Thursday, July 17, 2008

Expats in India

Cow in VaranasiSome of the more fascinating accounts of ancient India were written by foreign travelers.
They came from lands afar, stayed here for a while, and returned with detailed accounts of the land and people of India.

The current breed of foreign travelers interest me too - or rather the India they see through their foreign eyes. I regularly read books and blogs by expats and others who have made India their temporary home. Through their eyes I see an India that is sometimes intriguing and sometimes shocking. It is interesting to see them react to things we take as ‘normal’ and hardly spend time thinking about.

Here are links and excerpts from some blogs I have enjoyed reading in the recent past. Check them out! Please note: All pictures in this post have been sourced from the blogs reviewed here.

The Loud Americans, a blog authored by an American family who have been living in Bangalore since late-2006:

What do you like the most? This one is way too easy. The people, followed by the food! The people we have met, both through work, the OWC, school and our neighborhood are incredible. They are smart, flexible, open, helpful, friendly and welcoming (ten-fold when discussing our cook, maid and driver!!). The food is fantastic and we have each just naturally lost weight here. Yippee! What is the hardest part? Huh... How to answer ... the lack of convenience? (i.e. not being able to drive, cook, have a reliable source of electricity or Internet?) But.. this is probably where we have learned the most in terms of patience and going with the flow instead of against it. The other really hard thing is the poverty. You just don’t get used to it. Its gut wrenching and a daily struggle to see how a good portion of the people in the world live.” more...

Angela got a great photo on the way to work yesterday... a tiny calf riding in between 2 guys on a motorcycle. The best part, the calf was completely complacent and looked very relaxed. Not sure where he was going, but he definitely didn’t mind. Other interesting animals on the highway have been the donkey riding in the auto rickshaw, his head out one end his butt out the other, a camel wandering down the 4 lane highway pulling a cart and the ever present bull carts pulling loads of construction equipment.” more...

Our Time in India, another blog from an expat family who have been in Chennai since Jan 2008:

I discovered that our maid has 1 hen with 4 baby chicks on our property. That was an awesome discovery! If only I could find her eggs…oh well, maybe I need to get a few more hens! There are goats right across the street and a few cows as well. We discovered we had coconut trees (the gardeners shinnied up the tree and picked one for us yesterday), papaya, and banana trees. So far no snakes have been found!more...

There are many dangerous jobs in India. I ran across one occupation this past weekend that just must be electrifying...a man fixing electrical lines.” more...

Our Delhi Struggle, from an American couple who moved into New Delhi some time back:

Varanasi, on the bank of the Ganges. We walked by the yoga class just after sunrise. On the high ledge at the upper right of the picture below, the guru instructed the dozens of white-robed boys in breathing exercises, exhaling ferociously into the microphone as the children attempted to do the same. “That’s not yoga,” said Jenny disdainfully. “That’s just breathing.” more...

The stereotype of India is true: cows wander the streets with impunity…. The prevalence of cow poop as a fuel becomes clear the moment you leave the city. Lining the roads in the countryside — in fact, lining any available space not already given over to crops or housing — are row after row of circular foot-wide cow pies drying in the hot Indian sun.” more...

Michael’s India, a blog from an expat American who takes great photographs everywhere he goes:

Through my travels within the cities of Bangalore, Mysore, Delhi, Agra, and other areas of the country, I have had the opportunity to meet so many warm and friendly people--but the warmest and most sincere are the childrenmore...

And finally, The Englishman in Mumbai, a blog which - unfortunately - is no longer active, but amongst the most humorous:

"Within weeks of my arriving here, it became clear that, in public, Mumbaikers generally like to behave modestly. Women wear pants, very rarely skirts; they wear sleeved blouses, rarely showing bare shoulders; very few couples hold hands or kiss when out strolling (though men-friends do hold hands – but that’s another story). What’s more, those who break these norms get stared at quite hardmore...

Imagine me, fresh off the plane. A security guard at the airport is staring at me, but with no expression (friendly or otherwise) on his face. Now, a stare in England is an invitation to an interchange of some sort, or, if prolonged a few seconds, a sign of aggression. I lock stares with him, but he doesn’t look away or change his expression. This is now becoming (for me) a serious standoff. Angered (I’d had a long flight…) I challenge him: “Do you have a problem of some sort with me?” Only then does he look away, saying nothing. Moment over.” more...

India attracted travelers from everywhere in ancient times. Fa Hien, Huen Tsang, Alberuni, and others took back stories about India to their peoples; a lot of what we know today about ancient India is built upon their detailed accounts. Are these expat blogs going to be an equally important source for historians many years from now?

