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July 28, 2009

The visa-rd of Oz

I've had two productive days now. Days where I've maniacally cleaned the house, ticked off stuff from my to-do list and written some. Yesterday was class-day and after some workshopping and one-on-one with the professor, I was at the coffee shop for a much-needed sugar-hit. As I collected my cappuccino, joked about my sugar intake -- two-and-a-half teaspoons -- and extended my arm to pay, a girl barged in.

She was Indian, perhaps 17-18 years old, looking scared and tired. She pushed the others lining up for coffee and demanded in broken English, "Iwanjoeb." The cafe girl couldn't understand her. The Indian girl clutched her bag closer to her chest and repeated, "Iwanjoeb." Her accent was... unintelligible. The others around were staring at her, some confused, some amused, some irritated. I was still holding out the change for my coffee. The cafe girl looked at me.

I asked the Indian girl, "Naukri chahiye?" (You want a job?) She looked at me, scared, nodded. There was a boy standing behind her, barely older than her, looking angry... I took them outside, made them sit. They obeyed... they were so trusting, it was scary and was making me very uncomfortable.

"Do you have a CV?" I asked.
She looked confused.
She still looked confused.
"Do you have a bio-data?"
Light finally dawned.
"Nahin. No, I don't have," was her response.
"You will need a bio-data to get a job."
"I did not know that... I don't know where to get one," she replied.
"You don't 'get' one, you have to write one."
"What do I have to write in it? I don't know."
I was stunned.
"When did you come here?"
"Three months back."
"India... Punjab...(city name)*."
"Student visa?"
"What college?"
"XXXX* university."
"What are you studying there?"
"Who told you to come to this cafe and ask for a job?"
She hesitated now, looked at the boy, who so far had not said a word.
"They said I should walk into places and ask..."
"Have you worked before?"
She shook her head. No.

I knew it was a stupid question. She came from a small town in Punjab, right out of school. From what I know about similar backgrounds, she probably ever only stepped out of the house to go to school, perhaps accompanied by her father or brother. I asked her about the "they", she looked uncomfortable and began fidgeting with the strap of her bag. On further questioning she mentioned she had cleared her 10+2 (grade 12) last year with "non-medical" and a 60 per cent. 'Non-medical' for those outside India means she studied physics, chemistry and mathematics. I asked her if she had cleared it under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which is the national education board. She had done her schooling under the Punjab state board. Firstly, she studied under a state board; secondly, with her marks, she would not get into a 'good' college in India. And she is here in Australia, doing a multimedia course...

In my conversation with her, she could barely manage to speak basic English. Even her Hindi was laced with a thick Punjabi accent. The boy didn't speak at all and looked around at everyone suspiciously. I didn't know what to do... I pulled out my resume and showed it to her. She asked if it was okay for her to simply mention her school degree and the college she was studying in... I said yes. We parted ways. She perhaps went away hopeful, I remained shaken up.

I came back home and checked the website for the college the girl mentioned. It provides courses in multimedia, hairdressing and community welfare amongst others. All vocational courses. It has a student services section that apparently provides help on accommodation service, airport pickup and also has a job club. According to the 'job club' website, students are provided help in the form of, "... students are shown how to write their resume in English and are given individual advice on how and where to look for a job during the session... . students assistance with finding a job."

If those are the services provided by the job club, why was that girl walking around without a resume? Without any clue on how to go about things? Did she not approach the job club? Or did she not understand what the job club said? When speaking to her, it was apparent her English was far inferior to the minimum needed to continue any life here.

On checking the college website, the basic requirement of English for a multimedia course is a score of 5.5 on the IELTS course. Now the IELTS exam has four sections, one of them is spoken English. If she couldn't say "I want a job" clearly and could not even string two sentences... How did she clear the IELTS? How did she get a seat in the college?

