Two decades and going strong
41-year old Shanti Singh Khadka lives in Bhandup, a suburb in the North-East of Mumbai with her family – husband and three children. She has been here for over two decades. She hadn’t imagined, when she first arrived, that she would end up living here for so long. She remembers crying inconsolably during the first months in Mumbai; now she has a job, a house, a scooter to go around, and her children – she likes it here but intends to return to Dhangadi, her hometown in Nepal, when the children grow up, and her husband retires.
Inconsolable in Mumbai
Shanti used to cry incessantly when she first arrived to Mumbai, but after having her kids, watching them grow up, she likes Mumbai.
I came to Mumbai with my husband after I got married—five days after I got married. I was eighteen when I got married. I am now forty-one. It’s been twenty-three years since I’ve been in Bombay. Back then, I didn’t like anything. We didn’t have anyone that I knew here. My siblings and my parents were all in Dhangadi. We didn’t have anyone here – I just had my husband. My in-laws had already passed away. And my sister-in-law was already married. She has a house in Dhangadi, and her whole family is there. I was alone here.
“Now, I have three kids (two sons and a daughter), so I like Bombay. I like it—with my kids, dropping them off at school; and before you know it has been a long time.”
We had a small house (in Mumbai) and I had a big house back home. It took some time for me to adapt here. I didn’t like it for two, three years. The other Nepalis I met in Mumbai were from Dhangadi as well. They had been here for many years and also had children. They used to come and help. My husband would go to work, and I would cry all day—thinking I had no one. And those sisters used to come and console me.
I could speak Hindi, but not Marathi. Our town was in the border next to India, so we could speak Hindi from a young age. There was no difficulty regarding the language. But our house was small, and I had to stay inside. We could not interact much, so I didn’t like it. In Dhangadi, I had my friends and family, so I liked everything there. It was very hard for me to settle—for two, four years.
In the beginning, I didn’t know where I would find things, like the bhaji (vegetable) market. My husband used to take me and show me. For a year, my husband used to take me around. Then, I learned where the shops and other facilities were and I started going on my own. There wasn’t any difficulty later.
Now, I have three kids (two sons and a daughter), so I like Bombay. I like it—with my kids, dropping them off at school; and before you know it has been a long time.
“There was no one to take care of them, so I used to tie the youngest to the fence and take the older one with me, coming back carrying the load on my head.”
Working in Mumbai
Shanti started working at a garment factory, after both her sons were born, and continues to work there to-date.
Initially, only my husband was working. He made twelve hundred rupees a month. Then after two years, I had my first son. And after another two years I had my youngest son. My husband’s salary was only twelve hundred. It wasn’t even enough to feed us all; and sometimes our children would get sick. It was very hard. Then, I started to get cutting work in a garment factory, at Bhandup – it was work which I could do at home—part time. I am still doing the same work. It’s been twenty-three years. It’s part-time work. I can go drop my daughter at school, come back to work, go again—we get breaks in the middle. It’s allowed.
We make shirts in a garment factory. I cut threads. The first time I went to the factory, there were all Nepali women there. They were the ones who took me there. They said, “What would you do just sitting at home? You could instead be making some money. Your children might get sick and your husband does not make enough money. Take some cloth pieces and work at home.” So I started working from home. My youngest son was one year old and the eldest was three. There was no one to take care of them, so I used to tie the youngest to the fence and take the older one with me, coming back carrying the load on my head. Then, I worked at home and then returned it. It was difficult in the beginning, but now it’s easier. If you work hard, good things happen.
“I hadn’t thought of anything when I first moved here. I just used to say that I won’t live here, and cry.”
Everyone was good, even the employers. The employers understood that I had children so I couldn’t work in the factory. So, they allowed me to take the work home. The other women brought their children to work, because their children were older. Now, even my children have grown, so I work there (at the factory) as well. I start at ten a.m. and come back at six p.m.
There are six of us, Nepalis, working there in the thread cutting section. Just us six—all Nepalis. And all of us are from Dhangadi. That’s why I like working there. We have fun, and it doesn’t even feel like we are working. I like it. They all have their families and they are all living in Bhandup. In total, including the locals, there are many—about hundred. There are both men and women. And all six of us Nepalis are the only ones who cut threads.
