Discovering life in Mumbai
23-year old Sangita Pariyar is from Syanja in Nepal. She has been in Mumbai for a little over two years. I went, with Kabita Bhandari, to interview Sangita Pariyar. When we reached her house, a goat greeted us at the outside, and Pariyar’s beautiful baby girl inside. Pariyar has named her daughter, Sajvini. Though Pariyar was the one who was primarily interviewed, Bhandari, who has stayed in India, for several years and is more articulate in her thoughts, also shared her thoughts and comments.
Pariyar came to India for the first time, two years ago. She came with her husband to Mumbai, a year after her wedding. She says, “In the beginning I was scared and sad. But later after met I other people from my village I started to enjoy it. I was scared when I left my village. I had never been here before. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. Where would I stay? How would it be? I was scared. But when I got here, I saw other Nepalis, and people from my village. When I went out of my room, I saw other Nepali sisters and learned that I wasn’t the only one, there were many.”
After reaching Mumbai, Pariyar stayed home for the first three months, and then worked in households for a full year – she worked in three households, and then left the work when her daughter was born. She wasn’t sure if she would work again, “Let’s see, we will see how it goes. As she grows, so will her expenses. If we must, we will do it.” Pariyar’s thirty-year old husband, has been working in the same hotel as a cook for eight years, and he’s been in Mumbai for close to ten years. About her work, she says, “The work was nearby – at a ten minutes’ distance, and the employers were fine. One of them was good. We still talk and visit each other—almost like we are from the same home. The other two were okay. They worked outside. They asked me to work more, stay there longer. When I tell them I’m leaving, my working hours are over; they give me more errands.I l earnt Hindi here. When I came from the village I did not know anything But I used to watch TV serials and movies. So, I did know a little. I did understand, but could not speak clearly. It’s been two years but I’m still not fluent. I stutter a little while speaking.”
“But when I got here, I saw other Nepalis, and people from my village. When I went out of my room, I saw other Nepali sisters and learned that I wasn’t the only one, there were many.”
Pariyar hasn’t been to the village since she had her daughter. Baby Sajvini was soon to be seven months old. She said she was thinking about going this year. “I miss my village a lot. They just had an earthquake. I miss my home more, thinking of what might have happened there.” Pariyar was here during the earthquake, but says that she lost a lot – “We lost a lot. Not my parents’ house, but our house was destroyed. So, we were worried. And my in-laws weren’t home, except for my sister-in-law. We were really worried for her. I have talked to her. We were also told that she has received help from the VDC. So, we were slightly relieved after hearing that. With the help she’ll hopefully be able to rebuild the house.”
“The work was nearby – at a ten minutes’ distance, and the employers were fine. One of them was good. We still talk and visit each other—almost like we are from the same home.”
Schooling in India – better than Nepal?
The conversation moved to the hot weather in Mumbai and how it was cool back in the village in Nepal, and then to schooling. Talking about schooling, Bhandari says, “Here, if it is a thousand rupees in grade one, it’ll be a thousand rupees in grade ten. The monthly fee is the same as the admission fee and the exam fee. The term fee is different it’s half. It’s expensive everywhere in Nepal. If it’s fifteen hundred this year, next year it’ll be two thousand. Then it’s twenty-five hundred, then three thousand, then thirty-five hundred. That’s how they increase the fee. We don’t like it.”
“They say you won’t get a job (in Nepal) if you have studied here. Why won’t you find a job if you have studied well?”
Bhandari was insistent that the schooling in Mumbai is better than the schooling in Nepal. “What they study is the same, but a child who has passed English in SLC is not able to speak properly. Here, even the children in class five or six can speak and write in English. My children were just able to get into standard two and three. For English and Math it’s much better here. And in Math, the way they teach you here, you won’t fail anywhere. With the knowledge and technique that they teach you here, even if a child in fifth grade comes to compete with a third-grader, he won’t be able to win.”
They express their concern though that the children who study here will likely be weak in Nepali later on—but only in Nepali. After the fifth grade our children will be in an English medium. They won’t even have to study Hindi and Marathi. Pariyar has a thought though, “They say you won’t get a job (in Nepal) if you have studied here. Why won’t you find a job if you have studied well?”
On returning to Nepal
Pariyar wants to return to Nepal. She thinks her husband wants to stay in Mumbai for one year, six months, and then they’ll go back. “What will we do here? Firstly, we don’t have our own houses here. Then our parents and all our family members are there, that’s why we still like it there. We have a house in the village.”
Celebrating ‘Nepaliness’ in India
Talking about the time when the Nepalis, in this neighbourhood of Mumbai, get together, they say that all mostly meet at Teej. Teej is one of the most important festivals for Nepali women. All the women get together during Teej. It’s a lot of fun when all of them Nepali sisters gather together and sing, everyone enjoys it a lot. Bhandari says, “There are programs in different places during Raksha Bandhan. There is a Durga temple nearby, we all gather there.”
