Promila Gupta - Interview transcription
Date Recorded: February 2015
Place: Lake Macquarie
Promila: Hello Namaste my name is Promila Gupta, and I am from India. Basically India is such a large country, but I'm from north side near Delhi and I live here last 32 years. I came in 1983 and I love Australia and I'm actually Hindu Punjabi and I can speak 3 or 4 languages. Sikhs also they are also Punjabis, but they wear towels and we are from Hindu religion and we go to temples and they go to Gurudwaras.
Interviewer: Promila, can you tell me a little bit about why you moved to Australia, and what that early experience was like for you?
Promila: We moved here in 1983 and it was different, very different culture shock for me because, specially I've done a degree in Home economics and a masters in nutrition. I knew English very well but I was a bit scared of talk because of accent you know. And I had a .. I still remember when I came from airport and somebody say "oh, oh here Promila how to die?" so actually, basically it was "how today", but I said "no I don't want to die - I want to live here", so he said "no, no how to die" I said "ah no." I was so scared to talk to that was the first reason. And when one day my husband went to work - he was working in a steel plant - and my children went to school, and I made a cuppa and I start crying very badly. Because in India you have servants and you have everything, you know. Here I don't know how to do, how to put the bin out. People might be laughing but I don't know, because we never did, you know.
And we had a luxury life, you know. We tell the servants do this and they will do for you. Do this cleaning - one's cleaning is coming, one's children taking to the school, one's gardening, one's doing the dishes. Because we never did work you know in our life, in India.
So, I was crying, and I thought 'what I should do', you know. Because I've got three choices in life now. And I thought, either I should cry all of my life here and grumbling to my husband 'why did you bring me' or whatever or second, go back to India permanently - don't want to live here or do something. So I took the third. I said no, I have to do something. So then I, because I had a knowledge of cooking - but I didn't cook, but I have full knowledge of cooking, what to do - so I went to TAFE College, and I asked them. I said "Oh I have degrees, can I teach cooking?"
He said "We'd love to have you!" I was scared too - I said OK. So the first class, you know, they started advertising and putting on the TV and everything, and I was so scared – not scared of the cooking but scared of my English. But I said no, I have to do I have to. I should have my confidence build you know. And I did. And it went so successfully and after that I never saw back. And I'm gaining, gaining. Then I won prizes - Pride of Australia, Citizen of the Year Award, and Christian award and from Sydney I got some awards. I've written cooking books. I'm an editor of one of the national paper - an Indian paper - and at the moment I'm doing [work] with SBS every week. They've hired me from the last two years, and I give them a new recipe and it comes on the website, and I'm full-on. So why should [I] complain. And when I want to go to India, go and meet family and come back you know. But I've made my life here and my children are well settled here and my husband is happy, so but I'm having the best of both worlds, you know, so I go there, enjoy, come back and do my work here.
Interviewer: What was the decision behind moving to Lake Macquarie?
Promila: Lake Macquarie is a very, very nice place. Because we were involved with the International Children's Games, and for the first time we went to the Council. And we loved the people, you know. The welcome - it was a very warm welcome to us. And I still remember I had a cup of tea there, a coffee or something, and we were having like a meeting sort of and after that. First when we moved to here to Newcastle we were in Merewether. And then we were looking [around] the place, we had to buy a house something. So we thought Charlestown is the best place and [Lake] Macquarie council is very like – sports - you know, and their presentation, their … everything we loved it. So I think that was the reason to move here and we love doing work with them.
Interviewer: Can you talk to me about some of the community work you've been involved in?
Promila: Yes, I'm community work involved for the last thirty years now. Because we were in a small place called Whyalla - there used to be a steel plant - and they used to have a Migrant Resource Centre, so we used to have like migrant people and we used to get together because some people are very isolated. So I was the chairperson there, and then I used to be involved with the Country Women's Association, Neighbourhood, Mothers, Whyalla shows, and then I was involved in TAFE College just teaching cooking. Then I had my restaurant for 14 years in Whyalla. And then we moved to Adelaide, and in Adelaide I was teaching in WEA college and I used to take tours. And now I moved to Newcastle and I'm taking cooking classes in WEA on a regular basis on Indian cooking, and I'm very happy. That's the way you can meet people, you know. That's the way. And your skills you can explore your skills too – that was my main reason too.
Interviewer: Could you please tell me how you experienced your childhood and how is that different to your children's childhood in Australia?
