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Oral history interview with Shanti Kumari Bhatia



DESCRIPTION
Oral history interview with Shanti Kumari Bhatia conducted by Seema Moondra on September 18, 2018. This account details Bhatia's experience with Partition, her education and work as a teacher in India, her marriage and move to the United States, and her nonprofit work and promotion of Indian culture in her later years.

THEMES
Reflections on America

AUDIO
Duration: 01:58:25

ADDITIONAL METADATA
Date: September 18, 2018
Subject(s): Shanti Kumari Bhatia
Type: Oral History
Creator: Seema Moondra

TRANSCRIPTION
In the transcription the interviewee Mrs. Shanti Kumari Bhatia is referred to by her preferred name “Shanta”, and the interviewer Mrs. Moondra is referred to as “Seema”.

Seema: Today is September 18, 2018. My name is Seema Moondra and I am here to conduct an oral history Interview with Mrs. Shanti Kumari Bhatia. We are at Mrs. Bhatia's residence located at 2203 Cedar Village Boulevard, East Brunswick, New Jersey. The interview is being conducted for the project “Your Legacy” specifically designed to preserve, curate, and share the life story of individuals in their own words. Thank you Mrs. Bhatia for taking the time to speak with me and sharing your life story.

Shanta: Thank you Seema for interviewing me.

Seema: I am very excited. So let's start from the very beginning.

Shanta: Okay.

Seema: Let me ask you when and where you were born and also how you got your beautiful name?

Shanta: I was born in a very small town. There was a small town in District Multan. Town name is Shujabad. There were not more than 5 or 10,000 people in that town and I was born in October. I don't know the exact date. (laughs) Now written is 23rd of October, 1938. I am second child of parents. First there was an older sister. Then I was born. I was born a very heavy, heavy child. People used to call that 11 kg. watermelon is born. So extremely heavy baby and my name, as I think my grandfather being a religious person, he gave me “Shanti” name though my father wanted “Shanta” name, because Lord Rama's sister was Shanta. But my grandfather thought Shanta is a boy's name. So I was named Shanti Kumari Bhatia.

Seema: So “Shanti” means peace?

Shanta: Yes

Seema: And that’s a beautiful name. So I was just curious were you born in a hospital or were you born at home?

Shanta: I don't know but in that town there was a very, very small hospital. I don't know if I was (born) in the hospital or house. I don't think people used to go to deliver a child there. That was a very small hospital. I (do not) remember the name of that hospital because my mother used to talk about the hospital but not a very good hospital.

Seema: So can you tell me a little bit about your parents, their names, and how they came to this town?

Shanta: My father was called Seth Ramnarain Bhatia; my grandfather was Seth Radhakrishan Bhatia. They had some gold business and a lot, lot of properties in that town. He was a rich man. My mother Sheelvati Bhatia; people used to call her “Sheelo” or “Sheela.” My father never wanted to sit in a shop and run my grandfather's business. He wanted to do something at the large scale. So my grandfather was always mad at him. He (my father) wanted to study; he (my grandfather) did not let him study. So, finally he was hardly high school boy and then he took over his (father’s) business, and then he started to buy land, and he became agriculture landowner. And the family business, the gold business, my father stopped it. So there was anger between father and son. But then my father was so fond of education he sent his two younger brothers (to college. They) also got the highest education in that town; we all children also. Then I was eight or nine years old when India was divided in to Pakistan and India and Bangladesh (before independence Bangladesh was referred to as East Pakistan). But we were in Pakistan's territory so we moved to India in '47.

Seema: So do you remember anything about your childhood when you were in your hometown?

Shanta: I remember almost everything. All the houses my grandparents had and my mother's side house. There was a small school I used to go to in that town. The girls did not go to school. Then some RSS people they opened one Putri Pathshala and I used to go to school. We are six brothers and sisters. First my older sister, then me, then two sisters, then two brothers, then two other sisters. So, we had a very close-knit family and my father's one sister and two brothers. They were also very close and my father gave them good education. So my grandfather was always against education though he was a brilliant man, very good astrologer, and very religious person, but he thought education makes you "English type" or modern so he did not like much (because he thought English education would make you forget your own sanskar or culture) but in the end he accepted that my father was doing everything good for them.

Seema: So you mention having a lot of siblings. Can you share their names and a little bit about how your childhood was spent with them?

Shanta: My older sister, she was two years older than I am but she was a second mother to us, for all brothers and sisters. I was very, very close to my brother who was born after me. He is two years younger than me but we always stayed good friends. My uncle's children, my mother’s brother's children, we were very close to them. Though we were about two streets away from each other, but we had a good time with them. Family was the biggest thing for us, and I was very close to my uncles also, my father's two younger brothers. When my mother came to this house she used to tell me that my father's brothers were hardly five years old and two year old so she became mother to them also. My older sister is Shakuntala Bhatia. I am Shanti. My brother Krishan Kumar Bhatia. Ashok Kumar Bhatia. Then Santosh and Janak. We are six brothers and sisters.

Seema: So you said that your older sister was like a mother to all of you. So tell us a bit more about that.

Shanta: She was a skinny girl. Very, very nice girl. Mature and truthful person. I respect her so much in my life. When I was growing up she was always with me. Mother had too much to do. Six children, in-laws, and other old people. And there were not many means at that time. Cooking and other things. So she was busy but my sister was always with us, take care of us, all brother and sisters. She would tell us stories. She would feed us. I don't have words to explain what kind of person she was. Seema: So can you share a story about your childhood with your brothers and sisters? May be a prank or something else you did together.

Shanta: We did quite a lot together. We used to always sleep in one cot, at least two people would sleep together, my sister and I. At the age of three my father took us, me, my younger brother and older sister. We were three at that time and my mother. From Shujabad our father took us to Simla (now known as Shimla) just for vacation. So then I was holding my father's hand and then I saw some goat or dog or something. I got scared, and I freed my hand from him, and jumped in to the ditch, which was 25 feet deep. After that I was found unconscious; and when I woke up then I used to feel there was pain on my right side of stomach. Always complained about this. Then further (we went) doctor to doctor. This and that. Life started like that. I remember myself always in pain on the right side. I was always holding my stomach with my hand on the right side. But still I was a healthy child. Sometimes the pain would be too much to bear. Some days I won't feel like much pain. This is the way my life started when some people would say, “How long will she live?” That kind of pain I used to have. The family was very, very supportive. They felt for me. Loving. But sometimes in the neighborhood some people would be (unkind and say) “Oh my God! She cries a lot. We cannot sleep.” So I heard this. (These) words were always with me that I don't know how long I will live, how long I will live. Some people loved me. But when I was fine then I’ll sing songs. I am very, very close to my mamaji, who is my mother's older brother, Purshottam Das Bhatia. He was in RSS and his friends will come. At that time I met all the RSS people. They will put me on my shoulder and sing a song Koi Himmatwala Re. At that time singing was my passion. Always singing. If I am sick, I am lying down, any bhajan, any song, if I hear I will copy it. So this is the way I was passing my time with my singing.

Seema: So when you were in pain, how did you cope with it? Did you take medication? What did your family do?

Shanta: At that time there was no aspirin. No painkillers. Only thing I had was glass bottles, you know, with cork. I will put hot water in it and that's what I was always doing, the fomentation. Hot water bottle was for me (to get relief) or if I am too much in pain I will get one scarf or dupatta to tie it on my stomach, so tight. Sometime I will just sleep when I am tired of pain and crying. Then I will go to sleep. When I had pain so somebody will be with me. My uncles who were just like my older brothers, chachas, or my mamaji, or someone else, if mother was tired she will go to sleep and somebody will (watch me). Even in the neighborhood there were so many aunties (laughs). They loved me, everybody. I got so much love from people. That was my biggest strength.

Seema: So you went to school over were there when you were little. You also mentioned about RSS. Can you tell me more about that?

