Pablo Bartholomew in conversation with Mr. Ohri - Yuba City, California.
What is the change you've seen in the last, let's say, ten/fifteen years or twenty years let's say - from late '60s in this area with the various Indian communities?
Well, lot of guys came in, you know, after '49. And so we have big population now. And mostly they came from the farmer side. They are all farmers or working in the farms.
But apart from the population change have you seen a different sort of person or different sort of people coming? Earlier on, like you came, you know, as a student.
That's the only way you would come.
(But then when did it change?)
In '49 when India got independence, then they could come as a student or as a worker or any ... you know. Then after that a lot of guys came. Then when which President? I think ... then you could bring your families to come.
(That was after Johnson, I think.)
Johnson, yeah. So then the public doubled, tripled, you know.
(What is the population around here now?)
Somebody say around six thousand people.
(And how many people in the population do you know out of the six thousand?)
What do you mean how many? Not much now because I can't go much around - I am eighty-four years old.
(But most of the people who you know have died or ...?)
Some of them did but lots are still alive.
(Who are the other old-timers?)
There is one Balwant Singh Sidhu. He lives around here in Yuba City.
(What does he do? Farming again?)
He was a farmer but he's retired just like I am. He went in the army.
(He was in the American army?)
Uh huh. So you can get more knowledge from him. Anything else you want to know?
(Whose pictures are these that one sees on the television?)
That's mine, my wife and my nephew's girl - daughter.
(How old would she be now?)
(And they live where? They live in the Yuba area?)
Yeah, right here, about a mile from here.
(What does your nephew do?)
Oh, he works now with that company over there around ... Sugar, yeah.
(Do you find that now the people who are coming from India are more in the professional line and less in the farming line?)
They are getting less and less in farming life because the other jobs are more easier than farm work. So if somebody has education, he always finds a job.
(What made you not go into education and go into farming?)
Well, I wasn't much good in studies, you know. So ....
(And in your later years, which were your most prosperous years?)
After we got independence and then we could buy the land. Then later on it was ....
(How much land did you own? What was the largest amount of land that you owned?)
Well, this one - fifty-six acres.
(And what did you grow on it?)
Peaches. Just peaches.
(And there was good money in it?)
The only thing was money ... we couldn't buy land because we didn't have no money. The canneries were interested in peaches so they helped us to buy the land. Even they pay advance money, you know, down money. And then they deduct from our .... Well, I bought fifty-six acres for 65,000. The first year I got $96,000 back.
(Then the peach business was profitable for how long?)
Oh, in America it's ups and downs - couple years it will go up, couple years it will go down. It is now coming back again.
(You think it'll go up again because the last few years have been quite bad.)
Yeah, it's pretty good now - a fellow who works, he makes his good living. But if you don't work, and hire everybody to do your work, you won't make money. That's the way it is in peaches. In farming, anyway. If you just supervise, that won't help you.
(You have to actually go out and work there.)
Not work but watch, you know. Then you are profitable. You will get some profit. Otherwise no.
(Do you find that most of the Indians here, they look after and supervise and watch their farms well?)
Well, the guys who came here from India, you know, they are already in the farm business over there. So they bring their own relatives. So now their kids are educated and everything. They look for work, you know, easy ... farm is not a easy work. It's hard work. So they are educated now, they find a good job. They have got the ... jobs are available. Our days they were not available.
(How do you spend your days now that you are retired?)
Oh, just ....It's not bad. I just go town once a day we go fool around - buy grocery, this and that. Not bad. But when you can't walk, then it's hard.
(What would your normal day be like? What time would you get up in the morning?)
Oh, I get up around eight. And then I go around - you can't sit in the house, you know.
(Do you exercise or anything at this age now?)
Oh yeah! I have bicycle - in the morning in my bedroom I do it early in the morning when I get up because I get arthritis. So have to keep moving these limbs otherwise you get ....
(That photograph on the mantelpiece there with the white pugri, that black and white, up there ....)
Oh. That's my dad.
(You originally came from where Mr. Ohri? What part of ...?)
(East Punjab or West Punjab?)
East. There is two? West? East and West?
(Well, West Punjab is now Pakistan.)
Oh yeah. I never .... No, I'm from East Punjab.
Jalandhar. Mostly come from that who farm. Jalandhar, yeah.
(But you know, most of the emigres here have been Sikhs. So you are one of the few exceptions who are Hindu ...)
Yeah, that's right. You are right.
(Are there are other Hindu families here in Yuba County?)
Not too many. There is a couple more that I know of. Not too many because they were not farmer in India. So it was only farm work over here. So it doesn't pay, you know. If you don't know anything about farm it's very hard to make a living. So very few took that risk. And then you got to have some money. The farmer he has a land, he mortgages and come over here. After he makes some money, he send it back, get it. So that was more advantage to them than the other community.
(Now how do you see yourself? Are you happy to live in the U.S. or ...?)
Oh yeah, sure. I wouldn't go back. No way.
