It is my birthday tomorrow.
Another milestone reached, another reason to look back on life. That is all we have ; can look back on the last, the future ,as they say ;is not ours to see.
So there I was, full of trepidation, with the thought of joining my would be in England, leaving everything I have know thus far,behind and starting a new life ,in a country ,I have heard about ,and read about but knew no one who was from England. But first I had to find a place to live.
My maternal uncle,turned to be very kind and willing to accommodate me for the few weeks,before (and if) I got the visa to come to the UK.
Having anything official done in India is no mean feat, things move at a snail’s pace, the whole administration can win a noble prize for being job’s worth1 Then there is the matter of greasing the palms, nothing moves an inch,until and unless you give little back handers.
I was skint! I dint have any savings, only had a month’s salary to hand and had to pay for all my transport etc; to and fro the departments.
Before you can get a visa to go anywhere, if you have in the public service in India, you have to obtain a “no objection” certificate! This declares that you have no debts or don’t owe the government anything. Which was a joke anyway, because you were never paid your salary in time,so there was no question of ever owing the government anything. But the office clerk made a mint,simply sending you from one place to another ,simply to collect various signatures.
I did manage to get the paper work done, and now all that remained between me and England, was a is it to Madras (now Chennai) , where the British High commission was , a chest x-ray and a stamp on my passport.
My would be husband has sent me a ticket to London, which was a requirement for all those who were coming to this country,you must have a return ticket if you were travelling on a visitor’s visa, which I was.
I vividly remember the day I left Hyderabad to go to Chennai, the train left in the evening, my Uncle came to see me off, I knew this was make or break for me. If i was refused a visa,I had no where to go, no job and no money.Ah but the optimism of youth,and my own determination to succeed.
I arrived in Madras, a noisy and very humid city, it was early March but it was so un comfortably humid. Next day at the High Commission, after the medical and an interview,I was granted a visa. All I had to do now was to confirm my booking and board the flight.
I vividly remember that evening, sitting in the departure lounge and just wondering, about my life ahead. I think when you are young you don’t think a great deal about the past or the future,and are able to enjoy more of the present. And I enjoyed boarding an aeroplane for the first time in my life,all wide eyed and excited.
I arrived at London Heathrow, 10 Am ,on the 5th of March 1970. Heathrow didn’t have the walk in tunnels in the days, you got down on the runway and walked the distance to the terminal.
The first thing which struck me was how quite and silent everything was,if you have lived your life in a country where there is an assault on your sense of hearing constantly, with people shouting,taking, and loud music, popular film songs are constantly relayed on the loudspeakers, car horns, hooters from the scores ad the noise and solution from the auto rickshaws, hawkers selling their wares,and people having an argument or just shouting at each other.
All these blend in and form a cacophony which permanently resides in your head. And then you come out of the aircraft, breath this clean and crisp air, and there is pin drop silence! You worry!
It had snowed the day before, the walkway had mounds of cleared snow on either sides,and all I could hear was the sound of our feet, as we walked quietly to get inside the airport.
Where are all the people ? I thought. After the hustle bustle of India,where every inch of the ground is populated, this place seemed, open and empty! Another thing which struck me was people striding so purposefully,as if they were all on a mission , heading for something to do, where as I was used to the populous, who almost loitered! Looking around, and chatting ,whistling and just ambling somewhere not very important!
And it was cold! I had started off in a silk Saree,the best one `i had, open sandals and a cardigan,knitwear made in India is never meant to cope with the temperatures of the UK. But I was so wide eyed and excited, I was not bothered about the weather, there was so much to see and admire.
My husband had come to meet me and had brought me a winter coat,and then we took a bus to Waterloo station ,from where we took a train to Kent,where he was working.
I was bowled over by the cleanliness( yes it was remarkable in those days), the punctuality of the trains and the good manners of everyone, no one pushed or shoved you,people queued and waited their turn patiently,and everything worked.What was there to not like?
And that love affair is on going, England has given me friends, respect and recognition, the biggest bonus of being here is you are allowed to be you. No one expects you to mould yourself to anything, you can be what you want to and how you want to. The British people have a huge capacity of tolerance and fairness,perhaps this has been tested to the limit,and now they find themselves criticised and labelled as racist,I have not found them to be.They will not interfere,or approach you,it takes years for a British person to approach you, you get the occasional nod ,and then a smile; and it will be a year before they talk to you! They will not pry in your personal affairs,or betray your confidences.
When they do become a friend, that is for life. i have made some fantastic friends,especially one or two have been with me throughout my life here,and I have always felt that families are given to you,whether you like them or not(often you don’t), but friends,such as I have are life enriching. I feel Blessed.
I very quickly settled down into life in this country. We spent the first six months. going to London and making and meeting friends,looking at the goods in the shops longingly,as we had very little money. My husbands salary,which was not very much,junior doctors earned very little in those days, but we had perks like free furnished accommodation, laundry and subsidised meals in the hospital canteen. Most of my husband’s salary was sent “home’. He was the eldest of the ten children,the youngest at the time was some 4 years old,and others were in education, so there was no spare csh for us.
I applied for and was accepted to train for the nurse training, in a London teaching hospital,and was given leave to remain indefinitely in the country.
That was the best period of my life, actually the 1970s were the best decade of my life. In the training we were a mixed bunch. There was a Chinese girl who spoke very little English, a West Indian girl who spoke perfect English but saw prejudice against her in everyone and everything! A Spanish girl, who was busty and very beautiful and all the doctors drooled on her, and then there was an elderly English lady,who had come late to nursing,was a great nurse and mothered us all.
Our training was through and difficult, we learnt things properly both in the classroom and on the wards. There was never an iota of prejudice towards me by either the tutors,staff or the patients. If anything the Matron and the Home Sister,kept an special eye on us whom they called are “far from home’. If we missed a meal, or looked off colour,we were taken aside ,offered a cup of tea and asked gently what was worrying us. I never felt home sick, but I never stopped loving my parents either,I felt sad that they couldn’t see how happy I was and how I was thriving ,doing so well doing nursing,a profession they so derided.
To be continued.