Just as an historical context, most of my ancestors travelled from North of India (Rajasthan and UP) under the indentured labour system to work on cotton and sugar cane plantations in Fiji in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
My paternal grandfather from Punjab was in the British Indian Army and chose not to return to India after WW2. He joined the Fiji Police Force.
My parents were born in Fiji and spoke fluent Fijian and Hindi. Only my dad had gone back to India to show my grandfather his village and reconnect with his family six years before my grandfather passed away.
The rest of the family in Fiji only knew of India through Bollywood movies, and from stories shared by grandparents.
I was born on the smaller Island of Fiji where, while I was privileged to grow up in an authentic Pacifica surrounding, I was raised in a rather conservative style, so of course no sleepovers, parties and very restricted TV. Not even riding bikes, only boys were allowed that. But I was allowed further studies and to that I owe my life to. The social and cultural paradigm in my family started shifting when I joined university.
Our New Zealand journey began when Ajay and I, with our 18-month old daughter, moved here in 2002. For a couple of years, my exploring brain was on high, but I wasn’t joining many networks because of our little one.
On a lucky 2007 day, scrolling through internet, I came across the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
I was gelling with everything I was reading. It didn’t take long to put in my application to the Young Leaders Network, as the network was called then. That was my first proper network, and it wasn’t the mum’s network from my daughter’s school or the social club at my work. This was a global network!! I felt very proud and privileged.
Not long after I joined, I was invited to represent the network at a reception at the Governor General’s residence. “From a small village in Fiji to New Zealand Governor General’s event”, I reflected.
That same year, I represented the network at our offshore forum in Singapore. My first actual experience of Asia. I was so close to the land of my forebears.
I started growing with the Network.
Since 2007, I have been lucky to use Foundation grants and support to organise an arts workshop called Di-fusion, for primary and intermediate students in Wellington region and various youth leadership events for Wellington Hindi School students.
And, most recently, I launched Kōrero/Kuch Baatein - a series of think-tank sessions on culturally sensitive social issues in diaspora communities.
The Network has given me opportunity to mentor a few Young Enterprise Trust business challenges and be a conversation partner to 10 senior government officials from Southeast Asia over the last 4 years.
It’s because of this NZELTO programme that Ajay and I visited Laos, Vietnam and Thailand recently.
I’m more connected with Asia now, and have been to India twice, the first time was tracing my roots, which I found, and the second time we took our children to educate them of their ancestry.
I’ve attended many network hui, Asia After Five events, spoke at one of these, and have represented the network at events like Suffrage Day.
I’ve had opportunities to contribute to the network strategy refresh, mentoring programme and organising of offshore events.
I have also referred many people to the network, including our award-winning journalist Jehan Casinader.
In terms of the network’s Leadership Pathway, I have led, learned, contributed and connected.
My leadership skills progressed from emerging, to growing, to leading over the 12 years I’ve been a member.
In these 12 years, Ajay and I have raised our three children (one’s off to university next year!), we’ve worked full-time, travelled a lot, and I managed to fit in a master’s as well. Plus, we have huge extended family commitments. To all you young and new members, anything is possible!!
There’s so much this platform has to offer. Learn from it and grow with it. We as network alumni will be around for support. And I hope to see some of you co-lead and speak at next year’s Kōrero/Kuch Baatein events.
To the Asia New Zealand Foundation staff, management, trustees and Leadership Network Advisory Board, your mahi is so important in shaping the relationship between Asia and New Zealand.
Kia waimarie, haere pai, E haere rā!