Mother India. Home to the second largest population in the world. But not all Indians live there or are even from there. According to a United Nations report, there are 16 million Indians living abroad. We make up the world’s largest diaspora. The word diaspora comes from the Greek word diaspeirein: the dispersion of people from the original homeland.
Swetha Raj and I sit down for a chat after a 7 month hiatus. We met in Melbourne around 4 years ago. Glamorous, generous and witty – I have fond memories of tea and khichdi with Swetha in my old apartment. She even visited me in Japan earlier this year. She tells me how she wound up in the land down under.
Dipa: What made your parents decide to move to Australia?
Swetha: My dad was in the airforce back in India and was with the airforce for 20 years before he retired. We were used to moving around every 2 years. We lived in Hyderabad for four years after he retired. It was the longest we’d lived anywhere. The topic of our education came up. They didn’t want to limit us to only a few professions – which was the case in Hyderabad at the time. My mother’s brother was already living in Australia so they had some kind of guidance.
Dipa: What was your first impression of Australia?
Swetha: I was 16 when I moved. It was interesting… I felt like I didn’t belong at all. There were a lot of things that I needed to pick up and change: like learn how to talk like them with an accent, also the way you dress. It’s a big deal when you’re 16. It was a big shock. It wasn’t a bad shock, since we came with the mindset of living in a new culture. It wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be.
There were a lot of rumours of racism. But speaking solely from our experiences, people were very nice. Yes, we come from India, these are our roots. But we have to respect Australian culture. We love it here.
Dipa: What do you miss most about India?
Swetha: FOOD! Food, food, food, food. I love street food. No matter how unhygienic or unsanitary it was. It’s why my stomach is made of stone. It’s been trained well.
The culture, too. There are parts of it that I miss and parts of it that I don’t want to follow. The festivals, I miss – when everyone gets together. Holi. Diwali. Dusheree. And other festivals that take place only in Hyderabad.
Dipa: What’s the part of your culture that you’re proudest of?
Swetha: It teaches you values – you have to respect your elders. It’s a big thing in our culture. Much bigger thing in Indian culture compared to other cultures. Elders deserve that respect because they’ve survived that many years. They’ve experienced hardship. That’s why we look up to them. When you see old people, you see an entire life cycle.