Coming to England

My father bought all the necessary clothing to combat England’s cold winter which was months away as we never had any snowy winter in West Bengal. My mother who was suffering from departure pain and she did not want me to leave her. We were very close. My mom, my dad, sister, all my friends & relatives, and all close neighbors hugged me and shed tears. They all planned to come to the airport. I did not want to leave India that time at all. I was also very frighten in my mind. You can imagine how agonizing that was for me. The unknown country I was going to by a long journey which was not my home, It was even painful when I thought I had to stay there permanently and I would not be able to come back home. But I have no choice but to prepare for the upcoming separation in my mind without knowing what to expect and how to deal with it. I cried every day for my parents, my sister and friends and relatives and they felt equally the same way.

Finally the day arrived to say good bye to everybody with lots of tears. I could not recall how I went to the airport; everything happened so fast; only thing I could remember was my parent’s gloomy eyes and their blessings.

When I was in the plane, in one hand I was tremendously fearful about the new culture and depressed for my parents, and my country and at the same time it was little bit joyful as I thought about joining my husband. For a while though, I thought, it must be a dream.

After arriving in London’s Heathrow airport I was hovering through the maze in confusion and in fear. I heard someone was calling my name and it sounded like a musical interlude in my frightened mind. I looked over the crowded faces and spotted my husband with a smiling face who was shaking his hands way up in the air with a greeting gesture. My mind was little at ease seeing him. I did not sleep whole night or ate anything unfamiliar. Everything was new to me. I felt like a stranger in this unfamiliar land; everywhere I looked brought an anxious feeling in my stomach. Now this moment I was thinking when I could go back to my home and to my parents. I did not speak the language and did not understand what the people were saying. Looking at my miserable face my husband assured me with a compromising voice that it would not be long that I would feel more comfortable. After feeling little bit assured, I looked through the scenery of endless beautiful stores with dazzling signs and dazzling lights that was blinding my eye sights.

Soon we arrived at the apartment. I would not say it is an apartment as it only had one small room divided into four sections – a cooking counter, a bed for sleeping, a table for studying and a drop down lid of a pantry shelf for eating. We also had to share the bathroom with four other tenants. I did not know what to think about it. I was coming from a wealthy family; it was a tremendous shock for me. My husband gave me a small kiss on my cheek and said, “Don’t worry. I will be right back with the milk and make some tea for you.” After he left I started to cry in silence. I could hear my mother’s calming voice, feel her enchanting sweet touch and smell her “joy” perfume in my imagination and see my father’s anguish eyes.

All immigrant family had to go through tough and hard life – the new culture, the new people with their strange customs and dresses, the new language – all had to be learned as it was tremendously hard and I was not exception in my journey. I still remember the lunch and dinner until this day- the boil rice, potatoes, eggs and can fish curry – that’s the only thing we could afford at that time. We had no money.

But strangely enough one year later I started to like my new found freedom here: there was no nice house; no sofa driven car or no maid waiting on me. It was very hard to imagine that without all of these I would be still overjoyed with my free lifestyle and freedom that I did not have in India being a woman.

I always had mixed feelings about England. One day we visited Bucking Buckingham Palace and I wondered about the Monarchy and the present day Elected Prime Minister at work hand in hand; nowhere in the world it existed in that context- Queen and the Prime Minister together! Everybody’s favourite place, the Hyde Park in London located in the shadow of Marble Arch where every Sunday anybody can voice an opinion about religion, politics, morality or current events which could be debated loudly as it could be controversial; the grass root at work. Some time they would enter into heated discussion. This was a great pass time for many Londoners and for me as I was mingling with them and with British customs and culture I was feeling somehow little worry free.

The way of life was calm and quite in London when I went there. I was very happy and cherished the quiet, friendly Family pub where mom, dad, their older children and friends would chat for hours and who could resist the flavorful Fish & chips and the Hyde Park where the religion and Politics of bashing of the Government, French people, and immigrant would go on in full force? Though Conflict between Old traditional culture and newfound modernism always exist and from time to time conflict would capture my attention and would make an imprint of unfairness but soon they would disappear. My knowledge of conflict did not take a solid ground that time; it came to focus in my mind when I encountered my white South African art teacher in England whose own conflict, judgment and fairness to the black African would emerge in his paintings. He left South Africa and came to England and became an art teacher in local college. I used to think like him that one-day S. Africa will get its fair share, gain its status through sacrifices of Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu and have to go for a greater Journey to solve its inheritance of problems and abuses. Eventually that dream somewhat came true.

My husband had basic education and he was a technician. I found a job in Inland Revenue in London where I felt comfortable because there were many different ethnicity from the range of Irish to Indian people. I had to learn the English language as well. There were lots of Italian immigrants who were in my class. So I did not feel what I am the only one. I had lots of British friends later on and they were extremely nice to me. But it did not last very long. One day I woke up in the morning and prepared myself to go to work as usual, and that particular morning I remembered vividly and very well as I listened to the voice of Enoch Powell, MP, uprising with the racism, asking all Indian to go back to their country. The country was over flooded with Kenya’s Indian population. The color bar, the racism was cracking the wall. I used to feel humiliated, with stripped down dignity and without knowing what our fault was. The flower power and the hippie movement were over in England that time and England found itself drowning into the selfishness of dark alley. Teddy boys with golden long hair were beating the Indian people and no comprehensive attempts were made to arrest them by the local police. Though we always have a complex relationship with England but after 200 years of colonial dictatorship still the residue of subordination lingered on in their mind. It disturbed me and broke my mental peace.

In England my life was extremely hard as my day used to start around at 5:30. I used to use tube, and after changing two tubes I uses to reach my work place. We had no refrigerator so I had to do grocery shopping every day. After cooking and doing dishes I used to sit down for typing to send as many application letters to American and Canadian universities as I thought without Ph.D. degree my husband would be nobody in his field. So every day after work I would go to Swiss cottage library to get the addresses. Finally my husband got a small scholarship from an university in Canada to complete his Ph.D.. Many hours I had to type his research books as I could not afford to buy the new books. Though I was happy for him but sadly I had to leave my job and came to Canada with him.