea germinated and I started sorting out my thoughts. When my brother passed in 2018, grief was a powerful agent in giving me a strong push. As I started writing, I tried to capture the essence of my life – warts and all. My fear was the likely pain from reliving old wounds and revisiting difficult memories.
Happily, that didn’t happen. I found the exercise to be cathartic and strangely satisfying. I developed fresh insights into myself and the past. The memoir turned out to be a tool for personal growth and self-reflection.
Perhaps the book’s epilog best summarizes the memoir. I was careful to not compulsively focus on the past. My story is also an essential part of the turmoil that my chosen home, America, is currently roiled in. On a bad day, the very survival of our democracy doesn’t seem to be a sure thing.
I was badly shaken by America’s Trump episode. The epilog quotes H. L. Mencken in one of his dark moments way back in 1920, “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
It took ninety-six years for the prophecy to come true, with one twist, this moron was intensely evil, utterly lacking in any concern for our democracy. But I end on a decidedly positive note.
It is important to remember our strengths. America has truly been ‘the city on the hill.’ The nation has found its way in the past crises. We shall do so again.
Why am I so sure? Because our nation lives by the Bill of Rights, a clarion call for liberty. It serves as a beacon of light when we lose our way, as we did in practicing slavery, waging wars in Vietnam and Iraq and most recently, following the seductive siren of a con man.
Lest we should forget, the nation also derives its strength from its immigrants and the very idea that America is a nation of immigrants.
Immigrants have an unbridled spirit. Their stories evoke optimism, belief in the future, the sharing of disparate pasts, and coming together, something we rarely see in most other countries in the world. Jimmy Carter called America a beautiful mosaic of so many nationalities.
Immigrants renew the American spirit. My own life story is a tribute to America’s immigration saga. I am deeply grateful to America for offering me, a poor young man from India, an opportunity, based solely on my educational performance in India. I hope I have repaid that debt many times over.
I am bereft of the sense of cynicism that tends to accumulate through generations. I and my fellow immigrants retain the idealistic spirit that our country was built on. We see what the nation is capable of achieving if we put our shoulders together.
This is my country, no less than that of the fellow whose ancestors came here on The Mayflower. My face, and those of my children and grandchildren, comprise that mosaic that Carter celebrated. The dream inspired by that atlas, which Bauji presented me with such a long time ago, has come to fruition in full.
“The Power of an Atlas; An Immigrant’s Tale” by Sardul Singh Minhas is available on Amazon.
Sardul Singh Minhas was born into a family of farmers and soldiers in Punjab, India. At age 11 he was inspired by an atlas to one day live in America. As a boy, he drove tractors and tended to cattle. He was home-schooled till the age of 13. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in India and a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame, in chemical engineering. His career has spanned multinational companies in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. His last position was vice president of global physical product development, where he ran technical centers in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Poland and oversaw a workforce of over a hundred engineers and scientists. Since his retirement in 2010, he has published 14 opinion pieces on subjects such as Einstein, global warming, nuclear power, innovation, gun control, gerrymandering, the electoral college and the pace of change in India. He lives in Anaheim Hills, California with his wife, Rosemary.