Shanta: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. That was a new movement. My uncle Lalaji used to be with that. So when I meet them I thought they were very brave people. They would go to Sangh Shakha. They would do exercise, and then they will do some Lathi things. At that time it wasn't there were not many parties, political parties, or other parties, so this was coming like a new thing. So that's why I was introduced to them. They were very nice to me.

Seema: So this was a group of young people who were... Shanta: Because of mamaji I met those people. They normally do (volunteer service) till today also.

Seema: Branches?

Shanta: Yes. Branches. They will do exercises. They were very disciplined people in India. Right now. BJP is part of RSS.

Seema: Okay.

Shanta: RSS was the first one. Then political party came out of RSS and became BJP - Bhartiya Janta Party. First, it was Jansangh then it became Bhartiya Janta Party. But the RSS people are Swayamsevek; they are always helping the people. That's all they do.

Seema: Community service?

Shanta: Community service type.

Seema: You said you moved from your hometown to India. So you experienced the partition period and all the turmoil that happened. So as a child can you share your experience?

Shanta: At that time I was almost nine years old. I remember almost everything. The kind of fear we were living in. Sometime all the Muslim guys come and kick out all the (Hindu) people. From there Hindus would just go back. They would occupy any house they want to. There was always a fear. There was not much law and order. Police wasn't there to protect people. So only thing we got from Lord Mountbatten is that government (will) send some railway trains to each city so that if somebody wants to come back to India they can come in that train. From our small city also there were total seven trains came. First four never reached India.

Seema: What happened?

Shanta: In the half way they will cut the train. They will somehow stop the train and kill most of the people. So then fifth train, we came. Mostly the people from RSS, they were sitting on each gate and one was sitting near the engine driver. What happens (is) when they wanted to stop the train they will cut the line or there were so many people standing in front of the railway line, so the train stops, so they can kill the people and loot them. So at that time our train came very, very safe. We crossed and our train was emptied in Rohtak.

Seema: So people emptied the train in different cities of India?

Shanta: At that time from different places the different trains came because otherwise there will be chaos in a small city if thousands of people come, where will they go? Some trains will empty in Faridkot, some in Ludhiana, Some in Amritsar, Ajnala, small towns around Delhi, mostly in Punjab. Our train came to Rohtak. One school was empty, may be fifty families entered there. In one verandah everybody was sleeping. Many people got sick also. So there was fear. Then we came there. But there were nice people from, I think, Rajasthan. They were giving sweaters to all the children. Some gave blankets. When in one city thousands of people arrive there was a shortage of water and sanitation. So mostly schools were the place (in which) people used to enter or any big house if it is empty. People (would) rush and just go. Nobody was there to see who was going where. So we were in Rohtak. So after a long time then we were thinking where to move out. Everybody was thinking to go from there. To go somewhere.

Seema: So you took this train with your family. So what about your uncles, your mother's brothers and her family?

Shanta: My mother's brother Purshottam Das Bhatia. He is the person who had the vision. Two years before in '45 he was telling in Shujabad to everybody “Let's go and get out of here. We cannot take our properties, our lands, and our houses. But at least we can move our families somewhere safe in India.” He had a vision. He knew everything because he was going with Lala Lajpat Rai. He studied a lot at that time. In whole Shujabad there were maybe four or five people who had done BA degree. He was known as Purshottam Das Bhatia BA. But people won't believe him. Then he moved his family to Bikaner. But his sister's family was in Shujabad. He came back with 15 RSS people. They were Swayamsevek. They just helped the people if they are in trouble. So he came to get us from Shujabad, so we reached safe. Then he said, “Let's go to Bikaner, which is little bit far away from Delhi, so not many people are moving there. So we should go there.” But my grandfather did not agree saying that I don't want to go to your “saala” house. My father was very sick at that time. He told my mamaji, “Take my children and your sister but I will take care of my family, my father, mother, grandmother and two younger brothers.” So he stayed with them and we went with mamaji to Bikaner.

Seema: So they stayed in Rohtak?

Shanta: Ya. Then from Rohtak they went to (Mathura). My middle chacha, he was overseer. He finished his overseer training in Kasur, Pakistan. So when he came here, he immediately got a good job. So then he got married near Muradabad, UP. He was employed and then his marriage was taken care of there. My grandfather (and my whole family), we went to Mathura. There was a mad race type. Somebody said, “Let’s move to Mathura, It's a religious place.” So at least 20-30 families will move there. Nobody knows where they are going. They were trying to run away from the crowd, so they can spread to the different places, so they can find some work. The one thing very good was that not a single Punjabi became a beggar. Whenever they came, somebody will pick up (the bricks), then go on a construction job, let me do this thing, and they were trying to get work. So my family moved to Mathura and then we also joined our family in Mathura. My father was still looking for a job or work. He went to Panipat bought some land. Then it did not work out. Then we were thinking what to do next. So in between this time in '48 my mamaji Lalaji Purshottam Bhatia. He bought one big, big land 600 some acres. I have all the figures. Near Nanital. There were a lot of jungles, full of wild animals. Leopards and tigers. Govinda Vallabh Pant (an upcoming politician) in Uttar Pradesh, he wanted to sell that. All the Punjabi are hardworking, why not sell this land. He advertised to sell this land very cheap. So many Sardars (they) did not bring many things from Pakistan, but ladies somehow they hide their jewelry, so that became their biggest asset. So my mamaji had already moved here two years before. So whatever money he had, he bought the land with two -three more people. But mostly he spent the money. He had a vision. Why not settle all the people who are coming from Pakistan. There was one person with six - seven average children, parents. And one person had a load of at least 13 -14 people. Then he put a word everywhere in each train, if somebody was coming from Pakistan that anybody needs work, we will provide you a jhopdi - a hut, work, and almost free food will be there. It's a village. So many families, at least 25 first came. Then at least 45 families came there, who were mostly uneducated people. So they found work. Then we bought this land it was only 8 acres developed. More than 800 acres was just a jungle. So this mamaji, everybody called him Lalaji. Lalaji is a Multani word means Papa, father or daddy whatever you can call. Everybody used to call him Lalaji. So in that land, he was the one who knew how to drive a tractor or car, and he used to hunt a lot. Leopards, tigers, 30 feet long pythons. He came with the gun with few other hunters. They were also cutting the trees, and jungles. So when the jungle, we were slowly, slowly cutting, the land was swamp type land. Poli zameen. But it became gold, the more we were cutting. Within four - five years we mostly cut all the trees. So land was very, very productive. So we had a very, very big baagh. We planted a lot of fruit trees. And a small school was opened. One of our partner’s (his) father was there, so four – five children in each class age wise, we just started a school there. Everybody was so close to each other. They were so friendly and the people someone, even if he was working picking up the vegetables in the morning, and delivering to each house he was able to raise 13 people in that village. That was the biggest, biggest attraction of that village.

Seema: Where was this land? You mentioned that initially they purchased 600 acres, but you also mentioned 800 acres...

Shanta: First it was UP only. Now it has become Uttarakhand. It is between District Bareilly and Nainital. Border of Bareilly and Nainital. Land is in District Bareilly. There was no post office because it was very, very small town. Post office, it was in Uttarakhand in Kiccha. So Kiccha is our post office, but our land is in District Bareilly. Mostly our business runs in Kiccha because that is the closest, small city. The biggest drawback of this land was that there was a big, big river. It was part of Sharda Nadi, which is called Kiccha Nadi. To go to the “pukka” road or the main road we had to cross that river. Then it was 2 miles away. And otherwise we have to walk a five mile “kaccha” road which only bullock cart can go on or you can go on your foot. Walk. That's why Kiccha was the closest main road. So we used to go from there. While we were all together, so family type atmosphere, community living. There was one doctor also among them. The President was very good singer. Param vidvan, I can say of Sanskrit knowledge (coughs). Some people were very good swimmers, so all the children crossing the river also became good swimmers also. We used to have a small bridge type “kaccha pul” and each year in July - August it will go away and then again we will build. So it was a big trouble for us (for two months). And there was no electricity. When we were all together we used to have a generator. So the whole colony would have light, so all the children could study.

