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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
'I fell into an excellent trap'

BBC News Online readers have been telling us their experiences as migrants - why they left, what they like about their new countries and what they miss from the place they left behind.

Ratnabali Day Sengupta enjoys life in the US, but is still looking forward to returning to her native India after she retires.

Ratnabali Day Sengupta with her daughter Bhavna in Rajasthan
Ratna wants her children to learn about India
I was born in the eastern state of Bihar, India, during a severe cyclone. I was told later that it was an indication of the type of person arriving.

My mother was a school teacher who came to India after her birth place the state of East Bengal was declared to be another country, East Pakistan.

She was always sad when she mentioned her childhood days and felt that she had left an organ behind when she was forced to move.

My father was an engineer and worked at a thermal power station. He used to read to me about the Soviet space expeditions and told me about the first woman in space.

I went to a local convent school for my elementary education and then to a prestigious boarding school in Santiniketan.

I missed my little sister and the familiarity of my early childhood days, but I loved my new school and the unconventionality of the open air classes.

After a brief stint at Calcutta University I went back to Santiniketan to major in Physics.

I met my husband while I was in graduate school - we married a few years later and had a daughter.

Both of us wanted to pursue higher studies and it was difficult to do it from the suburban college my husband was teaching in. So we came to the US.

Excellent trap

For a year, I felt very homesick and frustrated, trying to adjust to the, "do it all yourself", lifestyle that I wasn't used to.

My children are much older now and I feel guilty of depriving them of their close relatives and a rich heritage.
No maid was bringing me my tea, no cook asking me how I wanted my favourite dishes cooked, no "dhobi" washing my clothes, or the "ayah" holding my baby while I took a long shower.

But soon I was surprised to discover that I could do it all by myself and also attend college at the same time.

My son was born while I was completing a degree in computer science. After working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) I joined a company working for Nasa.

My initial plan had been to get some degrees and work experience and then go back to India. But I fell into an excellent trap.

Guilty feeling

After I started working on the Hubble Space Telescope project I felt I would never find a more exciting job anywhere else.

With astronaut Mike Foale
With astronaut Mike Foale
It was so rewarding to watch Mike Foale the British-American astronaut replace the old computer with the new advanced computer our group had worked on.

I have acquired another masters degree in technical management while working full time and have moved on to another exciting project - the James Webb Space Telescope, that will travel more than a million miles away from earth to send us pictures from the early days of our universe.

My children are much older now and I feel guilty of depriving them of their close relatives and a rich heritage.

We visit different parts of India so my children can experience the richness and diversity of a very old culture that they miss here very much.

My children are bilingual and they tease me about my Anglo-Indian accent, which I acquired in my early childhood days in the convent!

Indian plans

I am a permanent resident in the US and I am still an Indian citizen.

I got the best US can offer, the university education and the space programme.

I love both countries as a child would love a biological parent and an adoptive one.

But I become selfish when I think about life in the US after retirement. The elderly folks in this country are very isolated and lonely - it is very different in a close-knit society like India.

But the main reason I want to go back to India after an early retirement is I feel I owe a lot to my motherland.

My best friend, who is a doctor, and I have plans to start schools and health centres in the state we spent our childhood.

I have been a very fortunate person who was free to travel and settle like the migratory birds.

Unlike my mother who did not have any say as a child when India was divided, or the Dalai Lama who is forced to live in exile, or the indigenous people that are displaced when dams are built.

Migration is by choice - but displacement is forced on some humans where freedom is not a choice.

Your comments:

Reading the story of Ratnabali brought back lots of memories. My husband and I lived in America for some 11 years. It was never an easy choice to come back and settle in India. But I can happily say now that life in India is much more exciting than it was 20 years back. Settling abroad is always a courageous act and often proves to be beneficial to the immigrant. Like Ratna I can also say that my stay in America has enriched my mind in many ways. I feel I am a different person and perhaps a more interesting one than I was earlier. I wish all the best to Ratnabali and her family.
Suparna Chattarji, India

I was very happy to read Ratnabali's story, a person who depended on others for her daily chores becoming self-sufficient and confident. She found herself in US and is contributing what she is capable of. I wish her all the best and hope that she will be back home after retirement and do what she wants to.
KP Sengupta, Calcutta, India


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