Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The two years in the UK

A decade has lapsed ! The other day when my teacher Jag Chouhan, Sr Professor, Youth and Community Studies, DeMontfort University, Leicester visited Kurukshetra did I realise that it has been ten years since I had left for the postgrad course in UK.  

The two years that I remained away from the din and humdrum of my job here were significant in so many ways: it was my maiden visit abroad; an effort to study again after exactly two decades of MA in English at Panjab University; for the first time I was going to be away from home, my mom and family; it was going to be a self sponsored study; I didn't really know much about the friends I was going to stay with; had no idea how the course was going to help me further my commitment for the work I was doing as a civil servant.

I vividly remember when I came out of the British Embassy with a two year visa in my hand, it was only then it registered on my mind that I was really leaving! With only a fortnight left, so many things had to be managed-permission to leave and study leave, shifting of house, packing, shopping etc. etc.

And there I was ! Landed at Birmingham airport and lo! on maiden ascend on the elevator I slipped from the top stair and fell down, the elevator stopped and the staff rushed to see if I was hurt. I escaped unhurt but the trauma of the fall kept me shivering for quite some time. And how awkward I felt to tell My friend's husband Ajay who had come to pick me and take me to Leicester !

Two years is a long time ! It was the time of learning -academically brilliantly, emotionally the hard way, financially the toughest way. I had gone there with an earnest desire to study their systems, their way of doing things and how common man was affected by their laws, bureaucracy, institutions. And I also wanted to see the world, visit places in the UK and other European countries.

Suddenly I had the whole lot of time at my disposal-time to address the issues I had carried along, time to pause and ponder and sort things out, time that had always eluded me with my own spirit of workaholism, time to brood, time to write that I had always yearned for, time in short for everything. But suddenly the question which had never hitherto bothered me ever since I had finished my studies, erupted-the question of survival in this whoopingly expensive country with fees to pay and livelihood to manage.

I needed work and to my utter shock all the degrees and certificates that I was proudly carrying carried no meaning there but I needed to work for sure and so I did- in sandwich factory, care homes for the aged and the vulnerable lung people, in Refuge for the women victims of domestic violence or Homes for the disabled through agencies.

 For the first time I realised how brute and biting the winter wind could be-chiding and ruthless and piercing;how stressful it could be waiting for public transport or walking miles only to save a pound  here or there; how racism was deep rooted in the land of the British and in not just subtle but very clear ways would hit you like a slap on the face from the young and the old alike; how the colour of the skin mattered instantaneously and the content of character much later in normal parlance.

The Sufi music that I was carrying would come so oft to my rescue, to heal me, make me dance and make me cry with pain and elation and I realised the communication with the Almighty became easier, His access more frequent to answer all hordes of questions I was always carrying on the back of my mind. 'Sharnagati' emanated from there-the distant lands proverbially seven seas away.

I realised there in UK how much I loved my family and how much their love mattered for me. I missed them, missed them, missed them but would always wear a bold face while talking to them which I daily did on phone albeit after the call was over, I so often found it hard to stop the tears' deluge; I realised how the work I was doing in India even if it meant sitting under the tree in scorching heat of June to disburse the pensions or a flood relief was much dearer than a few thousand pound job in the alien land; how an almost stranger's care and concern for the well being could touch and heal the bruised heart and soul by the undeserved indifference of so called 'friends'.

I came back after two years with special distinction and recognition of my assignments and appreciation of my dissertation -richer in experience though poorer in coffers. And I do feel I came back a different Sumedha from what then I was when I left for the alien land. The footprints inscribed on the sands of span of two precious years of my life would always bear an indelible mark and after a decade having lapsed I look back upon the memories of those days with empathy and generosity, with fondness and concern-after all it was my major maiden decision in life.

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