‘….First impression ; ramblings of a fresh arrival’

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Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, the only person to ever win both the Oscar and the Booker Prize, once said that changing countries is akin to changing lovers. I don’t know if the thought was original but it truly sums up the trauma, if you will, of shifting bag and baggage to another country.

Though no lovers have come my way, the trauma however has been real. I migrated to Australia in 2008 with my wife and two teen aged sons when I was almost 50 leaving behind in India almost a lifetime of friends, colleagues, all the goodwill that I had strived for.

I drew solace from what I believed was the best interests of my two sons. I had grown up in and worked in the cauldron that is India and I did not want my sons to go through the same grind.

Coming from the heat, dust, grime, noise and a hundred other things that is India, Australia astounds. Neat and clean roads, acres of parklands, orderly traffic, no honking , no roundabouts, no baton or rifle wielding policemen at every turn; it is a world far removed from Jammu( northern most part of India) from where the four of us, village yokels from the third world , had landed.

What surprised us even more was the number of Indians who had already made Australia their home. They came in all shapes and sizes, from short swarthy South Indians to tall strapping Punjabis.

Most of them chose to address themselves exactly that. All that changed rather quickly when local rednecks in a spate of incidents beat up these fresh arrivals, then they all became Indians.

Adelaide is now teeming with Indians, the number looks even larger given the number of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis , Bhutanese and Nepalese who have settled here. They all speak a smattering of Hindustani and even sing Kishore Kumar songs.

But, talk about birds of the same feathers flocking together, the diaspora here are a living example. We have the Guajarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayali , Bengali and a host of other associations and they all gang up . Christians whose plight has not been very happy back in India make a pointed reference to their Christianity and are in a tearing hurry to remove whatever vestiges of ‘Indian-ness’ that exist. Then there are some Muslims who go in a different direction, as for them it is the larger Ummah that beckons.

We landed here in June, which is almost halfway through the season of what is the number one and  the richest sport in Australia – ‘the Australian Football League’ or AFL popularly called Footy. Saturated coverage on the TV hits you, the sheer athleticism and strength of the players is stunning. But it is a bizarre sport and for the uninitiated it is mind boggling. Even more mind boggling is the seriousness with which it is discussed, be it on TV, newspapers, offices, homes and sports clubs.

The game was invented with a mixture of Football and Rugby rules to keep the cricketers fit during the off season.

Now cricket and cricketers have been relegated to the sidelines except during the Ashes series and of late when playing against India. The fact that Australia is the sole practitioner of this sport in the world has had no affect on its popularity and riches.

But then Australia is a sports crazy nation and for decades now has been punching far above its weight in the world of sports. That a country of around 22 million can regularly produce world and Olympic champions in different sports is by any measure creditworthy. There is no denying the fact that  despite all the undercurrents of racial tensions, Aussie gives everybody a fair go. There are vestiges of racism that still exist and generally pop up among the elite and the media. India unfailingly gets a very bad press. The smallest of aberrations or incidents or major goof ups like the Delhi Commonwealth Game and  the media pounces on it with unrestrained glee.

However, Australia has been good to us and has been good to the thousands of migrants who have settled here and now call it home. This is true especially for the young who have just started the journey of life. If there is one country which provides the young the skills and wherewithal to make it anywhere in the world it is Australia. There is much truth in what Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently said that those who were born in Australia have won the lottery of life.


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