Completing our international feature series on NRI women living abroad, Anusmita Dutta (our Writing Program Student), talks to Upasana Mukherjee Pal, who is in her mid-thirties and is working as a Learning Consultant in Toronto, Canada.
Anusmita in a heartfelt tête-à-tête describes the challenges Upasana faced as she moved from a joint family in India to a foreign land as a wife. Upasana shares instances from her NRI life of how she overcame isolation, emotional void and getting acquainted with the new through personal evolution. She is now a successful blogger and dances away from her blues through her very successful YouTube channel, Ghungroo Speaks.
Text by Anusmita Dutta
Can you lead a happy and wholesome life by just wishing away all your worries and voids? No, but you can be happy in life when you know how to effectively deal with your problems and the first step to solving them is acknowledgement. This is what Upasana Mukherjee Pal has done in her life. Upasana who currently resides in Toronto, Canada first moved to the US in mid-2015 when her husband got a job there. Upasana who calls herself an ‘ explorer’ was only too happy to accept the change. The initial feeling was surreal as she and her husband basked in the lovely ‘autumn hues’ and ‘snowfall’ in Michigan, US.
From a joint family in India to an NRI wife
So, was life picture perfect for her?
“No!” exclaims Upsana as we discuss her life over a whirlwind chat. Upasana who has always lived in a large family opens up about the emotional void she felt being away from family and friends for the first time in her life. Upasana shares, “There were a lot of difficulties. Being born and raised in a joint family and also been overprotected by the septuagenarian grandmothers, I did very little household chores. I learnt cooking when I relocated for a job in a different city. So, you can imagine I was not happy doing so much of household chores by myself. Also, the work doubles when you have a child. Especially, after I started working, juggling both work and life has been quite a task. Back home, we would have had a nice chat with our parents-in-law or read a book while enjoying a sip of tea. Our son would have played around.”
Upasana further confesses that no matter what she would do, she always felt this emotional void. She adds, “ I have to admit, it is tough and will always be, but with the social network and WhatsApp we feel connected to our loved ones. We visit India every two years and our folks also come over to spend the time that makes me feel lucky.”
As Upasana acknowledges the emotional void, she also deals with it in a practical manner because moping around is just not an option for the brave lady.
Staying engaged productively
Upasana smiles as she shares, “Reading to my son, learning the types of dinosaurs from him, making a nice dessert, contributing as a parent blogger, and occasional celebrations in our social circle keep me busy and happy. It is almost after four years, I may have finally accepted that being homesick and depressed is not a solution. Wisdom lies in accepting and adapting to the present situation. Of course, it was not easy to start with for an emotional person like me. Initially, I got frustrated and started binge-watching a lot of series. I tried channelizing my energies into something creative. I started choreographing dances, blogging, experimenting in the kitchen which resulted in some unique dishes like the not-so-fluffy muffin.”
What was her experience navigating through daily life in her initial days in a foreign land especially with all the unfamiliar rules and regulations? Upasana shares some interesting experiences from her initial days abroad.
The first year as an NRI
She recalls, “During my first year, besides being captivated by the lovely weather and snowfall, there was one other thing that intrigued me, the medical system. Back home whenever one comes from the doctor’s clinic, the physical prescription would be a topic of research by all the family members. There were also expert suggestions of opting for a second opinion. But here all reports and prescription that is, the visit summary is uploaded online. I would also like to add that here we cannot practice “self-prescription” or “self-medication” for flu or headaches. One HAS to visit the clinic as a lot of trial and error goes in understanding which over-the-counter medicine will be most effective for us.”
What about a job hunt? It is common knowledge that finding a job for many women who join their spouses abroad does tend to get arduous. Was it difficult getting a job as an Indian/ foreigner or starting a venture there?
Finding employment as an NRI
Upasana admits, “I feel it is easier when you have a local degree or certification. In Michigan, though I had a work permit, I didn’t start working immediately due to personal reasons. With very limited companies and a very streamlined skillset, it was a great challenge to get a job when I eventually started applying. I worked as an ad copywriter for less than a year though that was not my field. I quit just when I was in my third trimester. However, I was smart enough the next time, when we moved to Toronto. My husband convinced me to try for a job first. Luckily, things fell in place this time. I got a job and moved in with my cousin who lives in Toronto. After a month, my husband moved there too and now we were settled with friends, families and an active cultural and social life. Presently, I am working in my own learning domain. Not that I am doing my dream job but yes, there is too much competition and I have made peace with it. The good part is that the work environment is friendly and though I work from the office, some days I am allowed to work from home as well.”
The myth about leading the NRI life
When we asked her about some of the most common myths about the life of NRI women, Upasana ponders a bit on this and then slowly says, “Back home I have heard many people especially from the earlier generation mention that, Oh it’s a land where everything is done by machines! No that’s not the case here and I miss the helping hands which I was entitled to back home in India. Eventually, I realised this place is not for cribbing, or for lazy people who would complain about the dishes. The husband and wife both need to put in their 100% when it comes to household chores to make the work smooth going. I have been blessed that way.”
Dance and festivals – things that keep her busy
Upasana is an accomplished Kathak dancer with several stage performances under her belt before marriage. Does she still pursue her passion?
“Of course I do! When I was not working and was just being a mother to my son, I got a chance to rediscover myself. Being a trained classical dancer, I have always enjoyed different forms of dance. I took the stage after 10 years in 2018 and continue to perform whenever time permits. My parents fed me the mantra ‘No matter how others react, you should enjoy when you are on stage.’ This motivation finally gave birth to my YouTube Channel ‘GhungrooSpeaks’ not with the objective of business but to continue doing what I enjoyed the most.
I was lucky I had my uncle, aunt and a close group of friends in Michigan who have extended immense support. But they were in different cities so we could catch up with them once in three months. But during the Durga Puja festival, our friends would always be around. Being a Bengali and missing Kolkata Pujo is very painful but with friends around it becomes way bit easier. My social life has been very active ever since we moved to Toronto. We plan short trips with our friends little caring about the harsh winters.”
Indeed, being busy with family, work, hobbies, and social life is the best way to lead a fulfilling life no matter where we are and Upasana through a process of self-discovery has struck the right balance.
Tips for Indian women relocating abroad
Finally, what tips would she give to women who plan to move abroad after marriage or work? “Homesickness and a feeling of being isolated is pretty common. I would suggest trying to connect with people who share the same passion. If you are one who finds comfort in her own cocoon, ask yourself what would you do to make yourself happy. It can be music, dance, joining an art workshop or a pottery-making class. Remember, it’s you who chose life so let there be no room for complaints.”
As we wind up our chat we can’t help wonder how women have the innate strength to cope with any situation life throws at them. Like Upasana who grew up amidst much pampering in a joint family only to find herself without her external support system and with additional responsibilities once abroad. While this may still be an issue, but still much easier to surmount than the feeling of the emotional void she had to battle. However, in a relatively short span of four years, she has evolved into an independent woman in every sense of the term. Who says you need to wallow in loneliness if you are away from your roots? Take stock of your situation and make life a fun ride just the way Upasana did, and let your loved ones be the wings behind you. Well-done!
Please Note: All views and opinions are purely of the interviewee.
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About our writing program student:
Anusmita Dutta works as the Content Head in GetAConnect.in. She started her career in the e-learning industry but moved on to writing in the print and the web medium as well. She is also a Spoken English Tutor and a children’s storyteller.
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