Every week here, there have been stories in the media about the entire Indian-student-visa-scam. The Australian media is going a darned good job of looking deeper. Quite unlike the Indian media, which created a furore about students being beaten up in Australia, labelled the country 'racist' and has since not bothered to delve into the subject any further. On Monday night, TV channel ABC1's investigative programme, 4 Corners, had a very good investigation on the issue. This episode was called Holy Cash Cows.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle looked at the reasons behind the rise in the number of Indian students in vocational courses over the last five years, the scams operating in Australia and India that allow unqualified students to come into the country -- forging IELTS scores, work qualifications etc -- and further migration scams that provide similar fraudulent documents to enable such students (and others) to apply for permanent residency in Australia.

Who is to blame for this?

Is it the Australian govt that needs to have some sort of checking system in place, but does not seem to be doing it? Is it the education and migration agents who are providing wrong information and fraudulent documents? Is it the private universities here that are taking in students and then turning a blind eye towards helping them? Is it the Indian govt, which is happy blaming the Australian govt but doesn't want to take any responsibility for its citizens?

Or is it the students who are looking for a better life at any cost and by any means? It is implicit there is a section of students who come to Australia to eventually seek permanent residency (PR). However, not all students do so. There are those who merely seek an education and go back. What needs to be understood here is that just BECAUSE a student is applying for an Australian permanent residency does NOT mean the Australian government will grant them one.

Even if a student completes his/her 'points' -- points define eligibility for PR, you get points for the education you've had, work experience, etc -- the prerogative to GRANT a permanent residency lies with the Australian government. You do not automatically get permanent residency. Those Australians whose major problem/fear seems to be that Indians/other immigrants will "come here and not go back" need to understand that no one can forcibly stay in this country. The Australian government can refuse.

According to figures quoted in news reports, there are 90,000 Indian students. All of them are NOT staying on in Australia. In fact it is ridiculous to think so. How many out of those 90,000 students are being given PR? If, according to reports, "so many" Indian and other international students are getting in and staying on... Who is allowing them? Why?

*Names withheld back to avoid identification.
Pic courtesy: AFP

July 27, 2009

Ever wondered...

When we have a good day...
is it because we were thinking positively?
Or it because the day was good and therefore made us positive?

Pic courtesy: Flickr

July 25, 2009

Your press card is invalid.

I've been bloody irregular. I am sorry. Or perhaps I am not. Why should I be? No one pays me to write. No one gives a damn either. Or maybe they do.

It's not that there aren't things/topics to write on. There are. But does my opinion matter? Do my thoughts count? Who the eff am I anyway? Or who do I think I am?

There was a time I was bloody particular about my name. Now the name -- it's phonetic challenge and 'exotic' value -- have become a bane. 'Jhoomur' once, was known. Now I include 'JB' in my resume as well. Just in case 'they' -- whoever they might be -- cannot pronounce my name... Or throw my resume in the bin because of, "What the eff's a jhoomur?"

There's a phrase here, "She's a goer." It means someone who strives, who doesn't let up, a 'go-getter'. Some smart people have also said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It sounds bloody cool. But when the tough get going too hard, they end up with tired feet. A broken spirit. Humiliation and an identity crisis.

I blame it on the media. A press card -- that small rectangle with your name, designation and declaration of affiliation with a media house are big things. They begin defining who you are. They defined me for 10 years. Now it's what the eff's a jhoomur. From being interviewed to not getting interviews and not even being eligible for making sandwiches. And people think immigrants just walk in and take native jobs?! How? Where? Can they teach me?

And to think that I chose to leave it all... Personally, I couldn't be happier. But the moment I begin considering the 'personal' in context of just Me -- removed from other people, love, etc -- it begins to irk. Gnaw. Eviscerate.

Ironically, when I've blazed professionally, my personal life has been in the pits (even deeper under). Yet now that the personal angle is happy, I crave that rectangle that was me. My hard work, what I had nurtured... From being 'someone', to being a mere 'huh'.

Now I am beginning to get scared. The tough get going... But what if I am not tough?
Pic courtesy: Sojones

July 19, 2009

You hate Australia, do you?

