By Kamla Daya
In the mid-1940s my father immigrated to New Zealand, having been sponsored by my grandfather. He established himself financially and returned to his motherland where he got married and came back here with his new wife, my mother. I am one in a family of four children and we were all born in New Zealand. I recall growing up with my uncles and aunts and living in crammed conditions behind my grandparents’ fruit shop in Mt Albert.
Unfortunately, life wasn’t always a breeze when you had a lot of family living together and after a heated disagreement with my grandfather, my father bought a fruit shop in Mt Roskill. Fruit shops were the trend for many Indian families during the 1950s – early 2000. The tendency now is to buy dairies! With no opposition within close proximity, we grew up lifting boxes, grading tomatoes and plums from the not so ripe, ripe and really ripe. These were just some of a variety of menial jobs my sisters, brother and I performed on a daily basis. I recall cold wintry days coming home from school, to a roaring fire and a cooked meal. How my mother managed to multi-task, I can’t imagine but I can truthfully say, she was the one we turned to for love and comfort. An amazing, gentle woman who never once complained of any aches or pains or raised her voice but just kept on going, working will a trooper. She never learned to read or write and when we spent time teaching her, my father would retort ‘why teach her to read, it’s too late now for her’. My father, on the other hand was a stern, hard man who instilled fear in us because of his anger. He was the patriarchal head of the family; whatever he said, we had to obey. There was no discussion, no compromise.
Returning home from school we were given only 10 minutes to change into civvy clothes before we were ordered to serve in the shop or work out the back. At that time root vegetables were covered in mud so we kept an old bath in one corner of the garage for the sole purpose of washing carrots, parsnips, beetroot, in fact any vegetable which had the slightest trace of dirt including the heads of Lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower, the leaves of which had to be trimmed. Believe me, there was always work to do and every day became routine. We all looked forward to Saturdays though because come 12.00pm we shut up shop, clean and depending on the weather, would often go to the beach or visit friends and family.
Like all parents, my father was determined to give us a good education; he wanted us all to become scholars!! Well my brother and sisters all gained their U.E. and attended university I became a shorthand typist.
Years passed. We sold the shop, bought a house and my father worked as a fruit and vegetable buyer for Woolworths and later became a small business owner, exporting fabric mainly from India. My mother worked in a small factory within walking distance from our house, assembling small electrical components for an electrical company.
This essay is dedicated to my wonderful parents who came to a foreign country, worked laboriously day and night to clothe, feed and educate us in order that we would not have to endure the hardship they experienced. They are the heart and soul of my being. For THEIR achievements, I am so proud.