We often warp the idea that “home” falls under two simple parameters: a birthplace, and/or where one has a long line of familial roots
However, this isn’t the case for my grandmother.
Kamlesh Rani, my grandma, was born and has family residing in India, yet her home resides in the warm embrace that is known as the Philippines.
The ‘Indian Filipino’
The notion of an Indian growing up in the Philippines may bewilder some, however Indians have a long history with immigrating to the island chain.
The coined term ‘Indian Filipinos’ refers to Filipinos of Indian descent who do not have any historical connections to the Philippines.
Most of the Indians and Indian Filipinos in the Philippines are Sindhi and Punjabi as well as a large Tamil population. Many are fluent in Tagalog and English as well as local languages of the provinces and islands.
Indians in the Philippines are primarily in the middle class, with main occupations in the clothing and marketing sphere. Sikhs are involved largely in finance, money lending (known as ‘Five-six’), a trade Kamlesh and her family in the Philippines were involved with.
The arranged marriage that saved her life
The eldest of six siblings, Kamlesh was always the scapegoat to the issues of her household.
“I would pretend to be sleeping when came home from work because I was scared to get in trouble,” Kamlesh said. “He used to be so angry and hit me so hard.”
At 15 years old, Kamlesh agreed to an arranged marriage with Satpal Gogna, a man nine years her senior living in a foreign country. Her mother chose to marry her off at such a young age to protect Kamlesh from her abusive father.
On July 5, 1965, Kamlesh left behind the life she knew — her friends, family, culture — and embarked on a journey to an island of the unknown.
“I was so lucky that my husband had all his family. My sister in law became my best friend,” Kamlesh said. “I cut my hair short and bought all new dresses that next day.”
A home away from “home”
Kamlesh began to immerse herself in the culture, learning the language, cooking the local cuisine and even naming her first born daughter a Christian-related name: Grace.
“My mom did so much for us, especially after my dad passed away,” Kamlesh’s daughter Grace Jindal said. “If it wasn’t for all the family we had in the Philippines, we may have moved back to India. I am very glad we didn’t.”
The culture, the people, the food — all pieces of the Philippines that make Kamlesh who she is today.
“I was so happy. Filipino people are very nice, I felt very welcomed and loved,” Kamlesh said. “I was born in India, but the Philippines is my home.”