|Written by- Avjeet Gill (Avi)
5 min read
30 March 2019
Kapil is kind of guy who is full of energy, enthusiasm and smiles. Smile is his most vibrant feature and behind this smiling face is a story untold. When I met Kapil, he wanted someone to talk to, someone who can pen his thoughts down and in the process, he also wanted to honour the special person who changed his life- his father. This story is everyone’s story, everyday struggles a migrant goes through in order to establish a better future. This is such a story that if you know Kapil, you will love him even more, respect him more than before and if you don’t know him yet then- You will now.
This story happens in the backdrop of a small town called Moga in Punjab, India where Kapil’s grandparents left his parents with his father’s 3 sisters and their own 3 kids with no real fortune to top it all up. Life was merciless and unforgiving. “Responsibilities took heavy toll on my Father and taught my parents the importance of money in life”. Because of tight financial situation Kapil’s father worked in a government job in the day and an electrician for parties and events in the evening. “My mother worked double time, looking after the home, family and job at the same time.” In spite of the daily struggle, Kapil never witnessed a grin on their faces or argument between themselves.
“My parents worked hard, and when I say hard, I mean really hard. My father spent most of his life in his job uniform”. Cash crunch had taken most of their aspirations of buying new clothes or any stuff for themselves, away. All his father could see was his 3 sisters, his wife and kids, and every day was a struggle. Kapil’s parents saved for years, and made a promise that their kids won’t face the same situation they did. Through their hard work and sheer determination, they build a fortune for their kids starting from a single bedroom house.
“From the day I remember, I have seen my parents planning on how to save every penny, and how to invest smart”
Kapil came to Australia in 2008 against his parents’ wishes. “I have never been out of the comfort of my house, my mother. Like everyone else I came here with a dream. Dream of better future, better life.” When you are in your parents lap, no one can hurt you, no one can make you cry, you are untouchable and virtually invincible.
And moment you leave that safe net, world just preys on you and you have no idea what the hell is going on, why people are being mean, why are they so hostile towards you. The moment was not far, for Kapil was going to face his fears head on.
Kapil was picked up from the airport by one of his family friends and the next morning, went straight to college without any kind of assistance. By hook or by crook he reached college and the journey started.
One morning after being with the family for few weeks, Kapil was told to leave. He was given 2 days’ notice. “I called up few of my friends and one them Harsimran, took me in. There were 8 boys living in 3 bedrooms. I had never seen something like this before. I was told to find a place to sleep”. A person who had never slept on anything less than a king size bed, Kapil found it hard to adjust on a lounge.
Few weeks went by and one of the boys told Kapil to find another place as they could not afford another person due to overcrowding. “The stories of boys hurdling up in small houses were heard but I saw everything first hand and I must say, it was not pleasant”.
Harsimarn took Kapil with him in his van (he used to do cleaning) at night for nearly 10 days.
He slept in this van, while Harsimran did the cleaning. Food and shower were mostly at one place or the other.
5 – 6 days went like that. One night sitting in a park, while talking to his mother, Kapil broke down. “After approximately 30 mins of non – stop crying, my heart felt light. I had no energy to talk anymore, I just slipped into sleep on the bench in the park”.
One morning around 5 AM Kapil got a call from his mother. Kapil got worried as it was 1 AM in India. He was hoping that all is fine. During his chat with his mother he asked her why she is not sleeping and where is she? She said “how can a mother sleep when her son is struggling to find a decent bed”.
She was sitting outside of her house because every time she went to bed and saw the roof, she would cry. “How can a mother sleep under a roof when her own son has none?”. For a moment, Kapil just wanted to go back. Go back into his mother’s lap, in her protection where he was untouchable but his Punjabi spirit kicked in and he decided not to return as a “looser”.
Kapil asked his father to calm her down, but his father too asked him come back. “Losers come back without success” that were your words Dad so let me find success first- I said in feeble but firm tone”.
Those 10 days
Those 10 days were the hardest of my life. “They summarised the whole world to me. People, love, politics, affection, care. There is nothing worse than being alone. But nothing else teaches you the importance of you other than loneliness and nothing tests the character of a man like hard times”. Harsimran was a man of character. He stood by Kapil in his really hard times. He took Kapil with him and gave him not only company but a job a well. “He did not leave me alone”.
After nearly twisting and turning on the passenger seat of Harsimran’s van for 4 days, Kapil got used to it. He learned that human brain and body are amazing, they just adjust to all situation and as the old saying goes “Death does not discriminate with a person and Sleep with bed”.
