My name is Sheila Prachand.

"At that time, I used to wear saris. And the thing was, I couldn't say, it was not that I had a I had a cultural barrier to you know, how do I change, you know, but also felt that I had come with all my saris and I just didn't feel like I should I change my wardrobe completely."

Nagpur, India

Chicago, Illinois


Chicago, Illinois



I didn't know anybody. So all I did was they had the Yellow Pages. So I opened the Yellow Pages. That was the only place I knew that I could find, I was interested in research. So I said, if I apply, go call somebody, I will get some leads. So I called the University of Chicago. And I said, I'm really interested in research. And biochemistry would be the way to start. I had some education in India. So based on that, I was thinking that it would be easy to at least that was my naive idea that I would just sort of, join and get everything going, you know, just to know that the protocol is followed over here. So I picked up some number, I don't remember who it was from the University of Chicago, and I called him, I said that I'm interested in working in research, and I did notice that you are doing some work. So I would like to work for you. He said, “Young lady, I'm glad that you want to come and work over here. But there is a certain protocol that you need to follow. So what you have to do is to call the personnel department, and we don't hire directly, it has to go to the personnel department. And then they will tell you more.” I said, “Thank you so much.” And then I called the personnel department. They said, “Okay, where do you want to, which area do you want to find the job in?” And I said then “Microbiology and genetics, something to do with that.” So she really said, “Okay, come on Monday.” And I had been here just for about two weeks, I think, first week I called I had to get used to the timing, first of all, so I called them the sixth day, I called the University of Chicago. And then the next week, they said come to the to the University. And, of course, I didn't know the way around, so my husband came with me. And then they said, “We'll have a sort of a placement test for you.” I said, now, I learned in India, we didn't have any labs or such, you know, just very crude labs. I did. I studied over there, got a master's there. But we didn't have any genetic lab experience [laughs]. So especially in microbiology, so I went to the public library. And I got a book on microbiology. And I sat during the weekend reading it like a novel the book from A to Z in microbiology so that I could get something, answer some questions for my placement in the microbiology lab. I don't know, I was so naive at that time. So anyway, I said, anyway, I'm looking for a job. So I'm going over there. So I went.

My husband came with me, we had to take the buses. And it was a long way off. We lived 5600 north, Chicago, and then it was 5700, South Chicago. So there was a big thing, two trains plus a bus to get to the point where I was going to find a job. And then went over there, it was a small office on the second floor. And just a few people, it was an older building, really ancient just like a university, and what think about you know, in terms of older buildings. And so I walked up over there and they said, “Okay, so here's your test.” And I had to fill in some forms. And so I said, now they're going to ask me all about microbiology. And it was just a simple testing type to see what I knew, whether I could think correctly, matching numbers and stuff like that [laughs]. That was no problem. So right after that, “Okay, you're ready, we'll take you to the micro [lab].” So they gave the directions and then my husband was with me that time. So, we went over, I went to the microbiology lab walked over there.

And then, I was, I just wanted to be in research that was all that I was interested in all my life. So, I went over there and this person was very nice. He said, “Well, when can you come?” [laughs]. I said, he said, “First of all these are these are the things that we do in the lab.” So I was very outstanding, very forthcoming and I told him, I said that I learnt a lot of theoretical work but I have there I do not have much practical experience. I've done something in plant physiology, but not in this. I've learned these things in theory. He said, “Young lady, if you can use a - pick up a pipette” you know in India pipette. You can pick up a pipette because. Pronunciation is a slightly different “If you can pick up a pipette, I can teach you anything.” And I was nervous because everything was so new and I didn't have any practical experience. But here, he said, “I'm ready to teach you anything.” You don't find many people who are ready to do it. He was a, I think it was an instructor or the Assistant Professor in Microbiology, so he knew what he was going to be hiring, you know, who he was going to hire. But he was ready to give me the chance. So he said, “When can you come?” I said, “I need a few days to adjust.” And so he said, “Come to the lab” at that time. So my husband was looking at me, I said, “Yeah”, I said, Okay, so I came back, we came back home all the way from the, from the South to the North. And I told them that I would take the job.

At that time, I used to wear saris. And the thing was, I couldn't say, it was not that I had a I had a cultural barrier too you know, how do I change, you know, but also felt that I had come with all my saris and I just didn't feel like I should I change my wardrobe completely, that was my thinking at that time that I should just change just because I'm here today, they hired me in spite of all my Indian background, so I can keep on giving my Indian background, keeping my Indian background. So I worked with the sari and I used to work with it and so, every morning after the week, I started the job. He told me, he taught me many things about the sterile techniques in the lab, I got, he said, “These are the sterile bottles.” And this is a lab where he did bacterial cultures, and genetic type of studies. And he was ready to experiment teaching me all the techniques that needed to be used in the experiment. And I just liked the subject. So that's how I learned.