My husband has a job at Indian Oil—a government job. It’s also called Bharat Petroleum. It’s nearby—in Mankhurd. He has to leave an hour before time. Yes, they have three-hour shifts. He left at six in the morning. He’ll come back at around four, five. Because of the rain flooding the tracks, during this season, he gets home a little late.
He has no problem with me working. He supports me a lot. Till now, he hasn’t objected to anything I’ve done. He says that whatever I’m doing is fine. I do all the things of the house. I am the guardian. My husband doesn’t have a clue. Who do we have to pay? Who do we have to take from? Where do we have to get our children admitted? He doesn’t know anything. He just does his work, brings home the money.
I hadn’t thought of anything when I first moved here. I just used to say that I won’t live here, and cry. They would console me by saying that they would drop me home next month. I stayed here for six months and then I went back to Nepal. I stayed there for a year at my mother’s home. I came back after a year. Then I had my eldest son. And once you have your own child you can’t go back home. So, I stayed here because I had to.
Shanti’s maternal family members are all in Nepal. She recently made her oldest brother shift to Mumbai.
We are five siblings in total, three daughters and two sons. I am the eldest. Our father’s name is Jogi Singh Bist. He is a politician. He is a member of a communist party. He had won from Dhangadi. He spent his whole life in politics. Now he is old. He stays at home. I am the eldest. After me, I have a brother, then two sisters and then the youngest brother. The youngest brother is in Kathmandu. He is an asai (a post in Nepal Police). Of the two sisters, one is in Ataria, Dhangadi. And the other sister is also in Dhangadi. She is a teacher in a school.
I am here alone, in Mumbai. I recently made my oldest brother shift here. It’s just been a month. I had gone home on the 15th of April. I returned on the 18th. I reached here on the 20th. On the 23rd, I got his family another room and have kept them there. My brother is at home, for now. His wife was a teacher back home, so we are looking for a job for her. We have gotten their children admitted (to school). His daughter is going to St. Mary’s School, where my daughter also goes.
My daughter is in the fourth grade, and my brother’s daughter is in the sixth grade. And my brother’s son has been admitted at Guru Nanak School, Bhandup station.
Watching Mumbai change
Like any city, Mumbai has undergone several transformations over the years, and Shanti has witnessed them all.
It’s been twenty-three years. From Baisakh, it will be the twenty-forth year. Mumbai has changed a lot, since I first moved here. There wasn’t anything here, it was like a jungle. It was like a village. Now, even Bhandup has developed a lot. It’s become very good. There are a lot of facilities, even from the government.
My neighbours were all Indians, there were Madarasis—everyone was there. They were all good. They helped and supported us when we were new. We had nothing when we came here. We came here with two pairs of clothes. My husband had a small room—a ten by ten room. There was one stove and two plates. He was alone, he didn’t have anyone. His parents had already passed away. Men do not buy things for their homes. Once I was here, I started buying things for us. And slowly, we started making a home. Now we have everything; we are settled. It’s not like before.
“Mumbai has changed a lot, since I first moved here. There wasn’t anything here, it was like a jungle. It was like a village.”
I have my parents’ home in Dhangadi. I still go there every year during the holidays. First, we go to Lucknow by train. Then, we take a bus to Dhangadi through Gauriphanta. At the border, we don’t really face problems; they check our bags and let us go. There isn’t much trouble. They give trouble to naïve and simple people. We can tell them that our home is just there, so don’t trouble us. I still have Nepali citizenship. All my documents are Nepali. I recently came back having made citizenship cards for my two sons.
We don’t send money to Nepal – not anymore. We don’t have anyone in our family. I have my parents, but they are doing fine. My brothers are also doing well. Our money is just enough to send our children to school. We all have our own accounts—me and my husband. We have our money in the accounts. I sent some money to my sister once through Punjab National Bank. She bought a tractor to help her husband in his work. That was six years ago. I haven’t sent any lately. It’s just enough for me—sending my children to school. But I haven’t had to send money to anyone there. So, it’s fine.
With the Shiv Sena
Due to her association with Sita didi, Shanti is also associated with activities in the Shiv Sena, from time to time.
