I relish amala, eba and I like wearing ankara – President of India pressure group of Nigeria
The Indians in Diaspora are very much integrated into the Indian nation. The last Indian election few weeks ago confirmed this, as the frenzy was all over Indians back home and Indians in Diaspora. In Nigeria, the Indians gathered under the banner of Oversea Friends of Bhartiya Janta Party (OFBJP), a pressure group mobilising support for the Indian ruling party; they upheld and pushed for the re-election of Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Damodar Das Modi, who eventually won with a landslide. The President of the Nigerian chapter of OFBJP, Sanjay Srivastava, an ex- banker, had the honour of being officially invited by the government to witness the oath taking ceremony of the PM’s second term in office. He returned to share the joy of the moment with us, in this interview with PAUL UKPABIO. He also enthuses about life in Nigeria. Excerpts:
You have just returned from the ceremony in India, where Prime Minister Modi took oath of office for the second term. Why did Indians in Diaspora campaign for PM Modi with such vigour during the pre- election period?
First of all, we all feel the need to be connected with our country, no matter where we are. It is important that we know who we are. For instance, I am Sanjay, I’m an Indian. When you’re an Indian, you have to be different from the other people. It is natural to be different. So, being Indian means being involved in the things about India and things that affect Indians at home and in the Diaspora. We talk about these things; we talk about being Indians on the social network.
We read newspapers to know about the things that are going on in our country and we can’t help but be distressed about the bad things that atimes go on in India. As we are living in foreign countries, we ask ourselves in what best ways we can contribute to our motherland and when elections came, that brought about the opportunity. We decided we could do something on the social media; we could meet people, talk to ourselves, advise that they call their relations in India to share a common aspiration with us, to vote for our candidate, Prime Minister Modi, who eventually won with a landslide victory.
What endeared Indians in Nigeria to Prime Minister Modi particularly?
Our prime minister is very creative, very active, energetic and very much into performance. So, good governance as exemplified by PM Modi is known by all of us. Even few days ago, a popular newspaper in London rated him as one of the most influential leaders in the world. So, he has his kind in persons like Donald Trump and other world leaders. He is that kind of person who goes ahead to forge a way for the country and truly, he has done quite a lot for India, creating hope for people living in India and also creating hope for those of us living in foreign countries outside India. Even when we are living in Nigeria, outside our country, we still have some expectations from our government. We expect that we should have good roads, that electricity will be there, policies will be attended to promptly and so on. Since he became the PM, he has been performing very well over the years. He has actually been meeting our expectations and that’s why we like him.
During his second inauguration, you represented the Indians in Nigeria; tell us how was the feel of the second inauguration?
It was amazing; I was fortunate and humble to get the invitation to be in India for the oath taking ceremony. The invitation was from the PM himself, and they have protocols they follow before inviting people. I feel I was invited because we have been doing a good job promoting the government and not just our party alone, a government that has been doing well, building railways and giving a better education. The Indian population, which is about 1.2 billion is not a mean feat. So, the PM represents the entire population of India, and that is amazing.
It was indeed an opportunity for me to be there. I was sitting in the Government House itself, where the whole power of India is. It was beautiful; other leaders were there, presidents of neighbouring countries, the ministers, big, top business men who drive the Indian economy were all there. I was fortunate to meet many of them, shake hands and so on. It was a historical moment, and history was created in that place. I am still trilled and excited about it.
Now that the PM has been re-elected, what happens to your group? Will it be disbanded in Nigeria?
No, the group will continue, because it has many other things to do. When any minister is visiting from India, we are there. Our strength is to connect people to people, to grow friendship among Indians, to promote better relationship, bilateral trade between Nigeria and our country. There are many other positive activities that we do.
In Nigeria, what kind of work do you do presently?
Well, I am into training and consulting. I own my training firm. We are into corporate training and we also specialise in skill acquisition. I’ve been here for 12 years and I’ve discovered this is one of the important things required. Here, we have opportunities to transfer skills. We go to universities, and teach them too. It is not enough to have a good degree; it is better to have additional skills and these are the soft skills we transfer to people. We offer some free but some we charge.
Were you born and bred in Indian?
Oh yes, I was born and bred in India.
What attracted you to Nigeria? And have you met the expectation of coming here?
In India, I worked in a bank; then in the public sector unit, which was an engineering consulting company. India is very big and so, I was transferred from one place to another. At a point, I decided to apply to go abroad. I kept on applying until I got an opportunity to go to the Middle East. Going abroad means more learning and more exposure. Soon, a company took my interview asked if I could join in two weeks and I said okay. That was how I got employed in Nigeria. First, I worked in an automobile company, then in a telecommunication before I decided to go into a skill development company where I work with a group of people.