The temple is made by Nepalis. During the festivals, there are programs. Many people turn up at these events, almost five hundred to one thousand. Firstly, the New Year’s Day is celebrated, with pujas, and then also Teej. The food is free for all the attendees. It’s paid for by the organization. There is an organization called Sanyukta Mahasang. The food and drink is free for everyone. A big hall is booked. There are cultural programs—Nepali, Hindi, Marathi. People who have been living here prefer Hindi.
“There are programs in different places during Raksha Bandhan. There is a Durga temple nearby, we all gather there.”
The Nepalis living in Mumbai attend the program, Food, drinks—everything is free. There is a puja during the New Year’s Day. Nepali products like garlands, caps and noodles are kept for display. There are also calendars on display. You can buy them. During the events, things like pote, saree, chola from Nepal, are sold. Someone is always travelling to Nepal, so the others give them money and ask them to bring things.
Food is an integral part of all cultures. The Nepalis in Mumbai, too, prepare whatever they eat in Nepal.“Just because you are in a foreign country you don’t start eating like them. We eat according to our own culture”, says Bhandari. A main part of the Nepali diet is noodles, and kodo, and sinki. The women make sinki here, and get saag and radish and make it here. They miss taama (bamboo shoots), and cook sel-roti themselves. They cook rotis at home, and also achaar (pickles). That’s all we don’t get here, we get everything else.
“I hadn’t travelled much in Nepal. When I was travelling in the beginning, the different new things used to amaze me.”
The amazements of Mumbai
Pariyar recollects that when she first came to Mumbai, she was quite surprised. “I hadn’t travelled much in Nepal. When I was travelling in the beginning, the different new things used to amaze me. We can’t compare it with Nepal. It is a lot more developed and richer than Nepal. I got to see places and things that I hadn’t seen in Nepal. I hadn’t been to a mall in Nepal. I had never seen malls, and after coming here I found out what they are like. I used to get amazed. Now I’m used to it; it’s been two years.”
“But once you start working, travelling on your own, start to understand things and know your way around … And once you know the people around … Then you are not afraid anymore.”
Bhandari remembers being amazed about the trains. “I used to wonder where the trains were going—in the first few days. I couldn’t tell where the trains were going. It comes from one direction and goes some other way. And I couldn’t tell where it was going. That’s what happens when you don’t know. When I am going on a bus I am not worried that it will take me somewhere else. But when I am on a rickshaw I am worried it will take me somewhere else. Whenever I would come across an unfamiliar locality, my heart would start to pace. That was before. But once you start working, travelling on your own, start to understand things and know your way around … And once you know the people around … Then you are not afraid anymore.”
Dignity of labour
Bhandari is of the opinion that in Mumbai, if one doesn’t have money, one can work all day and have enough to spend and eat. In Nepal, either one needs to hold a good job or not work at all. “We can’t even just get by, that’s why we Nepalis are compelled to stay here, not because we want to. In Nepal we can’t even work if we have to, because the environment there is like that. There if you work, cook, wash clothes and dishes, and look after the kids in someone else’s house, they look down at you. But here everyone has to do it, so no one judges you. If you do the same work you can judge me for doing the same work. We are all equal. All these lessons are lost if we go to Nepal. Nepalis are working here in compulsion, big or small. But women who have worked here have worked with dignity, regardless of the perception of women working abroad. There are organizations that make regular enquiries about the conditions of women working here—if they are under any form of pressure. If there is any pressure, the organization talks to the employer.”
Of all the interviews conducted in Mumbai, I hadn’t come across any single women, and when I asked Bhandari about single Nepali women, she says that there are no single women who live in her neighbourhood. Most of the Nepalis I met, would always subtly hint that the ‘single’ women do not do ‘good work’ – they are likely involved in sex work.
“Here, everyone lives with their families. They (the single women) have settled in places that suit their reasons to be here.”
Bhandari says, “Like I had said before, they live in another side of the city but not here. Here, everyone lives with their families. They (the single women) have settled in places that suit their reasons to be here. Here, everyone is with their family and parents. They can get good work. They can work in households. They don’t have to face the harassment of others if they live there. But they get bored, they have to work a lot, and they have to listen to their nagging”.
“If they have their own room, they work for eight hours and can come rest for twelve. If you stay there twenty-four hours you have to listen to them all the time. They get security but they also have to endure more burden. But where do you live on your own. So, such women are either working twenty-four hours or are living on their own. They live in areas with more women. They don’t live where there are men. We also make enquiries through our organization. If anything goes wrong we catch the person who has sent them. There were a few, but we caught them. They send people just to make money. If the work is suitable then the woman stays there if not we bring them back.”
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