In the past, Sita didi has helped me out a lot. Back then my eldest son used to get sick a lot, and I didn’t even have the money to go to the hospital. I used to walk to Mulund, carrying my son. There is Mulund Kaamdar Hospital where they provide free treatment. I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t afford to take a rickshaw. So, I used to walk. It took half-an-hour to forty-five minutes to get there. And there, I got my children checked. And one day I went to Sita didi, and she asked me why I was there. And I told her that I don’t have money to buy medicine for my children. She gave me 500 rupees. I also didn’t have any extra clothes. Our condition was very bad back then. And she gave us some clothes as well. She told me to let her know if there is any problem, and she is there to help us. She helped us.
I came across Sita didi, and I’m also a member of the Shiv Sena. I’m not that regular; I go whenever Sita didi calls me. I’ve been a member since I came here. But because of my children I haven’t been able to participate much. I’ve got family problem. To be active in politics, one needs to have free time. I cannot go around with other members, I can’t do that much. I need to go to work for my family. Sometimes, when Sita didi says it’s urgent, and that there’s a Nepali meeting somewhere, then she takes me.
“I’m not sure why so many Nepalis are a part of the Shiv Sena. There was K.D. Thapa in the party before. He has done a lot for the community—for Mahastrians and everyone else.”
In the meeting, we talk about the problems. There is Sita didi and there is a Thapa—Master Thapa. He is also good. He also helps if there are Nepalis facing any problem. Now, I’m a bit active in BJP programs, too.
I’m not sure why so many Nepalis are a part of the Shiv Sena. There was K.D. Thapa in the party before. He has done a lot for the community—for Mahastrians and everyone else. He is revered like a God in Bhandup. He did well, so everyone followed him. So, everyone got into Shiva Sena back then. Now, the old people have mostly died or left, and the new ones go wherever they think they should go.
I go alone everywhere. Now, I have bought a scooter. It’s been ten years. So now, I travel in my scooter. In the beginning, it was difficult. I didn’t know who would go if something urgent came up. But you have to gather courage and go. But, I don’t get afraid. What I believe is: Don’t do anything wrong. And if anyone does anything wrong to you, don’t let him go. That’s why Sita didi says that she feels good when I’m around when she’s travelling.
Shanti talks about her children: where they study, what they like.
All my children understand Nepali but they cannot speak fluently. They speak Hindi and Marathi. I can, too. But we mostly speak Hindi. I also understand Marathi—I do speak. It’s been twenty-three years since I’ve been in Mumbai.
During our children’s holidays, we go to Nepal. I like it a lot. They get very happy being there. They don’t want to come back, especially my daughter. The last time, when we were coming back she cried so much. She says she wants to stay there. She has her grandparents there, and everyone loves her there. She cried a lot. But what can you do, you have to study. She is in a convent school—a good school. She passed the interview to get in. Later, if you wanted to get your child in, you couldn’t, even if you make a donation of one lakh rupees. They won’t have seats, but also if they do, they won’t take you.
“During our children’s holidays, we go to Nepal. I like it a lot. They get very happy being there.”
Recently, my brother’s daughter also got admitted there. She studies well, too. So, I got my brother’s daughter also admitted there. It was a lot of hassle. We went to talk to the sister. We told her about the earthquake. We told her that they have lost their homes, so have come here with their children. What can you do? You have to do these things for your children’s future. We pleaded to get her admitted. I told her my daughter is already studying there, that’s why I’ve brought my brother’s daughter as well. She did take her in. It’s just been four days since my niece has been going to the school. She says the school is very good—the school, the friends. She’s made friends with everyone in the class.
The devastating earthquake
Shanti was in Nepal during the earthquake.
I was in Dhangadi during the earthquake, at my mother’s place. That’s when the earthquake hit. The houses shook a bit. That’s when we found out that there has been an earthquake in Kathmandu and that there was a lot of destruction there. I was scared a little as my brother and sister-in-law were in Kathmandu. I asked them to come, but my brother is in the police. He was an asai (policeman), so he couldn’t leave his work. We asked my sister-in-law to come. She lived in a tent with a two-year-old baby for fifteen days. We called her but the transports were shut. They faced difficulties during the earthquake.
After I returned, everyone was talking about the earthquake. All the Nepalis, and even the locals. They said that they were worried about us, and they asked me how it was. I did try calling them, but I couldn’t get through. Everyone was worried here.
Home will always be Nepal
Despite the life she has built in Mumbai over the last two decades, she plans to return home – Nepal.
