For a Better Life
An Oral History Interview with my father
The goal of my interview was to comprehend what life was like for my father growing up, what his motives were to leave his home, and his emotions during the process. I feel like these three things would combat what my project proposed, as well as provide a deeper connection and perspective to my father’s story to enhance and increase my knowledge. Being born and raised in the United States, I knew that my background could not be more different than my father’s and the experiences he faced in his life growing up. By asking questions about his accounts, I would be able to see things through my father’s eyes and reveal information I never knew.
As I sat on the couch, laptop in front of me, phone ready to record, and my father by my side, I was ready to conduct this interview — to delve into the past of a man who was full of ambition, ready for change, and unafraid of sacrifice.
What was life like growing up? What was school like?
I lived in one big room about the size of our living room to our kitchen. There was a partition in the middle — one side we had a small kitchen and the small bathroom, but no toilet. The toilet was outside. It was like a communal toilet, like you have in your dorm, but no showers.
How many people did you live with?
Seven people. We had just one bed and the rest of us slept on the floor. All my brothers and my sister used to sleep in line next to each other.
And what about school?
I went to an only boy’s school. We had a girl’s school but that was separate all together.
Were you close with your parents growing up?
I was very close to my mom. My dad was always, all the time, outside working.
What about your siblings?
Yeah, we were pretty close.
All of you?
Yeah. Growing up, my eldest brother was already working in Saudi Arabia when I was in school. And by that time, you know, Abdu Uncle (my dad’s brother) was also grown, so he had taken off. But me and Iqbal and us (the other siblings) were still back home. We used to have fun, play cricket.
Did your mom work?
No. Back then they didn’t work.
The wives of the house?
Yeah, they used to be housewives. At that time when I was growing up, the life was different. The world was not that advanced — that women worked too much on the outside. Most of them were housewives and stayed home and did the cooking and took care of the kids, and all that stuff.
How old were you when you left India alone for the first time?
The first time I left India, I think, was in 1980. I was twenty years old.
While you were growing up, did you have dreams to leave India? Was leaving planned?
I wouldn’t call it a dream. It was like a tradition in the house. Yeah, you know how it is back home when I was growing up, you know, the economy — having a job was more important, having a big family like that. So eventually, as the guys grew up, finished their school…they had to grow up, get a job.
How did your family feel about you leaving home?
The way the family came up, everybody was used to the fact that we have to travel outside India to make a living. My father did that, my elder brother did that, my other brothers did that. In fact, they were already on the other side. My family was used to us brothers leaving the house and they were very much supportive of me leaving the house and going somewhere else to have a better life.
How many years were you traveling before you settled in America permanently?
I would say at least seven years.
And then you decided to go back to America?
And settle there permanently?
You had so many opportunities to reside in one of the other countries you visited, why did you leave so often for a new one?
You know when I initially came to the US, you know, I was settling down and then my brother called me to Australia. He told me the opportunities were better over there and, you know, things are working out good. So to give it a shot and to be with the family I traveled to Australia…but things didn’t work out over there so I had to make other plans.
What was your favorite country you went to?
My favorite country I would say…I would say is Australia.
Did you have any regrets choosing to permanently settle in America?
No, I did not.
You liked it?
I like it.
You felt like you made the right decision?
Do you have any regrets of leaving India in general?
At the time I was growing up in India there was too much hardship over there. We had a big family and it was difficult to make ends meet. So I didn't really regret it. Life basically is tough in India.
There was nothing to miss?
Nothing to miss at all.
Did your family ever influence your decision to leave India?
Oh yeah, oh yeah they didn't want me to stay.
They didn’t want you to stay?
Oh yeah everybody wanted me to leave.
So growing up you knew you weren’t going to stay?
What was your main motive to travel?
The main motive to travel was for a better life.
Were you ever scared along the way?
No, no I never got scared.
Because, you know, back home the way I grew up and we were traveling all the time with my dad…my dad was traveling, my brothers were traveling, it was part of my life.
Did you know you wanted to raise a family outside of India?
It just happened. You know I never thought about it. It just happened.
Did you want to raise a family in India, ever?
I wouldn't mind. I mean, I’m not saying India is a bad place.
Did you want any of us to be born in India?
I cannot really say about it.
Was marrying someone who wanted to stay in India a deal-breaker for you?
If things would go well economically, I wouldn’t mind staying.
If you had a future wife who wanted to stay there would you have stayed?
I would have stayed.
But Mom wanted to leave?
It’s not that she wanted to leave, but, you know, I was already halfway living in America, so you know, it would be difficult for us to be connected far away.
So she agreed to move?
Are you planning on moving back to India in the future?
Maybe when I retire.
If you could do anything in your life differently or change any decision you made along the way, what would it be?
That’s a tough one.
That’s a good one.
That’s a good one too…you know, this question has too many answers. If you ask me economically, I would stay in the US. If you would ask me education wise, I would like to come and do my education like everybody else was doing here in college.
Did America ever feel like “home” to you?
It’s…it’s difficult growing up in India in one country and coming and living in another country like the US. Even though everything is so good over here, the quality of life is good, but still you always think about back home.
Did you know along the way you would ultimately end up living in America?
No, I didn’t know that. Initially when I came to the US, I was trying to set myself up. Then my brother moved to Australia. He said, “Oh, come on this side. It’s much better…” and this and that…so I left the US and went to Australia and stayed with my brother for sometime. But immigration-wise things didn’t work out over there. And then I had my friends over here who said, you know, your immigration can be done over here if you come back, so I came back.