Seema: So how did your uncle set this whole farm up? Was it like a cooperative? Can you describe it a little bit and tell me more about it?

Shanta: The farm name was Bhatia Farmers Cooperative Society, Jugroonagar. It’s in Jilla Bareilly but post office is Kiccha, which is Uttarakhand now. Okay. Because at that time mainly the problem was how to feed the children. So when you have this thing that there will be food, there will be a living place, and you can live with dignity, so many, many families came there. So, then my mamaji, that Lalaji, all called him Lalaji, Lalaji gave everybody incentive that even though everybody was earning 50 rupees, 54 rupees per month, even the bullock cart driver or even my own Lalaji even also. So 10 rupees per month they will take and make many, many people shareholder of that farm because more than 800 acre farm they made 64 shares. So anybody can buy a share. It was at that time 1000 rupee a share. So many of them became shareholders so they can live with dignity.

Seema: So did your father also move there and bought some shares?

Shanta: So what happened was that my father never wanted to move there. My Lalaji he said, “Why don’t you want to come with me?” My father said, “I don't want to work with my in-laws.” So Lalaji said, “You know, can I give shares to each of my nephews?” So 1 1⁄2 and 1 1⁄2, three shares he bought for my two brothers, though my father gave him money (3000 rupees) for the three shares. One share Lalaji gave as a gift to my mother. So then we had four shares. Then my father was very, very sick and my grandparents, my two brothers, and everybody was in trouble. Where we should go? And we were also there. So then again Lalaji comes. He was always there, whenever we were in trouble he was always there. He said you have your share. Your son's share. This is your own land. Why don't you come there? So we had no choice. So we went there to stay there. My father was a very, very shrewd businessman and Lalaji was a good administrator, thinker, and other things. Then Lalaji thought how to use my father. Everybody used to call my father Ramnarain Bhatia “Seth ji”. Then they said you know we have so much sugarcane in our farm, why not plant one sugar factory. We should make our own sugar. An Open Pan Factory type was made there. Otherwise one bullock cart or one truck would go full of sugarcane in that factory and they will come second day. Time consuming. Not much money. So then it was his idea so why not have our own factory. So we started that factory. So my father was running that factory.

Seema: So how did you get the technology there and who helped you build the (Open Pan) factory?

Shanta: Because Lalaji was very educated person and he had a lot of contacts and he used to meet big, big people also. Always his main focus was this farm, how to bring those people up. Then UP Government sent some experts to install that factory. It was done legally. I believe, we had (what is called) the Open Pan Factory that means we don't spend electricity. When we squeeze the sugarcane, that same thing (squeezed sugarcane stalk) will burn as fuel. Then the sugar will come. So we don't have to spend on any electricity. So this was called Open Pan factory. It was a small-scale sugar factory. So my father was running that one. Another business point, how to sell the fruit of the baagh and vegetables. So business part my father will handle and Lalaji was the main administrator of everything. He was a very good lawyer and he became the honorary judge also. Lalaji. So everything started from here. Very pleasant personality. Always smiling. We were very scared of our father because he will sometimes get angry. Very disciplining. And always Lalaji was there for us to go (to for) anything. Any problem we would go to Lalaji. But they will laugh with each other. They respected each other so much. I was a sick child always so half of the time my father will take me out. Mother was busy at home taking care of other children. Sometimes my Lalaji will take me out. Or someone tells doctor has come from England. Go to Amritsar. Lucknow. Go to Agra. Anybody will mention, sometime my father will take me; sometime my Lalaji will take me. So I became very close to Lalaji. Because of RSS people, and then it became Jansangh. He knew all the people. Then I met Atal Bihar Vajpayeee ji. I was going out with my Lalaji and father so I used to meet many big, big people. I became very, very friendly with Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji. K.L Sharma. President of BJP. I was everyone's child. So I got so much love from everybody.

Seema: So you had a very different life growing up as a girl because you were sick and you got to experience all these things. What was life like for other girls at that time?

Shanta: Very good. There was a small school though it wasn’t recognized. In those days there was not much law. So we study at home. We'll go and privately appear for the exam for high school. So this was a small school. Even in our relationships, who were living in the big, big cities somebody does not study they will send them to Jugroonagar. So there was some kind of drive and force to study, study, and study. And we used to do dramas at night. It was little bit free atmosphere for girls and boys. We never had any regret that we don’t live in a big city. So mostly we were enjoying each moment of our life. The girls would learn music because there was a mandir. Some punditji was teaching harmonium. Mostly girls learned harmonium and dholak.

Seema: Did you also learn music from him?

Shanta: Yes. Yes. I always used my time. If I am in Haridwar may be, for one doctor or vaidyaraj and he says at least two months you stay here then I'll treat you for your kidney stones. Then sometime my grandmother or naani will stay with me and I'll stay there. What should I do all day? Just take medicine in the morning then what should I do. It there is a mandir around there I will go and learn some sitar from them. If somebody is teaching drawing or painting, I will join the class. I will always utilize (my time). This is my problem; always think how to use my time. I don't want to waste my time. I don't want to waste my time, because I always heard I don't know how long I will live. So time was big thing for me. Today also people don't like me sometime when I say, “I want to go home.” “Why do you want to go home?” people ask me. “No, no what am I doing here? So let me go or go somewhere (else).” Always time is a very precious for me because of being a sick child I always used to say to my father, “Everybody will study but I won't study.” It was a village school so they will teach me. And my younger brother Krishan was very, very close to me. He felt for me. He is my best friend these days. Whatever he will study in that village school if I am sleeping or in pain he will tell me, “This was the civics lesson. That's what punditji told me. That's what teacher told us.” Old teachers were hired and we were studying in that school. So he was big help to me also.

Seema: So you finished your high school in the village and then what happened? Did your brother and sisters leave?

Shanta: My brother and sister they left after high school but I was always there. Then everyone went out to study. Brothers went to Nainital. Then one brother went to my uncle's house to study. For college studies they were out. Then at the age of 18 in '57 I had the big surgery. Kidney surgery. In those days anesthesia wasn't very powerful so they used to give us chloroform. When my surgery was done, I remember two years before my sister got married, whatever was spent on my sister's luxurious wedding my father spent on my surgery. There was Dr. H. B. Lal, President of India's doctor; he met us in a train. He said, “I will treat you.” So I used to go to him. He was a doctor in military. All my life whenever there were X-rays or some photos were taken the stone won't come in X-ray. One day it came. They say, “Right now we will catch it all, the stones. You should get the surgery tonight.” So my surgery was done in Delhi, Tirthram Shah Hospital. Dr. Menon did it. There were three small stones just like a grain type. Two were taken out and one was left there because the anesthesia wasn’t enough. So that once again same story. Again pain. Again same thing. Surgery was done but I did not become fine. So only one thing good happened, because the one stone which was left there, it left a big, big infection. There were so many pus cells in the kidney, so my stones got lubrication. So sharp pains were not there. That was the benefit of the surgery, so I was able to bear it. And then when I passed my high school I stood first in my district. I even did not know next day what kind of paper it will be but I went to Bareilly and still I got it, (first rank in district). So then I got the confidence in the school. Then the old teacher who was teaching, running the school he wasn't anymore there. So at the age of 17 I was running that school now. I became the teacher there. I became the headmistress. I became the Principal, whatever you say. I was hardly high school but I was very good in Math so I was able to teach Math to the high school even. So I was teaching them. So then each subject Hindi, Sanskrit, English, drawing, or painting, whatever was in the course I was the main, and there were two more teachers working with me. So this way I started doing my studies, further studies. Always (used) Kunji or Guide; the dictionary was my teacher. So this way I studied. Then I did my Hindi special classes and got Prabhakar degree from Punjab University. Then again 12th, BA, then one MA, Sanskrit, and then MA in Hindi.

Seema: How did you study for your bachelors and masters because you were always in the village?

