For Ravi, “the future is just another big day”, but sitting in an anonymous airport lounge, on her own, waiting to board a flight for the first time, to go to a foreign land, and live with a man she barely knows, who she met and married just a few months ago, then today, is an abnormally big, and scary day.
The last time she had moved home was as a 3 year old, just after the death of Indira Gandhi. Living in Ghaziabad in the region of Utter Pradesh, as a Sikh, had become unsafe, so they fled to Jandiala village in the Punjab. It was here that she spent the next 21 years of her life.
She grew up in a normal “middle class” household, her mother was a teacher, and her father an electrician. Although they were Sikhs, it wasn’t something that was central to her life. She had friends who were Hindu, and Muslim, and they made the best of all of the various traditions and festivals, swapping times between temples, mosques and gurdwaras, depending on what was happening. For Ravi, and her friends, the different religions provided variety, not a problem. It was about respecting differences, and enjoying them, they were connections, not chains.
After graduating, she went on to a Masters in Computer Applications with the Open University. This was in addition to teaching IT in school, and extra-curricular home tuition. These additional classes were necessary as their parents had difficulty supporting the children with their homework. Ravi was able to teach them in a broad spectrum of subjects including, Maths, English, Science, Hindi, Punjabi, , Social studies, political science, to name but a few.
In the 5 years that she did this, she helped many people who went onto fulfil themselves in different ways, and although this was over 10 years ago, they still remember her. Some follow her on Facebook so they can still keep in contact, but she always receives many messages on Teacher’s Day. This makes her very happy.
“Some kids are dentists now, some have gone to foreign countries,…. I feel good when they contact me, and send me messages – at least they still remember me. That feels so great”.
The demand on her time due to her popularity became so great, that something had to give, so she stopped her Open University course. Her inclination was to concentrate on helping others and getting additional money for the family.
The time then came for Ravi to get married. The notion of a “love” marriage was not even considered. In the village society it would have been frowned upon, and people would have asked questions….that was left to the minority, who strayed away from the mainstream cultural direction. But it was not a problem for Ravi, it was the only real choice:
“I couldn’t have made that big decision on my own..it was too scary”
And the day became her opportunity to indulge herself in her own “ Bollywood production”, with all of the traditions, ceremonies, family, and friends, dancing and music….a fantasy day on her own film set. – an Indian girl’s dream.
Her husband returned to Derby, and the reality of the situation set in. She had to wait 6 months for all of the paperwork to be arranged, and then she made her way to the airport.
Her much-loved Bollywood films gave her a romanticised version of a clean England, which was shattered as she landed at Birmingham airport.
Although she provided English tuition in India, this was only at the most basic of levels, and was not enough to converse with people living here. Her outlook was very practical and positive – she knew she needed to become fluent in the language as quickly as possible. She immersed herself in a combination of English classes, jobs and voluntary work – anything that brought her into regular contact with native English speakers was her objective.
“The only way of learning English is by speaking , not just by studying”
Within a few months, she was sufficiently confident to be going into shops, and engaging with people in conversation. Her advice to any new arrivals is clear and simple:
“It’s all about confidence, and if you have confidence, then you can speak, and I know that English people do understand whatever you say. I always tell the new girls when they arrive – speak with the English people, they will definitely correct you and motivate you”
Before long, she started working at the Indian Community Centre, initially as an IT tutor, and then to develop the Visa, and passports services. This did not stop her getting other jobs, at Sports Direct, Halifax Building Society, and a double glazing shop , as well as attending courses on benefits, computers, education and many others. It was an insatiable appetite for knowledge and a clear focus on continuing to improve her language skills.
She saw ways to develop the services at the Community Centre, and modernise the approach with on-line facilities, and generally be more helpful to their clients. It also brought in more much-needed income as well as saving money. In her 8 years doing this, she developed many valuable contacts throughout local organisations and charities, and she was also developing thoughts and ideas about new initiatives for the Centre.
The Centre was already running with a project called SEWA ( meaning “Service”), principally to provide activities for the elderly Indian men and women. When the project manager left, Ravi saw this as the opening she needed to move job so she could put her ideas into practice. She agreed to continue to train and support new staff in the Visa service office, whilst developing the range of clubs and training.
That was a year ago, and she has been a positive whirlwind in the Centre injecting energy and vitality amongst the elderly. Much of her approach has been about creating awareness on their health which she sees as a big issue in this community. Although Indian people have been living in Derby for decades, there are still hard-to-reach sections and many older people do not speak the language at all, and some rarely venture far from their houses.
She has arranged clubs and sessions on Mental health and well-being, Stroke awareness, Crime, Dementia, Care Farm trip, Financial awareness, yoga and pampering. She is looking to establish Dementia clubs, and social lunches, as well as a walking group.
…and she has a 5 year old child as well!
So what is motivating Ravi, where is the energy coming from? It is not a single-minded devotion to a religious cause that’s telling her to be part of the community – it is much more basic than that.
When an elderly lady comes into her office, who can’t speak English, and who needs help with her bus pass, but doesn’t know where the Council office is, there are options. There are long term solutions but are they practical and realistic? What the old lady needs is a caring hand from someone who will help, not signposting, and courses. Ravi understands that – she knows that she can significantly help that woman’s life with one phone call, immediately.
Sometimes people come in to discuss their personal problems, and Ravi just listens. They share details and issues that they don’t divulge to their family – they just need to talk about it. She doesn’t necessarily solve anything but she provides a caring ear, and for many, that is important.
“I’m not a professional to solve their problem, I just listen………..just listen…and people trust me”
Ravi has turned an anxious and scary moment in her life, into a major pivotal point where she has projected herself with great determination and humanity to truly serve the elderly people in her community.
But Ravi doesn’t do this on her own. She is supported by Balbir Sandhu who is the Chair of the ICC, and she has also built up a loyal group of volunteers from the Centre – all mature women who have been part of this evolution in the role of Centre. Her personality and nature draws people in to offer support which encourages them to go that bit further.
The most endearing aspect of her character is that there is no master plan, no cynicism, no aspiration for a massive salary or other ulterior motive, she just wants to do good, and to be remembered by as many people as possible for doing that. She summed it up for me, in a jocular fashion and with no hint of being pretentious
“Where there is Ravi, there is hope!”
The future, for Ravi, is always another big day, but each day is:
“..another, surprising, helpful day, when I can at least help somebody to make his, or her life, better. …and if they give 10 blessings to me, then at least one blessing will be from their heart”
A beautiful philosophy that many of us can learn from.