American author and poet, Maya Angelou also known as Marguerite Ann Johnson once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Many young Indians (brought up in India) want to make it big in the other countries, where greener pastures beckon to them. Among them are girls, too. There are some girls, who are NRIs, because they married into such families or their husbands are NRIs. In such cases, these girls get a ready-made home in the new country. However, there are others, who go to these countries to study or work on their own initiative. If they are sent by their Indian company, they often get a ready-made place to stay. Otherwise, the burden of house hunting falls on their soft shoulders. The main problem that comes to the fore is the girl’s safety, in such cases.
Due to financial pressures in her parents’ home, Anglo-Indian Edwina Lyons had started working in movies as a dancer, since she was 16. Remember the girl, who shook her ample hair to O Haseena Zulfonwali… in Tesri Manzil (1966). That’s her. At 19, Edwina got married to another Anglo-Indian 23 year old Keith Violette, in November 1960. Keith, who expired in May 2012, decided to go to UK to seek better opportunities after marriage. Asked if she’s still working, Edwina says, “I’ve retired. Kaam ko maro goli!” she says in her heavily accented Hindi and laughs. She adds, “I am 71 now.”
Seema Ramchandani works as a Native English Teacher in a HK public school. She is involved in designing and executing reading programs and enhancing the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) curriculum. She has also recently completed a Masters in Education degree at the Hong Kong University. She had done her teacher training in Zhuhai, China and was on a visa run to HK when an old friend suggested she should try looking for employment there. The first interview she went to resulted in a job offer and she has now been working there for the last seven years.
Suchitra Harvey had been working for the construction firm Jangid Group, in Mumbai, for the last 15 years. They opened a branch in Dubai, UAE. Since she was single and had been working with them for so long they sent her there as the head of the administration department. Now they have opened another branch in Dar Es Salam, also. They are also coming up with one commercial building there.
Accommodation: Once in UK, Keith got rooms with another Anglo-Indian couple from Calcutta, the Coopers. Edwina recalls, “My husband, Keith, had left for UK first. When I went there, I could not handle the situation. I was used to a large house, with a large family. On the other hand, in UK we had to live in a one bed room flat with the other couple and their children, thrown in. There was no one to turn to. I stayed there for 4 months and I returned to my parents in India, 3 months pregnant with my first born Nigel. Once here, I was back to my work in Bollywood. Then after 5 years, somehow my husband found a good place for us in UK and we shifted there, permanently. We lived initially with these people, just across the road from where we were planning to buy the house. I started working in UK and learned and earned together. I studied right until the age of 54. Yes, it needs a lot of patience to study after the childhood years are over, given the increase in responsibilities. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do as a child, when I was here since my parents were rather poor. I retired as a finance officer in a hospital in London. Considering the struggle we went through, I think we have done well.”
Seema had her extended family to stay with, initially. She says, “They generously offered me a room in their home for two weeks and helped me look for a place of my own. HK is generally a safe place to live in and since this was my first time living alone, I chose a more family-oriented neighbourhood.”
Suchitra grew with her company in India, so it became easy for her to shift as their representative in a strange country. Since she went there via the company, where she had been working, they had given her their own home to stay.
Problems: Edwina had faced quite a few problems, even though her husband was beside her. She recollects, “The weather, not knowing people, not having family there, etc. I had to get on with it, there was no other way. Everything was a problem and I had to fight it till the end.”
According to Seema, “They say it takes three years to completely feel settled in a new place. I felt the same way when I moved to India from Nigeria, where I was born and raised. Luckily, I have been surrounded by good people from my Art of Living family and people who are followers of Dada JP Vaswani from Poona. They made me feel very welcome and I always knew that if I needed anything, they’d be there for me. That said there were new experiences almost every day. Back in Nigeria and India, I had never eaten a meal on my own and had never known what it was like to pay rent! There was a lot of learning and I must say, I’m better off for it. Over all, I’d say living in HK has been smooth-sailing. The system works and services are quick and efficient. Besides moments when I’m gripped with feelings of homesickness and longing for my family members and friends back in India, it has been pretty easy to make this my home.”
Even Suchitra insists that there are no problems in her country of current residence. She says, “It’s like mini-India. Many Indians especially Keralites are here. Sometimes I stay alone here for almost over a month and I don’t get scared at all.”
Asked if she thought of any problems girls of 21st century would face while migrating to UK for studies or work, Edwina says, “Wow, would you imagine that! If you don’t have someone there you feel really lost over there. Everything was casual there. There was no warmth in people. If they say hello to you, you are lucky. Otherwise all of us Indians are classified as Pakis (Pakisthanis)! It was terrible then though. But I think I was one of the lucky ones. I got away with my looks, because my mother was an Iraqi. They would think I was an Italian or Spanish or a Greek. All sorts. But they wouldn’t call me an Indian. But a job was easy to get, those days. You could go from one job to another. If you were lucky to pass the interview, the job was yours.”
Seema finds that HK is one of the safest cities to live in. Suchitra also agrees with the same about UAE. She says, “It’s very safe for women here. The locals over here give a lot of respect to women. If you happen to come face to face with them they will give you way and say sorry. There are different departments for women in all government offices and priority is given to us.”
Advice to girls thinking of migrating abroad:
Edwina: Now-a-days, I don’t think there would be any problem. As long as, they have what is required like talent, ability to work and a degree. It shouldn’t be any problem at all. In fact, I think they will do very well. Our Indians go and do well because they are real workers. They do like to earn money, so they really work for it.
Seema: Spread your wings and fly! Getting out of one’s comfort zone is hard and I wonder if I would have done it myself had it not been for circumstances at the time. But looking back, HK has been the best thing to have ever happened to me. I’d strongly advise my fellow women to take a chance and explore the many benefits of living independently.
Suchitra: It’s very safe for girls and women here. There are very good universities like Manipal and moreover its just 2 to 3 hours journey to any part of India. We get a lot of studio apartments in Indian locality in Dubai at much cheaper rate. We can share it with reliable people. It’s also safe all over Dubai. The government officials over here not even 0.1% corrupt. And last but not least we get all types of Indian cuisine here.
This article was initially published in Eve’s times magazine and has been published here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.