Photograph of Maya Malhotra

Maya Malhotra

Born: 27th January 1937

Agra, India

Date of interview: 7th June 2006

Map showing where Maya Malhotra came from

I was born in Agra. I think, it's a famous city. It is known for Taj Mahal. And, I spent my early childhood in different cities, whereby my father was in a different job so he used to move around, three years mostly in every city so we travelled Punjab, widely travelled in India. But most of my education was done in Allahabad, that's another famous city in the religious point of view.

Can you tell me, thinking back to when you were a very young child, what's the earliest thing you can remember?

Oh I have a very good memory of my childhood. I remember my teachers in the first school where I went. I went to school at the age of four and then stayed in that school till seven, then change school again. And after the age of ... nine I left school. I did my private study ... I was a bit bright for my age so, so my father took me away from school where, I did my ... what you say equivalent to O level, my matriculation at the age of twelve and then I did all the private education till my PhD.

What what was your father's job? Why, what did he do?

He was a bank manager. So because of his job, he was the manager so their jobs were transferable, every three years they had to move to different cities. So that's how we were moving about. And so, after the matriculation and then all was private study, my BA, MA, and then I did my PhD ... at the age of twenty three I have my PhD. And that was done from Lucknow University, and then I became a lecturer. [laughs]

Can you tell me about your family? Did you have any brothers and sisters?

Oh, yeah, we come from a big family [laughs] because in our time the people liked it. My father was the only son so he have sisters but no brothers ... and we were family of nine, six brothers and three sisters. And it's a nice big house and we all lived together mostly. My mother, she wasn't very highly educated but in, according to her time she have a good education so she helped us to ... towards the education.

What was it like living in a big family in a large house?

I think it's very difficult for people to imagine here because the social set up in this country is very, very different. When I look back at my childhood now, I see the children in this country and I think we have a lot lot happier time when we were children, though we may not have as many things as the children of today wanted. I mean the materialistic things, the very expensive toys and all that. We may not have that but we were quite happy and contented playing with each other, looking after each other and you know there were ... I won't say that we didn't quarrel, we did quarrel [laughs] but not any no trace of jealousy and, something like this. So we, I have a very happy childhood memories which I brought with me when I came here. And then, I ... came to here, in this country. I was twenty nine year old when I came to this country.

You achieved your PhD at twenty-three.

I did my PhD from Lucknow University. By that time we were in Lucknow living in Lucknow. And Lucknow is the capital of ... one state Uttar Pradesh, the state of India ... biggest state, and that's the capital of that, Lucknow, University is a very old university, where I did my PhD.

Were you still living at home then?

Yeah. And well I didn't leave home till I get married [laughs] because in India it's not common for girls to leave home. Unless if they're working away from home then they do leave it. Otherwise they study and when they are marriageable age, they get married and then they leave home.

So what did you, what did you do your PhD in?

My PhD is a cultural study of a period of poetry in India. So it's a fourteenth fifteenth century poets, eight poets, so I did the cultural study of that time. And when I did the cultural study it was the pioneer work that nobody have done the cultural study before me. So I did the first time. And then I got an award for that because it was the pioneer work and ... then my book was published and everything and I used to write at that time. Not any more.

What was the language you were using?

It is Hindi, Hindi our national language. And I studied, my PhD was in Hindi. I used to write books in Hindi. History books and some course books I have written because at that time we were trying to make Hindi popular in South India. There are so many languages that are spoken in India, so every area has a different language. So, and, by the time India got its independence, so we wanted to make Hindi the national language, so I was writing textbooks for these areas to make Hindi popular.

How did you meet your husband?

Well it was arranged marriage. I never met him before and he was a lecturer in Bihar University and I was a lecturer in Lucknow University. But my parents have arranged the marriage, and I met him on the date of the marriage.

And how did that work?

It worked very well in my case and I won't regret anything. I think ... people have some wrong idea about this arranged marriages ... In my experience well, when you are at the age of eighteen nineteen, so often you don't know yourself very well. You don't know what you want, what is best for you and how to see other people. And when the parents look for you, they know you well and they will analyse your choice and more better than you. I remember a comment made by my father, I think just before I got married. And one day we were all talking and my two sisters who were older than me, they were married and my father made a comment about that and said 'If Maya don't get a nice mother-in-law this girl will suffer all her life.' Luckily I have a very nice mother-in-law. [laughs] So that one thing gave me this idea that how much your parents know about you ... and I think the upbringing is also different here. Many times parents don't know what their children want ... because they have been ... I can't say all the ... it's not a bad thing that they become too independent too quickly.

So ... your father was looking to choose a good mother-in-law as well as a good husband for you.

Yeah, yeah. He thinks and I think he was right there, that it's not only the person you marry, because in India the concept of marriage is totally different than here. So you don't marry just the man, you marry in the family, and because of our ... way of living, mostly it's a joint family, in my time, not any more now, but, so that you had to cope with other family members as well, apart from getting used to your husband, and I think the family background does make a lot of difference.

