I just replied to the advertisement in the local paper for the training course of a health visitor, I didn’t know what to expect, I have never applied for a job/course ever before; I didn’t have any qualifications or even a school certificate to my name , it was just a wish to do something, a shot in the dark!
A week or so later a letter arrived, inviting me for an interview. I was stunned. I haven’t thought about it either. What will the training involve , will I be able to cope with the academic work and more so what will my parents say?
I think for anyone who has grown up with parents they can talk to or who were communicative this might be hard to imagine. But there was a huge gap between not just our thinking ( to be honest i have not been privy to or involved in their ideas so I didn’t have a clue. The interview was in a fortnight’s time , I had to hurry up! So one evening after dinner I broached the subject and told them that I have been invited for an interview.
You would think I have just told them that I have murdered someone. My father was outraged I was accused of being scheming and unpredictable. Am still at a loss to understand why it was such a bad thing, they were experiencing financial problems and me earning something would have been helpful. They had no future plans for me apart from marrying me off to my first cousin. I expect it was the loss of control, that I could make a decision for myself . I was told in no uncertain terms that girls from respectable families didn’t go into lowly professions like the nursing , and if I want to attend the interview and pursue that route then i cannot come back to the house. somehow this made me even more determined.
The day of the interview arrived. i borrowed bus fare from my friend next door and arrived at the old building known as the Health School.
I remember that day vividly. The hall was almost full with the hopeful girls the forty or so . Mostly Hindu and Christian girls. For Muslim girls it was a step too far in freedom so there were none. We were given numbers and I was number 36.
The interview panel consisted of tutors, the head of the school and the matron. One of the tutor was a Canadian lady, a highly disciplined ,knowledgable and wonderful woman as i found out during my training.
We were asked simple questions, asked to read out a chapter from a text book and the usual about why we wanted to do the course and then asked to wait. Out of some forty of us , only thirty were chosen for the second round of interview and I simply stared in disbelief when told that I was selected. We were given hand outs of what vaccinations to have and what to bring when, in a months time we will come for this residential course.
I went home with the papers , arriving at the front door i found my old suitcase packed with my meagre belongings and left outside with the door firmly shut. When I tried knocking servant appeared to tell me I was not allowed in.
But where will I go? I asked timidly. He just shrugged his shoulders repeating that the master ( my father) was very angry and has said I was not to be admitted under any circumstance.
I sat by the front door, bewildered, frightened and lost, it was beginning to get dark and I was in despair.
Next to our flat lived a young doctor and his family, he was a paediatrician in the city’s hospital, he lived with his wife and two young children.As I was sitting by the the door he passed me on his way home, did a double take and came back to ask if I was all right. I told him I was thrown out of my family home and didn’t know what to do. He asked me to come home with him where I can stay the night and he was sure the next day things will look different for all concerned.
I have never felt so grateful before in life, as I did for him and his family , who put me up ,fed me and befriended me.
The next day though when they tried to talk to my parents ,they were told in no uncertain terms that there was no room for negotiations. I have gone against the family “honour”and there was no way I will bellowed to be part of the family. I stayed with them for a week or so, and then my parents put huge pressure on the young doctor and his family ,am not sure what was said but they were told to not shelter me anymore. The poor man was very apologetic and embarrassed but probably thought he better not upset his next door neighbours by taking sides , and I was told to leave. I had no money or resources, I was new in the city having spend the last few years in Bombay, I didn’t know where to go.
then I remember ,an aunt of mine, a cousin of my mother , who had committed the carnal sin of marrying someone of her own choice and then sadly was divorced, thus brought heaps of shame on the family , lived in the same city. She was now a single mother and had the audacity to go to college, do a degree and was now a university lecturer. I had met her once and was struck s to what an individual she was.
I decided to phone her from a public booth and explained my plight, I needed shelter for a month, then my trining will start and as it was a residential course I will be provided bed and board.
Am eternally grateful to that lady, she asked me to come and stay with her as long as I wished to, she said she was appalled by the way my parents have behaved. I still believe there is a guardian angel somewhere, the way I have been saved from all kind of things ,often astonishes me.
I stayed with her for a month, being a part of her family, her young son, her mother and two sisters. My first experience of living with a “normal” family. Uncomplicated, considerate and caring. They even gave me a small loan so I could purchase the uniform and the other stuff on the list the health school has provided me. All this time my parents remained aloof, it started a kind of pattern, alone who was kind or friendly towards me, my parents will meet them and “warn” them ,what a rebellious and nasty creature i was and the threat that if they are going to keep in touch with me they (my parents) will have nothing to do with. I think my benefactor thought she was such a black sheep of the family that she had nothing to loose by harbouring another!
My training started in autumn that year. The nurses home was huge, with a large dining room, a dormitory where we slept ,our beds were in a row . A warden who was very strict but mothered us . The first three months were spent in the classroom. I was so happy, all the girls were friendly, we ate together , studied together and helped each other with course work.Our meals were cooked and served to us in the dining room, breakfast at 7am and dinner at 7.30pm. Then an hour to study or socialise and then lights will be switched off at ten.
After the first three months we started working in the hospital under supervision. The Canadian lady was the senior nurse tutor. Her eye for detail and her love for the profession was something which has left a great impression on all of us. She for some reason had a soft spot for me and will single me out to work with her , teach me individually, i owe her everything I know about the profession and care giving.
We used to have a months holiday in summer ,and often on all public holidays we were allowed to go home to our families. These periods posed a dilemma for me, I had no home to go to. Though all my aunts and cousins lived in the same city, my parents have forbidden them from seeing me. Most were my parents maternal and paternal aunts and uncles. I believe they were told that i was evil and was living somewhere and earning my living as a prostitute and the talk of the training was a facade. I still dont understand what gave them such dislike of me the they have not only made me homeless , they were trying their best that no one else offered me shelter. Just because your child doesn’t want to take the path you as a parent have chosen, that child is evil ?
A distant cousin and her husband befriended me and invited me to spend holidays with them. They were not that bothered with the displeasure parents showed. As long as they lived in their own houses I could go, then they moved into her mother’s house( her mother was my paternal aunt), and one evening my father phoned his sister telling her not to have me in the house, as I was running the family’s name . I will never forget it when the old lady stood in the yard and ordered me out at ten in the night.My cousin’s husband defied his mother in law and I was allowed to stay the night ,but have to leave in the morning.
Hell obviously hath no fury like Asian parents who feel they have been disobeyed!