Dreaming of the skies

Updated: 13 September, 2020 08:06 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

Tajinder Kumar, a Ludhiana boy, talks of how he graduated from being a mechanical fitter to a Royal Australian Air Force flying officer in 20 years

Tajinder Kumar is soon to become a commissioned officer at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Pic/ CPL Dan Pinhorn
Tajinder Kumar is soon to become a commissioned officer at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Pic/ CPL Dan Pinhorn

People say money can't buy happiness. I disagree. My father worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, and half-a-day on Sundays. He still struggled to put food on the table for his three kids. Money would have definitely added happiness to our childhood," says 38-year-old Tajinder Kumar, as he reminisces about his childhood in Ludhiana. Born in a small hamlet close to Jamalpur village, Kumar dreamt big. He wanted to become a mechanical engineer. But, every single time, poverty came in the way. "When he was in Class VIII, my brother had to quit school to support the family. I, being the youngest, was allowed to continue my education at a government school. Summers were excruciatingly hot and winters too cold. There were no desks or tables. I would carry a sheet along to sit on," he remembers vividly.

And so, when his family could not make even Rs 10 for his monthly school fee, Kumar took up a part-time job at a local PCO booth. "My mother and I would chase buffalo herders to collect dung laid spattered on the streets. We would then sell about 100 to 200 of these to make Rs 20. That is how I managed to complete Class X."

Om Prakash, his father, wanted to put a stop to his schooling. "'We cannot afford the fees,' he had said. But I took up another odd job, where I made Rs 1,000 per month and eventually persuaded him to let me finish Class XII."

Kumar then enrolled himself for a diploma course in the Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Ludhiana. After the two-year certificate course, he worked as a mechanical fitter for a year. "My salary was meagre, and I knew it wasn't enough to sustain our family. This was when a manufacturing firm from Dubai came to ITI to hire technicians. After a few rounds of interview, I got selected and flew to Dubai in August 2003."

Tajinder Kumar with his brother Harish Kumar and mother Bimla Devi at their Ludhiana home; (left) with his parents Bimla Devi and Om Prakash in Australia
Tajinder Kumar with his brother Harish Kumar and mother Bimla Devi at their Ludhiana home

He was paid 800 Dirham (Rs 10,000) per month, which he says was more than what his friends, working as technicians in India, were earning. After completing three years there, a friend told Kumar that he was eligible to work in Australia. "I had to take the IELTS test, but my education had so far been in Punjabi. We had one subject in English in school, which I barely cleared. I knew I was not going to make it."

After having failed the first attempt, Kumar began watching English TV shows and movies. "I taught myself the language, and finally cleared all the immigration procedures." But, this cost him all his savings, up to 5,000 Australian dollars. A close friend then offered him 1,000 dollars for his flight ticket and accommodation in Australia.

"I had come so close to fulfilling my dream of earning and living better. I could not give up. With no job in hand, I left Dubai and moved to Australia in search of a new life," he shares, adding that the green in the country left him stunned.

Every morning, he would set out to apply for jobs. He would walk into offices and leave his resume. "The second half of the day was dedicated to finding jobs online. The Australian government provides computers and printers for immigrants to find jobs. I also cleaned a lot of floors and toilets to sustain myself." Weeks passed with no sign of being hired anywhere. By this time, Kumar started skipping breakfast and lunch and could only afford dinner. Just when he was down to his last few dollars, he chanced upon an advertisement of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). "It changed the course of my life. Initially, I went to apply for the job of a mechanical fitter, but they said the position would open up in two years. So, I applied to become an avionics technician instead."

Tajinder Kumar with his parents Bimla Devi and Om Prakash in Australia
Tajinder Kumar with his parents Bimla Devi and Om Prakash in Australia

In March 2010, Kumar received a letter stating he had been accepted. Soon, he found himself undergoing military training for three months. "Almost a year-and-a-half later, I was posted in Sydney, where I fixed an actual aircraft—C130 J Hercules," he says, beaming. "My parents never went to school, so they don't quite understand my struggle or why I did what I did. But they never cease to be happy in my happiness." Kumar completed a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of New South Wales this year, and is currently undergoing officer training. He is soon to become a commissioned officer at RAAF. Now that he accomplished his goal, does he have a new dream?

"Oh, yes. I really want to work in the defence arena. I will keep at it. If I journeyed from being a toilet cleaner to a flying officer, I think I can make this happen, too."

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First Published: 13 September, 2020 07:40 IST

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