What was happening in India at the time? ... When you were a young person?

I think the ... apart from the family life we were quite happy but the most turmoil thing what happened when India got its independence nineteen forty seven, and I was just ten year old at that time. And ... you know though we were very excited at the idea of getting independence... weeks before we were making all the plans for the celebration. We were, we are going to fly the flag here, we are going to fly the flag there. That was the dream of ... all children and the young persons. But this Partition business have dampened all the happiness and the Partition was done, well, in ... at that time we didn't realise how it has been decided because we were too young to understand that ... It was just, like people were waiting anxiously on the radio news that which part is going to India, which part is going to Pakistan, and it was just divided like this.

And my husband's family, they become refugee overnight, because they were living in the, very nice area, it's near Lahore, Kasur, the name of the place is Kasur where they live, have a mansion there. But ... and nobody believed at the time that this very, this nice city will be given to Pakistan, but somebody decided that it goes to Pakistan. And when the news broke out that this is given to Pakistan, what I have been told by the family members, that they just leave home, whatever clothes they have on their body with that, because at that time the main important thing was to save your life ... and so lot of people's life had been turned upside down, with that.

Did people fear for their lives?

Yeah it was because ... though the, all the demands were met for the Muslims to be given Pakistan to them. And India have never said, even at that time India never said to any Muslim to go and leave India, but, the Pakistan, people or the government or whatever they were encouraging them to do it. They say it is our country. You have to leave it. And though in that area, because before that it is all one country so people were living happily side by side. There might be some areas where one area is mostly predominantly occupied by Muslims, another by Hindu but they worked together, they lived together, they would do business together, and all of a sudden they become enemy. So when they became enemy they were thrown out like anybody who is uprooted from their home, it's not a nice feeling. So that created a lot of chaos at that time. So instead of all that happiness it was bloodshed everywhere. I have very bad memory of that period as well because we were listening all those, on the radio then in my time there were no televisions so mostly radio news but we were listening that the people were fleeing here and there, you see them being made refugees.

And then the next thing I remember of my early childhood was when ... victory Mahatma Gandhi, when Mahatma Gandhi.

And I remember that procession when we went to see that ... although I wasn't old enough to know much, but that crowd of people and so much quietness I could not believe it. I used to read in the storybooks that this thing happens but never believed it until we saw that and that memory is still very, very fresh in my mind, even I'm so old now. [laughs] Seeing the crowd, because there were thousands of people walking on the street behind that day there were no traffic, no transport was allowed at all on the road. And so people walked miles and miles on feet without any complaint.

How old were you?

At that time I was just ... fifty, nineteen fifty, I was twelve years old ... He died in 1948. [pause, then speaks quietly] Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated then, yeah ... soon after the Independence.

You said you then came to England shortly after you were married. Why?

When my husband wanted to study here, though he was a lecturer in India, he did his MSc. Then he wanted to do his PhD in this country and he have a ... scholarship to do the PhD, then he came here and so I have to follow him.

How did you feel, about coming ... to Britain, at that time?

To tell you the truth I was never ever keen to come to England. I never, well in my time, everybody was very keen to go to foreign countries and I was quite happy in India so I never wanted to go anywhere ... once I got married and my husband was coming to England so, that was accepted that I will follow him and I did follow him. Not straight away I didn't come. We didn't come together because he said 'I didn't want to take you to a strange country. I have no money there. I don't want you to get you into problem. So let me go there, find my feet, then I will call you.' So, and he did that.

It took him nine months but once he found his place and, you know he had enough money with him then he called me. So I came and joined him. And first year he was a student as I said but ... things have changed. There was two things for the family circumstances. The year I came, within a month my husband lost his father, he died, and then after three months I lost my father so we both had family tragedies and we couldn't go back home, we had no money to go back home. Then the same year they increased fees for the, to foreign students and because his scholarship was not extended the following year, it was done for one year and ... they didn't have the money to extend it and ... he couldn't finish his PhD in one year so they gave him a diploma for that, and we couldn't carry on.

Where was it?

That was in Cornwall, you know. We were doing a mining degree ... we thought all I, we will work and get enough money to start back the study, that was the intention ... but as things have worked out ...

How did you travel to Britain?

By air, yeah we both came by air, did my husband came by Japan Airlines and I came by Air India. But we both travelled by air. Well we stayed in at his friend's place in London and spend the day there. And then in the night we took the train and went to Cornwall, and we reached early morning to Cornwall there. He had a flat there in Cornwall. We went there.