Shanta: Bachelors? My brother at that time was studying in Pantnagar University, which was opened with the aid of US Government. So he was studying in Pantnagar University, which was almost 15 miles away from our village. So I needed help in English. Other things I could figure out. So one day my students who were very poor people, you know. They will walk with me to Kiccha five miles. On our foot we will go. Both those boys will stay in Kiccha somewhere. There were some places where they could stay. And I will take a bus to Pantnagar; take a rickshaw to Pantnagar’s dorm, where my brother was. Then my brother arranged with one professor to teach me some English. So I'll go there and he will teach me for one hour. Then I'll come back again. Take a rickshaw, then bus, then five miles on my foot just to get one lesson of English.

Seema: How long did it take for you travel by foot, by bus, and then by rickshaw?

Shanta: Almost seven hours. Six hours.

Seema: One way?

Shanta: No. Total.

Seema: Total?

Shanta: Total. All day was gone almost.

Seema: For one hour class in English.

Shanta: So my brother helped me with that. Didi wants to study. He was always with me. He thought about me always, that how will Didi study? She wants to study. Still he is my best friend. We talk to each other a lot (laughs). Slowly, slowly all the girls in the village who are playing with me in that village, they got married, one by one. Again, I was alone. My one bhabhi (Lalaji’s daughter-in-law) came and then I was friends with her. So, mostly my friendship was with the men, who were my uncles. You know, my Lalaji's. friends or when I go for my treatment, go to Agra, and go to one of my Lalaji's friend, or my father's friend, or my brother's friend's family, I will stay there. Once I started my Ph. D. that I wanted to do, it was in Agra. So at night time I take the five mile walk (or ride), then take the train early in the morning and get off at Agra. Then go to that teacher. Then I will stay with my brother's friend. Then the guide will teach me a little bit. Then I will take a train again at night. Next day morning I will come back to my village. So it took me two nights to get one hour training from a teacher to do my Ph.D., but I could not complete my Ph.D. It was too much on me but I was studying, I was teaching. I was doing all this.

Seema: So where did you do your bachelors from? Which college? And your masters?

Shanta: No college, but privately I studied. From Agra University I got BA (in 1964), and we will take my exam in Bareilly college. So then I have BA from Agra University. (In 1969) MA, Sanskrit from Agra University, and (in 1973) MA, Hindi from Agra University.

Seema: You were a very dedicated student and you really focused your attention on studies.

Shanta: I wanted to have a picture in a gown so I went to Agra just for convocation. Just to see. My brother sister everybody had this in the college education. They have pictures of them in the gown and degree. So I wanted to have that. It was conducted in Agra University. Even private students could also go there. So I went there especially to see that. But this was all because of very good support from my family, my father. Lalaji and Lalaji's three sons were very nice to me. I got so much love from everybody. Even though some aunties were jealous of my mother, they won’t talk to her but still they would love me. There were two friends. My father’s friend didn’t have children. He used to live near Jaipur, there is a place Tonk. And Lalaji also had a friend who was an Army Doctor, but he didn't have children. So I became everybody's child. So in summer vacation I used to go to see them. Eight days to this uncle. Eight days to that uncle. If they were going out, doing any yatra or something I was always with them.

Seema: So you had an extended family that you really enjoyed with and traveled with.

Shanta: Ya. And my Lalaji and his friends, all of them they planned, “Let's go to Kashmir.” So I was always with Lalaji because his wife was busy with children and family. So I was always with Lalaji and his friends. Sometimes my father, me, and his friend's family. So this way I traveled a lot with my father. So I became a little bit independent also. In those days girls won't travel alone but I could travel alone to Jaipur and Delhi and Amritsar and where ever I wanted to go. I could go alone.

Seema: So you were very special in that sense.

Shanta: Yes. I was very, very special child. One thing I am very, very thankful (for), I got so much love from people. I always have a complaint against God. He did not give me life without pain. Pain I used to complaint to God (about) but I don't have any complaint against any human being in this world because they were always nice. I met many nice people in this world.

Seema: So that was a very good way for you to move ahead in your life. To have all this support.

Shanta: Separate life. All the girls were married so then I lose my friend. Next year they come with child and husband. So nothing was common with me.

Seema: Right.

Shanta: I was just like a nun. I never thought I will get married. So my dedication was to the school and my farm.

Seema: So what was the name of the school?

Shanta: Nothing. I don't know. Bhatia Farmer School? (laughs)

Seema: Okay. So you went to the school as a student but then you also became a teacher. So can you describe your experience as a student and then what changes you brought about in the school as a teacher?

Shanta: When I was a teacher then there’s lot of enthusiasm. When I was studying there were old teachers, retired (people). Lalaji just hired them to give some education to all the children. Only thing is we will see what our schedule was in that system. We will buy the books accordingly and then we will appear for the examination. Because I was very enthusiastic person, so people even from neighborhood (used to come to our school because) there was no school in that area. Mostly there were Sardars who were not educated but they wanted their children to be educated. The children had so much attraction to education and me also. (Students will say,) “We want Behen ji” Everybody just loved me. I told them, “You never have to go to tuition (anywhere else). If you need to study something, even at night 12 o'clock (come to me and) I will teach you. In my school nobody needs to have tuition. You don't have to spend money.” From all over the villages boys were coming to study.

Seema: So this school was free for all the people?

Shanta: Free for the people because society was running the school. I was getting hardly forty rupees a month. That was just my pocket money. (laughter) Other expenses father was bearing. But father was happy that I was doing a good job. All the children respected me so much. That was my pride. That I have somebody to love. Then slowly, slowly the next generation came up. They took over (the school). Especially the management. Then things were miserable. Then I thought let me do something (else). Lalaji is old now. And some other people are taking over. They were jealous of me. My age people were taking over the farm. Things were not the same. Then I started thinking what should I do now? What should I do now? May be I should start in a college somewhere because I had two masters. So I could do anything, but I don't know. Then things changed.

Seema: So what happened after? How long were you teaching in the school?

Shanta: Twenty years.

Seema: That’s a long time.

Shanta: Twenty years. I was sixteen at the time when I started teaching. And at 36 I got married, and then the school was in other people's hand. There was one daughter-in-law who took over teaching. There was another teacher also but I was always there for twenty years. Still my students now, they may be sixty year old, still call me today also. Teacher's Day I get so many calls from them. The people from all over the neighborhood they were not educated but now their boys who study from me they have become, one is MLA, and one sent his children to study in Australia. They have become very good human beings. And those guys also respected me very much. “Behen ji, Shanti ji, I touch your feet. You are teaching our children good things.” Always idealist person. Don't lie. Don't do this thing. Don't do that thing. That's what my motive (was). People loved it and they worked very hard. So I am glad the whole thing what Lalaji started and then when I finished, it went so good. Beyond our imagination.

Seema: So you had a very big role to play in teaching a lot of children in this town. So you said at 36 you got married. Tell me a little bit about that.

Shanta: All my brothers, sisters were married. They had two children or having second child. I was alone with my mother and father. I never thought I would get my married. Still I was thinking what to do next but my father said that I cannot let you wear bhagwa. White clothes are fine. At the age of 21 I started wearing white clothes. Long hair. No makeup. People know me with white clothes. Didi. Long hair. What happened was my husband for last 14 years he was in this country. Came to study.

Seema: In the USA?

