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Me and Mine.

1 November, 1977.

That’s where it started for me.  Medically speaking that is.

I was born in Northampton, UK as the first child of Mrs Ajita Rughani and Mr Subhash Rughani.  We lived in the relatively new city of Milton Keynes, about 50 Miles north of London, along with my grandparents – my father’s parents: the late Mrs Sushila Rughani and the late Mr Trikamdas Rughani – both of whom have had a significant influence in my life.

Our heritage was quite fascinating.  My father was born on the spice island of Zanzibar of the east coast of Africa, and my mother was born in the city of Dar es Salaam, in the East African nation of Tanzania.  Our ethnicity however is Indian, from the western Indian state of Gujarat – the same place Gandhi was from.  In 1964, my Father came to the UK, following a revolution in Zanzibar, and in 1976 he married my mother in Dar es Salaam, and he returned to the UK with her.

Like any child, I had a vivid imagination, an insatiable sense of curiosity and was quite the dreamer.  In many ways, these traits of my childhood are still evident today!  I suppose the unusual thing that I remember was my fascination with religion and spirituality.  Hearing religious stories, watching religious films and reading religious comics was actually something I really got into.  I learnt a lot, but was curious to learn more.  I would constantly ask questions to my parents and grandparents, and for a young kid, I accumulated a lot of knowledge on mythology, doctrine, symbology and society according to Hindu Dharma.

My grandmother was very religious and spiritual, and my grandfather was very well versed in the various philosophies of the Hindu Dharma.  My entire family was vegetarian, and so I was bought up as a vegetarian too, a lifestyle I still abide by.

However my questions often took me beyond the boundaries of religion and ventured into spiritual concepts which I think the elders of my family had a hard time trying to explain to me, although I’m not sure whether it’s because they couldn’t explain it, or I couldn’t comprehend it.

My sister, Janaki, was born when I was 7 years old – the age gap is quite big, and so the relationship I have with my sister is somewhat different to other siblings I have observed.  Not better, not worse – just different.  It’s interesting, for many years when I was an only child, I would beg my parents to “bring me home a little sister” – I remember when she was born, and I went to meet her for the first time in the hospital.  It was the proudest moment in all my 7 years, and holding my sister for the first time, is a moment that is engraved into my memory.  I even picked out her name, and insisted that we name her “Janaki”, and it took a few days before my parents finally agreed.

The Search for New Life.

I was however, living in a time where racial intolerance was prevalent, and being an ethnic Indian in the UK was not always pleasant.

At the age of 18 months I went with my parents to Dar es Salaam, where my grandmother on my mother’s side was living at the time.  I have no recollection of that trip, however I do remember my first trip to Toronto, Canada in 1983.  We stayed with my aunt and uncle, and their son – my cousin who is 3 days younger than me.  We both got along very well, and to this date we’re the best of friends, which I guess is good considering we’re related!

I bring this up because Canada was one of the options my parents picked, as a place to live – away from the racial tensions of the UK.  Canada is a very cold place too, so I think that was one of the reasons we didn’t end up settling there.

I started school later that year, and I do remember that I was quite the book worm, and while I had shocking handwriting, expressing myself in writing by telling stories and writing poems was always fun for me.  I was also quite a talker, and articulating myself was something I was able to do with ease.

In 1986 we took a shot at living in the USA, in Florence, South Carolina.  This was the heart of the deep south in the USA where people are rednecks by their own admission!  One thing that really stuck with me was the warmth and friendliness of the people.  It’s also where I started to learn to speak French when I attended school, for the few months we were living there.  I’m not 100% sure why, but we didn’t settle there and returned to the UK.

In 1988, I was 10 years old, and my parents made the decision to migrate to Sydney, Australia.  Quite literally, they picked everything up, and moved.

On the way to Australia, we spent 6 weeks in India, which was the first trip I made to the land of my heritage.  It was also a cultural shock.  Coming out of a country that was efficient, orderly and structured, India was in many ways the opposite.  It was quite chaotic, undoubtedly busy and crowded, it was comparatively polluted and had quite a few beggars too, and that was scary.  We visited family and travelled around a bit.  I even got the opportunity to go to Gujarat, the state of India where my family hailed from.  It was an experience that left me overwhelmed – not good, not bad, but quite mixed.

New Country, New Life.

Landing in Australia was not what I expected.  My first memory of Australia was one I’ll never forget.  As the plane came in to land in Sydney, it was around 6am, and the sun was pretty low in the sky.  I remember flying over Sydney Harbour, and and seeing the rays of the sun, stretch out over the water… and as we circled round, I was stunned to see the magnificence of the Sydney Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge… it was every bit as beautiful as I had seen in the photos and on the television… what a fabulous first impression of my new home!

However, imagine my disappointment when I got of the plane, and while crossing the tarmac, I didn’t see a single kangaroo!  In fact, it looked like a normal city, nothing like the Australian Outback that I was expecting!  No Aborigines, no boomerangs… I looked in the trees, and no koalas… I felt pangs of disappointment, but excitement, and even more curiosity because this was a bit of an adventure.  New country, new life, and I really didn’t know what to expect, or how long we were going to stay for.

The disappointment increased when 5 days later I was enrolled at the local school…

School was different here.  People were friendly, and it didn’t matter what your ethnic background was, in fact there were people at my school that were Indian, Greek, Italian, Maltese, Lebanese, African, English, American, Chinese, and of course, those who had been in Australia for many generations.  The racial tension wasn’t there, and the closest comments I got to anything remotely racially oriented were aimed at my Queen’s English accent!

So, Australia ticked a big box right there for the newly migrated Rughani family!  Better still, the weather was just fantastic!  The sun clearly shined, and it was warm!

The best thing was, we had the beach only a few minutes drive away from us – compared with a few hours drive when we lived in the UK.

Now while it sounds all nice and sugary, the truth was we came to this country not knowing anyone.  I left all my friends behind in the UK.  We had nothing when we arrived.  We were put in touch with a friend of one of my relatives, and they gave us some bare essentials, and helped us with finding accommodation.  My parents didn’t have a job, we had no car, we slept on foam mattresses, and didn’t even have a fridge, and we were living of my parent’s savings.  Yet, it was an adventure, and looking back, and I think the ability to get through this situation with the basics, helped me through many times in my life, where once again, I had only the basics.

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