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From India to Dún Laoghaire: ‘I’m happy here...I don’t like busy cities’

New to the Parish: Rahul Mahajan came to Ireland from India in 2015

Coming from a family steeped in retailing and shopkeeping, it’s no accident that Rahul Mahajan took over the shop emblazoned Dun Leary’s Last Corner Shop. In autumn 2021, after 35 years, John Hyland retired from running the tiny, packed newsagents spilling out on to the street on the corner of George’s Street Upper and Clarinda Park West in Dún Laoghaire. The long-standing institution has continued under a familiar eye, that of Rahul Mahajan, who had been working for Hyland for a few years.

From Jammu city in Jammu and Kashmir near the Indian border, Mahajan’s father had shops where Rahul worked after a commerce degree. It was almost an accident that he came to Ireland at all, having originally planned to move to Australia where his brother lives. “I was feeling very bored in India. I was thinking, what should I do? It’s very hard to get a job in India.”

After working with his father, Mahajan, with three partners, bought a government contract for the market, where vegetable and fruit trucks pay a fee to enter. “I used to work 365 days continuously, no days off, no breaks, 12-hour shifts. It’s a very busy time over there!” After making a profit he opted out after a year. Visiting his brother for a long holiday on the Gold Coast, he enjoyed the weather and the good life and saw opportunities to make decent money. He wanted to do a masters in Australia but just missed the required score in International English Language Testing System (IELTS). A visa agent suggested Ireland, where Mahajan had a good friend from Jammu.

He came to Ireland aged 25 in October 2015 on a student visa, did a six-month course in English and went on to study international business management at Griffith College. His father paid €13,000 for college fees, and he brought €5,000 with him. He needed to work as well, and “I came in here randomly” inquiring about jobs. After a four-hour trial on Christmas Day 2015, he started part-time in early 2016 after finishing classes at 2.30pm. He wasn’t interested in “working in the companies” and all along wanted his own business. “I’m business-minded. From my childhood, my dad, my whole family, my cousins, are doing business over there and my dream was to do something. I was just waiting, waiting, waiting. I worked hard and saved a lot of money.

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“One day I got a call from John. He said, I’m gonna close down. I said John, I can do this shop. He decided yeah, I think you can, because you have experience in here and you know the people, and you have a good support. John gave me help as well and my wife, she’s good with the language and all the paperwork.” John Hyland and another friend in business helped him to set up and make connections with wholesalers. “I had no experience about anything, the till, shopfitters. I got a loan from the bank and from my parents, and I have savings. I started on the 19th of October, 2021, in the Corner Shop, step by step. I’m still learning.”

‘I know by face all the people, I forget the names sometimes. I’m happy. I like to talk with people. Locals, they know me. I know them as well. People come to buy paper, and go to coffee shop and read’

That was a few days before his wife’s delivery day, when he spent the whole day in the hospital, with Hyland looking after the shop. He’s given a lot of advice. “He knows everyone, has experience. I teach all my staff you have to be nice. We care.”

He worked 17- or 18-hour days for six months, “opening and closing myself”, with Hyland covering while he went to the cash-and-carry. “I lost weight, 10kg. Then I got some staff. Then we had the baby and bought a house” near the sea in Co Wicklow in July 2023. “It’s hard to get a mortgage.”

The shop is very well known, and Mahajan talks about “all nice people who come in. I know by face all the people, I forget the names sometimes. I’m happy. I like to talk with people. Locals, they know me. I know them as well. People come to buy paper, and go to coffee shop and read.” It’s open late and occasionally there’s trouble. “I say just leave the shop. In summertime kids come and steal sweets and chocolate and run away. The guards, under 18 they can’t do anything.”

His culture is one of hard work, and he’s ambitious. “I like to work, make money, you understand. I don’t waste my time, do the parties and drinks and go out in the nightlife. I go couple of times but not every weekend. I don’t waste my money. I just save, save, save.” It doesn’t leave much time for hobbies. As a child he played cricket and did judo, karate and skating, “but not as an adult. It’s a very hard life in India. You have to study. You need school and college for the good job, good life. Otherwise, if you’re not educated people in India say you’re the worst man in the world.”

It was in the shop that he met his now wife Shalini Shivam. Originally from Bihar eastern India, she was studying data analytics in UCD, and “she came looking for a job as well!” There weren’t vacancies, but Rahul suggested other places nearby. “We started meeting and chatting, then dating.”

When she finished her master’s she worked in IT in Kerry for two years and they travelled to spend weekends together, then she moved to a job in Dublin. Theirs was what Mahajan describes as a “love marriage then arranged marriage”. When they decided to marry, they told their parents. While the young couple were in Dublin, “her parents went to my town, a long journey for two days, to meet my parents in Jammu” and they talked about the couple and their marriage. Both are middle-class, educated families. Their wedding in June 2018 was in Delhi, handy for both families, in a marriage hall, conducted by a Hindu priest.

He has “no complaints” about Irish people. “Some people are rude, they say, like, oh, you’re Paki? I just ignore. I’m not a person who likes a fight or argument and give a response to anyone, just ignore. The nice people appreciate you’re doing good, you’re a hard worker. John taught me, listen to nice people, who teach you, who give you good ideas.”

‘The Government helps here for kids or schooling but in India they don’t help like this. Parents have to pay every single thing. If a child is doing the bachelor or master’s they can’t work, because there’s no money, there’s no per-hour jobs in India’

He is planning to open another, specialist shop nearby soon. These days he works five days and his free time is spent with his 2½-year-old daughter. “My staff and our childminder, they are really nice, like family. She’s a local. She says, ‘I’m your mother’.”

He hadn’t taken a holiday in four years before a trip to New York last week. He’s not homesick. “I feel like I live at home. I’ve been in India two times, in 2017 and 2018, and I felt like I’m a tourist. I say to my wife, I like home now.”

Culturally there are differences. “The Government helps here for kids or schooling but in India they don’t help like this. Parents have to pay every single thing. If a child is doing the bachelor or master’s they can’t work, because there’s no money, there’s no per-hour jobs in India. Here you work six hours a day, you make €60 , but in India you work six or seven days.”

His father died of a heart attack while his wife was pregnant, they were moving house, and Covid was peaking in India. “I was so upset at that time and I booked a flight. But my mum said, she’s pregnant. We lost one person but I don’t want to lose anything else. And after two days India locked down and there were no flights. Mum said, you will be stuck if you come.”

Though his sister and brother both live in Australia now, his original plan to move there is no more. “I’m not gonna go anywhere. I’m happy here. I like it, a nice place I have in Ireland. I don’t like busy cities.”

After his student visa, he got a work permit, then permanent stamp four. He and Shalini have both applied for Irish citizenship, which requires them to give up Indian citizenship, though they retain OCI overseas cards, allowing them to travel there without a visa. “An Irish passport will be handy for anywhere in the world. I still will be Indian.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com or tweet @newtotheparish

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