Hmmm. So in the one year of my moving to Australia, I've put on 13 kgs. And in the one week of my being ill and not being able to eat anything -- was on the drip for a couple of days -- I lost 6 kgs. Now I'm fluctuating between 50-52 kilos. And I need to stabilise at about 47kg.

Weight is one of the things I've been thinking of. Indian students being beaten up in Australia is another. After "What do you think of Slumdog Millionnaire?", the latest too-frequently-asked-question has become, "You must think Australians are really bad. Do you?" It's usually the same, part statement followed by doubtful question.

Some people get squeamish when they talk about it. There are those -- like the boutique owner in Torquay -- who get defensive and angry that they have to get defensive. Then there are those who seem to look for a fight and an argument: If you say Australia is racist, you'll have an argument; if you say all this could be a huge misunderstanding and media overkill, there's still an argument. Then there are those who get overly apologetic and critical about Australians and how they have a "serious issue about racism."

Keeping aside the fact that no one should have to face violence, sometimes it feels that the real issue is getting lost. It's become about Australia-bashing; no one seems to be asking what really is being done FOR the international students. Or for that matter, what the various international communities are doing to adjust to life in Australia. If the Oz government needs to reevaluate its education system, the various international communities ALSO need to look at various things they need to do before sending their kids here. Or for whatever else is needed to help them... If on one hand, international students need to learn to adapt to the ways of another country; on the other, locals also need to be made aware of the nationalities coming into their country. At the end of the day, we are NOT talking illegal immigrants. These students have been invited to study in Australia. At the same time, the students also need to remember they are in another country with its own culture, rules and ways of life.

Personally, no one has beaten me or been racially aggressive towards me. I study at a university with a lot of international students; my class has been majority white. They have laughed at my accent, I've made fun of their English or 'Australian' as they speak it here. I've had professors who have given me the time of their day. It could be because I am paying a hell of a lot for this course. Or because I am working really hard at uni and the profs can see that too. I have been invited to every event/party/function organised by classmates. I've had Australians calling up and enquiring about my health when I've been ill. I've even had bitching sessions with Australian chicks about other people. And there was nothing racist there, we were just being chicks.

The last time I worked in a restaurant, it was the first job I'd applied for. My cv said I was an Indian and that I had no experience in hospitality. I was still called for a trial and got the job -- at the same wage rates as Australian staff -- and my boss was happy with my work. It was a white majority restaurant and we served majority whites. I did not face racism and was as cheeky with 'white' clients as I'd be with Indians. I am naturally cheeky, it has not changed in another country. There was one woman who tried being nasty, but it worked out beautifully. I took the insults for a couple of weeks, then gave it back to her. And my colleagues and boss stood by me. They were all Australian.

Does that mean that there have been no 'funny' incidents? There have, but usually from small-minded, stupid people. And sincerely, small-minded, stupid people are the same ANYWHERE in the world. You ignore them. Likewise, the common sensical rules for staying safe are also the same everywhere in the country. Would Indians be walking with a laptop, late at night in Paharganj? Why would you do it in Footscray then? Anyway.

The third focus for me has been employment or the lack thereof. I want a job. I need a job. I am bored with the idea of sitting at home. And I really want to earn some money. I start on the last semester of my course, which wraps in November. Didn't do too badly in the previous semester...however, I have a strong suspicion that the degree is not really one that gets you jobs. I have to get cracking on the manuscript. But that wouldn't get me a job either. Applied to two restaurants, neither bothered to respond. And no, I don't think my not getting a job has anything to do with racism. It's called economic downturn. Sigh.

Anyway. What's up with y'all?
Pic courtesy: Siasat.com

July 8, 2009


Oh well. Have had high fever for the last two days, cough, cold, whole lot of shivering.

First the doctors said it could be malaria. Then they said it could be typhoid. Today finally we found out that I have 'swine flue'.

Might be out of action for a bit. Take care, all.

July 5, 2009

Back in Melbourne...

.... and so bloody lazy. Laaaaaaaaaaazeeeeeeeeeeee.