Shanta: USA. He was supporting his family and somehow his family, he was married here and broke up. His family was broken. He wanted to reset. In India, all his brother sisters were settled. He was the only lonely person here. So once he came to India maybe someone, a mutual friend of my father and my husband's brother's father-in-law. So then he talked to my husband. You're such a smart boy. Why don't you get married? Again resettle. He said, “Now who will give me a daughter. I am 39 almost.” “No, no. no. We will have a good girl. You marry and your life will be changed.” So he suggested to him but he never talked to my father. But he suggested it to him. Then my husband started imagining that I will get this girl, I will get this girl. I did not know anything. Then again after one year he comes to India then he talks to the person, middle person, that where is that girl? He said, “This is the girl. You know, Ashok.” My husband's younger brother and my younger brother were working together. So somehow my husband met my brother once. So then (he thought) “Oh my God, I want to have this girl. No matter what happens this (is the) girl I want.” People knew that there is this girl. She runs a school. She is always in white clothes, which was not normal in those days. And she sings. And she did this and that. I had a very good name. Then that guy called us. My father, me, my mother, and my brother we went there (Muradabad). And he said, “This is the boy. Please see him and I want Shanti to marry him.” At that time people respected each other so much. Even though a friend or neighbor. They won't say anything to their neighbor. “Oh, she is your child. She is your daughter. Whatever you say, I can do it.” So I met him. So many people sitting around me. And my husband said, “My answer is yes. I want to marry her right now. Does anybody have any objection?” So I told my brother, “I am not ready to marry. I don't want to get married to anybody.” So then father said, "Shanta, just go with him. He is asking for your hand. Do some different adventure. Just go with him. I want to say something to you. I am not feeling very good. My heart is not in good condition.” Though he was 57 year old. But I could not say no to my father because he always supported me. Always supported me. No matter what she does, let her stay alive. That's all he wanted. Mother sometime she will say, “Why don't we find some boy who is from poor family or well educated. We can do it, you know. She can get married. Let her settle down.” But my father always supported me. “No. I cannot see her cry. Whatever she does, let her do that.” Lalaji was a big support to me (too). Right there, we were married after two hours. There was one (person), he was just like my father too, Pundit Jagannath ji, very good vaidya; he said, “Today is Makar Sankranti. 13th of January. Let's do this wedding today.”

Seema: And what was your future husband's name?

Shanta: Subhash Chandar Bhatia. Subhash Bhatia. Very, very talkative. Very influencing person. You can say in talking, nobody could win him. The way he was talking; everybody was hypnotized in a way. So I was still thinking what's going on? Really. So I was married within two hours, in that same house. It was my brother's in-laws house. They were exporters. They had so many workers working downstairs. So they emptied the place. So they got some samagri from outside. My bhabhi bought one gulabi saree, pink saree. Nobody's blouse would fit me. So somehow got blue blouse of her sister. Wear the saree and I got married to him. But he was very, very smart man. He said, "Don't be scared of me. When you come to USA then we'll be husband wife. Right now we can stay as friends. But don't be scared. I am your friend." So little bit I was shy. Then next day we went to our farm. Little bit celebration. Then we went to Delhi to meet his parents and his family.

Seema: So his family did not attend the wedding? You just got married.

Shanta: Only his younger brother and his younger sister also. Then we went to Delhi to meet his parents. They were very happy to see him settled. They knew about me. I don't want to self-praise but people used to say she is very intelligent and good girl. They were happy to see me. Then he left me and then started the passport and visa, this and that. We went for marriage certificate in Muradabad. It is a very big district. But in those days nobody knew what the marriage certificate is. We went to the court, found a lawyer. Even he did not know what a marriage certificate is but he did not tell us. He took us to the Collector's office and he signed the application. So we thought we got the marriage certificate. Marriage certificates were done when people used to go out of the country. Otherwise nobody has marriage certificate in India.

Seema: Ya. Not at that time.

Shanta: Delhi and Bombay people know but not other people. So I stayed there. Then I quit my job and I went to stay with my in-laws because my father-in- law was very sick. Then marriage certificate was denied that this is not a proper certificate. Not signed by the proper Registrar of Marriage. Then again same story starts. I was wearing white clothes. Where to get rangeen clothes? Little bit my mother gave me and when he left me, I didn't have much money. So nobody thought about me. I was still there, what to do? Again I have to prove my marriage. So go to Arya Samaj Mandir. Go here and go there. Then in the end we went to the Embassy. My older sister's husband was very influential. Extremely nice man. So he found that. “Let's go to Embassy (and ask). Marriage certificate is not good. What should we do?” (Embassy Officer said,) “Her father, her husband's father, and the priest who performed the wedding if they sign one affidavit we will accept it. You have some photos also. So we will accept the certificate.” So I went again to get signature, from Delhi to farm Jugroonagar, where my father signed. So then on the way, Muradabad, the priest signed. Then I went to Delhi. My father-in-law was very sick but he signed it. Then we present that thing. Within 15 days the priest dies. Then my father dies. After four days my father-in-law dies. So again the same thing. My marriage is not proved. People will make fun of me. What should I do? This was big trouble. Now all three died. My husband had a heart attack here in this country. So again the application was sent to the immigration department that he had a heart attack, his wife should come immediately. So this way I got a Visa to come to this country immediately and then I did not know that I lost my father. My father-in-law died. And then I don't know what will happen to me when I reach in this country. There was this one person, my jijajee knew him, I came with those people (by Lufthansa Airlines). I did not even know after New York what should I do.

Seema: So you landed in New York?

Shanta: New York.

Seema: Now which year did you get married?

Shanta: 13th January 1975 I got married.

Seema: And when did you come here?

Shanta: October 16, 1975. After 9 months almost.

Seema: Okay.

Shanta: So I came here. The couple who was traveling with me they told me you go to the (domestic terminal). In India there was only one airport. I did not know there were some domestic airports here in New York. Separate. So asking people and then somebody guided me “Go there.” I did not even know where to go now. Somebody told me to go to check-in. Did not know much English. I was so shy in speaking English. Though I knew but speaking I did not have expertise at that time. But somehow I reached there, and from there I went to Columbus Ohio. And there was one of my husband's friends, Gujarati guy, Krishna C. Mistry. My name was written Shanta Bhatia. He is Indian what will he do, let me go with him. Found somebody. So he takes me to the hospital. He said, “He is fine. Don't worry about that.” But when I went to the hospital, looking at him in the hospital with IV, this and that, face blue, it was very hard for me to recognize his face. At that time we didn't have telephone. We could not talk to each other. Only we were writing letters. So when I saw him (laughs) it was not easy for me to recognize him. I just came here. Whatever happens; happens. I will see what to do. But I can recognize his voice. He talked to me very nicely. Then he talked to the doctor. “Oh! She is here and I want to go home.” So the Doctor released him at that time. We came to this one room, one bedroom full of newspapers, nothing in the house. Just whatever came, I was dealing with it. There was one Gujarati family. She was not very well educated but I found her. She was my angel. (Laughs) Everything I will ask him what to do? What should I cook? There was nothing to cook.

Seema: Because he lived like a bachelor?

Shanta: Ya. He lived like a bachelor. Get pizza, eat, and just sleep. What should I do? When I came, I saw everything. Nothing was in this house but slowly we established. So I could not say anything to him because he had a heart attack. I would think about it. I should not do anything so he doesn't get angry. I should keep him calm, and that he should live at least. Now I lost my father so I don't want to lose him. So I became very conscious about him. Life goes on. (laughter)

Seema: So what was his profession?

Shanta: He was a very, very sharp man. Certified Genius type. His IQ was more than Churchill even. He had Mechanical Engineering, Nuclear Engineering and he was an expert in Aeronautical Engineering. When I came he quit Aeronautical and he was in Nuclear Engineering. Babcock and Wilcox. He was working for that company. Small town, Lancaster, Ohio. Part of Columbus, Ohio. After five days there was some Indian get-together. Diwali party. Mostly Indians don't invite the single person. But they heard he has a wife now so they invited us also. First time we went to see (how) all the Indian people live. I was very happy. My husband joked and said, “My wife will sing a song to you.” But I thought it was (like) a summon (laughs) so I have to do. I was so scared of him. So I pick up the mike and sang a song. Ek pyaar ka nagma hai. “I never knew that you can sing. I did not know that.” You said to me then I just sang it. People loved me. Then friendships started. Slowly we made our house and bought plates, and house things. I did not know how to drive at that time. But I made some friends and we were doing shopping.

Seema: So when did you learn driving?

