When I was just seven years old, my mum died in a terrorist attack. That was the time of the anti-Sikh riots in India. Our whole family were going to a wedding when our bus was bombed. Unfortunately, I remembered what happened quite clearly, and for quite a few years, I was traumatised by it.
After that, my dad tried everything to raise us himself, with the help of relatives. But as my brother and I were quite little at that time, it was eventually too much for him, so he re-married. My brother and I were quite scared of our stepmother at first, but luckily she was fine with us, and everything settled down for a while.
Growing up, my brother and I were very close. After school, I went to do a Bachelor Degree in Pharmacy, and he went to serve in the Indian army. But after 2 years of service he also died, when he was serving on the front line. This devastated my father and I.
After finishing my degree, I decided to help my dad financially. But it had always been my dream to come abroad and do something to make my parents proud so, after a couple of years, I came to Melbourne to do a Masters of Accounting.
When I arrived, I was always worried about money. My parents had spent so much on getting me here, and now I not only had to study but also work enough to support myself. I did a lot of very hard jobs, as a labourer, and as a cleaner, but I often had just enough money to live on for one more week.
Then, at one point, the lease on the share house I was living in finished, and I didn’t have anywhere to go for a few days. I did have a little bit of emergency money, but I thought, “What should I do with that money? Should I spend it on food or transport or spend it all on expensive accommodation for a few nights?” In the end, I decided to go and sleep at Flinders Street station.
That night was a really scary but at the same time life-changing event, because for the first time I understood the homeless people who were always sleeping there. One man told me he was living there permanently because there was no proper support for him to get his life back on track. I thought, I have to do something about this, because this is a real problem. And that thought stayed with me throughout my life.
A year later, I went back to India to get married. I had never even met my wife-to-be before but I trusted my father, who knew her parents. And I was so lucky – I got a beautiful wife. At that time, she was working for the Indian army as a nurse, so she still had to serve a couple of years before she could join me here. But we survived with international calling cards and yahoo messenger!
When I finished my studies in accounting, my qualification allowed me to get my permanent residency here. But still, it had always been in my mind to help those less fortunate than me. As a result, I went back to pharmacy, working at the St. Vincent hospital, where I stayed for almost 10 years.
In that role, I tried to have as much compassion as I could for the patients. Sometimes, I would help outside of my job description, like ordering a taxi for a patient, very simple things really, but the patients appreciated it. I also started volunteering my time and money with an organisation called Let’s Feed doing a breakfast club for schools.
When I was 40, I left the hospital and started working in the pharmacy department of the Victoria Police. We are the ones behind the frontline – the custodial health service. People who come into custody are usually in the worst stage of their life, and many have mental health or addiction issues. Prison is not the solution for them, so we try to link up them to the different services so that they don’t keep coming back again and again.
Recently, I’ve been accredited as a JP, and I’m really enjoying that work. I’m also very involved with my Indian community who run blood donation camps every year, once on the 15th of August, when we have our Indian Independence Day, and once on Australia Day. We have a picnic, and the whole community gives blood at the same time, to give back to our adopted country.
Many good things have happened to me in the last 30 years, but I have to say that getting married was the best thing! Next month it will be 16 years that we have been together, and we have two young daughters who are very supportive and caring. So we are a happy family.
Whatever struggles we had in our past, I feel they are behind us. Now we are just on a really good path!
Photographer: David Brewster www.davidbrewsterphotography.com
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