PADMA S. - AGE 91
I was born in India in a town where Gandhi used to live. I was the first one in my family to go to college. After college I studied for my masters in English. But I didnt finish it because I realized that I was not interested in teaching. I married a man I knew in high school but it was not an arranged marriage. We were married in the United States, where my husband was studying engineering at MIT. In his family everyone has gone to MIT. My father-in-law was very educated but my mother-in-law was not. My parents werent so happy about my marriage at first, especially because they wanted me to get married in India so they could make all the arrangements. But they reconciled because they had no choice! It was a bit difficult to come to the U.S. however, because we are very strict vegetarians. My husband survived for five years on grilled cheese sandwiches!
When we first came here, we couldnt make phone calls to India. Now we can do it every day if we want to. When my husband first came here we were apart for two and a half years and he never called me once in India. It was not available. And letters were all censored because of the Japanese war. It took one month to get a letter and half of it was censored. When I first came to the U.S. in 1947 I flew. TWA had started flying from India once a week. It took me three days to get here. We had to stop every place: in Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Europe, Newfoundland. When my husband came during the Japanese war, it took him a month to get here. People were extremely nice when we came to America, very friendly. When we travelled back to the U.S. after returning to India we always stayed with American friends. I enjoyed it so much that when we left I told my husband I wished we could return.
When my husband and I first lived here, we bought a car. When we wanted to go back to India, we couldnt sell it. So, we took it to Europe and drove around for four months. Germany was in bad shape. You couldnt spend the night and they had no currency. You had to bring your own food and gas, extra tires.
We went back to India when my husband got his masters degree in engineering. Finally we came back to the U.S. after 20 years to celebrate our 20th anniversary. After that we used to come quite often when our children came to live here. We would spend summers in the U.S. and go back to India in winter. But after my husband died, I began to spend most of my time here living with my daughter. I havent been back to India for the last five years. I still have a house in Bombay so my children go back there sometimes.
I never worked in my life. It was not really done; very few ladies would go to work. If you needed the money or were very keen to work you would, but I didnt need the money. I was a homemaker and raised my children. But we had a lot of fun. When I raised my children I had plenty of help. I had someone to do the cooking and a maidservant to look after my children. I had two servants to clean the house and a driver to take the children to school and to their activities. We used to entertain a lot and had lots of friends. My parents lived just up the road. My husband worked as a mechanical engineer in textile finishing plants and distillery plants but he was able to take a good amount of time off. We travelled a lot with our children.
I live with one of my daughters in Princeton, NJ. She got her PhD at Rutgers and recently retired from Bristol Myers Squibb. My other daughter lives in Atlanta, although right now she is in India. She got a PhD from Georgia State University and is a professor.
I have many relatives here. My father had eight children; my grandfather had nine. More than 100 relatives are here. But they are spread around the country and now I dont travel. But I talk to them frequently. In November my sister in Texas is coming here and we might drive to see my sister in Boston.
I have no problem with my health, but I have become physically slow. Mind is fast; body is slow. I read quite a lot in English and I go to the library. I also go to the senior center. We have a very good book discussion group in East Brunswick library. We recently read Me Before You, and then Boys in the Boat. I have been going to the senior center for 20 years. My husband died in 1996, so I have been spending more time here. The center has lots of activities; it is a lot of fun. I have a very good memory and enjoy discussing articles from the newspaper. But I am too old fashioned to learn the computer.
I dont like anything about being this age, except that people respect you. I am always afraid of falling down. Every now and then I hear about people my age falling down. In Bombay four of my friends fell down. One of them died also. So far I dont use a cane or walker. They say I should be using them. Most important to me now is to be able to die a peaceful death. I dont want to be a bother to anybody.
I had a great life, very peaceful. No complaints, no regrets. Everybody around me was very nice. The greatest thing I have learned in my lifetime is to be tolerant and to get along with people. You live only one life, so why make enemies? My advice to young people is to have an interest in more than one thing.
Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax
for this exhibition.