And my experience of Cornwall was very very different. I think that there ... although it was a mining area, because of the mining college there were not many foreigners in that. And in that whole town there were two Indian families there. I was the second one. One student was there senior to my husband. His family, his wife and two children were there and then we reached there, so wherever I go everybody say 'Oh I know you.' And I was thinking 'Oh what a thing to say.' [laughs] And first I was very puzzled why people say 'I know you' or do I look so different. And then I realised afterwards when we found there are only two Indian families in the whole town so everybody recognised me and because I always wore my sari so it's easy for them to recognise me.

There was a post advertised in Reading so he came to give the interview and he find out ... well in those days it wasn't that hours, weeks waiting, they said yes he had been selected and we have a vacancy. You can start from Monday. So then he wrote a letter to me, the phone wasn't that easily available that 'I got the job so you can pack up your, things and come back and meet me in Reading' because we were very, very short of money at that time so he couldn't come and pick me up and all that.

So I made my way to Reading. But ... in the meantime we find out, that in those days nobody was giving flat to ... Indians. There is the flat advertised when you ring them ... and, if they ... don't recognise you from your voice, when you go there then they say the flat is gone. So you don't get a flat in, in Reading at that time. And I remember there were only two Indian, well two landlords of ethnic minority. One was a Pakistani man, one was an Indian man, the only two people who have houses at that time, but they were more keen to rent room than to rent a flat. So ... in the end my husband said 'You have to stay in a room now, you can't have a flat any more.' We stayed in a room. And I was expecting my first child at that time ... it was ... we moved to Reading in December and I had my first child in February.

So where was your husband's job?

At Ministry of Agriculture ... He was working as a scientist there.

What was it like, what was it like for you arriving in ... in Reading in the winter, in a room, expecting your first child?

Well it was very hard for ... first of all ... any first time mother it is a difficult time. Second thing we have all this worry about, the money problem, then the family tragedy because we both lost our parents, so I was emotionally upset, financially ... burdened, but then only one thing we kept on doing and ... we have to ... we decided we've got to face it together, face it as better as we can because this is, all the time we had said 'No this is not permanent, this is just temporary, phase in our life. We will get through it,' that kept us going.

And soon after the baby is born though we couldn't get a flat, so we, I think I stayed in that one bedroom for three months. Then I find out the place, though it wasn't a flat as such, so I said 'Can I have two rooms on the same floor?' So that landlady allowed me to have two rooms on the same floor so at least we have some privacy with the baby. So we have two rooms and there I stay and I ... could have ... bought a house at that time because by then we had the saving to buy a house and in those days houses were not that expensive. You can buy a house for 800 pound 1,000 pound in Reading. But ... I don't want to do it. I keep telling my husband we want to go home. I don't want to settle here.

And initially he was on a study leave for three years so the second year was passing so I said 'We will finish the third year and then we'll leave home. So I don't want you to buy the house, we will buy a property, we will be stuck here.' And, so this was another reason that kept us going, that I, knowing that I could do it but I still not doing it. After the second year when my daughter was two year old, then I realised it doesn't look like I'm going now. So then we bought our first house. We thought we had to get our house and my husband keep telling. He said 'Nobody here making our life difficult. And we can buy it so why don't we buy it.' Well I never worked when I came and, so he was the only person who is working. And then I said 'All right if you want to.' After ... my daughter was five years old then I started work.

Let me just take you back to when you first came to Reading, you said, there that you had the real experience of being an immigrant. What did you mean?

Well I think when I was in Cornwall we were treated like guest because they all knew there are students here, they are here for a year or six months or twelve months or maybe two years and they go back. And because people treat you like you are doing something for their economy because the students were the main source of income in that area so, there were not much prejudice there, they were very friendly, very, very co-operative people. And here when I came to Reading, though I personally have been very lucky, I've never been abused by anybody. I have good friends, good English neighbours and all that, only a small incident, one or two where you can see that it was not right.

Well I remember when my daughter was ... small, she went to school, she was going to nursery and one day she come home and says to me, and she was only four years old at that time, 'Mummy, are you going to arrange my marriage.' I said 'Of course I will arrange your marriage' [laughing as she speaks] I thought, she must have, heard somewhere arranged marriage, so ... 'No way!' I said 'Why?' 'No way. I'm not going to marry a Paki.' And I said 'What do you mean by Paki?' But I have to explain to her at that time what is a Paki means and what is Indian means and I said 'Look. They can call Pakis but you are not going to call anybody Pakis from today.'

