Moving to Rugby in the 1980s

Museum collection objects that represent journeys and migration were shown to the Crossing Borders group to inspire their own artworks and conversations. They included sturdy shoes and a smart pair of gloves for travelling; a teacup to remind you of home; and a Ginkgo Biloba plant specimen that was brought to the UK hundreds of years ago.
Image courtesy of Heritage & Culture Warwickshire
Oral history of Shanti, for Crossing Borders project


S: My name is Mrs Shanti Chauhan and I came into England in 1981 as a wife. That was the main reason for me to come here because as the other couple of ladies said we have to go with the husband. It wasn’t by force, it was our choice as well same time, we’ve not been forced. First interesting thing that happened at the airport when I landed, we have to go for medical and they think we all can’t speak English like that which is just normal. The first question I been asked is how did you learn English? And where you learn English? I said do you think it’s a stupid question. That’s what I said. I am being honest. I said don’t go by the colour. And she said I’m sorry and I said it’s ok. Then when I came out…it took a long time inside and I was thinking Oh, God, my husband will go. How am I going to get home? Where I’ll go? That was my worry. [Pause] It was really, really worrying. [Pause] I started to cry as well. It was taking such a long time and when I came out I completely forgot my luggage, everything…and as soon as I saw him I just [took] my handbag and just one suitcase and I left my hand luggage which one [has] quite a few things my parents given me for memories…and plus my husband’s special wedding cake, they made it for him. My dad made it. This one for him. My dad’s [a] baker. So that’s my first memory from the airport, losing luggage and I never managed to find the luggage, that one. It was a dinner set as well; my mum gave it to me. So the new thing…when we came home…after travelling…first thing he starts to eat chips so I said why’re you eating raw potatoes. I was really sick. That was another thing interesting happened to me [laughs]. I thought, God, I’ll die. There’s no food here to eat. Why did I come here [that was a joke my husband made to me] but on the whole it wasn’t a bad experience. When I came, I was a bit depressed for a while because I was a teacher in India. When I came here I felt a bit lonely. Then when I had a child, first child, I got busy with that [laughs] But I have, after four years, got a job in school…Rugby School. I worked for [29] years as a technician there. Then I had the same atmosphere I came from [not clear]. From then till today I’m happy. I got three children. My husband passed away about ten months ago. My children looking after me. We did find little bit culture-wise it’s different. Obviously, I find very different when I first came here. Obviously, will be different but other than [that]…it wasn’t a great deal.

I: So what did you find different about the culture?

S: Culture…because when we used to go out I could not find our own community to talk much those days and even the people living here since long time, [of] our culture…they little bit changed as well. Celebrations [or just talking as well]. I find that little bit different.
Obviously, if someone come now they wouldn’t find different. But still people settled here, they’ll find a little bit different [thinks] accent. We [eat] half of English when we talk [all laugh]. We do talk here very short-cut English.

I: So, when you came here, you didn’t know anybody or had any family then?

S: No, no, we haven’t got anybody here apart from my husband, nobody here, just friends. Up to today, I have two daughters who are married now so can say we have relations now, extended family. The rest of the family’s in India and in the beginning we used to go every year visit family [but] when kids grown up it’s a bit different. Now we start to go every year again. My children go. We still go back. That’s my life [laughs].

I: Thank you very much.

Crossing Borders was an arts project made possible by funding from the West Midlands Museum Development Small Grant Scheme 2017. Find out more about the project here.

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