When Saroj Kapadne graduated with an undergraduate degree in food technology, the young graduate was almost immediately due to get married. Although she found a good job in research and development, Kapadne’s relatives soon began pressuring her father to find a suitable husband for his daughter.
“I knew I wasn’t ready for this. I was scared so I told my dad I wanted to do a masters. It was really just to avoid the marriage situation, I didn’t want to get married .
Born and raised in the countryside near Jalgaon, a town in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, Kapadne lived in a traditional community where the birth of a boy was celebrated, but the birth of a girl was often frowned upon. She remembers her paternal grandmother refusing to speak to her mother for three months after her younger sister was born.
“Today things are better, they are really encouraging girls’ education. But growing up, I saw girls being treated that way in my family. There has always been this barrier in society. But my parents were different, they supported me and let us play sports, really do anything.
Girls who played sports and worked out at night were often judged by the local community, Kapadne says. “You were seen wandering around late at night and it was frowned upon. Even then I knew that was not how life should be.
Unlike most other families, Kapadne’s parents met through a “love match,” not an arranged marriage. “My grandparents never accepted them like they accepted our aunts and uncles. I guess that’s why my dad was a little different. But at the same time, he is very caste-oriented and believes in his religion.
When marriage questions started after Kapadne graduated, she began to investigate study abroad options. She discussed her plans with her father but he did not take her seriously. “He thought it was just a whim, that I would get over it. But I went ahead and took the IELTS English course without telling my family and applied for a masters at UCC in Cork and a university in New Zealand. ”
Kapadne had always dreamed of living in New Zealand, but also knew that Ireland had a strong dairy industry, an area in which she wanted to develop her expertise. She was offered places at both universities, but only UCC included a scholarship.
At first, when she revealed her plans to her parents, Kapadne’s father refused to sign her loan approval. Eventually, he agreed but made his daughter promise that she would return to India as soon as she finished her master’s degree.
Kapdne left his home in September 2019, boarding a flight for the first time in his life. She spent her first nights in Cork in a shared dormitory in Sheila’s hostel downtown. “I had never shared a room with anyone in my life and suddenly I was sharing with eight complete strangers from different countries. And I was the only girl, all the others were boys. I was excited and scared and clumsy.
After a few days, Kapadne moved to digs with an Irishwoman in Glanmire. She immediately fell in love with the UCC campus and enjoyed her studies. “It took me a while to understand the Cork accent,” she admits. “I needed people to repeat what they were saying a second or third time. I was afraid they would think I didn’t understand English. But no matter how many times I asked, people were always friendly and kind.
In March 2020, Kapadne resigned from her part-time job at McDonald’s in preparation for an internship she had been offered with a major confectionery company in Cork as part of her degree. But then Covid hit. “I had left McDonald’s, then the internship was cancelled. It was a really difficult time for me. My dad told me not to worry and tried to convince me to go home and do the rest of my project online. I was so stressed, I really didn’t know what to do next. Should I just accept my reality and settle into an arranged marriage? But I didn’t want to give up so soon.
Three months into the pandemic, Kapadne finally found work at a cafe to fund the final months of her studies. She knew her parents were expecting her to return to India in September, but did not feel ready to leave.
Kapadne’s father, however, disagreed with her decision to stay. “He said I had reached the age to settle down and get married. And I wouldn’t blame him for that, he lives in this society. I said, ‘Give me three years to myself.’ He was upset but he also understood me.
After completing her Masters thesis, Kapadne got a job with Keohane Seafoods in Bantry and moved to West Cork in November 2020. She immediately fell in love with the town but struggled at first make friends in such a quiet place. “It was also tough because of the Covid and then it was Christmas, there was nobody around. But I had a great team at Keohane’s who were all girls – they were amazing with me.
Kapadne also loved the independence and security she felt as a woman. “I loved the feeling that no one was judging me, I could just do my own thing.”
Kapadne still lives in Bantry and now works as a product development technician at Glenilen Farm. She loves her job and says West Cork has become her second home. She recently traveled to India for her youngest sister’s wedding and found it difficult to leave her family and friends behind. But then she remembered the life she had built abroad.
“To be honest, it made me proud. Of course, it’s my friends’ choice to go for an arranged marriage and I respect that. But I wouldn’t want to have to ask my husband for money. for shopping is not for me. Now I can spend my own money on whatever I want without asking anyone.
Kapadne still misses India but would like to stay in Ireland long term. “Every time I get in my car and drive along Crookhaven Road and see these houses I think this is going to be my retirement home. I’m just going to open my window, see the seaside and enjoy the sunset while having a coffee in my bed.
“India is beautiful in its own way, every country has its pros and cons. India prepared me for tough times, but Ireland helped me grow as a human being.