By Surbhi Gogia
Eight O’clock in the morning is that time of the day when every individual is completely lost in his or her own life. It is the rush hour when everyone is struggling to reach work place on time and juggling between 1000s of personal duties and goals. Love it or hate it — at this time one voice puts a halt to this morning craziness, it wakes individuals especially the South Asian community of the Lower Mainland from their morning blues. It is the voice that shakes their souls hard enough to remind about performing bigger duties towards their community. Yes it is the voice of Harjinder Thind. The host of famous Morning Show of Red FM radio that runs on weekdays from 8 AM to 11 AM in the morning .
Thind’s voice is the early morning dose for many South Asians who want to stay updated about the national, international and community’s news. Along with news, Thind interviews famous personalities and artists from all walks of life keeping his listeners hooked to the show through his skilful interviewing and hard hitting style.
Taking interviews in both Punjabi and English language, Thind is seen as someone who is representing the Punjabi community, the one who stands for the community against injustice, the one who has been instrumental in bridging the gap between the minority community and the mainstream community or the government.
He has been successful in breaking stereotypes that the mainstream media created for the Punjabi community by involving in intercultural discussions.
But on the other hand, when it comes to questioning his own community he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. He raises darkest of the issues ailing the South Asian community be it gangs, domestic violence, addiction etc.
The show is also a public spectacle where faceless strangers call to discuss personal and social problems for three hours daily. The community often receives beratings from the host for what he perceives as moral, parental, or religious failings. He is often heard appealing to parents about being extra cautious when it comes to raising kids and protecting them from getting into gangs.
He has developed a great relationship with his listeners. His opinions are often taken seriously. But how does he manage to keep his listeners engage for three long hours? Does he write a script or it is extempore?
On any normal day, Thind wakes up at 4.30 AM in the morning to prepare for his show. He takes notes for what would be discussed and about the current news. “But it is practically impossible to write a 3 hour long program. I think with time one develops vocabulary and conversational skills that are spontaneous. Also our audience are really patient to listen what we tell them. They have told me many times that I was successful in giving information to them useful in their lives by educating and creating awareness about different issues.”
But apart from experience, Thind is also naturally gifted. Born and brought up in Punjab’s Risheen Village, which is close to Raikot in Ludhiana, Thind says, “During my student life, I was always involved with activities like declamation, speeches, extempore speaking. I was recognized as best speaker during my college days.”
He then got into the legal profession and graduated from Punjab University with a degree of law. “Being a lawyer also helped my speaking abilities. Then I took some broadcasting courses in Canada, to further enhance my interviewing abilities. ”
He came to Canada in 1979 to do research on Indian and Canadian court procedures. “Eventually things changed and I got a job with Canada Post and worked there for 16 years. I used to live with my family in Castlegar before. We moved here in Lower Mainland in 1998 and made it our home.”
Thind’s tryst with media happened when he started working with a radio. “Community media was not strong at that time. Unlike today, there was no news bulletin. The programs were very different. I used to work with a chip Radio Apna Sangeet owned by Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhillon,” he recalls.
“News was my passion. I started adding small news bulletin to the entertainment shows, which were then upgraded to the talk shows. Then Mr Dhillon bought another radio and I started working with Music Waves, Des Pardes, started taking interviews. Then we got this red FM 10 years ago and have been working since then.”
From just offering music and entertainment to the Punjabi listeners to involving and engaging every section of the community in a serious discussion, Thind has been quiet instrumental in raising the South Asian media standard. He feels the community was feeling the brunt of not being part of the mainstream. “Raising community media standards was needed.”
Thind is often being heard discussing current affairs, politics and social problems in his show. His show is a powerhouse of information for those who want to know what is latest in immigration, taxes, property, and politics etc.
Through his show, he raises awareness about many sensitive issues that the community either ignores or is on denial mode like — autism, addiction, mental health problems, gangs etc.
Most of the time Thind’s style hits the right chord with the audience, but sometimes when the discussions are on issues like racism or religion, the show gets overheated and tends to get too opinionated. On which Thind says, “Every broadcaster and journalist, have their own opinion. We try to keep our opinions aside when we are doing news. But of course, when you are doing editorial, where you have an opinion it should not be hidden. When I am doing my journalist duties, I try to focus on facts keeping my opinion aside. But if there is an issue that we want to look from all angels, I bring in my opinion and concerns.”
According to him domestic violence, drugs and gang problem amongst South Asian youth still remain serious issues. “We have been broadcasting this for last 25 years. But I think so far we have failed as a community to solve the drugs and gang violence problem amongst South Asian Youth. We have so many programs for this. Every week I and my fellow broadcasters talk about it. But the good news is the community has accepted that it is a problem. Before the parents and grandparents were in denial mode that any such problem exists,” Thind says.
He says though there is a very small number of South Asian youth involved in the gang violence, the entire section of the youth is stereotyped. Since it is the problem that cannot be resolved in one day, Thind has come up with a solution to break the stereotype. “We now invite more South Asian youth who are excelling in their fields. We highlight their achievements to let the mainstream know the efficiency and brilliance of the South Asians.”
Thind is of the view that it is not just the youth, the South Asian community by enlarge has progressed and excelled to make its mark in the society. When he came to Canada, the immigrants faced very harsh racism. He himself faced it. “I worked in different industries before I joined media. I felt racism at the ground level. But I was not used to facing direct racism in Castlegar. When I moved to Vancouver, I was shocked.”
Recalling one incident he says, “I remember once we went to Downtown Vancouver. I had my turban and I was walking on the street, when I heard slurs, people showing fingers. I asked my friend what was going on, he said Canadians generally behaved liked that when they saw a Sikh. Now you can freely move around in your Indian attire like salwar suits, turban. At that time it was really difficult.”
He says the Punjabi Community over the years has worked really hard to improve its economic and social status. Even the second and third generation has now started merging in the society by being in the different high colored professions.
Thind himself has been quite active in raising awareness about the Sikh community. Along with his talk show, Thind is part of two social clubs that raise awareness about Sikh and Punjabi community into the mainstream. Thind has received Queen’s Golden Jubilee award and was recently awarded Canada 150 Spirit of Canada award for the best ethnic broadcaster.
He is the founding president of the Surrey-Newton Rotary Club and Sikh motorcycle club. Motorcycle was my passion so I founded a club. The idea was to create awareness about Sikhs. To let the mainstream community know that the Sikh next door is a person like them. We have participated in so many mainstream events now. Surrey-Newton Rotary club has developed into a full-fledged international branch,” he says.
His message to the community and his listeners too is of being responsible. “As an immigrant community, we have some responsibility to work constructively. Our community is very prosperous, very hardworking and we have established ourselves as a reckoning force, Young South Asian kids are professionals and they have enhanced our image.”