Which country was the most difficult to stay in?
Because the rules and regulations are so tight over there that you cannot make any movement at all.
Do you remember how long you stayed there?
I must have stayed there for at least four years.
And then you had to leave?
Did the neighborhoods you chose to live in with each country have a large population of Indian people to help with adjustment?
You know, initially when I came to the US, I knew some people over here, and I was in contact with them from back home. So when I came over here I stayed with them. So that made it pretty easy for me. And they also helped me get a job and roommates where I could live.
But the other countries…?
But the other countries… Saudi Arabia I was living with my brother. He was already there.
And same for Australia?
Yeah, same for Australia.
Was it the same brother?
What were your passions growing up? Was traveling a passion or more of a sacrifice?
It was more of a sacrifice for economic conditions so I could get out of India where it was difficult to get a job and the money was very tight back home. Even though I was working over there, there was not good money. So in a way it was sacrifice.
Was it ever a passion for you, do you think?
No, not really.
What were your passions growing up?
My passions growing up… I was mostly in sports. I wanted to play but…times didn't allow that, so I had to give up everything.
● How does your tradition-bearer’s story relate to your community in both the present and the past? How does it relate to you?
My father’s life growing up and my life growing up are such stark contrasts. We were both raised with similar morals and traditions, I’m sure, that were passed on, but our mentalities and our outlooks on the future we both have, or had, are so different. My father knew his life would not be continued in the place he grew up in, all by the attitudes expressed by those around him. I, on the other hand, live such a structured life compared to his. We both have a lot in common despite these differences, however, such as our personal habits, our goal oriented minds, and our passion to strive for something when we really want it. I think that I am not as into the Indian culture as I want to be, and I wonder if my parents expected this to happen by raising me in America. I have heard millions of times how “Westernized” and “Americanized” I am, which I think is completely true.
● How did your perception of community history change, from before the interview to now?
When looking at community history, I usually grouped the masses together. There are so may distinctions between people, even if they are raised in the same community, and I never looked into this. I was able to gain an insight on how my father and his family were raised, and the outlook on life in India — where my father claimed he never saw a future. When actually researching a topic about a specific community and their past, it is easy to get tangled up in their events, in their perspectives, and much more because you are getting a look into changes and effects in that community. I am glad I was able to better understand the outlooks held by my father and his family, personally. I think I take for granted all that my mother and father have done for me and my siblings, and it is easy to do that when living in America, because the standard of living, the opportunity, the equality — all of this is so different from India. I am surrounded by what is “normal” for me. Normal for me is a paradise for someone else. Even when I spent one month in India I was able to see this right off the bat — these divides in living, in setting, in people.
● How did this project inspire you to learn more about your community?
Each piece of information that was given by my father only made me more curious to dive deeper into the mysterious Indian community he grew up with. The outlooks, the ways of life, the people, the culture — I want to learn it all. Being raised in America with my closest blood relative being in Canada, I was never brought up in an Indian populated area. I wanted to be able to not only learn the culture and the people, but their actual emotions, such as the emotion my father held, and I definitely was able to accomplish this. As you can see, my father is the type to answer questions directly without going off on much of a tangent or giving more information than asked for. Many of his answers were one word responses, so I had to ask how he felt about certain situations to understand his emotions better.
This project has made me more reflective. I have given more thought and admiration for my father, and my mother as well. I want to understand each step in their life because it helps me be more grateful. Without this insight, I am just ignorant, which is one of the worst things I could ever categorize myself as. The day I choose to stop learning is the day I become irrelevant by accepting ignorance, and I hope this day never comes.
● What were some of the challenges you faced during this project? What could you do differently in your next oral history interview?
I was torn at the beginning on deciding who to interview and what the proposal should be on. The reason I chose my father is because I would not be who I am today if he did not decide to settle in America, which was hugely compelling and a topic I wanted to address. The idea seemed fairly broad, so narrowing what books to research on, what questions to ask, etc. was difficult because I wanted to incorporate my father’s life growing up but also his emotions. Also, unfortunately my family does not possess any of my father’s pictures from Sydney or Saudi Arabia — they are all back in India, so I was only able to incorporate pictures from India and America, which was a bit upsetting because I knew these other pictures would really bring the project alive. Also, our computer that had all of my pictures from my trip to India crashed and I do not know where the original memory cards are, so that was a bummer.
In my next oral history, I would have elaborated more on some of the interview questions and probably conduct a longer interview for more insight. I also would like to interview multiple people who may have the same background or similar stories to gain more knowledge and better perspectives.
● If the roles were reversed and you became the tradition-bearer, what stories would you like to tell?
If I was the tradition-bearer, I feel like at this point in my life I would not have that many stories to tell. At the moment, life seems to constantly be moving and changing — there is so much opportunity and chance to completely move onto something new in my life. I would be more inclined to tell stories of my parent’s lives rather than my own because mine has not settled yet (which I am grateful for, honestly, because there is so much more to do and accomplish). If I did tell stories, I would speak about growing up in such a close-knit family or crazy times I have had with amazing friends. I would talk about working two part time jobs in high school or leaving my family to go to college in a city an hour and a half away from home. I would tell these tales because — these stories right now that I have to offer — make up my world. I would hope, however, as time goes by that my stories would becoming more adventurous, more captivating, and more meaningful.