So I've told her now, and so this was the small things like when ... I remember when I bought my first house. We went to see the house and the next door neighbour, they were all eager who is coming to see the house and we were ... we went in the evening to see the house and so she just come out. And, out of curiosity I just said 'Hello' to her and say 'This is nice area and is a quiet area too much noise?' She said 'No it's a nice area.' And after that we left it, and I didn't see her any more. When we bought the house, when we moved into the house, then she didn't like it, that I ... that was the English lady and she didn't like it that we've been Indian buying this house. And she stopped telling even, I say whenever I see her I say 'Hello, good morning' and she will not respond to me at all. After a few days I stopped telling her, I say if she don't want to respond to me let her do it whatever she wants. Well my daughter she will stand in the back garden [laughter in her voice] on the steps and, and she keep on saying 'Hello' until she reply to her. [laughs heartily] And she was thinking, why don't she reply to me [laughs] so, that's one thing. Then I think I ... after that, after a few months of resentment they become friendly, and then I find out one day that they were evicted, when I come home I was told they were evicted they were the tenant they hadn't paid their rent and so.

So what was Reading like as a town in 1970?

It was ... it was quite nice and friendly, don't ... the real ... I think now I have seen all the changes in Reading since then and some areas you can't even recognise it now. Because that even the Howard Street area where I got my house and is all this Castle Hill area, they have quite a bit changes there.

And you know, I was booked into Dellwood Hospital, that was Dellwood Maternity Home when I came first. [pause] The first impression of that hospital ... in the hospital there. It was a maternity home not a hospital and I went to visit there, the very first time, when I moved to this town because my doctor in Cornwall said 'Whatever you do when you go to Reading the main, first thing you find a doctor for yourself. First thing you book yourself in a new ... place because Reading I know it will be crowded you won't get a place there and you are very late stage of pregnancy so you must do that as soon as you reach to Reading.' So they book, I find a doctor where I was, I was living at that time, and then he booked me to maternity home, the first ... So when I went my first visit that was very, very [pause, takes a deep breath] I should say at that time, I felt very bad the way the nurses have talked to me.

Well my husband have started a new job as I told you so he couldn't take time off to go with me and anyway, from the very beginning he left me very independent, he said 'You can do it. You can never go anywhere with me, you know even to go to' ... When I came, in this country when we were in Cornwall he gave me his first cheque of his scholarship and he said 'Look this is my money I get and ... now it's up to you how you manage it, you go and open account wherever you want and this is the, you know this is my income, is all right.' I asked him 'Will you come with me to your bank to open account?' 'No you can do it yourself.' I went and opened the account and he never bothered me after that. 'Cause what you get what you haven't got, you know what I get, all right.'

So, going to visit the hospital first time, I went on my own. I didn't have ... a car at that time so where I went, find out where which bus goes there and I went, I clearly remember it was winter evenings when I be there, the snow was everywhere and I would get down from the bus walking to the maternity home. And when I reached there greeted by a nurse to give her my card that I had, 'It is my appointment I came for that.' And the very first thing she said 'Can you speak English [crossly]?' I say 'Yes.' 'All right, that's all right then' she says and she took me inside and show another nurse. And she says to her 'This woman says she speak English.' And I felt so bad about it. I said 'What does this mean, this woman says she speaks English.' [laughs] And the nurse asked me 'Where do you learn to speak English? [laughs] I said 'No don't you worry I just come here for check-up, you just check up, I'm not going to talk to you after, where I learned from.' I'm not a person like that but that day I felt like it.

When you had the baby ... were you?

Em ... the baby having the baby and that was another experience because ... baby first child, I did not know about all this labour pain though my doctor was very, very nice, he explain to me all this and how the labour pain will start. I spent all night at home you know turning tossing and in the morning my husband asked me 'You haven't slept all night, shall I go to work or shall not I go to work?' I said 'No you go to work.' And because a week before when my doctors checked me, only a week before he test me, 'Don't bother if you don't have your baby on the date we are telling you.' I said 'Why not?' He said 'Because your baby is not developed enough.' So he went ... so I packed up my bag and everything the week before. And then my husband left home, gone to work, if I ... his office wasn't too far so he was just walking to work.

And as I recall I went, very few minutes I went to the loo and I can see some ... blood coming out. I thought 'Oh my God, now I have to go.' And I remember in those days we used to use old sixpence for the phone so I have two sixpence piles and told the lady who was in the same house, living in the same house. I say 'Can you Margaret do a favour to me?' She said 'What?' I say 'Can you ring my husband please.' So I gave her two sixpences, I said 'One you can use to ring my husband and another for the ambulance.' She said 'All right.' She took it, and went to make a phone call, because he was already on the way so she couldn't, she couldn't get hold of him at the work, but she used the second sixpence to call the ambulance, and come back and tell me that 'I call the ambulance, they will be here in a few minutes but I can't talk to your husband.' I said 'Please' and gave her another sixpence, said 'Will you please ring my husband.' She said 'I will do it now when I take my children to school' ... it was early in the morning, so 'Fine.'

And the ambulance people came here in no time ... so, we, I ... ask me 'How are you?' I said 'Fine.' 'So are ... can you walk down?' I said 'Yes I can walk down.' So when the ambulance man was there, he was very cheerful man, he said 'Isn't anybody coming with you?' I said 'No, there is nobody to come with me. [laughs] At that time I really wanted to cry, for I come from a big family like this and nobody to go with me, so ... Then he said 'Don't worry, we are with you.'

