Harbhajan Kaur Takher
Harbhajan Kaur Takher (April 20, 1928 – January 7, 2020) was part of the first generation of women in Yuba City’s Punjab American community. Arriving in California in 1956, she contributed a great deal to her family’s growing peach business. She also helped other Punjabi women adjust to life in the United States. She was affectionately known as “Bhajani” or “Aunty Bhajani” in the community.
Born into an affluent Sikh farming (Jat) family in Sumrama, Jalandhar, Punjab, her parents celebrated her birth by taking a special trip to the holy site of Kartarpur founded by Guru Nanak. It was customary to only celebrate the birth of boys with such an auspicious trip. However, after the heartbreaking loss of two baby girls in the family, her parents especially treasured their daughter’s birth, naming her “Harbhajan” (“God’s prayer”). She recalls growing up in a loving household and playing in her large home vehdra (courtyard) with her friends. As a young girl, her mother made sure that she did not play outside. Her mother taught her to perform all of the housework chores to prepare her to fulfill for her duties as a wife.
Harbhajan Singh and Harbhjan Kaur, Yuba City, 1950’s.
Harbhajan Kaur Takher (right), Yuba City Nagar Kirtan, c 1981.
Growing up in the Jalandhar district in eastern Punjab, she did not live through the trauma of leaving her home and living in a refugee camp during partition. However, few escaped the escalating communal violence. She vividly remembers living in fear that her home and her family could be attacked. She even witnessed Sikhs murdering Muslims on a train with kirpans (swords) from a distance.
She wishes she could have pursued more education. “I liked school, but the culture and traditions at that time didn’t support [girls’ education]. They weren’t happy letting us learn more.” She completed just four years of school because “I just never had the time. I was already engaged when I was about five years old.”
When she was fifteen years old, she was married to Harbhajan Singh Takher. She recalls how she felt as she left her home: “There were feelings of sadness. It doesn’t feel good… It was very hard at first…I made myself feel better by saying, ‘Where else can I go?’ I had to stay there.” She drew strength by repeating the name of Waheguru (God).
Interview with Harbhajan Kaur Takher by Nicole Ranganath and Davinder Deol, Yuba City, December 17, 2017.
Six years after marriage, she joined her husband in Yuba City in 1956. She would quickly adapt to her surroundings in order to support her family. Within a few months of arriving, she learned to drive cars and tractors. Of all of the women of her generation, she probably worked the hardest to contribute to the success of her family business: “I would irrigate about 40 acres of land. I also drove the tractor, picked prunes, and hauled peaches to the station.” She also worked at the Harter fruit packing plant during summers to supplement the family income.
Her network of female friendships provided emotional support and practical help. Her first female friend was Harbhajan Kaur Purewal. Harbhajan would befriend and help many of the other women who arrived in America around this time. She remembers Yuba City’s Punjabi community as small and tight-knit:
“We lived like brothers and sisters. Everyone was a family. That is how it felt then.”
Harbhajan (back left in a gray suit) and Swarn Kaur Takher (second from the right) with children, Yuba City, 1962.
After the Yuba City Gurdwara Sahib was established, Harbhajan donated countless hours of seva (service) in the langar hall (community kitchen). She also proudly served as one of the five female beloved ones in Yuba City’s Sikh parade for 13 years. She deepened her faith by becoming a fully-initiated Amritdhari Sikh at the Yuba City Gurdwara in the mid-1970s. She was one of approximately 30 local Sikhs who were motivated to take Amrit by a visiting preacher from Canada, Sant Meha Singh Ji.
Harbhajan passed away on January 7, 2020. She was the mother of three children, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Family wedding, Yuba City, April 16, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Takher family.
Source: Interview with Harbhajan Kaur Takher by Nicole Ranganath and Davinder Deol, Yuba City, December 17, 2017.