As my train rushes away from London the buildings slowly turn into trees, back gardens become longer, wider and my fellow passengers on the train are noticeable more relaxed than those in the centre of town. Walton-on-Thames bears many of the trademarks of a Surrey suburb. A lovely place to buy your first home or bring up a family I imagine, which is why it is unusual for my next candidate for the Twenty Something Project to be living here. She is young, single and living in a suburb. But on closer inspection this is because she is close to her family and her work, two of the driving forces in her life.
Growing up in another home county suburb in Hampshire, Sukh and her Sikh family are used to being an unusual presence in an otherwise uniform town. Being one of three girls has meant a close bond between the sisters as they grew up, along with a tight family network and regular visits to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) her culture is deep rooted. She talks of her mother telling the sisters Sikh stories throughout their childhood and having close relationships with her cousins. School was very different to home but she remembers always being happy and not letting prejudices bring her down. “Even though I had a close group of friends I did experience a little bit of racism and unnecessary comments but it never really affected me.” She knew that it was ignorance rather than hatred and describes her childhood as being very happy.
Her parents are Punjabi born farmers, coming from small villages in Northern India. In terms of caste system coming from farming stock held a high status, certainly when Sukh’s parents were living in India nearly thirty years ago. Her father migrating to this country when he was twelve had the fortune to be moving with his family. Ten years later however her mother came to the UK all on her own to wed Sukh’s Dad her chosen partner at the mere age of nineteen. “I completely admire her and her strength as she comes across as a shy timid lady when actually she’s got some serious steal!”, Sukh’s extremely proud of her mother. Cultural differences are difficult enough but to move to another country not being able to speak the language very well, with no friends or family around you is a brave move for a girl of only nineteen. After having their three daughters Sukh’s parents moved away from Slough to the suburb of Yateley to make a happy family home, “it’s always sunny there, well that’s how I think of it anyway”.
Although Sukh has always been aware of racial differences it was never something that bothered her growing up. She remembers that her and her sisters were the only non-white pupils in their school until they went to secondary school but even then there were only a handful of other children who weren’t white. “I’ve always been really comfortable to talk about my culture and had really good friends who made me feel like I could be myself, so I’ve never hidden it. Coming from a small town school all the teachers really encouraged me to tell other people about it, it’s a real testament to where I’m from really.” Sukh has a confidence about her that has surely come from being singled out as being different. She has taken strength from her family’s influences, turning something that could so easily have become negative into something positive.
After finishing university Sukh wasn’t satisfied with following Sikh tradition and settling down with an appropriate husband, like many women in her family have done. “When I think if I could take on someone elses family and all those expectations, the answer is, no thanks!” Her independence is something she is fiercely protective over, her life is often a juggling act between family expectations and demands of a busy social schedule. Still having a group of close friends from her school days, adding university buddies and work colleagues to the mix there is a lot of people to spend time with and to stay in touch. “Whenever I’ve needed any of my friends they’ve always been there, especially when it counts”. One thing about Sukh is obvious; she really loves her friends and family. Making certain decisions to be more independent haven’t come about easily and she has had more pressure on her shoulders than the average Twenty Something. Living out, as Sukh puts it, is frowned upon by certain people in her culture and to some it’s not spoken about. “My parents wouldn’t be going out of their way to tell people I live on my own”.
As a child Sukh loved being on stage, she used to enjoy going to dancing classes, singing and dreamed of one day being a performer. “As I’ve grown older though I don’t appreciate all the materialism and the fake side of it, I couldn’t be in that industry now”. For the last four years she has been working as a Consultative Sales Manager at an IT company, her life is slightly more buttoned up than her childhood dreams. “The thing I like about my job is that it’s varied, I’m able to account manage, have influence in marketing, understand products and how to sell them”, over the last four years she has become business savvy. However having recently completed a make-up course she also runs a side business which she is ready to throw buckets of energy into. “Dancing and singing was my creative side when I was younger, now make-up is my passion. The glamour has always been attractive to me.” Working alongside her sister, who specialises in hair, she works on photo shoots and events like weddings. “Glamour is quite a big part of my culture with all the weddings, you grow up going to events and making a massive effort to look a certain way.” Unsure of whether she will pursue a career in make-up or stay with the corporate world, at the moment she is happy with the variety of her life. She works hard in the office and is just enjoying the make-up work at the moment, “I don’t feel like I’m working I just love it, the creative side and working with the photographer to create an ideal shoot is very exciting”.
Sukh is at a time in her life where she has decided to take a step back and just enjoy herself. Having a good job and a stable flat share with her close friend Sheri, she is able to spend time going out with friends, having regular holidays and enjoying her social time. “I hate people taking themselves too seriously” Whether it being watching stand-up comedy acts like Russell Peters or joking with friends, culture is there to be spoken and laughed about, Sukh believing it unites everyone. Her family are laid back and are quite similar to her in that sense. Even though her decision to live independently and not consider marriage yet has been a hurdle, her parents are proud of her. She doesn’t right off marrying eventually, but insists it will have to be on her own terms. “I’m quite independent and don’t want to ever be reliant on anyone else, even my husband.” She still has many of the same beliefs as her family, when she does start a family she is sure that she’ll bring her children up much like she was.
“Even though it’s not the norm in my culture, I feel quite content in the person I’ve become and my beliefs”. Not worrying anymore about fitting in with her peers or her family, like she did when she was a bit younger, is something that has been a challenge to overcome. “My achievements come from within. It’s about being content with your life. At the moment I feel like I’ve been on a journey in my twenties and feel quite proud of the person I’ve become”. Whether Sukh ends up becoming high powered business woman or a make-up artist working job to job is yet to be seen but one thing is clear, she’s going to do it her way.