So I went in the ambulance. So they took me to Dellwood Hospital, and I was greeted by a very very stern nurse and who tell me off that she said 'Why do you spend all that time at home?' And I couldn't tell her why I spend all that time I was at home ... She should have understand that's my first child, I don't understand. And she said 'You spend all that time at home, you will have ... baby in no time.' And in my mind I was glad that I have baby in no time, what's the problem? And she says to me 'Now you go and have a bath' and she send me to bath and at that time I don't want to take a bath, and she made me go in the bath. I say 'All right.'

The baby was born in hospital ... So that was a different ... that is I think the first time I really sorely missed my home because ... though I want to be brave and not to say anything to anybody, but I can come from a family like this, and here at this time nobody's with me. I'm all by myself, nobody's going to do anything for me. And that was a difficult time ... But after the baby is born I found everybody was very helpful, the nurses and ... once they knew that I could speak English their attitude have changed.

You said you'd gone to work when your first daughter ...

Yeah when she was five year old then because of the circumstances we bought the house and we need to, support ourselves a bit more and then because he, my husband lost his father so he have to support his mother as well back home. So we need to help them at home. So we both worked so then he could help his family and then I can bring my earning, we can manage to live.

Where did you work?

I worked with Department of Transport. I have financial knowledge so I have got in the finance department.

Where, where was that?

Well that office is closed now, in that place is The Oracle built now. That's where the office was, behind Debenham's in Minster Street, that's where our office used to be. It was a big office, Department of Transport where they do all the car tax and licensing and all that.

How did you find out about that job?

It was advertised in the paper you know and ... good job. You asked this thing because I, in those days we were not getting clerical jobs. Mostly our womans were working in the factories, so any clerical job you are applying, you don't get it. I got so fed up with it, because my husband said to me 'You are not going to work in a factory with your qualification and all that. I won't allow you to work in a factory.' 'I don't mind doing it,' I say 'Well it's work is work. If I work in a factory, does it matter?' But he said 'No. If you find a reasonable job like in a, a school or anything, you go to work.' So I a-, I apply and every time I was getting regrets. Sometimes they say you are too qualified, sometimes they say you are not fit person so different departments ... the work ... I've keep applying.

And when this post came so you know in those days Chronicle, we used to look in the Chronicle for the, jobs. And my husband said 'There's a job advertised in the Chronicle, you apply for that.' I said 'Which one is that?' He says 'PSA they are advertising for it's Property Services Agency.' So all right. I did not even bother, I was so fed up with getting the rejections that I did not even look at the paper, I just applied for it. I shown him the application that I'm sending this, he said 'Why you are applying for the clerical assistant job, there's a clerical officer job there' so I said 'Is it?', he says 'Yes' so I crossed the assistant and put officer on it. I was so desp- ... I knew I won't get it but I just sent the same application.

And they called me for interview, I went for the interview, and this time ... I'm, as it happened quite a few times the same people were interviewing me so the faces were familiar. And they, in the form they asked have you applied before. So last time I tell a lie, I said 'No I haven't applied before' [laughs] because I thought 'What they will think of me, that she is not even getting a clerical job.' To my mind it was a small job, so why, I was thinking 'Why I can't even get this job?' The policy was different, they don't want to give the job to us. He asked me 'Have I seen you before somewhere?' And I ... just did not answer that neither yes or no. I just smiled. [Laughs] And then he said 'All right' and so he asked different questions and then he said 'Do you know what the job entails?' and I said 'No I have no idea.' I was honest. So what do they do? I say that the property, PSA stands for the Property Service Agency but I don't know what you do. And ... then he asked me about questions whether I can speak other language. I said 'Yes, apart from English I speak Hindi, Punjabi.' Then he said 'If I, do you do get a job then it won't be in this office. Do you mind?' I said 'No it doesn't matter. I have to start anywhere so if you give me a job wherever you like.' Well then I knew I might have got the job. So then they gave me the job in Department of Transport because there they used to get quite a few Indians who were not well spoken in English. So he thought I might be useful there. [laughs] So I think that's how I got the job. So ... But that's the only job I did in this country. And then I retired from there.

So you, how long were you working there then?

I think after that I worked twenty two years.

What ... changes did you see in Reading in this time?

I think lot of ... roads have been different, all this IDR and all that was built here in my time. And, the main change I think is the ... mix-up ethnic groups. For when I moved to Reading the first ... at that time there were not that many. But you see other ethnic groups were less as well and apart from Indians and Pakistanis there were not that many. But gradually I can see the build-up. Because in seventy- ... eight or seventy-six when the influx from Kenya, and Ugandan people came, so that have increased the numbers of, Asians there. And after that now is a lot of, from African countries. I know certain areas of Reading where there were only ... I remember the second house we bought. I was, I was one of the first house of any Asian in that area. Now you will see the whole row of those Asian houses there. So that have changed the ... build-up of Reading, and certain areas are becoming really, really ethnic area now.

