A decade in Mumbai
Betu lives and works in Mumbai with her family. The north-west suburb of Malad, where she lives, has many other Nepalis, especially in her neighbourhood.
The first time
Now all smiles, but ask her about the time she came to Mumbai, Betu recollects feeling very sad. She remembers crying all the way. Her husband was working here, in Mumbai, and he brought her here.
She says, “I used to cry so much. I used to cry while talking to my mother on the phone. It didn’t feel good.” “Now, it has been many years since I’ve been here – it’s been eight-nine years. My children are also studying here. I came here after getting married and having my first child. Now, all three of my children are studying here. I had the two other children after coming here. I had brought a two and a half year old daughter with me. She’s now ten, twelve years old.” She has three children – two daughters and a son. The oldest daughter is twelve years old, the younger daughter is nine and the son is five.
Like most migrants who come to Mumbai, the hope for a better life and a better future for the children, is what brought Betu and her husband to Mumbai. She says that things back home (in Nepal) had started to become so expensive that she wouldn’t have been able to send her children to school by just raising cattle. She stays, and works in Mumbai, so that she can send her children to school. “I don’t have a house but I am living here to send my children to school.”
“I was scared. My heart was pounding. Even when I was travelling around the neighbourhood, I would be worried that I would get lost.”
Living in Mumbai is nothing like being in her village. Seeing other Nepalis in the neighbourhood makes her really happy, but it is still not like her village, she reiterates. “I have gone to Pune, and a lot of other places in Mumbai with my husband. There isn’t any place that I really like.” She likes Nepal, and says that here in Mumbai, it’s just the same. She visited the sea, but thought it was just okay. “I have been to many places but there aren’t any that get me really excited.” Her village in Nepal is in the hilly region, where one has to uphill and downhill. She liked Pune – “It was like my village—there were many Nepali friends. I liked it. It was cooler. I like Pune. It had water canals and pipes like in the village.”
Living in Mumbai
“I was scared. My heart was pounding. Even when I was travelling around the neighbourhood, I would be worried that I would get lost.” Betu came to Mumbai with a couple, who were travelling to Mumbai, from her village. Her husband, who works in the hotel industry, was here already, and had rented a room for the family to live in. She came with her daughter. She couldn’t speak the local language (of Mumbai), when she first came. “I would listen to other people speak. I tried to speak even though I couldn’t. I had a few local friends, but where we used to live (in Goregaon), there wasn’t a single Nepali.”
They stayed in Goregaon for two and a half years, at first, and then they moved to Malad. “When we came here it felt like our own village. There are many Nepalis. We don’t have to deal with outsiders.” Malad is the suburb, right next to Goregaon, but Betu says that she can’t even go to Goregaon (from Malad) on her own. She says, “I’m scared. I can go to places nearby, like the market, but I can’t go much far. I get scared. I know the language but I can’t go. I can’t figure out the way, I haven’t studied much. If I can take a friend along, I can go; I need a friend.”
She has been working for around three years, as a house-help. Initially, she used to feel bad, used to cry for having to do such things. “That’s how I used to think. But I’m used to it now. The employers – they are good, they understand our suffering,” she says. “I work for around four, five hours. I start at eight. I work till twelve, twelve-thirty—sometimes till one. It takes ten-fifteen minutes to get to work, on foot.” Her children study in different schools, and their timings are different. She finds it hard to schedule her day around their timings.
Not knowing the language, she says she would first just look at the employers faces, and try to speak. She wasn’t shy, so she spoke even though she did not know how to. She used props and gestures, and somehow learned to speak the language. Her children, they speak Nepali, Hindi and also Marathi; especially, the youngest daughter, who is very fluent in Marathi. Betu, herself, speaks only Hindi and doesn’t speak Marathi, but her husband does.
“Here it’s just us two and the kids. We do have friends here, but we also have friends back home. I used to feel very bad in the early days. I used to scream on the phone. But now I’ve gotten used to it, maybe because I have my children here. Two of them were born here.”
Now in her tenth year in Mumbai, Betu never thought she would end up living here for so long. It was difficult for her to even go through a month at first, she recollects. “Years pass just like that—one year, then two years. I wanted to go back in a month; now, not so much. I need to think about my children—earn, send them to school. I still talk to my parents on the phone. They tell me to provide education for my children. And education is cheaper here than in Nepal. You can’t send them to a boarding school there. It’s too expensive. Here it’s around four-five hundred rupees. In Nepal they ask for a thousand rupees.”
