The kitchen tap water felt so cold, as I washed my hands. Most of my mornings are spent in the kitchen, cooking the meals for my family. My back aches miserably as I force myself to complete the endless chore. I begin to envy my cousins in India, who are fortunate to afford a live-in maid. All of them live in style. It has been years since I moved in this country.
I don’t know when the big bug had bit me. I lead a very busy and comfortable life, held a steady and secure job, and was content drawing a steady and fixed income each month. Even my social life was healthy and I enjoyed lot of privileges. But one day, I started to get restless. My routine job was boring. Going to work became an effort. I wanted a change, a change of work, people, city, and everything. I started to romance with an idea of migrating to a foreign land. I hoped to visit my family in Spain on tourist visa, look for a job, find my own place and live happily ever after.
Live happily ever after? Crazy thought! I must have been out of my mind! I wrestled with myself trying to erase the thought of migrating, but my thought traversed the hair pin bend and kept coming back. I thought of my NRI cousins who had periodically visited me. How successful they were! How they flaunted their extra Euros! They looked so prosperous! I had always envied them. I wanted to be more successful than they were. I considered myself to be more talented than they were and I didn’t deserve the hard and struggling life that I was leading. I wanted to give it a try. The prospects of better life and new experiences was very stimulating.
When I could no more pacify myself, I made a decision to migrate. Immediately, I sent in my resignation. My friends tried to convince me to change my decision, but my mind was too much clouded by candy world on the other side of my dreams. All my life, I had lived in India comfortably, but now, while I was busy getting my visa papers organized; I started cribbing about the heat, the dust and the crowd.
The day to say ‘goodbye’ arrived. I mocked a tearful farewell to my relatives, friends and to my city, boarded an international air flight, and within ten hours, I was breathing in the strange land. As I stepped out of the aircraft, the perfumed air smelt very refreshing. I patted my back for my fine decision. I was very happy. At last!
The first few weeks were very entertaining. While I waited for work permit, I toured around, exploring the city, and meeting all kinds of people. I enjoyed walking down the cobbled-stone lanes that were lined with pastry shops, boutiques, shoe shops and flower shops. I enjoyed trekking the hills, strolling through the flowered hedges and sipping coffee on the wayside café shops. I loved the tram rides and bus trips. I had found paradise on earth!
I had found paradise on earth and the days passed, I started to meet more people. I discovered an Indian club in the centre of the town. I would often visit the club for a traditional Indian tea and a chat with Indians. During one of those visits to the club, I met a native of Punjab, Mr. Singh. He had lived in Spain for 25 years. I got interested, as he told me his success story. He related about how he had come to Spain as a traveling salesman, with only 10000 pasetas (currency of Spain was in pasetas during those days) in his pocket. He had fallen in love with this place and had decided to adopt it. He worked hard, got a better job, and gradually started a business, taking a loan from the bank. He said that with his hard work and good luck, his business had prospered and expanded. In the span of 25 years, Mr. Singh was a proud owner of chain of 18 malls spread across Europe. I became convinced that the lady luck would shine on me too, one day.
Prospects looked good, but, money was running out. I would need a job to keep myself occupied and to be financially independent. Organizing the papers for work permit was taking too much time. When in a strange country, your troubles start when you venture out alone, especially, if you do not know their language. Even a simple necessity such as buying bread becomes a difficult task to shop around. Whenever any Spanish native would speak to me, I would stare at him listlessly, not understanding a word! I felt like a deaf and mute! I was gradually losing my sense of humor because I felt incapable of voicing my opinion. Language barrier and absence of proper documents limited my activities.
I found a temporary job, as a waitress at a fast food outlet. I requested them to organize the work permit for me. I worked hard all day and returned home tired and exhausted. During those days, I met a Moroccan girl, Rosie, who was my colleague. Rosie had migrated to Europe, looking for better prospects. To escape poverty, she had married a European. But things had not improved. Her husband was lazy, and did not have a proper job or a decent home. He lived on her wages.
Slowly, it dawned on me that not everybody who migrates will be successful. Luck plays a very important role in shaping our lives. If we are destined to suffer, our problems will follow us. We can never escape fate. My confidence level was dropping.
Soon, I also realized that not everybody migrates at his own free will. Some of them are fooled and smuggled into the foreign lands without proper documents. Rosie often spoke about her friend, Mr. Ching Lee, who was smuggled into Europe by a Chinese restaurant owner. His passport and his document were seized by his boss; he was hidden from the authorities and made to slave in the restaurant kitchen, working long hours in poor working conditions. For days he had not seen sunlight or breath in the fresh air. Then, one day, Mr. Ching Lee passed a note to the officer secretly, who later rescued him and got him deported.
After six months of my stay in Spain, my work permit arrived. I graduated from waitress to handling cash register of the store. Here, I interacted with more people. As I got to know more and more people, I learnt about different types of problems that are faced by many immigrants. Racism was one such problem. When I met Mr. Chandraswami, I would never have guessed that he was an Indian. He was immaculately dressed in expensive jacket; he spoke perfect Spanish, and never attended any Indian events. He had adopted the Spanish culture and had developed a taste for Spanish cuisine. He hid behind this façade to escape racism. He told me that when he had migrated to Spain, he was a simple man who dressed in loose fitting clothes, neatly parted his oily hair and spoke vernacular English. In the Spanish firm, where he worked, he was unnecessarily exploited He was underpaid, but worked for long hours and many a times became the object of ridicule. While his colleagues were promoted every two years, he had remained in same post for six long years. He would avoid social functions and would spent most of his holidays brooding, reading or sleeping. The loneliness and rejection had made him too depressed. That was when he decided to adopt the Spanish culture and abandon his identity.
I was bored of living in this strange land. Everyday, I looked for a new job in classified column of newspaper. But, getting a job of my choice was very difficult. I wondered if I made the right decision of leaving the security of my country. I longed for the familiarity of my house, my friends and food. I was tried of eating the bland cold cuts. I longed for the spicy road side food. I even missed warm weather. I was homesick. I was tempted to go back to India but I was afraid of being called a loser.
I looked at my watch. It was almost dinner time. As I slowly laid the table for dinner, my grandchild came running into the kitchen and circled my waist with his little soft arms and exclaimed, “Wow! Nani! You made samosas for me!”