Was it, did it become better as more ... Asian people came, for you or ... ?

I have been lucky neither at work, well apart from one or two incidents that ... now I can laugh about it, but at that time they were hurtful but then I thought if I am going to make it a issue, then I am the one who will pay the price for it. If I ignore this issue and then carry on working then I won't ... I will manage it and I think I was right.

When I got my first job in the Civil Service ... in that office at that time there were two offices together. One was run by the Berkshire County Council and the other was run by Civil Service and I was employed by Civil Service. So I was not a Berkshire County Council person but there were two managers in that building. My manager greeted me at the door on the day I have to start work, so as he come in ... he took me out. 'Hello Mrs Malhotra' and all that. I went in and then ... as we were passing he was going to show me my, desk and all that. He met the another manager who was the manager of Council office, Mr S so he introduced me and what greeting I got from Mr S was 'There, there's no room for her to hang her coat downstairs.' I thought 'That's a good welcome!' [laughs] On the first day I am in this office and he's telling me this! And I knew the make-up of that office there was not any Asian person in that office. I was the only one person in that office and I remained one for so many years. Then they haven't had any other Asian there. I say 'All right.' So that was the first experience of his prejudice.

And then there were two ladies in that office who will not respond to my good morning, though they are good friends now but at that time they would not respond to my good morning. And I thought 'What's the matter with these two people? Why they are not even ... ?' I've been a polite person. Every morning when I go to office I will say 'Good morning J,' I will say 'Good morning B.' No answer. After few weeks I say 'All right, I have given them enough chance. If they don't want to respond to me, all right, I will pass them by.' And I did.

But after a few years working with them, when both offices became one and those people, they were employed by Berkshire County Council, when they become in Civil Servant and because, by then, I have more experience of my job so, one day this lady was stuck, she couldn't balance it. So, she went to my manager, she don't want to ask me. So my manager said 'Go and ask Maya she will help you to sort it out.' It was against her then to ask me any questions. She came and dump everything on my desk and says [angrily] 'Can you help me?' I said 'All right.' So I thought I wouldn't be like her, if I want to degrade myself to her standard. I will say 'You ask me nicely,' and I didn't do it, I said 'You leave it, I will sort it out.' So soon I sorted out. There was a mistake which was why she can't balance. So I sort out the mistake and I, in doing that I was so annoyed with her. I just took it back to her. I said 'Look, there is the mistake. If you correct this one you will balance.' Otherwise I should have done the balancing for her but I was so annoyed with her behaviour that I'm not doing it. [laughs] You do it. [laughs] That I regretted afterwards, I say, 'I've become mean with her.' And I know. If she, she doesn't deserve to be, nice so I don't want to do it. And I think that day she changed her mind. Then she start to talking to me nicely.

And now she's a good friend to me, after we retired. ... I, I took this attitude if you don't want me, so I am not going to bother with you. I will fit in if you want me to do it but, you know, I, the very first Christmas they say 'You want to join us?' I said 'Why not? I will join you.' I am here and I, I know that I had to ... and my own religion is my own part but it is here I take it as a social function. And they ask me, there was one lady asked me 'What are you going to do? Do you drink?' I said 'No, I don't drink.' 'Do you go to dance?' I said 'No I don't go to dance.' 'You smoke?' I 'No I don't smoke.' And she say 'What do you do then with your life?' And I said 'That's your point of view with your life. You think drinking and smoking and dancing is the life? It's not to me. My social getup is different. To your, the life may be just that. I have my life, I enjoy my life, do I look miserable to you? I'm not.' [pause] It's a different social ... makeup I think.

And I think one thing I find now, whether it is, I don't know whether it is due to television or due to ... papers or what. The people are a bit more knowledgeable about it now, than they were when I came to it, because that time people had no idea what is the life in India is about. People used to ask silly questions, 'Do you live in a hut?' ... And one lady asked me, is a long time, I don't know where I met her. She said 'Why, did you work in India?' I said 'Yes, I did work in India.' 'So what was your job, was it a tea-leaf picking?' And I thought ... I wanted to tell her, no that's not the only job in India the women do. And I said 'No there's too many other jobs to do it.' And I couldn't turn round and tell her I was a lecturer but I thought how ignorant it is, you should know a bit more about it. And I said to her 'Look, not everybody lives in a hut in India and not everybody just do tea-picking and there so many other' ... and by then I think the ... few years after, they had the first woman prime minister.

You talked about your religion, the little bit back you were talking about, you know you're invited to Christmas. Have you been able to practise your religion here?

