Ethnic communities should get involved in policy-making roles: Shirish Paranjape
Year 1999. Bombay, India.
I was working at the respected Larsen & Toubro Limited - India's largest engineering & construction company - having started there 18 years ago as a young graduate engineer trainee upon completing my Electrical / Electronics engineering degree. My workplace was about 45 minutes away by car.
My wife Manik too was happily employed as a teller in India's largest bank, the State Bank of India. Her workplace was less than 15 minutes’ walk away, a pleasant rarity in Bombay. We had a mortgage-free 2-bedroom flat on the 3rd floor of an apartment block at the far end of a cul-de-sac.
Our daughters Neha and Shreya went to a nearby school. Before/after school, they went to a day-care operated by a loving lady, a block away from us.
L&T was a good employer in terms of pay & perks, employee welfare in particular.
For example, we enjoyed week-long holidays at L&T's own "holiday homes" spread across India, and Kathmandu (Nepal). These holiday homes came with all amenities, a car and a staff of 3 - a cook, a caretaker and a driver. All this was for free; we had to pay only for the groceries we needed during the stay. All four of us were active in our own ways - in our local community, at work or school. We had what one would call a good work-life balance. Life was perfect!
It changed due to the progress of L&T. Owing to company's expansion plans, my workplace moved to another city - the city of New Bombay. My travel time increased from 45 minutes to a minimum of 2 hours in the morning; and anywhere between 2.5 to 3.5 hours in the evening. The distance was not that huge, but a multitude of infrastructure projects on the go concurrently resulted in this travel time. I left home at 6.30am each day and returned at 8pm or beyond.
On the weekend, I was too tired for any family activities, which we all were so used to until then. Instead of a self-drive or shared car ride, this travel was by a combination of public bus, suburban train, contract bus. Life had turned topsy turvy.
A chain of subsequent events led to us deciding to try for NZ immigration.
Advertisement: One day, I spotted a small advert in the classified section of the English daily "The Times of India", titled "Migrate to New Zealand." I cut it and kept it in my wallet.
We went to a Hindi movie "Kaho Na Pyar Hai" (Say I Love You) a few weeks later. A major part of this movie was shot in Christchurch and other south island locations. We instantly "liked" New Zealand as depicted in the movie.
I spoke to my wife Manik about us trying for immigration to New Zealand. When she said "yes", out came the advert.
I went and met the immigration consultant - Kishore Sadarangani of NZ Connexions.
He had not only lived in New Zealand, his 2 adult children were still living in NZ. He was a mechanical engineer while his wife was a medical practitioner. He guided us step by step through the process - assessment of qualifications, English language test, police clearance, medical test - which finally led to us receiving in October 2001 an invitation from NZ Immigration to become a "permanent resident".
Preparation: I planned to move to NZ in mid-January 2002; while the rest of the family planned to move in late-March (Indian schools finish late March/ early April). This would give me 3 months to find a job.
As soon as we received our residence visa in October 2001, I began contacting NZ companies with my CV etc. Two companies responded favourably; one - AuCom Electronics Ltd at Christchurch and the other - PDL at Napier.
I participated in a phone interview with the Marketing Director of AuCom Electronics. After this, I was invited for a face-to-face chat on 16th January 2002 - soon after I landed at Christchurch on an Air New Zealand Boeing 767 from Singapore.
A few days later, AuCom offered me the job of a Senior Project Engineer - which I gleefully accepted!
As they say, the rest is history!
Christchurch became - and continues to remain "home". After arriving, my wife Manik got a job as a bank teller at ANZ Avonhead - which she continues to have after 13 years. (Reportedly, Manik was the first Indian in ANZ in the entire South Island)
When we became eligible for NZ Citizenship, we had to forfeit our Indian citizenship. Luckily, Government of India announced an excellent OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) scheme, which we made use of.
On our first holiday in India in late 2004, we sold our property in Bombay. It was an important milestone.
From then on, New Zealand was everything for us.....we were Kiwis in each and every way!
Challenges: For most migrants, getting a proper job is the biggest challenge. Both Manik and I have been extremely fortunate in this aspect.
For me, perhaps the biggest challenge upon arrival was understanding the Kiwis when they spoke - due to the combination of accent, slang used and the speed of speaking.
The other challenge was to get used to the ever-changing weather; we could easily have 4 seasons in a day!
Other than these relatively minor challenges, innumerable Kiwis and residents of Christchurch helped us settle in New Zealand. This continues to be the case after calling Christchurch home for 14+ years.
Life in New Zealand: From day one, I had more spare time at Christchurch than I ever had at Bombay. Therefore, I decided to use this spare time in different voluntary community activities.
1) I started my involvement with Indian Social & Cultural Club, Christchurch which eventually led to me becoming an executive member of Christchurch Ethnic/ Multicultural Council.
My community involvement in Christchurch and my career as an International Sales Manager of a Christchurch-based export-oriented business have worked to complement each other in a fantastic way.
The community involvement at Christchurch helps me understand and appreciate different cultures - which is immensely useful when I travel overseas for work. For example, a Korean business client was amazed that I knew Korean Independence Day and had attended Korean festival at Christchurch!
The learnings I have when overseas further help me with my involvement in the multicultural community at Christchurch! As an example, when with Balkan community, it makes a positive difference when they know I had actually travelled to places such as Bratislava, Budapest, Sevastopol and Warsaw.
2) Another aspect, post 2011 earthquakes, was to join a newly formed Rotary Club of New Horizons.
3) In addition to these voluntary activities, I was honoured to be appointed a Justice of the Peace. Thus, I could give something useful back to the community which has welcomed me to New Zealand with open arms.
4) More recently, I was appointed a registered Marriage Celebrant.
5) Post 2011 earthquakes, I have been closely involved - as a common man wanting to contribute to the local affairs and development of Christchurch; in whatever way I could.
The most recent significant involvement was in the 2015 Representation Review, the outcome of which determines the structure for 2016 Local Elections.
Whatever be my involvement, I like to share it within my circle of reach and influence, so that latest developments reach as many residents as possible.
My current project: My dream is to add another dimension, another level to my New Zealand community involvement - by getting elected as a Community Board member or a City Councillor.
I do feel that the ethnic and multicultural community should get more involved- not just through the voluntary sector but also through governance and policy making roles.