13 Aug 2018

Long distance love: Migrating from India to New Zealand reunites school sweethearts

From Here Now, 7:00 am on 13 August 2018

Sara Vui-Talitu meets a migrant couple who have turned their long distance love affair into a new life in New Zealand.

Ishita and Zorran relaxing at home on the couch with their daughter Kaya.

Ishita and Zorran at home with their daughter Kaya. Photo: RNZ

Ishita Maheshwari Mendonsa migrated to New Zealand six years ago for love.

She is one of thousands of people from India who every year make the big leap to leave behind everything they know.

"In some ways, I am still settling down. I'm still trying to come to terms with feeling completely rooted here, but I am happy here," she said.

In the 12 months to June, 3622 women left India for New Zealand. Roughly double that number of men moved here too. The majority are in their 20s - a good age for marriage.

Arranged marriages are common in India and easier now thanks to the internet. But Ishita’s love story is more of a “high school sweetheart” one, although the internet certainly played a big part in it.

She was born in Mumbai - India's biggest city - and is one of two siblings of parents from inter-ethnic backgrounds.

Her parent's union was for love too, as different ethnicities marrying was not common back then. Regardless, she grew up happy, in a life of privilege complete with servants.

Ishita met Zorran Mendosa at high school on his last day of school. He was a senior, she a junior.

While it was not love at first sight for Ishita, it was for Zorran.

"Yeah, I thought she was kind of cute and bubbly. She was a prefect and I was on the other end of the spectrum back then, always getting into trouble."

They struck up a platonic friendship, before Zorran's family moved to New Zealand in his late teens.

They only intended to be here temporarily, en route to Australia where his mother's family lived. But they loved Aotearoa so much, they settled here.

As a musician who loved western pop, Zorran felt at home in West Auckland.

"I wasn't part of the cool music crowd in India as I loved pop music and songs in English," he said.

The pair stayed in touch online and their love was a slow burner.

But then the distance got too great and they broke up.

"I won't lie," said Ishita. "We had our fair share of ups and downs but then somehow we made it work."

When the couple did get back together, they made a four-year plan and set in place some ground rules in the interim such as not going too long without chatting online, and regular trips to see one another.

By this stage, Ishita had left India for the United States to study. While there, she grew into an independent woman who could now do her own domestic chores, while juggling several jobs to pay the bills.

America is a strange place to discover your Indian identity, but that’s what happened for Ishita.

"No one actually asked me what my ethnicity was there and I realised people just saw me as Indian rather than Bengali or someone from Bombay."

In the meantime, Zorran focused on his job and music business in Auckland. They visited each other when they could but saying goodbye each time at the airport was hard.

"Man, it was the worst,” he said. "It was like the hardest thing, having to part."

The four-year plan blew out to six years but luckily, absence did make their hearts grow fonder.

So Ishita proposed; they got engaged and over six months, planned a wedding with the support of family and friends.

Ishita and Zorran laughing during their Hindu wedding ceremony.

Ishita and Zorran during their Hindu wedding ceremony. Photo: Supplied

Their wedding took seven days, with three ceremonies - one Hindi, one Catholic and finally a registry office, all on the same day. The couple were exhausted by the end of it all.

"Our wedding was international and also inter-religious; that was quite complicated and when you get married, you marry according to ethnic traditions that we ended up doing from both sides of the family," said Ishita.

"Well for me, it was my first Indian wedding," said Zorran with a laugh. "All the weddings I had been to up until then had been church ones as [my family is] Catholic."

After marrying, Ishita moved to New Zealand to be with Zorran. Their three-year-old daughter Kaya now completes their family circle.

It took Ishita a while to adjust, but she now agrees with Zorran that it is the little things about Aotearoa that mean the most.

"Kaya is amazing and we are so lucky that she gets to have the kind of life she has here without the pressures of living life in India as it is hard."

Thousands of migrants come here for a better life, good education and work opportunities - but not Ishita.

"My two loves are here," she said. "My heart is here, my home is here and I feel very much like I am now growing those roots."