I know who I am, not quite where I am from

The year was 1999 and everyone was eagerly awaiting the Y2K bug to see if it disrupted everyone’s lives… It was clearly a non-event, event.

Something else happened that year, I arrived in Australia as an 18 year old not knowing what to expect in a foreign country, first time away from parents. I felt a mixed bag of emotions – excited, happy, yet sad and anxious about what life was going to be like.

My great Aussie adventure began with 50 odd people that came to see me off at the Mumbai airport. It was my opportunity to feel important yet somehow I was saddened to think that I won’t be seeing these people for god knows how long.

A lot has changed in 15 years, simple things that we take for granted now, like being connected online all the time (having a smartphone to mark yourself safe or updating your facebook profile and the cool check-in to various spots all the time) wasn’t the case back then.

My flight was also an arduous 14 hr journey, with just one TV screen in the old Qantas flight and the air hostess that served me, probably older than the plane itself… The choices in food weren’t butter chicken masala or the palak paneer that I so loved, either. I had to simply make do with a burger patty on a brioche bun and some greens that were on the plate strictly for decorative purposes.

Upon touching down in Melbourne, being Indian first struck me, with the conversion of Australian dollars into rupees for every single item my eyes took notice of. Buying a simple chewing gum felt like a life or death decision.. My brain constantly doing the math…. Was I really going to pay 600 rupees for chewing gum….??

Calling my family back home and letting them know that I had reached safe and sound, yet not spending too much time on the emotional stuff.. Time was money you see..

Understanding the so called “australian accent” was another challenge that I was faced with which no-one really shared before I got on the plane. There is the English language and then there is Australian… Eg. How u goin? Didn’t really mean where I was going at all.. But simply, how I was doing? The word “mate” seemed to be brought into every single line even if you met someone for the very first time. Barby meant barbecue and women were often referred to as Sheila or Bird.

Even though my primary objective was to study, the emphasis and importance of money became top priority which lead me to hunt down job opportunities. I tried hard to get a so called “white collar job” however having local experience always seemed to be the prerequisite.

I relied on the Indian-Indian (Bhai, Bhai, along with the head nod) and got myself a job at an Indian restaurant as a waiter to get my first “break”. Interestingly, the owner shared the same name as my father, Sunil and he too had a son called Karan. Mind you, there was no special treatment for that irony. I still had to work my butt off and only got paid a measly $8 per hour (cash in hand) + dinner was always included at the end of the night (this was the best part).

Sunil the owner, always played on emotions to get his way, Beta etc. was always used if I had to stay back an extra hour and he always ensured he paid us to ensure I continued to stay on. The days turned into months, the seasons changed from winter back to summer and life seemed to move along fine until a disagreement with the owner of the restaurant over something quite trivial that escalated into a major disagreement. This got me thinking about moving along and doing something else. After all I hadn’t travelled the seven seas and come to Australia to work for an Indian Restaurant while I stayed here. Mind you, we sit down and chuckle about it now whenever we catch up.

I looked for other jobs while continued to work at the Indian Restaurant and finally got an opening at a car rental company as a car detailer (car washer). The team at the car rental company were all Australian by background, extremely friendly but not in the Indian kind of way. No Beta business here.

I had been working with the car rental company for over a year now and they decided to promote me into the office (selling car rentals) based on my work ethic and general dependability. I got quite close to the team and really began to live the Australian way of life. You cannot help but try and blend into the place that you live in. May it be the way you dress, or the way that you speak (picking up different local lingo in your vocabulary).

An undergraduate degree and few jobs later, 15 years in Australia and being an Australian citizen too, there are a few moments where you get your wires get crossed and actually wonder, where am I from?

I have spent almost an equal amount of time in both countries (India and Australia). Australia has made me the person that I am today, yet I have spent all my formative years in India and so whenever it comes to anything I feel passionate about (eg. Cricket) the brain automatically computes to being a diehard patriotic Indian.The emphasis of festivals (not just Diwali, but holi, baisakhi, Eid & onam) become a great reason to catch up with friends and celebrate.

I have come to realise that all these years later, it doesn’t matter where you are from and what language you speak, as long as you are a good human being who conducts themselves respectfully- that’s what people will remember you by, not where you come from!!