Updated: Jun 26, 2020
| This is the 392nd story of Our Life Logs |
My story starts far away in India, where I was born in the bustling industrial city of Chennai, in 1986. I was the second of four children and the oldest girl. Traditionally, Indian families want boys, but as they already had a son, my parents welcomed my birth with all their heart. Later, my mum told me that the first time my dad saw me, he couldn’t stop grinning and promptly counted all my fingers and toes, making sure that I was perfect.
My family was poor. My dad worked long hours in a grocery shop, and my mum stayed at home to care for us. We lived in a small, two-roomed flat above a shop, next door to various relative who would appear at mealtimes. Smells of spices wafted from our front door, and my mum was well-known as a good cook and a soft touch who would feed anyone hungry. We lived a simple, but happy life.
When my siblings and I were old enough to attend school, my mum opened a stall in the street selling curries, chapatti, and various Indian delicacies. It was popular with the locals, especially the elderly who had no one to cook for them. I looked up to my mum. She started the business to help pay our school fees, as she wanted all her children to get a good education, even while girls often stayed at home, and only boys attended school at the time. I will forever be grateful to her.
In 2002, at the age of 16, I left school to work with my dad. He had inherited some money from a family member some 18 months ago and decided to start his own business of selling used mobile phones and other accessories. He aimed to get our family out of poverty, and I had the same vision. I no longer wanted to see my mum slaving over a hot pan, cooking for long hours.
I worked long hours to ensure that our shop was a success. I dreamed of studying business and computing one day so that I could repair broken computers and teach people how to use them. I seemed to have a good future ahead of me.
In 2007, when I was 21, I took over the shop from my dad, who, by that point, had other business ideas he wanted to pursue. I took business classes in the evening and learned how to maximize profits. I expanded our business to include new phones in addition to used ones. My parents were buying their own house at the time, and I wanted to contribute. Everything was going well.
That year, my older brother had an arranged engagement, which is quite common in Indian tradition. I assumed that one day soon my parents would find someone suitable for me too. I hoped to meet a nice man on my own, but in the meantime, I put all my energy into studying and running the business. I knew that I wanted to have a good career. I wanted to be independent, to be able to provide for my parents in their old age.
The following year, when I was 22, my parents announced that they had found a husband for me. I was to marry the son of a distant relative on my father’s side. I felt both apprehensive and excited at the news. After a brief pause, my dad gave me a piece of news that shocked me.
The boy I was to marry lived in Scotland. A country on the other side of the world, which I had barely even heard of. His parents had emigrated 30 years ago, and he was born there. My parents went on to tell me that in Scotland everyone was rich and there were lots of opportunities. “There are no slums like in India,” they said.
What would I do for work? I wondered out loud, maybe I could open a mobile phone shop? My parents told me that I would be looked after. I wouldn’t have to work. Once I was married, I could concentrate on having children, and my husband would provide for the family.
I felt uneasy having to depend on anyone as I had always been fiercely independent. I told my parents that I didn’t want to move to Scotland. I had worked hard to build up the family business, and I didn’t want to leave the company behind. I knew that I would also miss my family. We had all struggled to increase our incomes and buy a house. Although we still weren’t rich, we had managed to work ourselves out of poverty. I didn’t see why I needed to move to Scotland for the promise of being rich. I had all the opportunities I needed in India.
I asked my parents to find me someone else in India. My dad told me that his decision was final and that I wasn’t to disobey. I cried for the rest of the evening and late into the night. My mum comforted me and told me that everything would be okay. “He’s a good boy,” she said. “You’ll have a better life in Scotland.”
I knew that I couldn’t argue, or my family would fall out with me and maybe even disown me. I’d heard horror stories of what had happened to girls who disobeyed. I had to embrace the situation. Honestly, I also began to see my parents’ view. Although we weren’t living in desperate poverty, we were still relatively poor. Having one less mouth to feed would mean less worry for my parents. They also loved me and wanted me to have a better future. Me emigrating would be an excellent solution to all our problems.
So, I gave in. After all, I would have more disposable income if I moved to Scotland and would be able to return and visit my family every now and then, I thought.
The following weeks passed in a blur. I tried to stay positive and started to feel excited about what the opportunities Scotland would bring. My younger sister was finishing school and was to run my shop, so I taught her everything I knew about the business to get her ready.
Three weeks later, my fiancé arrived; he seemed both familiar and exotic all at the same time. He looked at me shyly, and I couldn’t help thinking how handsome he was. It was his first time in India, and I was happy to spend a week showing him around my city. We visited all the beautiful sites and hung out at spots that had been significant when I was growing up. I told him lots of stories and asked him lots of questions about Scotland. We grew close quickly, and even my friends commented that we were meant to be together. My future seemed set. I tried not to fear the changes that were about to happen in my life.