(Have you been back?)
Yeah. I went. Oh yeah. Long time ago though. I went couple times.
(Which year was the last year you went?)
Wife: Last time, he went '58 and I went about '78.
(Every time you've gone back to India, have you found difference?)
Oh yeah - than when we came from. Yeah, sure. It's overpopulated, you know. There's lot of .... It's very hard to travel over there.
(You don't have any desire to go back to just ...?)
(Just to look and see?)
No. It's worth ... nothing.
(You have lots of relatives there? You have any brothers, sisters?)
I have one brother and his family over there.
(What do they do? They are in Punjab?)
Yeah, he's in Punjab. He is a shop-keeper. He has a good business.
(But it must be quite hard for them now with all the trouble.)
No. It's certain area where there is trouble. It's not all over. No, our section is very good.
(But he lives in Jalandhar proper or?)
No. He lives in village - small town in round district.
(But he never had any desire to come, emigrate?)
(You never tried to ...?)
One - my brother came. He has a family over here. And the other one, he doesn't ... even try, you know. So he has one son. No, three sons. He had a good business over there.
(Well, when you came here in 1923, you could speak English?)
A little - not much though. Then we pick up.
(So you found intergrating into the American way of life easy? You never felt ...?)
Those days people were very nice. Now lot of ... more foreigners came and they are getting jealous with each other, you know.
(Did you find any personal jealousy?)
No, not those days when we came.
(But later on?)
Later on it did. You could ... you know.
(With what sort of people? Once you got into your peach business and the canneries ....)
Oh no, we were very good. Everybody around here was very nice. We didn't have no money. The canneries helped us buy the land. They paid the advance money. But that way I tell you, I bought for sixty-five, I got $95,000. So you were in money business those days.
(Now the canneries, are they as helpful?)
Oh no, no, no, no. They wouldn't advance any money. No, no.
(Because peaches are not in great demand any more.)
That's right. Those days I guess ... which war ... I think there was a war. Third war? Third World War? I think something like that. So there was a demand. So they would give you advance money, buy you the land, let you work because they know you work hard. So they buy you the land.
(So you have now completely integrated into the American way of life. What sort of food do you eat? You eat American food or do you like to eat ...?)
Oh, mostly .... I like Indian and American both. Noon time, yes (dal, roti). Evening time there will be meat - either steak or ..
(But that's all American style.)
(What about Indian food? How many times a week do you eat it still?)
Noon time it is mostly Indian food.
(Dal and roti, sabji.)
(Who cooks? Your wife would cook?)
Yes, she does.
(But do you cook fresh every day or do you cook like ...?)
No, every day.
(Do you keep something?)
No, no, no. She likes to, you know. But I don't like. I like to eat fresh. Even if I was bachelor, I always used to cook.
(At what age did you get married?)
I was forty-seven.
(So that was quite late.)
Late, yeah. Because before you could go to India then you couldn't come back. After '47 when India got independence then only time you could go back and come back.
(So you found your wife in India?)
No, in here San Francisco. I met her in San Francisco.
(Was it an arranged marriage?)
No, no. Somebody introduced that she wants to stay here, too, you know. So I was a citizen that time. So I thought it better than to go over there then settle here.
(Do you have any regrets that you may have lived your life differently or you would have done it differently from the time you came to America if you had a ... let's say if you were to be able to go back into your life again, would you have chosen not to farm and done something else? Or do you feel that what you have achieved or done now is the best way?)
No, no. The farming ... I don't mind farming. It's nice work. It's good work. If you make money in any business, it's ... you feel pretty good. So I was very successful in farming. And I didn't have no money. The guys who were working for the canneries, they bought me this land, you know. So I was very good.
(So you have no regrets as such? You feel that life has treated you very well and ....)
I think pretty good - fair.
(Now what do you think of the new younger generation? Do you have any children?)
(But when you see your friends' or other relatives' children living in America, do you find that it's a strain for them for any reason like, you know, they find it difficult to integrate into the American life or ...?)
No. The young kids they don't ... they integrate faster than we did.
(What were your problems, when you came, in integration?)
Those days were not as good as now, you know.
(In what way?)
Not hated like ... you know, those days there was hatred I guess. Now it's very good.
(When you say those days were hated meaning?)
I mean you were not ... you couldn't go many places those times, you know, the places you could go now.
(You mean in restaurants, in bars ....)
In bars ... something like that.
(Because there was what? Color segregation or ?)
Well, we were not as ... going, you know, to those things. But I felt that there was some kind of division. But not as bad as for the colored, you know. The blacks.
(Now with the sort of different politics that is cropping up in, you know, the Indian politics, it obviously effects ... like you being a Hindu in a Sikh/Punjabi majority area, do you find any sort of ...?)
Not here. Not here. No, they are all good friends. We are all good friends.
All photographs by Pablo Bartholomew.
For photo rights, please contact the agency, Gamma Liaison.
A Special Report exclusively from the INDIA50 NewsDesk