A close up of Indian woman in a peach coloured sariOn Archna Tandon’s 22 birthday in February 1990, she sat her final scholarship exam for her PhD in Biochemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology.

By the time she heard she’d passed at the end of March, she had met and married her husband Surinder Tandon through an arranged marriage and moved across the world to start a new life in Lincoln. “I never thought that it would happen so quickly,” Archna says with a smile.

Archna’s knowledge of New Zealand came from a book about the country Surinder gifted her. “I was reading the book during my few days of courtship. It was a thick book and my Mum teased me about it”.

Selwyn already felt like home when Archna arrived.“People talk about déjà vu, I experienced it, when I arrived in Lincoln and saw the Liffey Bridge on Edward Street. I told Surinder while driving over it, ‘I feel like I have been here’,” she said.

Not long after arriving in Lincoln, Archna was introduced to Surinder’s work colleagues at Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand and joined Lincoln International wives group, which helped her settle into the community. Surinder’s colleagues’ wives taught her how to bake in exchange for her Indian curries.

“It was a different way of cooking because in India I did a bit of baking, but it’s not a very normal thing, we just have it bought.”

The Lincoln International wives group met every month, each member wearing traditional clothing, and listened to speakers from local service providers and shared stories.

“For someone like me to come along, that was something new for them, a very different culture,” she says.

Thirty years ago there were few Indian people living in Canterbury, but this didn’t stop Archna from celebrating traditional Indian festivals.This included Karva Chauth in October when married Hindu women fast and pray from before sunrise till the moon rises. After a few years new friends joined in and today around 100 Hindu women in Canterbury gather at a temple for the festival.

In India the moon rises around 8pm in October. “We used to drive to New Brighton beach to see where the moon is and after a couple of years I looked in the paper and found out the moon rises around midnight – so at least we know now!”

In 1998, Surinder and Archna pioneered Canterbury’s Diwali festival and in 2004 they helped set up what has become the Selwyn CultureFest where various ethnic groups showcase their culture through music, dance, food, costumes and activities to celebrate Selwyn’s rich cultural diversity.

She worked for 20 years as a Chemist at University of Canterbury and decided to try something different two years ago, now employed as a Corrections Officer at Christchurch Women’s Prison.

Archna is involved with many groups including the Christchurch Multicultural Council, Canterbury Migrant centre, Christchurch Resettlement services, Shakti Ethnic Women group, and Canterbury Indian Women Group. She hosted a Hindi radio show for nearly 12 years and the Canterbury Cultures show for nearly three years on Plains FM 96.9. She was the first ethnic woman to become Justice of the Peace and registered marriage celebrant in Selwyn.

Archna is also the national president of the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Women’s Council, which helps migrant women settle into the country through wellbeing workshops.

Archna and Surinder have two children, born and raised in Lincoln. After 30 years she says she will never leave.

“We haven’t moved out of Lincoln, we have just moved three streets. It’s the place to be, it’s peaceful, it’s friendly and it just feels like home.”