In essence, Indian

'I am completely at home here'

JÜrgen Wolf,

Managing Director,

Häfele South Asia

I shifted from the UK to India to work with Häfele in 2001, because the work, that of company building, was right up my street. I'd never lived in India before, only had Indians working for me in Dubai. But nothing prepares you for living in India! Apprehensions were not my thing, however, because as an adventurous person I'd already lived in other countries such as Iraq, Dubai, Singapore, Canada and the UK. (Originally, I'm from Germany)

There were both professional and private challenges. Initially, I didn't understand the market and it took me a year to wrap my head around how people do business here. Sixteen years ago, coming from a very structured environment, I felt a huge lack of professionalism, which was difficult to deal with. But then, it was under the guidance of my Indian colleagues that I learnt how the cookie crumbles here. So many years later, I am still the only non-Indian in the team, because I never felt the need to source anybody else from outside. My team here is more professional than ones in most countries.

In the personal space, I now have a family here with my wife, who is from the north-east of India. She's been the main catalyst for me staying back beyond my initial contract of five years. But the time that I felt truly accepted in India was when I got my PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI (Overseas Citizen) certificates in 2012. Before that, to have to renew my visa every year was like a dangle of the sword above my head — I knew I could be told, "You've been here long enough, now go back". This recognition made me accept India much more in return. Having grown up in Germany, it is still an anchor in my life, but it's not my home anymore. My family and my work, which form the centre of my life, are in India.

I've always enjoyed different aspects of the countries I've stayed in. In the case of India, the young demographic is very smart and willing to learn — the raw material you work with here is superb! I have also never experienced the kind of emotional warmth that I found in India.

The other day, I was walking around the town, probably the only white face within the radius, but I just didn't feel like a foreigner. I walk around Mumbai like it is my city, because this is where I am completely at home.

'I have acquired the Indian head wobble'

Gregory Kroitzsch,

Managing Director,

The Barking Deer

India happened to me nine years ago, when I'd just lost my banking job in New York due to recession. Since my wife is Indian, we moved to Mumbai in the hope of a better future. I started out working with an insurance company, but it was the idea of brewing craft beer and running my own business that excited me. So after four years of chasing after a license and other logistics, in 2013, I opened up the doors of The Barking Deer Brewpub & Restaurant. As it turned out, there was good market, and the reception was huge! Mumbai has been really accepting of my dreams, both professionally and personally. Work and pleasure has driven me to travel within India, especially to the mountains. Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir — or closer home, Matheran and Mahabaleshwar — are my usual getaways when the city gets overwhelming during festive seasons. But when it comes to setting up base, I would always pick Mumbai.

I love the accepting and adventurous nature of the people here, and the cosmopolitanism. In my time with them, I've acquired the head wobble that accompanies a 'yes' or 'no'! There are challenges, of course. Daily activities like shopping and parking are carried out differently here and sometimes I still can't figure out why some chargers won't fit into standard sockets! I also miss doing some quintessential American things, like reading the New York Times or watching my favourite football team play, but the spice India adds to my life is incomparable. I feel happy when I see my daughters, who study in America, equally at ease here. In time, I've realised that although the country of my origin will always be a part of me, home is here as well.

'I feel more Indian than some Indians'

Usha Devi, Resident Yoga Instructor, Omkarananda Ashram

For me, it was a six-month trip to India to learn more about leading a spiritual life, the Vedantas and philosophy, which turned into a life-long stay. Having read a lot about the country, I wanted to experience it and learn about its different cultures. I was probably 22 years old, when I hitched overland from Switzerland — first to Amritsar, then Rishikesh. In fact, I felt that I would end up staying longer than I had planned. Within the first six months in India, I met my husband Shri Prabhuji (Prabhupada Acharya Surya Prakash), married him, changed my name to one of his choice, and immersed myself in the Indian culture. I'm now 63 and it's almost 40 years since I've been living in India as a PIO (Person of Indian Origin). I've visited Switzerland only twice since then; the first time I went back was with my husband, when my son was 10 months old. We were there for about three years and then returned to India as my husband missed home. Living in India as a married woman rather than a tourist is different. It was difficult at first, but I involved myself in my music and studies among several other things, and got used to the Indian culture and people. I studied yoga with yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar, and today, I am a resident instructor at Omkarananda Ashram in the Himalayas in Rishikesh, where I have lived a disciplined life ever since. In addition to teaching yoga to students of 60 different nationalities, I also manage a pre-primary school with 250 children.

I had retained my Swiss passport so that travelling abroad with my husband (to teach) would be easier, but I feel more Indian than some Indians. Because of my skin colour, people think I'm a Westerner. But I speak Hindi, say my prayers, perform my pujas everyday, recite the Bhagavad Gita and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit, and eat simple vegetarian food. Life is different here, I'm happy and now I'm only waiting for my Overseas Citizen application to come through.