You said you have been in Nigeria for 12 years, have you been eating only Indian foods all these years?
Oh no, I eat Nigerian foods. I love eating amala, Eba, but I like peppersoup the most.
How about your family, are they in Nigeria?
My family is here. They are Indians. My daughter is studying where there are lots of Nigerians. So, she has lots of Nigerian friends, and they study together. My family has begun to learn lots of African languages and other languages.
That means that they are coping well with Nigerian culture?
Yes, definitely they are.
How about travels?
We do travels once in a year.
That will be to India. Is it only India that you travel to?
No, we travel to other places, even within Nigeria and outside Nigeria. We go to the United Kingdom too. We travel around other places in Europe, America, Australia and so on.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies include Yoga, meeting people, charity and youth mentoring. I’ve mentored quite a number of Nigerian youths and now they’re doing very well, doing big programmes and big activities. I go to Rotary meetings because I am also a Rotarian. I like meeting people and taking part in charity.
Today, we are meeting you at the venue of a Yoga event. Tell us more about it?
Prior to this day, Yoga has been practised in India for over 10,000 years. Few years ago when PM Modi came to power, he took it to a higher level. Yoga is a way of giving health and happiness to you, along with harmony and peace. It is a form of keeping oneself healthy through the ancient practices. The PM proposed Yoga to the United Nations to be adopted on 21st June, which is the longest day on the earth. So it is a significant day to give attention to yourself and your energies, which come from the sun. This day is, therefore, celebrated all around the world. Some nations supported it and it was passed in the United Nations. From there, he gave order to all Indians to organise Yoga activity on that day symbolically.
Is Yoga a religion?
Not at all, it’s a sport activity, a fitness activity or an exercise. In exercise, your breath and mind are not together but in Yoga, they are kept together; you are not listening to music or any other thing. You are focusing on yourself and on your mind.
What are the benefits of Yoga?
The benefits are numerous and they include healthy living. It heals different ailments and pains in the body. Only a Yoga guru can tell you what Yoga to do for what issues you have. For instance, you have a knee or back pain; it is a Yoga expert that can tell you which form of Yoga to do. Most importantly by doing Yoga, you are giving more to yourself to know yourself more and more.
When you moved to Nigeria newly, did you have any challenge regarding cultural differences?
No, not really. India is also highly diversified and where I came from, there are many tribes; some worship the sun, some the earth, some the trees and so on. And it is the same here. It’s just the mindsets are different; you have to give time to know and understand people. These things are also taught in Yoga, not to react but to learn, respect and give space to the people who are in front of you or people who you come in contact with.
Do you like it here?
Yes, I do. I am happy living in Nigeria. It is a very nice weather; the temperature is good and fine, between 25 and 38. By God’s grace, we live in Lagos and Lagos is by the sea, the weather is cool and calm. There’s greenery, sono wahala! Those things are good.
Do you wear African clothes, Nigerian natives?
Yes, I do. I love them and I have some of them in my wardrobe. I love to wear Ankara.
Have you been attending Nigerian parties?
Yes, I have. At least I have attended various marriage parties and I also go for cultural shows at universities. I’m mentoring youths and they keep inviting me to shows. Some time ago, I was with the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Hon. Lai Mohammed, at the Terracotta show in Victoria Island. It was nice. So, I make time to socialise with Nigerians.
Is there a healthy traffic between Indians in Nigeria and India and what is the population of Nigerians like in India?
There are thousands of Nigerian students studying in India, and I see and talk to them here and over there. Though once in a while, some biased people come to me with wrong impressions and I immediately correct them by telling them that some people are just naturally bad but not all people are bad. People go to India for cheap health care and education. The cost of getting healthcare in India is just about 10% of that of the U.S. The bottom line is when people go abroad, they should remember that they are representing their country. Whatever image they create there will affect the image of their country, so they should do well. But that does not mean that everybody from that country is bad.
Are there any special expectations from the Prime Minister in India for Indians in other countries?
We expect that this current tenure of his will be the one of fulfillment. Our expectations are that we want Indians to be able to aspire and do well in law, politics, science and all other spheres of human endeavours.
We all are human beings first, whether you’re an Indian, British, American or Nigerian. So, we all should give each other respect, and keep learning. We need to evolve ourselves and make a better society.
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