And there were two students over there. They could not understand my English, one was from, from New York. And the other two, they were three, two students plus one summer helper, student helper. So this student helper was the one who was spending time with me, so I was supposed to teach her as I was learning from my boss. She couldn't understand my accent. Because I thought - actually she felt that I was talking too fast. And I thought that her New York accent was very nasal. And so I think the first two to three weeks, I think we just spent time saying, “Pardon me, pardon me, pardon me,” she would ask me to repeat. And I did it. And then finally we got used to it.

So and that was the year that we had the first snow in Chicago - 27 inches. And I didn't look outside, I didn't have the snow boots, I was just wearing those shoes, reached the lab about one o'clock in the afternoon and the snow, the day and then later on, they called, the city called saying that three o'clock, they said that we are closed. And I had to take the bus to meet at the public library, my husband would come there from his workplace, and then we would take the train together back to Chicago. And that day, the bus, I mean, the library was closed because of the snow. And so my husband and I, we went round and round the building, trying to find each other, you know, so we could find there was only one train that was running, the buses were all stopped. And so finally he thought he should stay in one place. And then finally I would be able to reach him because remember, there were no cell phones, no phone. So it was difficult. And finally I got eight o'clock or nine o'clock at night, between eight and nine, we found each other. And then the train was running. So we finally reached at 10 o'clock. And then my boss called me saying - so these are the memories that I have. And he called me about 10:30 pm “Sheila, are you home.” I said “Yeah,” he said, “Don't come tomorrow.” I said, “I'm not going to come even if you had asked me to.” [laughs]

And then after that there was the next two days, think the day yeah, then the next day I didn't go but then after that there was a there's always a drop in temperature. So it was below freezing. So I was on my way. Again, as usual, my husband and I used to take the bus and then I would take the bus and then the train. So it was a long process and that was minus 10 minus 12 degrees and the bus did not come - I practically froze outside. So my husband said “You're not going to work.” I was so cold, I think about half an hour or so, I was just shaking and shaking, we took a cab, back home, and hot coffee, and finally, I got warmed up. And that was an experience to remember those two things. And then I slowly eased into it but that was what it was almost spectacular memory that I have.

Well, my Indian community, there wasn't much but my husband had a few bachelor friends, he stayed in a studio apartment in a different part. And then because he was there, he came from Champaign, he studied in Champaign. And because he was there, all few of the bachelors got together, and they would come and visit him from Champaign. And then when they knew that he was there, the word passed around so there were a few others were working, they found a place in the same building. So finally, my husband had a few friends so he was the only bachelor, the first bachelor to get married. So after I landed here the night I found out there was a present for us, the wedding present, it was a blender. And then later his friend called us, friends, they were two or three of them, they called us by any means Bhabi Ji [sister-in-law] you said that “You're here now, we haven't had any Indian food for so many years, as we're studying or working as there are no Indian restaurant. So we want to come for lunch.” Now I have done, I used to cook at home, I used to help with my sister and I've even managing but to be on your own do things it's completely different type of feeling when you're setting it up yourself. I said “Okay,” I had not met any of them so to say we're coming to see you because they hadn't seen me and then you're going to come and eat because we want to be really hungry for Indian food. So I said I’ll cook whatever I can. And so that's how I got cooked I had a book with me, I opened the book and looked at some Indian recipes.

A cook book?

Cook book, Marathi, the cook book that I had at home. I just want that my dad has got it from Mumbai, from Bombay, Mumbai many years ago. So I thought I should have at least some book with me. So that was the book that I had. So I looked up. I knew some basic thing but not when somebody is coming you know you want to cook something a little bit more elaborate and they say we want Marathi food. So it was good. And then one of them got married a bit later, his wife was American and he said “Bhabi Ji, you need to make 100 laddus for me.” I never made laddus in my life. And then he said, “I want you to make laddus.” I said “But I haven't made any,” he said “No you can make it.” So I said “Alright.” Then I looked up that book that's what I'm saying the book was really handy and [laughs] but it was difficult I said “But I don't have anything to store in,” he said “We will find a box,” so we went to the store, he went to the store and he got a big potato chip box from Lays, you know potato chips.

I still have that box with me, I love it very much from that - those days. So how do we make the laddu? You need a cream of wheat, that is rava, and so you need besan and we didn't have the basen, so Indian chickpea flour, so I had to use the rava that was here and we sat the first day and we finished up the box of potato chips because we need an empty box to put the laddus in and I said no matter how they come, we are going to have these, luckily, it worked out okay and so we had the hundred Laddus for all his friends and for the wedding. So that was my first experience cook - making those Laddus for the wedding.