'If Mumbai is my city, Bandra is my home'

Jeff Goldberg,

Actor, Writer, Teacher and Director

A decade and more can make an Indian out of the most reluctant expat. There's no place quite like Mumbai. That's how much I identify with this city, and it seems to love me back.

Before coming to India, I didn't have any impression of the place. I'd read about it, but otherwise, I had a blank slate. Having lived in places as seasonal as Paris and New York, the weather was the most unusual thing to adapt to. But I didn't have a problem, in fact, I fell in love with the year-round sunshine and the Mumbai monsoon instantly.

Ten years ago, in my first week in the city, a police officer actually stopped traffic on Linking Road, right near Bandra station, so I could cross. Once I made it across the street, he shook my hand and said, "Welcome to India". This memory is very dear to me. This can't happen any place, but Mumbai.

If Mumbai is my city, then Bandra is my home. Hawkers, rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers, all know I live there. They see me running daily. So apart from the occasional question about which country I'm from, most people don't treat me like a foreigner. And on the rare occasions they do, I can tell it's never with a malicious intent, but out of genuine curiosity.

As someone who runs a business here, I admit that there can be a few challenges. But apart from being charged a few quid more than the auto/cab fare, I haven't been cheated in any way. Even when I've been overcharged, I know it has nothing to do with my being a foreigner. It can happen to anyone, you have to keep your eyes open. Most work partners end up becoming friends and are happy to work with me again.

I love Indian food. I was a huge fan of spicy food long before I came to India, so when I got here, it was like a match made in heaven. I can eat pretty much anything from street food to fine cuisine. But traditional Indian sweets are just not my thing.

On my current trip down the Ganges in Varanasi and onwards to the Himalayas, at every stop along the way, I never cease to wonder how diverse, rich and culturally invigorating this country is.

I am such a pukka Indian now that every time I go back to France/the US, it takes me a while to get used to the Western world. The weather is always a pain as I've grown to love the warmth here. But what has changed the most during my time here is my view of the world. Living in India has expanded my horizons and made me more tolerant of so many things. Everything and anything I'm today can be credited to this country. I feel this so strongly that people around me get to hear me say this all the time.

'It was daunting, and a leap in the dark'

David Housego, Chairman, Shades of India

The first time I came to India was between school and university. I travelled by train across Turkey, and hitch-hiked to Iran and down to Pakistan and India. It was a mind- boggling experience. I came to live in Delhi much later in 1989, as Financial Times' South Asia correspondent.

In 1994, my son, Kim, was kidnapped by militants in Kashmir while we were trekking in Pahalgam. Perhaps, anyone else in our shoes would have left India, but we stayed back.

Soon after Kim's release 17 days later, we went to a trauma clinic in the UK and the doctors there helped to put things in perspective. We felt we had come out of the experience strengthened. In 1993, I decided I'd had enough of journalism and decided to set up a business I had no experience of. At Financial Times, I'd done a huge survey of east Asia—Korea, Taiwan, etc. —and I saw how these countries by following the right policies had transformed their economics. India, on the other hand everyone believed, would always chug along at the Hindu rate of growth. I passionately believed they were wrong. And then came the 1991 reforms, which opened India and allowed foreigners to set up businesses. It was daunting, and a leap in the dark, but I've had several daunting experiences in India.

I'm not an Indian citizen, but am now married to an Indian and have a daughter who goes to school here. One of my sons from my first marriage studied Indian music. I think of this as my home.

'I am always well surrounded by friends'

Eva Laberibe, Owner,

Cafe des Arts and Jungle Café & Diner

I am from New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific Ocean, which is under French rule. We have very mixed genes. My mother, who is half French-half Indian, began visiting India to explore her roots and I followed her in 2004. But it was in 2008 that I took a year off my studies to visit Pondicherry, where my ancestors were from. It took me a year to realise I wanted to settle here and open an art gallery. To support the gallery, I also set up a cafe—Café des Arts, which became a popular local hangout. I ran the gallery for four years, travelling the country to meet artists from Santiniketan, Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi and promoting them in my little gallery. It all came from a place of passion. As a child, I'd move around a lot, so a new place has never been an issue. My attachment to India, however, lies with my roots in the country. Even when language is a problem, I am always well surrounded by friends.

I come from a tiny island, but now my work (which includes a second venture called Jungle Café & Diner) and life revolve around a country as multicultural as India! I love that it is huge, not to mention the food. Bengali, Goan and Creole Pondicherrian are my favourite cuisines.

—As told to Sohini Das Gupta, Avril-Ann Braganza,Yogesh Pawar and Gargi Gupta

13 Aug 2017 19:45:07

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