‘Today, women may account for half the number of people on the move but spouses or sponsored dependents, who cannot find work in a foreign land irrespective of their qualifications or experience, are facing desperate times’
"In Mumbai, my work at a publishing house used to keep me on my toes all day. And whatever free time I was able to manage was spent with friends and family," recalls Reshu Sinha (29). These days, her entire life revolves around various social networking sites and Skype.
Times have indeed changed for this once-busy professional and it's her move to the UK that made the difference. She came to Leamington Spa in Warwickshire after getting married to an IT professional a short while ago. Initially, she was happy at the thought of discovering the 18th century spa town with its Georgian architecture, and the famous Royal Pump Rooms and Baths. But her enthusiasm died down faster than expected. "I explored the beautiful city and continue to do so, but doing everything alone is no fun... I feel so lonely," she says, her voice heavy with sadness.
With her husband busy with his professional commitments, Sinha had a lot of time on her hands and she decided to get back into the workforce. But this was easier said than done. "I did manage to find a sandwich artist's job at a local eatery, but there is no mental stimulation there," she says.
Today, she may yearn for those days filled with office work and the chatter of old friends, but she has managed to maintain a happy façade for the world, preferring not to share her woes with anyone in her family. "What is the point?" she asks dejectedly, "This is how it's going to be so why bother them."
Even her closest friends have no clue about her actual state of mind. "My friends think I am having a good time here while they are working hard in order to live a good life. I too play along. I post the best, the happiest pictures I have on social networking sites so people assume I am blessed and happy. Only I know the truth," she says.
Today, women may account for half the number of people on the move but spouses or sponsored dependents, who cannot find work in a foreign land irrespective of their qualifications or experience, are facing desperate times. Take the case of Shruti Agarwal (34), a chartered accountant from New Delhi. Leaving behind a well-paid career, she arrived in Saudi Arabia where her husband had landed a lucrative job with the national airline.
Things have been going downhill ever since. First, to her utter dismay she found out that the Kingdom does not allow women entering as dependents to work and that one, in any case, had to be fluent in Arabic to be able to find any sort of work. So she decided to change her plan. "I thought I would now be able to do all those things I hadn't had the time to do in India. I decided I would join a gym, but then that year the Kingdom banned gyms for women. I tried to socialise with my neighbours but here people are culturally very different and they do not mix around much beyond their own families. There are big and beautiful shopping malls here but women are not allowed to go out alone and I do not have friends or family beyond my own," she explains.
Slowly but steadily Agarwal started experiencing feelings of worthlessness. "I felt redundant and despised my husband because he had friends and an office to go to. I cried every day, I felt sad for weeks, months at a stretch," she says. If Sinha is fighting loneliness, then Agarwal is waging a battle with depression.
Pavitra Singh, a public relations expert from Chennai, has a pretty similar story to narrate. "I was doing extremely well in my profession. But then my husband got a job in the US. Of course, we moved and I am now sitting at home," she says. There are times when she has contemplated going back but she knows that professionally things will not be the same. "A PR person is as good as her contacts. A few months out of the circle and you are out of it," she rues.
Sinha, Agarwal and Singh represent thousands of women who move around the world as secondary migrants, giving up their careers, dreams and aspirations. Their husband have 'good jobs' but their independent, emancipated, confident wives are forced to play the traditional role of a homemaker, even if they have the capability and desire to do something more with their lives.
What becomes of these women? Do they ever get back to work or do their family duties eventually get the better of them? How do they feel as dependents in a foreign country? Says Agarwal, "It is extremely frustrating to be reliant on your husband for even the smallest of things." As Saudi Arabia does not allow women to move outside without being escorted by a male family member, it gets very tough at times. For Singh, it's her financial independence she misses the most. "I am lucky that my husband is extremely nice. But at the end of the day I have to ask for things. Earlier, I could just get anything on my own," she says.
There are some countries that allow dependent spouses to work, but one finds that in such places too they are forced to settle for any job that comes their way. Take Sinha – from being a publishing professional she was reduced to making sandwiches, an occupation she found both boring and slightly demeaning. There are also situations when hard won degrees are not recognised, or painfully gathered skills are considered outdated.
Of course, although there are many disadvantages to migration – discrimination, the loss of status, and the erosion of skills – some point to the few pluses they can claim. These include upward mobility in the home country because of higher remittances – which could translate into greater investments, more congenial housing and better educational opportunities for the children.
While most women make peace with their secondary status, there are a few brave ones who carve out a separate existence. Meet Payal, a south Mumbai girl with a Masters in Dentistry from Singapore. She joined her husband in Riyadh soon after they got married. Her husband, like millions of others, was a victim of recession who migrated in search of a good job. Before Payal had left for Saudi Arabia she was hopeful that she would do well professionally since it was commonly believed that doctors and dentists are in high demand in the Gulf countries. When she landed a job, she packed her bags and moved.
But reality intruded soon enough. Payal realised that she was not enjoying her work and it was only her sense of loyalty to her husband that kept her going. However, a point came when she could not take it anymore. She packed her bags once again and headed for Mumbai, "back to what was normal for me rather than trying to fit in where everything is so different". These days, Payal is a happy woman, "I love being in my city. I am as qualified as my husband, if not more. If he gets to choose where he wants to be, I too should be given an opportunity to decide, shouldn't I?"
While Payal’s stance seems rational enough, many would term it as impractical. The question then is, do women exercise their freedom of choice and follow their hearts, or do they simply tow the line and suffer in silence like Sinha, Agarwal and Singh? Also, is there anything like a happy compromise? (Women's Feature Service)
Foreigners croon Indian ragas, regale crowds
‘Off and on, students from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also come to learn and showcase their talent. The students say they like Indian culture and are happy that most of it is akin to their own culture’
Bada khyaal, chota khyaal, kathak, bharatanatyam teen taal on tabla and Raag Malkaus -- pure Indian classical music and dance forms.
Music, however, knows no barriers and no boundaries. And proving the age-old adage, over a dozen foreigners - mostly South Asians - are regaling crowds with their performances and dedication for Indian music.
This is part of a series of events promoted by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the National Kathak Institute (NKI). The students are drawn from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. They say they are also enjoying their stay in Lucknow.
Wahid Abdullah of Afghanistan, who sings a mellifluous Piya ke paas kaise jaoon sajani in Raag Malkhaus, said he was a long-standing fan of Indian classical music.
This music amalgamation planned under the Kshitiz (horizon) series was aimed at assimilating foreign talent into the Indian culture and grooming them further, said Kavita Pandey, the regional head of ICCR.
“Foreigners who show interest in Indian culture are promoted by us in whatever way we can,” Pandey said.
The dozen-odd students are studying different courses at the Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidya Peeth, Lucknow. Yatiraj Adhikari from Nepal says he was very happy when people applaud his performance.
He loves playing the Raag Vihaag on the violin.
Vyankatesh Dhakaal, also from Nepal, who accompanies local Maheshwar Dayal Nagar with his tabla on sangat, says, “It is all about good music and learning.”
Anchita Mehrani from Sri Lanka, who sings the Bada Khyaal in Raag Madhuvanti and Chota Khyaal along with Krishna bhajans, is equally at home relishing what she is learning in India.
While the Nepalese students stay at the hostel in the music varsity, the other foreigners are living as paying guests and in rented accommodation. Off and on, students from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also come to learn and showcase their talent. The students say they like Indian culture and are happy that most of it is akin to their own culture. “It is more or less the same. But, yes, it is good to see that we are made to feel special yet at home here in Lucknow,” said one of the students. The food of Avadh, they chuckle, is an added temptation to the music they are learning. (IANS)