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Sunday, May 19, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

In the Hands of God

With $15 in his pocket, the desire to fulfill the American dream, and a strong religious faith, David Relan made the decision for his family to emigrate from India to America.

Twenty-five years ago, at the age of 47, Relan was prepared to take on whatever obstacles were thrown his way in order to create a new life for his family and help them end up where they are today – owning the jewelry store in The Commons, the Bollywood Bistro on UB's North Campus, and a restaurant in Niagara Falls.

Upon their arrival in America, Relan and his family were faced with many setbacks.

First, the $15 that they had was gone before they even left the airport. His wife, Veena, got sick and they needed to spare their only income on her medication.

Then, no one wanted to hire a 47-year-old immigrant from India, according to his daughter, Avreeta Sahail.

"I went for an interview to wash dishes [and] they asked me if I had experience dishwashing," Relan said. "I laughed. I said: ‘To wash dishes you need experience?'"

He got the job.

He washed dishes and took out garbage. He had no car, so he walked four miles back and forth to work another job at a gas station late at night. But that wasn't enough, so he distributed newspapers from door to door.

All for $2.37 an hour.

Struggling to pay the $280 rent for their two-bedroom apartment, his son David, Jr. – 17 years old at the time – and Veena were forced to work. David, Jr. was able to find a job at Burger King while Veena was struggling to get hired because she only had two years of high school under her belt. As just a housewife back in India, Veena felt like she couldn't do anything in America.

While this was happening, 12-year-old Sahail was starting middle school.

"It was a culture shock for me at the beginning – it was hard getting used to," Sahail said. "Now Buffalo is very diverse, but when I came in the '80s, people were not as used to other ethnic backgrounds."

Sahail did not feel accepted by her sixth-grade classmates.

"There was a popular girl [named Amy Paul]," Sahail said. "She was not exposed to people of a different ethnicity. She did not like me because I was a different skin color. I went to Amherst High School and there weren't many people with a different skin color. So she slapped me…and I did nothing."

She felt like the color of her skin was putting a wall between her and others, so Sahail decided to change her personality in attempt to belong. But once high school started and she began to mature, she realized that she no longer cared about impressing her classmates.

"It's not about being accepted, it's about being human and acting natural around others," Sahail said. "[Many immigrants think]: ‘I have a different skin color, I'm going to stand out.' No – just be yourself. When I started being myself and didn't act strange around others thinking, ‘Oh, I'm a different skin color,' things got easier."

As things improved for Sahail, they got easier for her family. Relan decided he was done jumping from job to job and opened a catering company. The company was a success, but the hours were long, and he and his wife needed more time to take care of their children.

"God helped us," Relan said. "We got a very good chance [from a friend] to open a store like a Walmart. We sold watches at the store, and from there, we prospered."

Fourteen years ago, he received an opportunity to expand that watch store and they brought it to UB. They began to sell watches, bracelets, necklaces, rings, and scarves to students walking through The Commons on campus. Then, four years ago, they received the chance to open the Bollywood Bistro in The Commons as well.

This, they believe, is what God had in mind for them. And to them, this was success.

Once they got passed the battle of making it to America and maintaining a solid business, they began to work together as a family, in the UB community, in order to flourish.

"I do a lot of beadwork [in the jewelry store] myself and I buy stuff from all over the world," Sahail said. "I get a lot of my beads from the U.S.; my sterling silver comes from Thailand, there's stuff from China and India too."

While Sahail runs the jewelry store during the daytime, Veena is in the kitchen of the Bistro each morning cooking, while David, Jr. and Relan switch off helping at both.

Five years ago, there was a new addition to the family. Sahail got married and her husband, Shahzad, joined the crew to help in the store and restaurant.

According to Shahzad, Sahail's patience is a major reason everyone has the ability to work well as one unit.

In addition to spending each day working together, the five share a home.

According to Sahail, after several years of irritation and getting on each other's nerves, the five have finally begun to give each other personal space and understand each other's work habits.

Sahail respects her parents, although, sometimes she feels they put too much pressure on her. When times become too stressful and she feels as if the burden is too much, she takes a step back. Sahail thinks about the struggles her family has faced, and that is her inspiration to continue.

"To this day [my parents] work so hard," Sahail said. "Who are they working so hard for? They don't need anything. My mom just officially retired [and] they both collect social security; they don't need to work so hard. If they can do so much for [me] why can't [I] do something back? I live at home. They don't take rent…they don't take anything from us. So we're a really close family."

The entire family believes their faith has brought them their fortune.

"I'm a born again Christian and so is my whole family," Sahail said. "I believe without God you can't do anything. I fully believe that you ask – and he may not give it to you right then and there, he [actually] may not give it to you at all – [but he listens and] he knows what's best for you."

Before Sahail and Shahzad got married, they spent four years apart because Shahzad could not get into America from his homeland, Pakistan. Sahail believes that God knew she was not ready to get married yet, and that is why the immigration process took so long. Furthermore, Sahail believes that every hurdle that she has had to leap over in the past has been God testing her faith. Even now, her faith is being tested.

"[My husband and I have] been trying to have children," Sahail said. "We've been married for five years and we've been trying for four. My faith is tested…sometimes I think: ‘you're never going to be a mom,' but deep down I know I'm going to be, even if it's through adoption."

The jewelry store and the bistro will not be Sahail's last stop in America. She hopes to get her teaching degree within the next year or so and work with children, which is her childhood dream.

When she visited India approximately nine years ago, the people of her homeland could tell that she was a foreigner to the country. Sahail's sense of self has been molded over the past 25 years so much that she considers herself to be more of an American than an Indian. Thus, she does not plan on returning to India permanently.

"[In America] we are taught to say ‘thank you' and ‘please,'" Sahail said. "When you're walking down the street, you smile at people even if you don't know them. People in India aren't like that because that's not their culture. You don't say ‘hi' to people walking down the street; you don't smile at them. The concept of ‘thank you' and ‘please' is foreign to them."

As for Relan and Veena, they will continue to work in the jewelry store and the bistro as they watch their daughter succeed and prosper.

"From here we will see where our destiny will take us," Relan said.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com


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