Shanta: Hmm. After one year. When he will talk little loud and I was not used to, I was so scared of him all the time. I should not make him mad. I should not make him angry. Then in my neighborhood there were two girls, Jackie and Lee. They were both teachers. I used to talk to them a lot. They used to tell me you should learn driving then you will feel the confidence in this country. So what should I do? So what should I do? Just get some lessons. Then I ask my husband. I said, “Can you give me hundred dollars and don't ask me what I will do.” So he said. “Okay, Okay. All right. I’ll give you.” So he gave me cash, 100 dollars. Then I called one lady for training from Sears. She gave me ten dollar rate a lesson. So she gave me 6 lessons. Then she told me that you are ready for the test. So I told her why don't you take me for test? So “Okay I will take you.” So she took me and I passed the test. Then I called my husband that I got my driver's license. “I don't believe it. I don't believe you.” Somehow when I got my car license then he bought me another car. So I was driving in the small town and got the confidence of driving. This is the way life started (laughs).

Seema: So it was quite an adventure like your father said.

Shanta: Very, very adventure. I used to cry a lot when I lost my father before I came here. I used to think a lot about what happened. He was only 57 when he died.

Seema: He was young.

Shanta: And he died the day I got Visa approved, the day I got Visa for USA. And he went to drop me to Delhi that I will get a ticket and then I will come to USA. And that night he died hearing that I got my Visa. So it was lot of guilt. Lot of contentment also that I listened to him. He was going to die anyway. If I did not listen to him then I’ll feel guilty that I did not listen to him. But I think today I am going to be 80 year old, pretty soon. So I did not think that I can live like this long.

Seema: Such a long life.

Shanta: Yes, such a long life.

Seema: Especially because you said that everyone when you were young kept telling you otherwise.

Shanta: Ya. I always heard this thing. “Oh, What will happen to her? She won't live very long. She won't get married.” This was sad comment I was listening but family was very supportive. Lalaji and my father.

Seema: So when you landed here what was the big difference that you noticed between India and here?

Shanta: It was U-turn for me. Nothing was familiar to me in this country. Especially not many Indian people in those days. For six-seven months we were traveling a lot, with my husband, I never saw a single Sardar ji. I said, “Don't Sikh people this country?” He said, "No, no, there are many. If you go to Detroit then you will find them.” And when I came here (in ’75), I am vegetarian but there were not many vegetables, or flour, or besan, and pulses. We could not get anything in this country. So then my husband and me drove to Toronto and got the whole car filled with all these things. Then we will come back. Go to Niagara Falls. So it was vacation for us. Then one shop was in New York. We get with the mail order, Indian grocery. After five years we heard that there is a shop in Chicago. Then we’ll drive to Chicago. Then in Detroit one shop was opened so it became easy for us because it was hardly 200 miles. So will go and get all our groceries.

Seema: 200 miles is a long way (laughs) -

Shanta: (Laughs) Four hours. Otherwise we have to go to Toronto.

Seema: So you were in Ohio for how many years?

Shanta: With him from '75 to '81. Six years.

Seema: So what was the change that you saw in Ohio from '75 - ‘81? Did you see the Indian community grow?

Shanta: There were five – six families. In Columbus, Ohio there were many families. So we joined the Columbus people. We were having some time Diwali party, some kirtan. We became very good friends. Many good friends we found. One group we made, we were studying Gita each week in one person's house, there were six - seven families, then we eat food (together). Each Sunday was like that. Then again I had a miscarriage at that time '76. Then after miscarriage there were so many tests, this and that. Used to again have (kidney) pain. Then they found kidney was very painful, and one doctor said I should have a hysterectomy. There were two questions were in my mind. What should I do? Then I thought kidney, I know, I have a problem but for hysterectomy, I am not sure whether I am ready for that or not because I wanted to have a child very badly. I really wanted that. When I am married why not have a child. Then I got my kidney removed in '78. So after the miscarriage there was again tests, again doctors. There was a very good doctor. Dr. Jasper in Lancaster. He was expert in kidney disease. So he said, “I will be able to do your surgery.” So almost three-fourth of kidney was removed and then I became fine after that. Still I feel pain in that kidney. So I used to ask, “Dr. Jasper why do I feel pain?” He says, “It's a painful kidney, though kidney is gone, still the pain is there.” Still sometime I have to do fomentation to relieve (the pain). So then I did not go for hysterectomy. We thought I cannot be a mother, so we just accepted that. So all of us sudden I find myself pregnant in '81. We were in India, went to see Rameshwaram. When I came back here then I found that I was pregnant but I was very, very scared. Whether I will be able to take it full term or not. But I found a very good doctor. He himself had 10 children (laughter) and then Dr. Urling tells me, “Why do you compare yourself with girls who start everything at the age of 14 or 15. Your married life started at 36 or 37. Within 2-3-4 years nothing will happen. You are young. Your body is so young. Don't worry nothing will happen to you.” One Indian doctor used to tell us your baby won't be a normal baby. So I thought I will not kill my baby, whatever happens, happens. We will see. I got a very, very brilliant, very beautiful daughter. First thing I talk to my doctor. I said, “Does she have good kidneys?” (laughs)

Seema: Because you had suffered all your life with that.

Shanta: “Oh yes. Yes. Very, very perfect kidney. Don't worry about that.” (Laughs) It was cesarean because he didn't want to take any chance. Very, very good doctor, I can say. He talked to me very positive. “God has decided to give you a child; he is going to give you a child. Don't worry about that, against all the odds you will have a beautiful child. Shanta, don't worry.” That was the luckiest day when I saw her, and then I was still thinking "Can I be a mother? Is she my child? Is she really, really? I can also have a child." There were so many questions in my mind. (We named our daughter Shivani, in honor of Goddess Parvati.)

As she was growing up my husband was very happy to see that girl. He used to smoke cigars. That day he threw all the cigars and he said, “No. My child is in the family there should not be any smoke in the house.” So life goes on (laughs). Then when she was two and a half years old my husband was having a heart problem again. Then we moved from Lancaster, we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Again from there he went in consulting. We went to Pittsburgh. We bought a house and we thought that from Ann Arbor all our belongings will come to Pittsburgh but husband got a call that he has been transferred to August, Georgia. Then (we put all the belongings) in the car garage. We never occupied that house and we went to Augusta, Georgia. Then again the luggage came there. There was a power plant being built, nuclear power plant. So we were there and he got very sick. He was having angina pain and he then had heart surgery. She was two and a half years old. New place. We did not know anybody but when he had a heart surgery there were so many Indian doctors working there so they became my friends. I don't know anybody, what should I do? So he got a big surgery, then (he) got pneumonia. He was fired from the job while he was in the hospital because that was consulting (job). They could not keep him. But when my daughter saw her daddy in the hospital she will say, “My daddy sleeps in a crib.” And when he goes in a wheelchair. “My daddy goes in stroller.” And there was one nurse. He was to move him when he slides down in the bed. So, “Oh, my daddy has a nanny.” (Laughs). After that what happened, any ambulance came, she will think ambulance taking my daddy. She was so scared of ambulance all the time. We stayed there three more years.

Seema: Were you working at that time?

