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"I'm not a very good migrant" - Author Roanna Gonsalves on redefining the status quo

Roanna Gonsalves - Author of 'The Permanent Resident' Source: Supplied

Indian-Australian Author Roanna Gonsalves explains "it's extremely hard as an immigrant to do anything creative," when the focus is on working hard and establishing yourself in a new country. It's lucky for readers then that she's "not a very good migrant!" as she launches her first book.

The debut book by Indian-Australian author Roanna Gonsalves, The Permanent Resident is being celebrated for holding a mirror up to the lives of the Indian migrant community in Australia. 

The collection of 16 stories revolves around their hopes and despairs of these migrants; and the ongoing quest to acquire the eponymous "permanent residence" in this country - an experience that the author herself knows all too well.

"It's all about my life and yet it's nothing about my life!" Gonsalves tells SBS. "I don't think my life has been as interesting as that of my characters."

Roanna herself came to Australia as an international student and struggled along the rocky road of waitressing and working at petrol stations but throughout that her passion for contributing to English literature in Australia remained resolute.  

"It was very hard because you need to actually survive. You don't have family here to support you," she explains. 

Roanna is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award. Her collection of stories is about the everyday life of Indian migrants - particularly the newly arrived migrants you often encounter serving you at low-paying jobs.

"You have to do the work that is available," Gonsalves says. "You don't have a choice."

"Your class changes actually," Gonsalves says, referencing the more defined class or caste system in India. "I have to say, I had a lot of privilege in India. So coming here, I worked in Indian restaurants as a waitress, I worked in a petrol station, I did door-to-door market research."

"Your class changes here. You have to do the work that is available."

The stories portray evocative incarnations of these people who consider themselves to be "outsiders," they speak of their unutterable grief, their frustrations, isolation, fears and anxieties and their ultimate triumphs.

Gonsalves says that she felt it was vital to tell the stories of her own migrant community. "We're not represented in Australian literature - we don't see ourselves - people like us," she says.

"And we're a growing community. And so I just thought 'why not write about people like us?'"

The stories also cleverly unveil the yawning chasm between the relationship of the old well settled Indian migrants and those who have arrived in the last decade.

The pretensions and airs and graces that some well settled migrants give themselves and their intense efforts in getting Aussiefied are underscored in stories like "Full Face".

The alarming incidents of Domestic Violence in the community find a sharp voice in "The Permanent Resident."

"Mainly they're about people who are scared," Gonsalves says. "The ground beneath the feet of these characters is very wobbly." 

"So it's about finding ways to cope." 

"It's extremely hard as an immigrant to do anything creative."

"I'm not a very good migrant in the sense I'm not really interested in a full time job so I can by a huge house with a huge backyard.

"I'm more interested in contributing to the culture."

"It's extremely hard as an immigrant to do anything creative - I'm not a very good migrant!"

In spite of that, Gonsalves is keen to point out, "it's very important to have a day job so you can write."

The advice she gives to other aspiring authors from her community is that, "It's very important to chronicle everything - to tell those stories and say 'we were here too!'"

"Don't give up - just keep writing."

No doubt Roanna will inspire other inspiring migrants to take a leaf from her book.

Listen to Roanna's full interview in (Hindi and English) with Kumud Merani on SBS Hindi below:

The Permanent Resident is now on sale via UWA Press

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