Of Love and Longing

Of Love and Longing
Indian migrant Dharmanand Sharma and his wife Soni share an intimate moment during a family picnic. Siem Reap, Cambodia. 2008. © Nishant Ratnakar

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India, the home of over one billion people is a third world economy. One of the problems of the third world is unemployment, and with one billion people having few job openings, it is natural for huge number of people migrating overseas in search of opportunities to make a living and earn a better life.

But migration comes with its own pros and cons. Some people attain success and some don’t. Some find themselves alienated in a different culture while others find acceptance. Some people can embrace change, making peace with self and the new-found land, where as others spend their lives struggling hard and yet longing for what they consider as their real home.

The brand Angkor and Cambodia opened up as a new market in the last decade of 20th century after years of violence. With tourism industry booming in Cambodia, the nation became a preferred choice for many people to head there for business. Lot of Indians too followed the suit. Among them was Dharmanand Sharma, an enterprising Indian chef from the foothills of Himalayas. Sharma had years of experience working in hotels of Mumbai, Delhi and The Middle East. Sharma was well aware of the growing popularity of Indian food. With the hope of getting into restaurant business he first entered Cambodia in 1997. In the last 12 years, Sharma’s fortunes went up and down many times but ultimately he was able to set-up a successful Indian restaurant named ‘New Delhi’ in Siem Reap.

It wasn’t just excellence in profession which Sharma found in a foreign land, he also found love. Sharma found a companion in Soni, a Khmer woman. Sharma, an Indian Hindu and Soni a Khmer Buddhist, are now man and wife with each retaining their cultural identities and yet at the same time embracing new ideas to raise their multicultural family with two children. Sharma and Soni together run the restaurant business.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are Indian salesmen who migrated from Gorakhpur and other rural areas of Uttar Pradesh province in northern India. Most of them have little education and were doing in low skilled jobs back in their hometowns. With limited opportunities back home, they followed one another to Siem Reap and other places in South East Asia in search of jobs that could give them better salary.

Back in India, a sales rep job was always looked down upon by their friends and family. In Cambodia, they really have no relatives to pass judgement on their vocation and are happy to earn a lot more than they would have earned in India. But their work involves travelling across Cambodia carrying garments, toys, mosquito nets, watches, small electronic goods other small items and trying to sell them at door steps of people’s home. Their families are all back in India and these salesmen have only themselves to keep company. Their work brings them money but not much happiness. They find their work extremely tiring and monotonous and are unable to find alternative to what they do. They have not been able to accept Cambodia completely.

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By Nishant Ratnakar

Nishant is a Bangalore, India based Wedding, Portrait & Editorial Photographer. He is available for assignments across India. He also conducts photography workshops and offers personal photography mentorship.