On 5th day Kapil, through a friend got job as kitchen hand at an Indian Restaurant for $60 a shift. “My first pay was $200 which I deposited in the first ever bank account I ever opened in my name”. Later he sent those $200 to his parents as a token of thanks for being on his side and being his motivation.
Kapil was going to college in the morning and sleeping one night here and one night there. His uncle from England helped him financially in those tough times. “I could never thank them enough for what he did for me in time of need.”
Struggle breaks you, no matter how strong you are. It tests your core, your belief in yourself. It makes you creative in many ways. The only drawback about struggle is, you cannot be alone in it, you need support and you should be brave enough to ask for it. Help is always around the corner, just ask. It is better to walk in a bunch rather than suffer alone.
On 10th day a girl from his college told about a room for share at Homebush with a family. Very close to the restaurant where Kapil was working at. The rent was reasonable. “Finally, I was sleeping on a bed. Damn it was hell of a sleep though I was not able to take full advantage of it ever. I was sleeping for only 3 – 4 hours a day”.
Joke, that was not funny
During holidays Kapil was allowed to work full time as per visa conditions. He worked the cleaning job in the nights and restaurants in the evening. What could possibly go wrong?
It was nearly 2 months that Kapil had arrived in Australia. He brought with him only $500 out of which he deposited $300 in bank. “I was making $180 – $240 roughly from restaurant and $1200 from cleaning during my college break”. On pay day, the cleaning contractor told us a joke with smirk on his lips “Kapil and Harsimram, it was your training. I could not believe my ears; all that hard work was training; my arguments and requests fell on deaf ears. $1200 gone just like that. There was nothing I could do except to argue and quit the job”.
That is still, till date the most un- hilarious joke, I have ever heard in my life.
After receiving the biggest shock of his life, Kapil just sat in his room, head squeezed between his hands and kept looking at the floor for hours.
Soon Kapil got a kitchen hand job at an Italian Restaurant in Kings Cross. His mother was also visiting at that time. “I had to bring her over as I was worried about her health”.
Kapil wanted her to be close to him for a while. “If you are reading this story and you or someone you know has worked in an Italian Restaurant as a kitchen hand must know how demanding the job is”. Kapil was nearly cleaning 300 – 400 dishes every day-6 days a week.
“I would be wet from head to toe at the end of each shift. With back so stiff I would take a bathroom break and lie down on the floor to stretch my back. Those 5 minutes meant heaven for me”
One day while walking to the central station, Kapil started having trouble walking and point came where he could walk no more. Kapil took off his shoes and found his socks were wet and thump was swollen red. Kapil had no choice but walk barefoot to the station which was approximately 25 mins walk.
“The worst part of these hard times was not my health, my struggle or my lack of sleep. It was seeing my mother sleeping on the couch outside, waiting for me to return so that she can cook me fresh food. I used to return around 10:30 PM or 12 AM sometimes”. But it was the best part as well. There was a glow of satisfaction on his mother’s face every time she fed him hot and beautifully cooked food with her own hands. “She would look at me and often say the same thing but it never got old” “You have become responsible, my son”, “You have grown up”, “Need to find you a girl now” and then she would cover her face not to show her crying face.
An offer I could not refuse
Kapil’s honesty and hard work paid off. Not only he was offered the job as chef at the Italian Restaurant but was also offered the sponsorship. How can he refuse such an offer?
“I was so happy, I took taxi (first time in 4 years) to station and got home early to let my parents know. In those days, international calling could only be done through a calling card over a landline.” Now all the hard work had been rewarded. At last Kapil was a Chef. No more cleaning dishes or wet clothes. Finally, he can pursue the career he came here for- Cook some amazing dishes. He signed the sponsorship documents and file was on its way.
Soon after becoming Chef Kapil moved to Kings cross (Eastern suburb in Sydney) in one bedroom unit in sharing with one more person, picked a mattress of the street, bought few items from eBay and got himself settled close to his new job. His father was visiting him this time. But the happiness was short lived.
Within days the attitude of the owner changed, he started shouting, getting upset and throwing things at him. “I was once asked to clean a customer’s vomit with my bare hands and I had to do it, sponsorship was on the line”. Kapil was a chef, kitchen hand and a cleaner all at the same time. He had signed his life off to this guy for a permanent status. He was often asked to go to markets at 4 AM in the morning to buy fresh produce and finish late around 11 PM.