“My parents’ home is in Syangja—Tindawate VDC, Bangrati village. My husband’s home is in Palpa—Faksinkot VDC. That’s our home, but we have been living here for nine, ten years. But we do go visit from time to time. I had just been there during (last) Diwali. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, brother-in-law and his wife, sister-in-law are all there.” Betu says that her parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws – they are all back home – home is Nepal. She has lived in Mumbai for close to ten years now, but she still likes her own village better. She, along with her family, tries to visit home every year – sometimes once in two years. Everyone is there. “Here it’s just us two and the kids. We do have friends here, but we also have friends back home. I used to feel very bad in the early days. I used to scream on the phone. But now I’ve gotten used to it, maybe because I have my children here. Two of them were born here.”
Back in her village, a few of the homes have been damaged during the earthquake. Houses have been destroyed, both in her village and her parents’ village. There were big houses in the village—two, three-storied. They have been destroyed. Some have been destroyed completely, some partially. She is thinking about visiting home, this year, too. The festivals – Teej, Dassain, Tihar – bring the Nepalis in her locality together. “We get together, and sing and dance. It’s quite fun. But I feel like crying when I think about my parents, my brothers and sisters-in-law, and all my friends (back home). Here, it’s not like your home. But despite what you feel inside you have to appear happy—for the kids.” Her children visit Nepal with her, and they like it a lot in the village. She suspects it is because they stay there only for short durations. Despite this, when they are in the village, they say it’s not their home and they want to come back to Mumbai. Her youngest daughter says that she likes it in the village more than Mumbai. Betu responds that her daughter goes to the village only once in a while, so everyone pampers her. She hasn’t stayed there for long. She stays there for fifteen, twenty days, and during those days, everyone is nice to her, so she enjoys it.
“From Gorakhpur we go to Butwal through Sunauli. From Butwal we have to go to another village. We sleep in the train. Then we take buses and taxis to get home. We reach home during the day; we don’t have to stay anywhere.”
When I ask Betu if she thinks of Mumbai as ‘home’ like her children, she replies that she still thinks of her village as her home.“I feel like staying there, if I could. But it’s so expensive there. And my children are living here (in Mumbai) with their father; they wouldn’t agree. So, I have to come back for them I miss my village, and my parents’ village. I think about the village more than I think about Mumbai. Everything’s there. Here, it’s just sending my children to school, sleeping and eating. All my possession’s there. My parents, my in-laws are all there. I’m always saying (to my husband) let’s go home. He probably likes it in the village as well, but he has to work here. He could like it here because he has a job here.”
Betu goes to her village by train, a train from Kurla, Mumbai goes directly to Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. “From Gorakhpur we go to Butwal through Sunauli. From Butwal we have to go to another village. We sleep in the train. Then we take buses and taxis to get home. We reach home during the day; we don’t have to stay anywhere.” The Indo-Nepal border is rather porous with several monitored entry/exit points. Talking of the scrutiny at borders, she says, “They open our bags. They give us so much trouble. I yell at them. I tell them that no one causes trouble in India, but they cause trouble in our own country. They open our bags and take our money. They check us at two-three points at the border. We can’t even take home, the things we like. We have to be cautious. They give trouble if we have utensils and new clothes in our luggage.”
“Though many from her village come to Mumbai for work, she says the women don’t come as much, not even the girls. But the men are still coming, even younger ones, if they have left their studies.”
She has an Indian PAN card, but has no bank account in her name. She and her husband, send money home through the bank, and have faced no difficulties. However, they are harassed at both sides of the border – Indian and Nepali. The ones who speak Nepali, they are the ones who take money—three, four, five hundred, she says. “Our own Nepalis take from us. I yell at them so much. And they tell me to shut up and tell me that it is their tradition.”
Other Nepalis in Mumbai
Betu was introduced, to me, by Kabita Bhandari, a woman who is a part of a loose informal group of Nepali women who help each other and are involved in organizing the Nepali community into smaller localized groups. Betu talks excitedly about meeting other Nepalis, the meetings they have, the twenty-five, twenty-six women in the locality are involved in the organisation. They gather together, share stories, and try to meet as often as they can as there aren’t many Nepalis.
There are two families from her village; they lived near her mother’s house in the village. And there is another family that lived even closer. There are many, she says. Though many from her village come to Mumbai for work, she says the women don’t come as much, not even the girls. But the men are still coming, even younger ones, if they have left their studies. They come on their own. The women – they either come with their family, relatives or friends. They don’t come alone.
In the localized groups of the women, when they meet, they talk about safety and security. “We teach others what they should not do. We have now understood these things. It’s been three, four years since I’ve been listening to these things.” Betu feels good about doing this, as they get to inform other people. “It’s something that everyone should know. I feel good when talking about these things.” Previously, the meetings used to happen every month, but now people from outside don’t come as often. Each group has a name, and they have opened an account, where they deposit hundred rupees every month. Some of the women, in the group, have gone to their villages, and some have left. So the number has decreased. However, every month, the ones who remain, ten to twelve of them, meet and share experiences with each other, and also deposit the amount. “We don’t have big meetings like we used to. We had other ‘sirs and madams’ come to teach us things. I liked it.”
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