Tuesday, 2 November 2010

London, Gujarati-style

"Come in," Roshni motioned to me, "I’m just feeding the baby."

Roshni was a married Indian woman living in London in a five bedroom house with 13 of her fellow countrymen. I, at the time a down and out 24-year-old Irish girl, remember feeling grateful to finally have found a place to live. Yes, grateful – even though my new Gujarati house mates thought I was looking for a place to lay low. Why, oh why, they asked me with their eyes, would I choose to live among them? Who would choose to be the black, pardon me, white sheep?

The answer goes a bit like this: I had a broken heart, a Masters, no job, was broke, and the stupid ‘sub-prime’ recession was just sinking its teeth in. All of this and I wanted to live in London with my hip journo friends. So I compromised - by culling my beliefs, high standards and all manner of prejudicial attitudinal tendencies. I sucked it up. And it worked. It really, really worked. I had my own room in the house – the only person with that privilege, which helped. And in just a few months, I emerged through its door, 18 Chaplin Road, just off Wembley High Street, transformed. It helped enormously that my house mates turned out to be amongst the nicest, warmest people I have ever met.

 At first, of course, I didn't know that. So I neglected to tell my family and friends the gritty facts. I told them an outright lie – that I was living in a spacious house with people my own age with similar interests and career objectives – that we were all pals, it was cosy, fluffy, safe and warm. I wanted my loved ones to be able to sleep at night, even if I couldn’t. I had given them enough reason to doubt the viability of me as an Independent person - my recent solo trip to Vietnam to the detriment of my career and long-tem relationship just one. I was throwing dice with life just to see what would show up. I had nothing, nothing to lose. I figured if I tried to be brave, even if I didn’t really feel brave, that the universe would reward me.

Now, I’m not a gambler, but since my experience, I have learned that the odds of reward - especially when a person trusts and puts their heart into something - are huge. Scrap that – guaranteed.

My first night in the house was spent in Mr French’s arms. Mr French is a teddy bear (I’m human and I need comfort, forgive me). I had been in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with Mr French (not my first) since my return from Asia. The deal went something like this: he hugged me at night and I made sure not to leave him face down on the floor when I left him alone for hours at a time. It worked.  And though I had to force his coarse, stubby arms around me at night, I felt safe. When the sound of adolescent Indian boys playing computer games in the next room filled mine, I’ll admit, I did cry. And I did ask myself what the hell I was doing, why I was doing it and if it was likely that I had completely lost my mind. And then, to prove to myself that I had, I took an internship, an unpaid internship. Why would I do that? Well, to get ahead, of course.

I remember being in the basement office of the magazine in central London, which was run by a self-serving businessman who I later discovered wasn’t paying anyone. After two weeks of hard graft and finger-numbing writing, I felt compelled by some force (possibly a proletariat aversion to exploitation) to tell him what I thought of him. I left without expenses or references. Besides an old Nokia phone, which caused me untold misery - and a borderline anorexic wallet - the cotton shopping bag I had been passing off as ‘boho chic’ was depressingly empty.

At that point, I figured I was karmically owed a windfall and that if I just hung on, it would come. It didn’t. All I had to my name was a box of weetabix, no milk and a loaf of bread (I did have butter). I started to cry, sometimes like a newborn. I was lost and afraid and felt that life was so unfair. Just so unfair. I started to talk to the man upstairs. I asked him to notice me, to see that I was trying with everything I had to make something of myself. I apologised for the mistakes of my past and asked for a clean slate. I told him I would do good things with my life if he would just grant me some fortune. I meant every word.

The next day, maybe not actually the next day, but very soon after, Kaushal, Roshni’s entrepreneur husband, asked me to write content for a business website of his. For money. ‘Act cool,’ I told myself, eyes ravenous for the green stuff. ‘How much, Kaushal?’ I asked, cool as. ‘Two weeks rent?’ Done. I had bought myself time; enough to land a job in a down trodden bar near Wembley Stadium. “Of course I know how to change a keg,” I smugly told the manager, “Piss easy, really.” When the time came, as it was inevitably going to, I bottled it. But before I did, I attempted the task, knowing full well I didn’t have the skills - a trait of mine that has led me down some dark roads, particularly where machines are concerned.

I, mechanically-challenged person, released a lever I guessed was relevant to the job. “Oh no,” I croaked, a mili-second later, “I immediately regret this decision.” I heard an angry, hissing release of gas and imagined being blown out through the doors of the pub onto the street, my life cut short. I ran for it upstairs to the owner’s flat. Holding back tears, I came clean. I kept my job, but gained a reputation as the token blonde ditz. I could accept that. It was a humbling lesson in honesty. I grew from it.

What followed was a chain of events that I can only put down to fate, orchestrated, of course, by a force I can only call mysterious. A kind Irish woman I met in an Irish pub - whose daughter worked for a large media firm - arranged an interview for me. Just like that. I began meditation (to relieve myself of mounting tension) and found a centre, just on my doorstep, where it was offered for free. Gratuit. No charge. In this day and age, that is a rare thing. I grew and grew in personal awareness and strength. I climbed my way steadily to where I am today: author of a debut novel, which my agent thinks will be published, called The Enlightenment Trail. I live in Ireland, with my boyfriend, and am an exceedingly happy person who doesn’t tell all that many lies. There’s not much I’d be afraid to try at this stage. I know now that it’s possible to get where you want to go if you just trust. I don’t mean that in a ‘to hell with responsibility’ way. I mean it in a ‘if the world challenges you for all you have, call its bluff,’ kind of way.

I have since left Mr French. I don’t know where I got the strength. I left him on the landing in Chaplin Road, face up, hopeful that someone would find him and love him the way I did. I was flying with this country’s notorious cheap airline company and had to be strict with myself on space. It was a cold act, but one that ultimately freed us both.

To any graduate in today’s lousy financial climate who feels like it was all for nothing, I say: “Just do it – whatever it is your heart desires.” You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. In fact, if you’re coming from a place where you have no job, you can only gain from trying. 

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