Shanta: No. No. His first condition to me was ‘I don't want you to work.’ I want your company, and he was here also, locally, traveling a lot. So he will take me along. I will stay with him in the hotels. Holiday Inns mostly. For six years we had this type of life, before my daughter was born I was always traveling with him. This way we made some money. And I was with him. Only thing he said, “I don't want you to work.” It was a biggest sacrifice for me. I was always working. Then I could not work. Then I did not do anything. I could not study. I could not do even typing. Didn’t learn anything. Sitting home. Knew machine; sewing machine. I would make beautiful clothes for my friend's children. That's all I was doing. I think this was my biggest mistake that I did not prepare myself to become something to earn the money. After that he was told that you only (have) 10 years of life (to live) in '84. So for six years he was working then he thought he doesn't have much time left. “I want to go back to India. I don't want to die in this country,” and he said, “You will be alone here. It's better at least we have family in India.” My brother, sister no one was here at that time. So we went back to India. My daughter was nine year old. Again she was studying Ka, Kha, Ga. She did not know how to speak Hindi. She could not go to play in the neighborhood. Then big schools they would not take her because she did not know the Hindi language. So there was very, very small school. New. So I put her in that school. They were supporting her. They were preparing her. And she didn’t even know (Hindi), and next year Sanskrit start. I was a Hindi and Sanskrit person. So my support became good for her. So in small school she was there, though I had so many contacts of BJP and I knew many people I could get her (in to any) good school, but she won't go because she had a complex, because she doesn't know Hindi. She does not know Kaala, Maala. She was studying there. After that she was very happy in that small school because she was the Head Girl. She was speech person for them. If there was any TV interview or radio so they will send her because she had very good English (and) confidence also. So this way she studied in that school. There were five or nine children in her class. Not much. People were making fun of us. You have come from America. You should send her to DPS, send her to this school, this school. But she won't go. I tried my best, so she can go (to a big school). She said, “I don't want that school.” Then she passed her high school. She stood first. Sanskrit, she got very good marks. Then I thought. What should I do? There was no income. He was having good time. Get one driver, chauffer and he was going with his car here and there. Dehradun. Cold places. I had to stay with her in Delhi. So he was having his good time. He thought he has only four years left and he wants to enjoy. Then I said what about me, and my daughter? So he says, “I know you can raise her. I know you will manage well.” But then he became very good health wise. So then I thought what should we do? We should do something, me or you. We should do something. Then I want her to study in USA. At least college studies. So she will be good. I had a Green Card at that time. I had to come every year to keep my Green Card alive. Sometime I will come with my daughter to my friend's house because I had so many friends here. Come here (to USA) for three - four weeks and then go back. Sometime I will come alone and drop my daughter at my brother's house. So she was also suffering a lot. One thing was very bad. She was getting weak. Her eyes were getting weak. She won’t eat there. She did not like the milk there. I was thinking about her. What am I doing? Now he is fine but what about her? My duty is there. And there is no income. Slowly money was going away. Then, 11th (grade) I told Shivani, “Let's go back to America. I go every year anyway. This time you come with me.” I came back to Columbus. My best friend, who is a Muslim from Pakistan, Ruksana Akram, so she was also in Columbus (at that time). So we had a very small condominium in Columbus Ohio, which was rented. One old guy used to live there for six years. He left because he got sick. So he send us a notice you take your condo back. At that time I was in Columbus with Ruksana.

Seema: Which year was this?

Shanta: It was '98. I came with Shivani to Columbus and took over the house, and I said, “I am not going back to India.” So I went to buy something at Service Merchandise, they hired me. Seven dollars an hour. I was so happy. After two months I became the Assistant Manager. So I was very happy. Then Shivani also used to work. In the same school she got admission in 12th grade. She got some credits and she was there. So I was working, she was working four hours, and then condo was free almost. Then I talk to him. “I am not coming back.” She will study here. Then he was so mad at me. After two - three months he came back here. Then when she passed her high school, she got automatically with all the distinctions in each subject. Magna cum laude. And she got admission Ohio State University. She did not want to go to medical. My husband was mad at her. You should go to medical. You are getting scholarship. “No I don't want to do. I want to do only four years education. I want to earn money. That's all.” So she did not listen to him. And she won't go to Engineering. Then she did her MIS (Management Information Systems) and some other courses also. But one thing I can say, she was working 20 hours a week with this college study. All her friends were taking vacation, in four years she did not take any, any Saturday Sunday off. She was working sometime at Sears. Sometime at Bank. Sometime, somewhere. Four years she was working 20 hours a week. Then she could support herself and she was almost independent. Then I told her (to go to dorm because) in the house he was very, very sick at that time.

Seema: You were working at Service Merchandise?

Shanta: Service Merchandise, and that store closed. Then I went to Eddie Bauer and after two years that store closed. Then I went to Lazarus. That store closed. (Laughs)

Seema: So you've seen a lot of big businesses go out-of-business here.

Shanta: I needed Insurance for him that's why I was working in stores. I remember when I went to (another store) I told them that if you want to close your store hire me please (laughs). So this is what happened, it was not my fault even though I had good certificates as a sales person. This way life went on. And in between he was going down. His health was going down; he was living with 12% of his heart working. Slowly, slowly, just he was gradually (going down), we knew that he won't live very long. So, Shivani passed her (college), she got her graduation. She got her job in New Jersey. And she said “I don't want to stay in Ohio. My job, my career is in East Coast.” Thought she got a job in Cincinnati, Proctor and Gamble also, but she said, “I don't want to go there.” So she came here for one year. Sometime she was coming there. Every two weeks she will come to visit us. And she was traveling a lot. The day he died she could not reach there. She came next day.

Seema: When was that?

Shanta: It was 2004, 23rd of July. He died at night. But I did not know that he was going. I always thought he talks loud and he goes to the hospital, he will come back. He goes to the hospital and he will come back. But that day he died. I told him I want to go home at 9 'o'clock. I have to go home. He wrote so many notes in the drawers that "Sab kuch khuda se maang liya, tujh ko maang kar. Uthe nahi hai haath mere is dua ke baad." (I asked God for everything by asking for you, I have never raised my hands since receiving this blessing) “I am the luckiest man. You are really my life." Two days before, from the hospital he came because he had lot of water retention at that time, and he got the computer from upstairs to downstairs. There was one handyman. He would call him for 25 dollar an hour at that time. That guy brought the computer down. On his stomach he put his computer and sold all his stocks. He was very much involved in stocks, and bonds, and everything. He will play very, very safe. He said, “The day I lose one cent in stock market I will stop it.” He was going slowly. May be he will earn 500 a week or 400 a week. Very safe way he was playing.

Seema: Were you also not involved in stock market?

Shanta: I was too much involved. There was a time when on TV they will run a tape. Then I will see the price. Internet was not very common. When I learnt from him, I was over aggressive in stock market. Then he told me, “No. It's dangerous I don't want you to do it anymore.” But he had so much knowledge. He taught me a lot. World knowledge. World maps. Languages. And I didn't have much interest in money, economy. I learnt from him that economy is the biggest thing I should learn, you know. He taught me a lot. He was an encyclopedia of general knowledge I can say. So when I was with him, I learnt a lot. I was a sadhu type, nun type. No interest in worldly knowledge. Just what is God? What is philosophy? What is this? What is in Judaism? What is in Hinduism? Just all the emotional knowledge I had. But I learnt from him a lot. He taught me. He made me a person to live in this world. Today I am a practical person. Still saint at heart (laughs) but practical.

Seema: So he sold all the stocks?

Shanta: He sold all the stocks. Cheap, loss or profit. He didn't think of anything. Everything he cashed it. All the checks were in my name and the banking everything he used to do, very, very sharply. He was planning inside. He knew that he won't live very long. But I did not think that it will happen ever. But he planned everything. I didn't have any trouble after his death to get anything from any bank, or insurance, or anything, whatever money he could not earn in the last 14 years of his life (because) he could not work, but still we survived okay. You know I didn't feel that I don't have any money. I am also very conservative person. Spend wisely. But standard of living is never down. If somebody comes, I like to treat them nice. So we came to New Jersey. It is very expensive place for me. You know, (compared to) Ohio. I always compare prices in Ohio and New Jersey. “Oh, my God! This house is 300,000 dollars I can get it for 80,000 in Ohio. “

Seema: So what was the big change for you when you moved from Ohio to East Coast, culturally?

