On days when I do make the trip to gym, I make it a point to visit Uma didi at her Idli Cafe. Sometimes I have tea, a cold gulab jamun or a spicy dosa. The cafe is two doors away from my gym, which is why turning left after sweating it out has almost become a habit. Uma's cafe provides the right ambience for gossip and she, is quite a respository of news. The place always has people. In a far corner, an old, small television sits atop a fridge and plays every south Indian song and movie. I step into Idli Cafe and I am transported to the old world.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a solitary Uma didi yesterday. She is the quintessential Tamil lady, with a bindi, sari and flower on her head. Australians admire her colourful saris when she takes a walk with her dog, new migrant Indians in their shorts turn their heads from her. Yet for all her traditional get up, she is modern and forward thinking and quite a popular lady. We became friends the day we set eyes on each other.

 “Business is down these days, love,” she told me. With the rates in the number of students coming to Australia dwindling, the Maggie packets of noodles and Glaxo biscuits have been sitting on the stands for months. And the remaining students who are awaiting permanent residency in Australia are not helping the business. No one is  spending. They are saving to buy shops, petrol pumps or any business permits that allow them to stay on!

Uma deals with a major chunk of Indian customers on a daily basis, and the stories come with a lot of shock, not awe. Some were shared in confidence and I am not naming names. Read on.

A south Indian Tamil boy works as a toilet cleaner in Royal Melbourne Hospital. He goes to India and sells himself as an ‘Environmental Officer’ with the hospital in the marriage market. Of course, he fetches a bride with impressive dowry – a two-storey building in prime location where he moves his parents on the ground floor and rents out the first floor. A year later, the bride is ready with her papers and about to land in Australia but our environmental officer is nervous. He tells Uma didi, “She is coming, I need a better job soon.”

A phone call, but one that is becoming typical. “Hello Uma, this is XXX. Why don’t you employ two students (Indian) in your shop?” She replies business is slow and that she does not need extra help. “You just have to show they are working in paper. I will get you 30,000 to 40,000 AUD, just write a sponsor letter for them so they can get TR (temporary residence).” Imagine this, laments Uma didi, who came to Australia in the early 80s. We wonder/speculate how much cut XXX is aiming at.

A couple bought a restaurant. They advertised for staff. Lots of people applied but no one has been recruited so far. The going rate, Uma didi tells me, is 50,000 AUD (Rs 2.5 lakh) for recruitment plus sponsorship letter. Of course, the target is students. Melbourne has a lot of ‘useless’ Indian students who came to study cooking, hairdressing, etc., in order to get permanent residency. There was shortage of cooks and hairdressers which saw an exodus of people from Punjab, Gujarat and south India. Australia’s immigration policy was linked to education, which meant two years of study and work experience led to permanent residency. Now with changes in immigration rules, these students who invested lakhs of rupees in the hope of getting PR do not want to go back. 

A bunch of new migrants were eating at her cafe. Suddenly one of them says he needs to transfer money to India. She offers him her MoneyGram service, which is slightly cheaper then Western Union. “No, no we want to send through hawala.”  Uma didi googled hawala and is still reeling under shock.

1 comment:

Simply Curious said...

very interesting indeed!

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