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Up-close, personal, and yes, funny — this is the must-have celebrity memoir of the year.
This candid, first-person memoir chronicles Russell's life from his humble beginnings in suburbia as a scrawny, brown, bullied kid with ADD all the way to his remarkable rise as one of the world's top-earning comics. This is a shockingly honest book filled with poignant memories of his family, his life and his career. Call Me Russell is a deeply inspirational story for aspiring artists of any culture about having hope, working hard and dreaming big.
From the Hardcover edition.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
RUSSELL PETERS is an international comedy sensation. During a recent tour of Dubai, Peters sold tickets at the rate of one ticket every two seconds — crashing all the online sales outlets as soon as the tickets went on-sale. In February 2008, Peters became one of only a handful of comedians to headline and sell out the world-famous Madison Square Garden. In 2009, he set a new UK attendance record for the highest attended comedy show in their history, with over 16,000 fans attending his O2 Arena show. Peters uses his wry and funny observations about race, class and culture to illuminate our human shortcomings. His quick wit and gift for mimicking languages and accents allows him to create characters of all races and cultures, regardless of their cultural background. Over the course of his twenty-year career, he has headlined comedy festivals throughout North America and abroad. In recent years, he has performed sold-out arena tours in the United States, Canada, India, China, South Africa, Australia, the UK, Singapore, Sweden, Norway, The UAE, Lebanon and the Philippines.
From the Hardcover edition.
CALL ME RUSSELL
I'm never just a comic. No matter how people describe me, there's always something before my name or my profession. There's always that hyphen: South-Asian comic, Indo-Canadian comic, South-Asian-Canadian comic, Canadian-born-Indian comic, Brampton-raised stand-up comic. Obviously, I'm not the first stand-up comic in the world, but I know that I'm the first stand-up who looks like me, and the first to have done some of the things I've done. I guess that's what happens when you're the first at something... people think it needs to be qualified by something else. To my friends and family, though, there's no hyphen. They just call me Russell.
To me, I'm just a comedian who happens to be Indian... or wait, Canadian... or Indo-Canadian... Anglo-Indian, South-Asian, South-Asian-Canadian? Jeez, even I'm confused.
Both of my parents are Anglo-Indian. Both of their parents were Anglo-Indian, and before that one of their greatgrandfathers or great-great-grandfathers was British, Welsh, Scottish or Irish - one of those ishes. That's what it is to be an Anglo-Indian. Somewhere in your genes is a British father and an Indian mother. Anglo-Indians, or AI's, mixed with the British when they occupied India. That's why my name is Russell Peters instead of something you'd be more likely to expect for a guy who looks like me, both of whose parents were born in India. Anglo-Indians come in all shades - from blond-haired and blue-eyed to dark-skinned with very traditional "Indian" features.
Anglo-Indians are a very small, unique community as well as a dying one, a remnant from the Raj. My cousins have surnames like Brown, Paige, Waike and Matthias and first names like Mikey, Gordon, Bruce, Andrew, Patty, Tina, Ann, Claire, Stephen, Tanya, Marissa, Darren, Charlene... I still get some flak from older Anglo-Indians because I usually just say I'm Indian instead of specifying that I'm Anglo-Indian. That's a bit of a thing for AI's - you've got to be specific about saying that you're one of them. They don't necessarily see themselves as Indian, nor do they see themselves as English, just as the Indians don't see them as Indian and the English don't see them as English. The way I see it, once you cross the ocean, nobody cares what subset or group you come from. Once you're here, you're just another Indian - whether you like it or not. It's kind of like when Indians go on about being from a specific caste. Really, who gives a shit? Is an AI really going to get treated any better in Canada, the States or England because he's a Brahmin? That's the beauty of these countries: Canadians don't care about that kind of caste crap - we're all just brown to them.
Back in the mid-eighteenth century, the British realized that it was going to be impossible to rule more than 120 million Indians with just forty thousand or so Brits, so they came up with a program to intermarry with the locals to strengthen their hold on the country. It was always a British male with an Indian female - anything else would have been scandalous. And, as my dad always liked to point out, the children of an Indian male and British female were called Eurasian and not Anglo-Indian. Ben Kingsley is Eurasian, since his father's Indian and his mom is English. See? Anglo-Indian, Eurasian - they're not the same thing.
English is the first language for Anglo-Indians, even in India. Hindi was only spoken to the servants or co-workers - or when my parents didn't want me to know what they were saying. My grandmother's Hindi was so bad that her boss asked her to please not speak it. AI's are Christian by religion - either Anglican or Catholic, for the most part. We don't consider ourselves converts. Obviously, at some point we were converted, but that was generations ago through intermarriage, and it will be through intermarriage that the very small community of AI's will eventually become extinct. I don't say this in a negative way. It's not as if I'm asking for a telethon to save the Anglo-Indians, it's just a statement of fact.
