A new book by Swindon resident Tulsi Patel tells her story but told through the eyes of a young Hindu girl growing up in a segregated area outside Johannesburg during the Apartheid era. It describes many autobiographical events including the terrifying experience of being held at gun-point.
The Immigrant: Stargazer is unusually told in the second person narrative, casting the reader as the main character in the story by using ‘you’ as the way to engage them.
“I wanted to write the book in a different way and bring the reader as close as possible my experiences,” said Tulsi, who left South Africa in 2000 and wrote the book during her travels in 2009.
“I was in Switzerland, working for bed and board in a hotel, with access to a computer and only 90 Swiss francs (about £45) to last me for three months.
“The book is about my own evolution and about what makes a person leave their home country."
Tulsi’s decision was made at the age of 20 after a serious incident in a money transfer office when it was raided by a gun totting robber. She said it was the last straw as the difficulties of post-Apartheid South Africa crowded in, where she felt threatened by fear of violence and rape.
But leaving to discover the world beyond cultural taboos, social status and the traditional cultural framework she grew up in had been in her thoughts for some time.
“As a girl, and an Indian, I always had to fight for everything I wanted," said Tulsi. "When I left the country at the age of 21, not everyone supported my idea to go after my dream.
“I wanted to live freely and not to be brainwashed into an arranged marriage and living the life others thought I should live.
“I looked at the life of my mother and my sister and I knew I wanted something bigger than that.”
Tulsi had saved up enough money to pay for a temporary work permit in the UK. With a diploma in hotel operations she worked in a hotel in Marlborough, but found it difficult working with two white South Africans who treated her as if they were in their home country in pre-Aparteid days. "It was really bad so I came to Swindon with my CV and became the manager of the Western Union office in Commercial Union until my work permit ran out."
Over the last 10 years she has returned to South Africa twice but left quite quickly, first to work on cruise ships in the Caribbean, then to learn languages in Spain and travel around Europe. Now proficient in Spanish, French, some German, as well as English, Hindi and Gujarati, Tulsi has settled in Swindon with a Spanish partner and is working in a call centre.
Her Stargazer story ends in 1999, but Tulsi has the sequel almost ready to bring her story up to the present day. She said: “It will help people of conservative cultures, which have a lot of taboos and not a lot of open communication within families.”