My parents and extended family threw an engagement party for us, which was followed by a blessing at the mosque. Soon after, my fiancé returned to Scotland to set up our home. I was happy with the choice my parents had made and started to look forward to moving abroad.
In 2008, with a whirlwind of emotions in my head, I set out for Scotland. When I first arrived, I felt very lost and slightly disorientated. I had come in the middle of winter, and everything seemed dull and grey compared to India’s colorful streets. I stayed with my husband’s family for the first few weeks until we got married. I enjoyed getting to know them, but still, I constantly fought the urge to return to India.
Not long after I arrived, we had a traditional Indian wedding attended by my in-laws’ large extended family. It was a happy day full of color, dancing, and great food. I only wished that my parents, brothers, and sister could have been there, but unfortunately, they couldn’t afford the flights. That night, we moved into our new home, a rented flat in a densely populated area of Glasgow. And my married life began.
The area where we lived seemed as gray as the rest of the city, and I longed for home. My husband worked long hours, and I was often left alone in our small flat. It was freezing, and I started wearing Western clothes to keep warm. I felt like I was losing my identity and was very lonely. Even so, I was determined to change my life. I wanted to be independent and earn my own money as I had done in India. But how?
It was hard to live a life in an English-speaking country without knowing much English—I could only speak a few words then. So, I started to attend the local mosque, where I met women who were in a similar situation. They encouraged me to take English lessons at the local library, and I did. Over the next few years, our small family grew, rejoiced by a daughter in 2009 and a son in 2011. And life moved on.
I continued to study English while taking care of my family. Life was hard. When my children had both started school, I began volunteering in a charity shop to get some work experience. I was struggling to find a job as my English still wasn’t great and I had never worked in Scotland. I think employers saw me as an immigrant with little experience. All the while, I had not been able to visit my family since I first moved to Scotland. I missed them dearly, especially because I felt like such an outsider in my town.
Then in 2016, I unexpectedly fell pregnant again. I worried that I would have to put my plans of finding a job on hold, but I was happy about having another baby. My whole family were looking forward to the new arrival. Unfortunately, I had a miscarriage after four months.
During this time, my husband and I were having difficulties getting along. There’s no question that we were both upset about losing the baby, but it was like we couldn’t quite say that to each other. We often argued, and eventually, he moved out, and we got a divorce. My world fell apart.
My children were very upset about their dad’s absence, especially our son, and I felt bad about splitting the family up. I regretted what I had said.
I knew that I was strong and had to establish normalcy again. I stayed in the families flat with my two children. I claimed child support money off my ex-husband and government benefits whilst searching for a job. Money was tight, but I was still able to feed and clothe my children and we had a roof over my head. I realized that I was lucky, if I’d been in the same situation in India, things would have probably been very different.
Still, I couldn’t help but take a look at myself. All I wanted was a better life, but I felt so distant from that. Years of being persistent only led to being jobless and divorced. I hadn’t even seen my mother or father in 12 years and I felt so hopeless.
But when I thought more about my home, I remembered the little girl who used to live there. The one who had been so independent and courageous from the very beginning. Her spirit was tenacious. Her attitude was enduring. And…that girl was me! I realized that I shouldn’t forget who I am. I was capable no matter where I stood—be it under the sun of India or the rainfall in Scotland, I would carry on.
In 2018, I finally found myself a part-time in a local shop and I began to feel like part of the community. And wouldn’t you know, as my husband visited our children every weekend at my flat, we sorted our differences and things felt more like they had at the beginning of our relationship. We concluded that life had been hard on both of us but we wanted to make it work, together. We started living together again and I am happy to have my family back together.
I never dreamed that I would end up living abroad, but here I am, with love. I have learned that, as long as I remember my fighting soul, I will be able to move forward when life takes a turn.
This is the story of Preti Akter
Preti was born in India and emigrated to Scotland, when she was 22 years old, after an arranged marriage. In India, she seemed to have a good future ahead of her, running a mobile phone shop. But once she got married to a man who was from the UK and moved to his home, she felt very lost and alone. Preti was determined to change her life; she wanted to be independent and earn her own money as she had done in India.
She has now lived in Glasgow for 12 years and has overcome many obstacles during this time, such as the language barrier, going to college, having children and finally getting a job. Preti works hard to achieve a better life for herself and her family and is currently saving for a trip home to India.
This story first touched our hearts on July 14, 2019.
| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Colleen Walker |