“Fathers have totally different view towards life. They want you to be tough, to face life head on but at the same time they would talk to you in the simplest of ways and you will be confused as who you are talking to: friend or a father”.
My father was observing my whole situation on the side lines. The visionary that he was, he knew all this will soon be over. He had seen some really hard times and he knew they don’t last forever. He trusted me. “The best thing having a father around is that hard times don’t seem to break you or drag you down. Father acts like a protective shield”.
During his 1 ½ year at this restaurant, Kapil was tormented, tortured (mentally), made to work 12 – 14 hours, often seven days a week. During these time his cousin Mohit came to his rescue. He would listen to Kapil for hours and motived him to hang in there. “My nervous breakdown was always around the corner, I could actually see it but because of Mohit by my side, it never got close enough”.
Time for some break
Finally, Kapil was granted the permanent residency of Australia. “I called my father and let out all the emotions held within me for last 2 years. ‘Your son has tasted his first success dad’, I told my father with a very proud tone in my voice”. It was finally Me – Time. Kapil went back to India, spent some quality time with his family. Came back, continued his passion and became a head chef in Italian restaurant. 5 years, it took him from a kitchen hand to becoming a Head Chef.
Kapil’s father always wanted him to work for himself. After working as Head Chef for few years, Kapil bought his own van and started working as a courier. He is his own boss now, driving full time, sometimes 6 days a week, enjoying his new lifestyle. Around this time, he met Inderpal who ran a successful Bhangra* group ‘Rythym of Bhangra’. “Dance gives me space to express myself and while I am dancing I forget the world around me”.
Just like that
Parents started looking for a girl for marriage. The hard times were behind and there was a new morning up the horizon. Kapil made couple of trips to India to meet some lovely girls but he was not able to connect for one reason or the other. His father’s health was also deteriorating slowly.
One morning upon arriving to Sydney from India Kapil went straight to work. Everything was as usual except around 8:15 AM he got a call from home.
His father had passed away, just like it. He had a Heart attach the night before. “World came to halt. Brain froze. Body shook. Ears shut. Eyes wide open. I started sweating within seconds. There was a feeling of emptiness in my stomach as if I haven’t eaten for days”.
There was nothing he could do. “I put my head on the steering wheel and just thought of “nothing” for minutes. After composing myself I called up my work, booked flight to India the next morning”.
Kapil’s father never kept any secrets from him. His rags to riches story was no secret. When Kapil’s grandfather expired, all close relatives backed off thinking Kapil’s father might ask for money. “My father had no money to even buy the wood for my grandfather’s last rites”. That moment of shear poverty and helplessness changed my father. He swore to change his luck.
While sitting in the plane all his thoughts and memories just flooded my brain. Like every kid, I too wanted him to hang around for little bit longer.
“It is nearly impossible to explain the feeling when the person, you have looked upon all your life, that one person you wanted to make proud, a person you wanted to showcase your success to, is no more”. That day Kapil not only lost a father, he lost a true friend, an excellent mentor and an expert guide.
Soon after Kapil met his partner to be. But, that’s another story.
The Lost Good-Bye
Many of us have left our mother land for one reason or the other. Be it for love, money or better future-whatever the reason. Though these new destinations have given us loads of opportunities and better lifestyle they have taken something very dear to us- Goodbyes to our loved ones.
When I heard Kapil’s story, my mind wandered back to all those stories I have heard of people who could never return back to say final goodbyes to their dear ones. We might have achieved great feats in new found lands but we have lost one thing so dear to us- our presence in final moments.
These lost good byes are now part of almost every family migrating to western lands and I hope all who never got a chance to see the final moments of their departed loved ones, don’t have to face the same fate themselves.
Keep your loved ones close and care for them.
Kapil is happily married now and finally found the love of his life. “I love my family more than anything else”. His mother still stands by him like a solid rock yet soft pillow where he finds most of his innocence hidden away from the world and is very proud of what her son has achieved.
Kapil loves Bhangra and enjoys his new life with his partner.
“To honour the special bond, I shared with my father, I dedicate this chapter of my life to him.”
Son of Late Shri Lakshman das Malhotra
19 Aug 1947 – 18 May 2017
Note: Events described in the story are true as of 30/03/2019. Stories and content are copyright of Avjeet Gill and should not be used or distributed without permission at any time.
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