We grew up with stories of my father
on fishing expeditions that lasted for
months, sometimes jumping in wide
open water to rescue porpoises caught
in the tuna nets.
He traveled to India for the first
time at the age of 27 to get married.
My mother Harjit Kaur, nicknamed
Dolly, was 18 years old with a degree
in literature from Punjabi University
in Patiala when my father visited her
house. She refused to serve the tea to
her suitor, as was custom.
“I will not be a doll on display,” she
The tea was sitting on the table
when my father arrived.
In the first moment they were alone,
my mother said to my father, “How
can you come to India for the first
time in your life, visit a dozen homes,
and take your pick of wife? Aren’t you
worried about breaking young girls’
My father opened his mouth and
closed it again. He decided he loved
Within two weeks, my parents were
They built a home on the corner of the land my grandfather had farmed in Clovis and ran a small irrigation landscaping business. My parents raised my brother and me
with a sense that anything was possible.
My father shared his insatiable appetite for adventure,
taking us on camping trips, fishing expeditions, and
stargazing in the mountains.
My mother shared her wild passion for music and art, filling our free time with arts projects and spontaneous dance
parties. She chaperoned every field trip and became the
envy of our friends.
As we grew older, my parents never told us what classes
to choose, colleges to explore or careers to pursue. They
wanted us to be anything we wanted to be — and they
became co-conspirators in every project we took on. When
I conducted a science experiment in our backyard, my dad
constructed the hothouse out of PVC pipe. When my brother and I put on a high school play about the Partition of
India, my father built the backdrop and my mother fed us
during every rehearsal. They attended every recital, competition, and awards ceremony. When my cousins immigrated to America when I was in high school, they helped raise
six children practically under one roof.
My parents’ unconditional support continues today. They
are our biggest fans at every film premiere. They call me
after every television appearance. They listen to every
musical composition my brother produces. And they do all
this from their new home in Costa Rica, where they have
started a new adventure together.
Your brother is a talented artist. Can you tell us more
about your relationship?
My younger brother Sanjeev Brar is one of my best
9/11 ignited Valarie Kaur’s career. In 2004, she was wrongfully arrested at an anti-war protest
while serving as a legal observer to protect against police misconduct in New York City,
pictured. Those who know her say that she puts herself in danger for the things she believes in.
friends in life. When we were children, he was the one with
the vibrant and sparkling imagination, and I always felt
honored when he let me in.
In high school, we had long philosophical conversations
into the night and took on ambitious service projects
together. Our final History Day project on the Partition of
India won us the national championship.
After I went to college, he went on to study astrophysics
at UC Berkeley, and then pursued music and sound production after college.
Sanjeev now lives and works in Brooklyn, where he
designs apps, produces music, and works on sound design.
He has produced the sound and music on nearly every one
of our films. It’s an incredible feeling to work closely with
my brother and husband on projects that ignite shared creativity.
Outside of work, Sanjeev is a devoted brother. He helped
orchestrate my wedding, has taken care of me when I’m
sick, and counsels me when I’m in trouble. I’m lucky to have
him by my side.
How did the events of 9/11 ignite your career as a modern-day warrior?
As a college student at Stanford University, my studies
focused on religion and violence in history — and the art of
healing through storytelling and dialogue. I had earned
research grants to do an oral history project in Punjab,
chronicling the stories of the Partition of India. I was about
to leave for Punjab when 9/11 happened. I could not have
known that this training would pre-
pare me to respond to the aftermath
of the terrorist attacks — and launch
my journey as an activist.
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