For me, I think your country always remains your country. I enjoy it there. Here, even though I have all the facilities and have everything I need, I still like Nepal. When I go there for a month, the month seems to go by so quick—it’s already time to leave. After my children finish their studies, I will go back to Nepal. I have a house and land there. I will go back. My youngest son is doing his undergraduate. He is studying computer engineering. He has got three, four years left. And after my daughter passes her tenth grade, I’m going back to Nepal. My husband also likes being in Nepal better. He has got fifteen years of service left. He’ll have to work that much. Then, he will get pension. He says that he wants to go back and live in Nepal after that.
A lot of people from Western Nepal still come. In the beginning, they also face difficulties. If we are connected to them, we help them out. We check what they have and what they don’t, and help them accordingly. The men – they don’t come with their families, they come alone to work. The women – they don’t come alone. I don’t know any woman who has come here on her own. The women there go to places like Qatar to work. They don’t come here. They don’t come to Mumbai alone. The women from my village – they go to study in Kathmandu, but no one has gone there to work.
I can’t speak in English, but I can read. I studied till the tenth grade in Nepal. I can write a bit but not much. Back then, there wasn’t much emphasis on English. Education wasn’t that important back then, like it is now. Other girls with me in the village did not study. My father sent me to a government school where I studied till the tenth grade. My father was a political leader. He sent us all to school. Three siblings after me were all sent to boarding schools. Back then, even his financial position was not good. Another brother and I studied in government schools. I passed the tenth grade from Dhangadi.
“A lot of people from Western Nepal still come. In the beginning, they also face difficulties. If we are connected to them, we help them out.”
The holidays here fall in the month of Baisakh. I can’t go during Dashain. The children have their schools during that time. They have their exams then. They get twenty days’ holiday during Diwali. But it takes three days to get there, and three days to come back, there isn’t much time to stay there. That’s why we don’t go then.
During Dashain and Tihar, all the Nepalis here get together. We put jamara on the day of Navaratri. We celebrate it like we do back home. We miss Nepal more during the time of Dashain and Tihar. We miss our friends and family back home.
Down the memory lane
Shanti looks back at her years in Mumbai and talks about the hardships. She has come a long way since those days.
When we first came we struggled a lot. My husband’s salary was also very little back then—twelve hundred. It wasn’t even enough to feed us. Then we had two babies. I started working. I didn’t even have the money to buy milk for my babies. We used to drink black tea. We faced a lot of hardships. Then, we both worked hard and now our circumstances have become better.
“We faced a lot of hardships. Then, we both worked hard and now our circumstances have become better.”
I had a convenient life in my mother’s home. We didn’t have to work. And when all of a sudden we were in a poor position, I realized that this was what’s in our fate. So, I had to work hard. I knew what my parents had was not enough for me. Once, a daughter is married, she has to work herself. So I started working.
Back then, education was not considered very important and my parents were not able to provide much education for us. I sent my two sons to school. I used to drop them off at school, go to work and go pick them up again. My daughter is now ten years old. She was born after a ten years’ gap, after the second son. My sons take care of our daughter. They love her—she’s their only sister. They help a lot around the house too. My sons do all the work. I get tired after coming from work. My children do the cleaning, and all other work. We all work together. They don’t think it’s my job. They help me out, and even my husband helps. He also does all of the housework.
“She has been auspicious to me. Our conditions changed once we had her. When we just had our two sons, our condition wasn’t very good.”
I wish that my daughter gets to study and make progress. I have sent her to a good school—St. Mary’s Convent High School. It’s very difficult to get in there. Everyone says that it was my daughter’s good fortune that she is going there. She is very good. She has been auspicious to me. Our conditions changed once we had her. When we just had our two sons, our condition wasn’t very good. Our work was just fine. Once we had her our conditions changed. We used to live in a shack. We left it after six months, thinking it wasn’t good for our daughter. Then, we rented a place for six years. And it’s been three years since we’ve had our own home.
It’s very good here – where we live. We are in the main city. The society is good. Everyone is Gujarati. Everyone is well-educated. It’s much better than where we used to live. In the old place, people were not good. Nothing was good there. So, I stayed there for a year. And as soon as I had my daughter, I left that place. It was not suitable for my child. It wasn’t safe for her. I left the whole area, and stayed in rented place for six years.
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