Yeah, I have done it because, when ... well when we came here there was no facility. There were no temple in Cornwall, no temple in Reading but ... and ... the first ... few months I was very very lost, that there is nothing to do here. And then I thought All right. If it is not there we can always ... do that religious part in our own home, so I started doing all the prayers whatever I used to do it in my own home, and ... we started, because ... it was very important for children to understand where they come from and what is our background so I did that at home. We used to do all morning prayers, evening prayers with children at home whether I have a ... shrine or not.

We started this ... campaign to build a temple in Reading, that was quite late but not at the early stage. And then in eighty-, nineteen-eighty-three they thought we should have a place, so we, a group of women, we get together and we started that thing. So it took us nearly eighteen years to build a temple in the end. It did build it one. So that's the temple in Reading now. And it took us nearly eighteen years hard work.

Was it mainly ... you and some friends, or ...

Well, we started four five ladies together and just like a general discussion that we need a place and we haven't got any place, the Sikhs have gurdwara, the Muslims have mosque, why can't we have a temple of our own? So we said 'All right, we will start something.' So we started weekly prayers and finding places where to do it and that ... And then ... gradually we got more people involved in it. Then after retirement we took, both of us took early retirement then we put our whole and full force in it.
We thought now it is time. We got no commitment of the job, we will put our force.

Luckily God help us, so we find this place and ... bought it. That was bought without any help from, without any grant from anywhere. It was just our own fundraising. And, the, well we had to take a mortgage out, to have it from the bank and then from the public. And we managed to do it. So ... that is a very important place for any, any group of people, to have their own place. Like ... community centres serve a different purpose, but the places of worship serve a different purpose. And that is a place where people can meet together and work together and ... It's a two-fold thing, religious and cultural thing. It's not all the time prayer.

I am not believer on those people who want segregation, I've never wanted that. Wherever you are living you must accept the host community and you must adjust and adopt the way. Only thing I always said from the beginning that we must integrate but not at the 'cost of identity. We should keep our identity. That is what ... from the day one, my ... aim being that I cannot lose my identity. I am Indian and I will remain Indian all my life. But I would like to integrate and I think I have done it quite well in this society where I'm living. And no society is perfect. I won't say that all the Indians are perfect, all the Hindus are perfect. We all have our drawbacks, we all have our shortcomings. But if we take the ... what is best for all the society and try to accept it then we will have a wonderful society.

Where is the temple?

Temple is in Whitley ... Street, 112 Whitley Street. It used to be Methodist church and when that came on the market we had short talk to the trustees of that ... church and we told them 'If you sell the place to us we will, yours is a place of worship, we will keep it as a place of worship. But if ... we may not be able to, we won't demolish it, put it that way. But it's up to you.' And in the end I think they were bit impressed by that. Since we have that place, we have done a lot of work in that place and still using it as a prayer hall as they were using it, and enhance the value of it more. It's a great achievement I think. [laughs quietly]

Do you ... have you been back to India, and what is it like when you go?

Well the first [pause] time, the longest time, when I came to this country, the very first time I went back to India it took seven years to go back to India because it ... there were personal circumstances, we didn't have money, we had family tragedy and all that. And another thing was, most difficult was, we came separate, me and my husband came separate so I wanted to go back first time together. I don't want to go alone and then we didn't have enough finance to go back together so that took us seven years in the end. After the seven years we had enough money and I being a person of my very own, I don't want to take any help from anywhere, my family at home offered me so many times that we send you a ticket, you come home and I said 'No. I don't want to take ticket from anybody. I will come, we will come, not I will come, we will come together whenever I can afford the whole tickets.

Well India had been changing since then. People's attitude towards finance, people's aspirations and the achievements and the whole sort of social ... brought up into society, is totally different. The achievement is OK but they are leaving their culture behind too quick, and that, I think they have to pay the price for it. I ... I may be wrong but to me, they are going a little bit too fast and without thinking these consequences of this cultural change

How do your own daughters ... see their culture, having been brought up here?

It's ... again, as I said before I never insisted on a very strict ... upbringing. I knew they are born here, they are living in this society, they are living in this culture. So I don't want to impose any values which are not relevant in this society. I always tease them, what is our values, what is it we would like to do, what we don't like to do it. But I never enforce even the question of ... say very ordinary thing about food, all about your etiquette, all about your social beliefs. I never forced it down to their throat. I said 'This is, I would like you to do it and this is how we do it at home' but never force it.

