Dubai: She was forced to leave home at the age of eight and grow up with beggars, ragpickers, “prostitutes and orphans”.
Yet Caroline Monteiro is not bitter about her past. “There’s so much goodness around us,” she says.
Having just released her 171-page autobiography, From the Streets of Mumbai to Dubai, the 50-year-old Indian expatriate is flush with anecdotes.
On the streets
Born into a Muslim family in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, Monteiro, then known as Nusrat, said she was sent to her aunt’s home in Mumbai when she was eight so she could attend school and get a persistent eye problem treated.
“But I ended up helping my aunt with her tailoring and doing odd jobs. One day, when I used money I had collected to buy myself some food, I was beaten. So I ran away and took a bus to its last stop. I found myself on the streets of Bhendi Bazaar in the dead of night. I was crying bitterly when an old beggar woman tried to calm me down.”
But the comfort was short-lived as she was soon left to fend for herself.
A ragpicker then approached her. “He said he would take me to his house, which in reality was the pavement. He almost raped me but when I screamed my heart out, he let me go and I was saved.”
Monteiro’s next tryst with destiny was at a brothel. “The ragpicker took me there. I had no idea what the place was was about. To my good luck though, the lady in charge had a two-year-old daughter and my only task was to look after her. So I remained oblivious to what was happening around me.”
She stayed at the brothel for a few months, but escaped when the older girls urged her to leave the place. “I decided to take their advice when my employer once hit me for something I did not do,” she says.
Indian expat Caroline Monteiro with her husband and two daughters. Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
She subsequently moved into a local family’s community home. “They took me in and gave me a lot of love. But they also reported me to the police as I was very young. The police then led me to an orphanage. I stayed there and was enrolled into a school. I performed very well.”
In 1981, a Mumbai couple adopted her and she continued her studies till grade 10. But the couple was unable to support her college education. Monteiro then took up a beauty course and started working in a salon.
“That’s how I came to Dubai. I got a job in a beauty salon here in 1991. I worked for over two years but met with another trial when I wanted to quit and go back to Mumbai. My visa got cancelled but I found myself behind bars.
But again luck was on my side and I was released in a few hours and allowed to fly home.”
Monteiro received a proposal from her now-husband Kiran Monteiro at the airport on the same day. “I had met him at a friend’s birthday party, the only party I had attended in my life.”
Though she refused him at the time, she later agreed. They were married and she took the name Caroline. Today, they have two daughters, Angelina and Alisha, one studying in Canada and the other in the UK.
“I can’t thank the Almighty enough,” Monteiro says. “When I look back, there have been so many twists and turns like in the movies. People ask me whether my biological parents ever came looking for me.
When I look back, there have been so many twists and turns in my life like in the movies.”
- Caroline Monteiro | Indian expatriate
“I do not know what transpired after I left my aunt’s place. The orphanage I was in also put out a public notice about me based on the details I could give them. But there was no response. My efforts to get in touch with my family have been in vain.”
Does she ever wish her life was any different?
“No, I treasure every moment. I meet so many strangers but they are wonderful to me. There are good people everywhere. We have to keep the faith. I never give up in the face of adversity. I count my husband, children and years in the UAE as my biggest blessings,” Monteiro says.