While the British were in India, the Anglo-Indians were sort of middle managers. They spoke like the British and looked like the Indians. They could communicate with the locals and behave like the foreigners. They enjoyed good jobs in the railways, customs, post and telegraph, and as teachers. Some even ended up as entertainers - as bandleaders, singers and actors. Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richard and Merle Oberon ('30s movie star) are noted AI's, although I don't think they publicize it that much.
When the British left India in 1947, Anglo-Indians were at loose ends. Job opportunities, especially for the men, were difficult to get and the Anglo-Indians began leaving India - coming to Australia, England, Canada and even some to the States.
One of the most commonly asked questions I get is "What's your real name?" Thing is, I usually get this question from Indians, not from white people. What can I say? If you don't get my name, you'll need to check in with my brother, Clayton, or my mom and dad, Maureen and Eric.
Speaking of Mom and Dad, I guess that's where my story really starts. My dad, Eric Peters, was born in Bombay in 1925. Dad's mom died a few months after he was born, from complications connected to his birth. His father, James Peters, had moved to Bombay from Madras and worked as a telegraph operator for the railways. My grandfather hated the big city; he found it too dirty and crowded. In 1935, he packed up my dad, Dad's older brother, Arthur, and their ten-day-old baby sister, Eileen, as well as my grandfather's new wife, Blossom, and moved to the small village of Burhanpur in the middle of India. (Burhanpur is where Mumtaz Mahal, the third and most beloved wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan I, died and remained until Shah Jahan had completed the Taj Mahal as her mausoleum.) Since my grandfather worked for the railways, he could basically transfer wherever he wanted - as long as it was on a rail route.
My grandfather bought twenty acres of land in the countryside, about a kilometre from the train station and outside of the village of Burhanpur. He built a large, open bungalow surrounded by lemon and mango trees. He became a gentleman farmer who grew peanuts, cotton and wheat. He acquired two horses, a couple of bulls, goats and buffaloes. He also kept a number of greyhounds, whippets and German shepherds. The dogs came in handy for the family's frequent hunting excursions in the neighbouring hills.
To hear my dad tell it, his childhood in Burhanpur was the absolute best of times - hunting, camping, fishing, sleeping outdoors, surrounded by his boarding-school friends, cousins, siblings, and of course his dad, whom my father idolized. My grandfather was almost six feet tall, compared to my dad's five-foot-six or so. I guess that's where I get my height from - not that I'm that tall, but I am the tallest guy in my relatively short family.
After serving as a radio operator during the war, Dad eventually moved to Calcutta, but continued to go back and forth to his beloved Burhanpur. It was in Calcutta, at the age of thirty-nine, that Dad met Mom. Mom was a fair-skinned, ninety-three-pound beauty with thick black hair and a taste for the latest "western" dresses, most of them handmade by her seamstress grandmother. For Dad, it was love at first sight. He used to see my mom around town and decided that she was the one. Dad was a womanizer, sixteen years her senior. Dad would see Mom on a rickshaw and would follow right behind on his scooter, honking the horn to make the rickshaw man run faster. Mom would get fuming mad and was convinced that Dad was an ass.
One night, at their mutual friend Rene's flat, Dad decided that it was time to make his move. Rene made the introduction. Mom was unimpressed; however, they both lingered at the party long enough that it started to get dark, and too late for Mom to get back to her family's flat. Dad swooped in and offered her a ride home on the back of his scooter, and Mom accepted... reluctantly. What would her mother say when she arrived home riding on the back of a scooter with a much older man, a man who was only a year younger than her own mother?
It didn't take long for Mom to see that Dad was a bit of a show-off but not a complete jerk, and when he started regularly taking her on the back of his scooter, the poor rickshaw man was out of a job. After a few more rides home, Mom eventually said to Dad, "I think you'd better come in and meet my mother." He had his foot in the door.
Dad walked into the one-bedroom flat on Ganesh-Chandra Avenue that housed my mom; her older brother Maurice and younger brother Roger; my grandmother's second husband, the very cool KK (more on him in a minute); my great-grandmother Jessie; and my striking grandmother Sheila. My grandmother sized him up, and when he left, she declared she was unimpressed by this scooter-man courting her daughter. First, he was too old, and second, he was Protestant. "It's not a good match," she warned Mom, adding, "He's a Freemason. They're devil worshippers." I'm not sure what happened next, but somehow, between Dad being a jerk and now a devil worshipper, Mom was smitten.
Let me tell you about my mom's stepfather, KK, whose real name was Kewal Kohli. He was a Punjabi Hindu who married my grandmother after she divorced my grandfather, Christopher Waike. We called him Dadda, but to everyone else he was just KK.
