by Mrs Bhagwandeen
When I came to this country, I had to stay in one room. In Fiji we had a big house, and a driver with a car. When I came here, I didn’t like it because there was snow. It was so bad. I arrived in Southampton by boat. For eight weeks, I was on a boat. When I came my husband was doing an exam at that time and he said, “You take the train and then come to Waterloo and get the taxi here, and the taxi is a black taxi.” I was wearing a sari and he had never told me that this country is very cold. So, I was wearing a sari and sandals and only a little jacket, that’s it.
On the train, I was sitting there, and I felt little while everybody started buying tea and things like that. They asked me to have a cup of tea, and I said, “No, thank you, I don’t want it.” And then I looked all around, I could only see white, everything was white. I said, “My goodness, England is only white, no green, nothing like that.” So anyway, halfway through I felt so cold that I couldn’t talk. My lips were just, you know, like frozen. Anyway, I arrived in Waterloo and then I saw my husband was standing there.
So, then we took a taxi and he brought me to his home, and I said to him, “Do you live in one room like this?” And he said, “Yes, here, everybody lives like this.” Then he had something to eat and he went. It was then I said, “God, it’s so dirty here.” Then I started taking all the clothes and put them in the bath to wash them and hang them outside. But they became like leather and they were so cold. Anyway, I stayed in that place about two weeks and then I said, “Oh, I don’t like here.”
So, at that time, I had brought quite a lot of money with me, so we went to Hampstead – we bought a flat there, two bedrooms, a kitchen. There were about five floors there. All the students were there at that time. Hampstead was a very hilly place and I was still wearing a sari, so I said, “No, I have to buy a car.” So, we bought a new car, a Hillman. They thought I was very rich, but I wasn’t.
So, then I started working but I felt so bad here, very, very bad. I used to fall down, and I couldn’t get up. When I went to the agency to say, “I want to go back.” they said, “No, you can’t do that because we’ve got the same weather as Fiji. It will be here soon.” So, I stayed here, we started our life, and the children were born.
I felt very lonely here, very, very lonely. There was nobody to talk to and our Hindi was a Fijian language, and it was very difficult to talk to any Indians. There were very few Indians here in those days and no shops, no Indian shops at all. The summertime was okay though, I got used to it here eventually.
My grandfather came from India. The British took them to Fiji. They lied, the British people, they lied to these Indian people. Whoever used to go to do shopping and things like that, these old ladies would be sitting down there telling people, “Look, there’s this one island and they’re paying very good money and if you go there you will get lots and lots of money. And you have to sign these papers.” So, they did sign the paper. As soon as they signed, they would hold them in the boat. They came by boat to Fiji and they didn’t know what would be waiting for them there. And anyway, when they came, they put all the ladies in one camp. People used to speak all different languages in those days, and they didn’t understand each other. Only they took a lot of people from Bihar, quite a lot of people. Then they made a Fijian language they mixed everything. But writing and reading is proper Hindi.
In the morning, they had to get up very early to go and cut all these guava trees and then make a plough so they could plant sugar cane. The English people used to go on their horses, and if they didn’t do the work, they used to beat them with their whip, you know, whatever you call that thing. And they used to beat them to make them work until six o’clock, when they had to go back home.
So, they would do this for a few years and when they finished, they would give them land, and they said, “Alright, you can choose. You want to go back India, this boat is going, you can go.” And so many people, they stayed back.
So, my grandfather then got married to my grandmother. And my grandfather was from South India, Tamil Nadu, and my grandmother’s father, was also from South India. Our surname was Pilay and we lived in Nadi, you know, Nadi town. My grandfather brought all these statues from India and made a temple there, and that temple was the first temple started there, and all the people used to go there. Then they also made a little school there, but I don’t know much about that.