My parents lived in Nigeria from 1979 to 1982. Those were memorable years for them. My mother, Shantha, wrote her memories and my son and I translated it from Kannada to English.
In 1979, Indian Railways got a contract to maintain the Nigerian Railway network. We were in Delhi at that time. My husband was deputed to Lagos, Nigeria, as Controller of Stores. About four hundred Railway employees went to Africa. The Officers were given independent houses in the Railway campus. They took take their families along. However, our eldest son, Shyam, was studying at IIT Bombay and our daughter, Lakshmi, joined Wilson College in the same city. Our youngest son, Ravi, went to school in Puttur. He lived with my parents. Our children visited Nigeria during their summer vacations. The other staff were given hostel accommodation. The Railway colony was large. We got an independent house. In the beginning we shared it with another family. There was an outhouse in the compound. Two local families lived there. They assisted me in household work. I found that Nigerian women were very strong and capable. This was brought home to me in a very strange manner. On one occasion a Nigerian lady who assisted us, gave birth in the garden without assistance. They were very hardworking and we used to see them working in the markets too. I remember there were many breadfruit trees in the colony but Nigerians did not use raw breadfruit. In South India we use them to make various dishes. We were amazed to discover that a great variety of Indian saris were available in Lagos. This was because of the Indian community there.
There were many Indian business people in Nigeria. Once they invited Swami Chinmayananda (Hindu spiritual leader and teacher) to give lectures on The Gita. My husband attended the lectures. At one point he told Swamiji that he had attended his lectures on The Gita in Delhi. Swamiji replied, “It is not enough if you learn The Gita. You must share your knowledge with others.” So my husband started weekly Gita classes in the hostel. These classes took place on Sundays and were well attended.
We stayed in Nigeria for three years and during that period we were able to see different parts of the world. During one vacation my husband sent Shyam with a local boy to Northern Nigeria. In May 1980 we planned a trip to Europe. This was possible because my husband got railway passes to travel on the continent. Lakshmi came to Nigeria from Bombay. The three of us flew to Rome and Ravi came over to Rome directly from India. He was studying in seventh class. For nearly a month we travelled through Europe from South to North via Vienna. We were able to attend a musical concert at the Royal Albert hall in London. By the end of the concert Ravi was probably dozing. At the climax of the concert the musicians suddenly struck a loud note which brought Ravi leaping out of his chair. I still remember this. During Shyam’s vacations he came over to Nigeria. My husband was able to procure a ticket to tour America in forty five days. This was at a very reasonable rate. However the condition was that he could not exceed forty five days. Even a day extra would have meant paying a lot of money. Accordingly he left for the States. His father imposed a condition : he should write to them on a regular basis. We knew a young New Yorker called Jim. He had stayed for three months in Bombay at my brother-in-law’s. He had come to India on a Rotary Exchange programme in 1974. A few years later Jim and his friends, John and Lee, drove all the way from England to India and toured the sub-continent in their LandRover. They stayed for a few days with us in Delhi. It is something to be amazed about that this friendship has lasted to this day. My grandson, Aravind, visited New York in April 2014. Jim took him around Brooklyn. My grandson found Jim a kindred spirit. Aravind tells me that Jim remembers all of us with great affection. Jim helped our son to see the country.
At the same time that we were in Nigeria, my husband’s elder brother and his wife were in Liberia. The four of us decided to make a trip to the States. We planned a month long trip and got together in New York. We stayed with Jim and Nancy in New York state. With Jim’s help we planned a round trip taking care not to pass through the same place twice. This helped us save a lot of money. We visited many places and I still remember our stay with John and his family. They owned a ranch and reared cattle. John’s mother had a sari which he had got for her from India. She did not know how to wear it. My sister-in-law and I showed her how to wear it. She was very happy. We also visited Lee and stayed with him and his wife. He took us to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona. My sister-in-law’s two brothers lived in America and they too showed us around. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
We were in Nigeria till June 1982. Sometime in 1981, my husband had official work in London. I accompanied him. A memory fresh in my mind is a bus tour I took round London. My husband saw me into the coach and left on his work. We assumed it was a half-day tour. But at lunch time I discovered to my horror that it was a full day tour. I told the guide that my husband would be waiting for me and would be alarmed if I did not turn up at the expected time. She was very understanding and put me in a cab. Fortunately I had a card with the address of the hotel we were staying in. When I reached the hotel I found my husband had gone searching for me to the pickup point. At the reception desk of the hotel I was informed that my husband had gone to the bus stop looking for me. I went after him and we both met midway. It was a good moment.
The three years in Nigeria were very good for us. It was the first time that we had travelled out of our country. This job was financially rewarding. It enabled us to see the world and also purchase our house in Puttur, India. I remember my husband wanting to call it ‘Nigeria’ but happily we named it ‘Shrila’ after our children’s names.My father helped to find this house and we were very happy in it.