My grandfather Christopher had taken up with another woman when my mom was in her early teens, and my grandmother filed for divorce. KK took Christopher's place. He adored my grandmother and she adored him. He was the coolest guy I have ever met. Even as a small child, I could see that this guy was an operator. He knew how to work a room and could get things done. Running late for a flight? KK could get you right through the usual customs formalities and straight to the gate without any hassles. He was charismatic and charming. Being a Hindu never seemed to be any issue. I remember visiting him as a kid in 1975 and seeing this huge portrait of Sai Baba (a Hindu holy man) in their flat on Elliot Road. There was also this small altar with a statue of Jesus, Mary and other Catholic icons. I remember being a little creeped out by the altar. I don't know why, but there was just something scary about it.
But back when Dad was courting Mom, he was not KK's first choice of marriage partners for her. KK had hoped to make a match of his own for "his" daughter. Eventually, though, he too was won over by Dad and accepted him into the family.
So back to Mom being smitten... Once Dad realized he was making progress with this woman, he immediately went back to his father and told him, "Dad, I've met her, the girl of my dreams."
"You mean you've met the right girl again?"
Dad was a bit of a player, which explains why he wasn't married at the age of thirty-nine. Before he met Mom, he was having a great time in Calcutta and had developed something of a reputation as a playboy - like father, like son? Anyhow, this wasn't the first time he'd told his dad he'd met the woman of his dreams.
"This one is different. She's the one," Dad said.
Granddad asked, "How old is she?"
"Sixteen years younger than me."
"Good choice, son!"
Mom and Dad were married on December 28, 1963. One hundred and fifty people attended the wedding at St. Francis Xavier Church in the Bowbazar section of Calcutta. Mom kept Dad waiting half an hour at the church, while his friends took bets on whether she would show up. After the wedding, they took bets as to how long the marriage would last. According to Mom, people said it wouldn't last because of the age difference. According to Dad, people said it wouldn't last because he was Protestant and Mom was Catholic. The church sanctioned the marriage only on the basis that any children be raised Catholic. When Dad died in 2004, they had been married forty years.
Mom and Dad got a small one-bedroom flat on Theatre Road, which they shared with Dad's pal, Trevor Lewis. Work opportunities were slim, and Dad knew that they and their still-unborn children would have better opportunities overseas. Dad wanted to go to England, where a lot of his pals had already moved and were doing well. Mom had no intention of setting foot on British soil and warned Dad that if he went to England, he'd be going alone. She hated grey and gloomy weather and had heard stories of how badly the Tommies - British soldiers in India - had once treated her beloved Grandmother Jessie when she had worked for the Women's Army Corps during the war. Every day, the WAC would be picked up by truck and taken to various locations around Calcutta. On one particular day, a Tommy thought he'd be smart and told the driver to accelerate just as Jessie was getting on. The truck lurched forward, and Jessie landed on her face, chipping a tooth and scraping her skin. She pulled the laughing Tommy down from the truck and slapped him. My very tough great-grandmother made sure that she wouldn't be disrespected by the Tommies ever again. Mom had also seen the 1935 version of the film David Copperfield several times, and this too had put her off of England.
Now that England was off the table, my parents began to explore other options. Some Anglo-Indians were leaving for Australia, but it never occurred to Mom and Dad to move there. Of course, the United States was also an option; but my father, who was always very aware of social and political climates, felt that a darker, brownskinned man stepping into that country in the mid-'60s would be asking for trouble. He knew what street riots looked like - having seen the Hindu-Muslim riots in India in 1947 - and he was well aware of what was happening with the civil rights movement in the U.S. He knew what Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were doing. Having seen India go through its growing pains after independence, and self-conscious about his own skin colour, it didn't make a lot of sense to him to try to raise a family in the States.
Word began to spread among Anglo-Indians about another country that had opened its doors: Canada. It was a young country that needed an educated workforce to grow, and while many immigrants arriving there couldn't speak English, Mom and Dad were fluent. They should get in, no problem - right?
When my father was alive, he'd occasionally tell me stories of those early years, and I have to say that even though decades had passed since his arrival in Canada, his memories of those days never lost their edge. Even before Dad arrived in this country, he had to face the hard truth about what it would be like as a new immigrant in Canada. In his first encounter with a Canadian consular representative working in Calcutta, whose job it was to screen immigration candidates, my dad was told, matter-of-factly, "You'll never get a job in Canada, Mr. Peters. You're just too old." My father was thirty-nine, going on forty.
"That's okay, I'll be fine," my father replied.
Mr. Walker, the immigration officer, continued: "What Canada needs and wants is young people. They want people who speak English."
My dad stared dumbfounded and said, "And what the bl...
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