I had the amazing good fortune (and great parents) to do my A-levels abroad – in the UK to be more precise. My folks were living in Dubai, and I, an absolutely clueless, brainless teenager, was studying there on my own. It was initially terrifying, but turned out to be 2 of the happiest years of my life. Without exaggeration.
My college was in a dinky little town called Scunthorpe, with a mostly local population. The entire migrant population consisted of international students at my college. The other students had grown up together, and thus went through school and then college in their established cliques. It was then fairly natural for the aliens (international students) to bond. And bond we did. Aside: At one point our group consisted of: several Omanis, a Qatari, two Sudanese, a Filipino, several Chinese – both Mandarin and Cantonese – , a Spaniard, and a Turkish dude. Oh and me, the Indian, shockingly the minority.
Apart from the Spanish girl and the Turkish dude, we came from conservative regions and thus we unused to the whole “student worker” concept. However, our other classmates all had jobs. OK, maybe not all, but the vast majority certainly.
My then best friend decided to jump on the bandwagon as well. For some extra pocket money to blow on clothes and the like. And she got a job at an Indian restaurant in town called Indian Ocean.
It had a signboard depicting a mermaid, clutching a pearl, and reclining suggestively in an oyster shell. It was a smidge above shady, with red velvet upholstery, and a blue carpet. There were brass lanterns lighting the tables, adding to the slightly dog-eared look, but possibly intended to lend atmosphere.
One fine day, she took me along as well. She worked there three nights a week, and she hardly had any time to hang out anymore. It was then we had an epiphany: I should work there too!
This decision wasn’t prompted by a great entrepreneurial spirit nor because of an impetus to learn. Not even with the thought of earning some pocket money to spend at TopShop. (OK, Claire’s.) The pay was minimum wage (or less, I think) and we were meant to work eight hours a day. So the lucre obviously wasn’t the attraction either. Working with my pal was the big draw.
I met the owner, a nice, older Bangladeshi man with a red beard. He was happy to have me work there, because I was enthusiastic and the only actual Indian in a restaurant owned and managed by Bangladeshis. And of course the cheap labour was awesome too.
I was thrilled, and leapt into action. My ‘training’ lasted about half an hour, most of which was spent learning how to pull pints without filling the glass with just foam. My friend balked at the thought of serving alcohol, because she was Muslim. I, being Hindu, had no such qualms.
It was very exciting; my very first job! My friend and I stumbled out exhausted by the end of it, but it was magnificent fun.
It lasted a few weeks. I realised very much in retrospect that there was only one rather glaring problem. I was 15, and wasn’t legally allowed to drink alcohol, let alone sell it.