Promila: Ah, it was totally, totally different. It was just a contrast you know, because our childhood was, we were like a very close-knit family and in a close-knit family you know you have your grandparents, you have your uncles and aunties close by, your cousins and everything. I still remember and we used to respect so much of our parents, whatever they say. If they say night - we say night, that sort of thing. And you won't believe, we have arranged marriage. We never met – I never met my husband before. My father looked, he said 'this is the boy - you're getting married.' Because we used to see in the marriage also like family. Not only the boy, you know – house, family, house, study - everything. And every [year], at school, we used to have like summer vacations in May and June. And that was the time when we had to go to our grandparents house. All my cousins used to come. We used to spend time together, and still in the evenings, you know, they go to the park and all the children are playing and all the mums are talking. And you know, like, we never used to miss out. And the neighbours used to be so good, you won't believe. They will take care of you, they will take care of your children if you have to go somewhere, and if someone is sick they will automatically they will do their duties, you know. Who's giving the food now - and even the patient does not know this. That's sort of like very good, you know, that I really miss here. And here, like when you live here for 20 years sometimes you don't know your neighbours. And they'll [people will] say 'why, that's fine'. I still have a very [vividly remembered] experience. When I just moved in I wanted to make friends, so one of my neighbours I called for a cup of tea. And she came. As soon as she came, I said "would you like to have a cup of tea" and she said "not now". And I was feeling so bad you know, because this [does] not happen - we believe in hospitality - and I said how she's not having. Every ten minutes I'm asking, so [eventually] she said "OK I'll have a cup of tea". So at that time I didn't know. And then she invited me. I went. And soon as I went she opened the door and she said "would you like to have a cup of tea", and I said "not now, maybe later". And she didn't ask me [again]. I thought My God. It was a big shock for me, because if somebody comes to our house we think that they are … like we have to look after them. We make something. Whether, in India, whether it's a poor [person] or rich, they always [have] some - maybe the biscuits or something. Never [an] empty cup of tea. So that was our culture you know. So when I came here then slowly I learned. And now if somebody asks me cup of tea I say "yeah, yeah sure" because now I know not to be asked again, you know. So that was a big shock, yeah. That was OK.
Interviewer: It sounds from what you say that family is very important?
Promila: Family is very, very, very important. For me family is number one. When my children were with me, we were always around them to take them. When they moved, now we moved, just for the children's sake - just to help them. Because I thought, in India you get lots of family around but here my children should not be isolated. Of course they have lots of friends. But whenever they need or whenever my grandkids need me I should be around them. And I wanted to see their childhood. Because when we came here my children were very small and we missed their childhood because we were the first migrants to settle down. And now we are very well settled down and the children are very well settled down, but we want to spend more time with grandchildren so [that] they should know who is their grandparents, what their other Indian culture is and what the food is. And I'm very proud of ourselves - me and my husband - we put there, first and now my grandchildren. Of course my daughter - she's married to a New Zealander - but he believes that the children should know our language, he wears Indian clothes, they eat Indian food and I'm very happy in that way. And it's not all culture, but like [at] functions or something, they are always with me, so they should know the value of that culture.
Interviewer: So you're carrying it through to the next generation?
Promila: Yes, I will love to. And I will love to, at least not maybe 100%, but some they should have. And I'm very happy in that way. My, both children and their partners, they're following the culture. They had Indian weddings here. I know their thoughts are Australian, I'm a bit changed too, but they are just following. And I try to make sure when we have special festivals like Holi or Diwali, I should spend [it] with them, so they should know the culture - what is that. So I am very happy. My grandchildren are very young but they have started following that. So I'm happy in that way.
Interviewer: Did your daughter have a traditional Indian wedding?
Promila: Yes. My daughter, although she's married to a New Zealander, he's Australian. But they had exactly Indian wedding as well as a church wedding. Exactly. And the same is my son. He did the same. And my grandchildren they kept with their name also Indian, and they want to learn Indian marriage also. And in India you know relations we don't call aunty, uncle or names. So like I'm, if it's mothers, my daughter's children they call me 'nanny' and 'nana', and if my son children they call 'dada' and ‘daddy'. In India if the children talk like this you automatically understand - that's your daughter's children or that's your son's children. So my grandchildren, my daughter's children they are Aussie, but they call me 'nanny' and 'nana'.
Interviewer: And they have an Australian accent?
Promila: They have an Australian accent, yes. And they are very beautiful, yes
Interviewer: So they are learning the language as well?
Promila: They are learning the language. I have my own school here – Hindi school – I started here in Hindu temple. And lots of children come and those who have settled here, they want to send, and I'm really surprised lots of Australians are learning. I've got - I've just started in February – I've already got five, six Australian ladies who travel to India or who want to learn, they're learning very well.
Interviewer: So that's keeping you very involved in the community?
Promila: Of course. I love to be. Community I can be anything. Because you see community has given me so much here, when I didn't have I really wanted to see them or something, so now it's time for me to return [something] to the community.
Interviewer: Promila, Thank you very much for participating in this project.
Promila: Thank you very much for inviting me. It's my pleasure to be here. Thank you
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