Shanta: Very, very expensive. One thing bothered me a lot. Very expensive place. I said, “When we can live cheaper, better, why to live in this state?” But my daughter was at that time was 22, when my husband died, at the age of 23 she bought this condo. She said, “Mom, you will be safe (here).” Because I had so many troubles at that time, I will have knee surgery, little bit angina was going on. May be heart surgery also and she was traveling a lot. First she was traveling domestic. Then she took a job at Tyco, which was international travel. I told her, “Just go and travel. See the world. This is the time to go. When you are married you won't be able to do anything.” So she bought this house when she was 23. This condo. Both of us we bought it. So then first I felt very, very lonely. I missed Ohio a lot. Everything will bother me, whenever I go grocery. Or anything. See the taxes. I said, “Oh my God! So expensive. So expensive. I cannot afford that.” Now I am used to. I have so many friends. I have so many friends. First thing I do is go to the library wherever we move. First thing, I always go to the library to find good doctors, find the good (things in the) area. I will talk to them. They tell me the names of doctors. How to find the doctors here. Why don't you go to the Senior Center next door? I went there. Then many people talked to me and they said “Oh, go to this doctor, contact this one or that.” This way after six months I found Govinda Rajan. After six months we made this Agraj Seva Kendra. Four - five people. So then started everything.

Seema: So even in Ohio you were involved in the community and you did a lot of events?

Shanta: Lot of events, especially singing group. Always friend circle we used to sing a lot. That passion I could not fulfill here. Still cannot find the people who I can enjoy singing with them. There are some kirtans, mandirs, but still I cannot find the standard of singing we used to have in Columbus Ohio. I miss them a lot.

Seema: So you continued with your passion of singing by performing in local events?

Shanta: Local events yes. Whenever I had a chance I tried to do that. Here I don't think I had any singing program. But within friend circle we do have something.

Seema: So what is Agraj Seva Kendra, the organization that you and your friends formed here? What does it do?

Shanta: Mostly it started with Elder Volunteer Service. Govinda Rajan’s idea was that we should entertain some seniors. So then slowly 16, 30 then (more). The numbers are 65 but when we attend there are hardly 20 people in the meeting. Every month we used to have meetings. Then we had programs. We tried to help the seniors. If they need a ride or if they want to go to watch any programs. So mainly Govinda Rajan is the one who does all these things. I am President of it. And I got President Award for this community service, which is signed by President Obama.

Seema: That was a great honor.

Shanta: That was a biggest achievement. But still I am so shy. I never put it in my Facebook or telling people that I got it. So just I tell in my friend circle. Some people say, “You are stupid. Why don't you put it on Facebook? Put it on this one.” I am not very advertising about myself. Mostly quiet but now I talk a lot because there is so much to tell. So much to tell why did it happen to me. Still I am mad at God sometimes when I have pain. My only desire is that “Can God give me one moment when I don't have any pain.” So my both knees are done. Eyes operation is done. Something will happen to me; in each surgery I had some kind of episode. Sometime there was too much anesthesia. Other time there was not enough anesthesia. When I had eye surgery, somehow the anesthesia did not work and I was screaming with pain at that time. The right knee surgery there was too much anesthesia I could not get my consciousness, even after 8 hours. My doctor was screaming. Nobody will listen. But somehow came out of it. (Laughs)

Seema: You are a fighter (laughs).

Shanta: Fighter. Different type. Not normal marriage. Not normal childhood. No school. No college. I had a desire to go to college. Still I am thinking sometime, maybe I should sign (for) some course and go there. But these days, I do not make any commitment. Health wise I am not very confident that I can manage, if I signed up that I want to teach music, I want to teach Hindi classes or Sanskrit shlokas - I don't want to make any commitment, maybe that day I feel good or not. Sometime I have so much pain I cannot sleep. Sometime I don't feel like getting out. That's why now I don't make any commitment. Each moment I live. Each moment. But I don't have any regrets in my life. No regrets. Whatever I could do I did.

Seema: And you did achieve a lot. Even though you say you didn't go to school, you did earn your masters and you did attempt to -

Shanta: I didn't have professional type of job like working for a bank. Don't have anything to tell. The school I was teaching in for 20 years, the school doesn't have a name. There is no school there now. Nothing. I cannot say which college I went to. So nothing is visible but I did a lot.
(Even today buildings are there, farms are there, but the people who own them do not live there. Most of them have sold the land, or have moved to Kiccha – comment added by Shanta)

Seema: But your students are there.

Shanta: Ya, my students are there. They are my property. That's my earnings. My students are there. Still when they talk to me or send me messages, I feel I have done something. That's why nothing visible, but it is something.

Seema: That is an achievement. And your daughter now also lives in New Jersey now?

Shanta: My daughter is also in New Jersey. Seven and a half years ago she got married. We found a very nice Hindu boy. He is from Tamilnadu and she is happy. She has two children. Six year old Savir and three year old Sanaya. She is very full of life. My daughter. She always supports me and gives me encouragement me to do something. “Mom, you are not old that way. Don't say that.” So she comes. Bring the children twice a week. Or whenever she needs me. Now she wants that I should enjoy my life. If I want to go to India she buys me a business class ticket rather than economy. She said, “No. You should enjoy. You have a lot of money. I don't want your money. You should enjoy.” She thinks about my comfort a lot.

Seema: That is wonderful.

Shanta: Ya. Wonderful. She is a wonderful person. Full of energy. Full of life. Like her father. May be she got brains from her daddy and nature from me. (Laughter)

Seema: (Laughs) Well, you have achieved a lot, I would say. You have masters degrees and you have done many interesting things. I am just curious how did you decide to do your Masters in Sanskrit?

Shanta: When I was nine - ten years old I used to say, “Daddy I want to become a doctor, so I can treat people whoever has pain.” But there was no way I could study science. So I went with Arts. And the punditji who started this school, he was the (Bhatia Cooperative) President's (Ram Chandar Shastri) father. Old man. Very, very knowledgeable. But there were not many books to study or show it to me. He was a Sanskrit scholar type. Everything memorable. When I was studying from him, 7th or 8th grade, Sanskrit was necessary in UP. He taught me so much of Sanskrit grammar, Vyakaran. He said, “Shanta, after today on, even though you want to pass the test of Shastri or MA Sanskrit, your roots of Vyakaran, the grammar (are) so strong, so strong that you will never forget, and you can pick up any Sanskrit book and you will remember. Only thing is you have to prepare the text.” My grammar was so strong at that time. Still I can say that nobody can beat me in Sanskrit. Even 7th and 8th grade I was studying from him. This was a benefit because I was a sick child and I wanted to learn. That punditji gave all his knowledge to me.

Seema: Right.

Shanta: That was the main thing so if I know the grammar of any language. Big strength.

Seema: Right.

Shanta: Only thing is I just got the books. Sanskrit books. MA books. These type of books and study them. But my roots were so strong in Sanskrit. Still my colleagues who are in Sanskrit still they ask me sometime. What is the meaning of this thing? Makes me feel good though I am not in touch with Sanskrit. One thing this was bad for me. My knowledge was in Sanskrit and Hindi, at that time there was no Sanskrit or Hindi all over America. Not a single University. These days many Universities have the programs but not at that time in '75 or ‘80s.

Seema: Right. So what is the big change that you see between the time you came and today in the USA?

Shanta: Now USA become familiar (Laughter) When I came to this country I did not know anything, really. Did not know anything. I learnt English. I learnt driving. I learnt how to speak with people. I was very shy at that time because I didn't have confidence of speaking in English. In India, I could write hundreds of pages on any subject, there won't be any grammatical mistake, but in speaking, I didn't have the habit of speaking English. So I was very shy in speaking. Now I think I know. It's a big difference. I have accepted that where I was born, that's not my country any more. My country, it has gone to Pakistan. While I was raised in India, now I am US citizen. I am not Indian anymore, and in this country it has been 43 years now. I am used to this now. I love this country. My vows are to this country now. My loyalty is to this country now. Whatever I can do I will try my best to do, something for this country also.

Seema: Right. Thank you so much. This is inspirational. I am glad you shared your story with me and hopefully we continue talking more, and if you have any more thoughts that you would like to add, you know, definitely, we will meet again and continue. Thank you again for sharing your story. Very inspirational. Thank you.

Shanta: Thank you.

PROVENANCE
Collection: Your Legacy Project Materials
Donor: Seema Moondra
Item History: 2020-03-17 (created); 2023-04-05 (modified)

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