It was, again was my older daughter Neera was in the nursery, and I never said to school that she shouldn't have something food. One day in those days there were dinner ladies to help children ... to cut their food. And the dinner lady said 'Neera, shall I cut your beef?' And Neera said 'I'm not supposed to eat beef.' 'Why not?' 'I am Hindu, I don't eat beef.' And the dinner lady took the beef away from her and she ... I don't know whether they may not have anything else to give her, so the dinner lady have informed the teacher and the teacher informed the head teacher, so by the time I went to pick her up, I had a message through the teacher that head teacher want to see you. And I thought, when I went there she said 'Mrs Malhotra head teacher want to see you before you take Neera home.' And she said to me 'I can look after Neera, you go and talk to her.' I say 'Fine.' And I thought what on earth this girl had done today? Has she been naughty? And when I went there and she announced 'Mrs Malhotra you never told me that I, that we shouldn't give Neera beef.' I said 'What happened?' She told me the whole story. I said 'Look.' And again, in that whole school she was the only Hindu child so I thought it's too much for the school to ask, just for cater for one child. And I said 'If she don't eat meat in one day does it make any difference? I am not a ... meat-eater any ... so she doesn't get meat at home. Is only vegetarian meals she gets.' So then I said to her 'Oh, don't worry about that.' She said 'At least she should have told me.'

And then a few days later she called me again 'And do you have any objection if she attend the assembly?' because in those days assembly was totally Christian assemblies. And I said 'Miss J, I don't, I'm not that religious person. Let her attend the assembly, for I'm sure no religion will teach you wrong thing. So if she go in and listen the assembly or she sing the hymns, doesn't matter, let her sing it.' So she take part in the school nativity play and all that. And I said later on when they were a little bit older, I said 'Look, you can study, you can go to assembly, if you want to go to Sunday School I have no objection, go to Sunday School. When you are old enough to decide which religion you want to follow, then you follow it.' I'm glad to say that my children say 'No, they are proud to be Hindu, they are born a Hindu, and they are proud to remain a Hindu, that's it.' So I never force anything.

Is there anything else that you wanted to say, that I haven't asked you about?

Yeah, I think for any immigrants whichever background they come from, when they come, to my mind, if they decided to come and stay in this country, so then they should have an open mind as well. You read a lot in the paper about the host community but they, if the host community have a obligation then the immigrants should have to fulfil their duties towards the host community. You can't have everything one-sided. It have to be both sides make effort. I do believe that you can keep your culture, you can keep your identity, you can keep it but still there is so many common grounds where you can integrate better and I don't believe in seclusion. One thing I will, I don't agree with these faith schools. I have never liked them. Whether it is a Roman Catholic school or a Shi'ite school or a Sikh school or whatever school, I don't believe in it. I think children are better off ... being taught together. And they, when they are in school they should learn how to live, how to be educated.

I remember there was a ... when I went to my daughter's graduation, a very nice thing the speaker have said in the welcome speech that the university is not a place just to get a degree. University is a place, university education gets them prepared how to live a normal life, how to be sensible in our life. It's not just to get a piece of paper in your hand. And that is what education is all about. So if you segregate children, like make a special school for the Shi'a, for Muslim children, a special school for the Hindu children, Sikh children and then just try to teach them the Sikh values or the Hindu values or the Muslim values. What that will do? But the value of every religion should be the common ground, the humanity. Human values are more important. All right your culture, your traditions can be still kept within a limit. There is no harm in it. But you cannot overlook the basic faces of humanity. So that is where they should be taught tolerance.' Cause nowadays everybody knows their right but nobody knows their duties. [pause]

So that is a thing I, I'm all for these temples, all for these, you know, places of worship because there's the best place where you can meet, you can meet in your own society, you can mingle. And I find it now, I see people coming from India when they come and meet there they have a nice place to meet people. And then I look back that when I came to this town there were no such place where I can go and meet people, I can talk to people. I remember because we miss it so much, we have had no common place. We start an association of the young people, Indian Association, and that time we don't have a place. We used to meet in our ... well, houses. They were, we were living in homes, even and then once a month we will get together in one room, all the friends. We bring our own things and we get together and eat it there because they don't have enough facilities to cook for so many people. And then we say already, everybody will bring one dish. At least we share and we started celebrating our, you know, special days, Diwali and festivals and all that, our Independence Day [unclear] you know democratic day. All this ... we started doing that because there was a need to get together, need to know each other and that's how this thing developed. Nowadays there are so many community centres. When I came to Reading there was not any. So there were ... nice development in the right direction.

And now all these places of worship are there. I see now every week there's somebody new comes from India and I know there a lot of IT people coming in this country now. So where they come, when they will come, they stay with their work they say 'Oh there is a temple over there. You go and you meet people there. And they all come running there and they feel so homely, that they can see so many faces there. So that is the place, that is the central focal point for the society, but that should not be a point where they separate, [quietly] no I don't agree with it.

I think this is the main thing, if we had made this country our home because as I said to you in the beginning, the day I came I always thinking 'Oh after two years, after three years, I'm going back home.' And now I'm ... sixty- six years old and I can't see now when I'm going. Now only last two years I accepted it that I'm not going to go back home and this is my home now and I will die in this country. [laughs] Only last two years I have accepted it.

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