Other useful Expat blogs and websites:


Jen Kumar said...

Wow amazing blog finds. Great! I love to follow these kinds of blogs too. I am an American who lived in Chennai almost 10 years ago for a two years (earned my Masters there) I can relate to some of the stories.

I studied social work in Chennai. I do not doubt there is poverty and hardship in India. But as with any cross cultural experience some of these stereotypes are magnified or can be seen more clearly. Now a days in India though consumerism has taken a big hold and can create a poverty among the middle class just like in the so -called prosperous US. Even in southern most places like Trivandrum people have mega department stores and spend as much money in one shopping trip as many middle -low class Americans do- when translated into dollars it can be $60-100 or more I saw some in Trivandrum spend on their groceries and other items in Big Bazaar. Credit cards are more and more common in India and also is the culture of taking loans among middle class. It was unheard of to take car loans not so long ago, not it may be very common in different parts of India. People want to spend and consume without the fear of spending back or budgeting money. This is the poverty of the middle class I think in most parts of the world. Also, in some ways not too uncommon from the poverty I saw in CHennai slums, taking one loan for one loan shark to pay another is not so different from taking one credit card or one loan to pay off another!!

Anonymous said...

@jennifer: Thank you for your experience and thoughts on Chennai and India in general.

Anonymous said...

I have friends from England who have been living in Goa for 2 years, I've been meaning to visit them for ages and after reading your post it reminded me that I should get on and make arrangements :)

I've only been to Delhi for work, and thought it was a little to crazy for my likening. Apparently Goa is meant to be a lot more "chilled"

Anonymous said...

These blogs look amazing, I'll visit them!

Reading about one's country through foreigners' eyes is an eye-opening. I do follow quite a lot of blogs written by French expats.

Anonymous said...

The blog world is amazing :) There is so much to find everywhere. A while ago when I was blogging about my new experience of Canada,
someone indexed me in a "foreign blogger" list too. People enjoy reading what outsiders have to say about their cultures, I do :)

Anonymous said...

First of all: interesting read from a lot of perspectives - very fascinate!

To your question at the end:
I think this expats blog are significant important already. It enriches the information and historians from the country itself. After all, its their experience and from real life.

Anonymous said...

@chris: You are correct! Goa is a more chilled-out place. But a lot of travellers do call India 'crazy'. :-)

@zhu: Gives a different perspective, doesn't it?

@priyank: I guess now-a-days the problem is about locating the good stuff amongst the zillion pages of information up there.

@rennyba: You are absolutely right.

Mai said...

This reminds me of my own rather schizophrenic childhood. I was born and 3/4 of the year raised in Montreal, Canada.

But Daddy was a Punjabi Sikh and every summer was spent in the unbearable heat of Punjab - and sometimes, pleasant coolness of Kashmir, if we were lucky.

My Canadian schoolmates, who already thought I was rather strange, were amazed at the stories I would tell. I was never really sure what to regard as 'normal.' It was a rich life, though, one that has served me well.


It's so different from their perspective.

indicaspecies said...

I am also interested to find out what foreign travellers, or for that matter a foreigner abroad, have to say about India. I've always enjoyed discussions on India. Thanks for those links.

deepdowne said...

good job shantanu. thanks!
let me have a look at all those blogs.

Anil P said...

Though I've been reading a couple of them already it's nice to know of the others.

Perspectives will differ for sure, and if it is the diversity of humanity that makes India, what's to stop a diversity of opinions :)

akshaya said...

Thanks for the blog recos.
Have been following "our delhi struggle" - find it to be interesting reading.
Will check out the rest too.

Anonymous said...

@mai: Very interesting! Growing up between two countries is another unique experience. While it must be confusing during childhood it probably gives you the best of both worlds.

@harekrishnaji: Thanks for being a regular here.

@indicaspecies: You are welcome!

@deepdowne: Thanks.

@anil p: Absolutely.

@askshaya: Welcome to my blog. Thanks!

kyh said...

If I'm not mistaken, the early Chinese monks did write smth on India. They wrote their accounts and encounters on their way from their humble villages to India to obtain the Buddhist sutras.

Anonymous said...

@kyh: Yes, Huein Tsang and Fa Hien were both Chinese monks who travelled the Silk Route and stayed in India for long years and returned back with Buddhist learnings, among other things.

The Green Family said...

Thanks for your kinds comments on my blog. It truly is an amazing country! We have a saying about unusual things we see, it is not werong, just different. I hope you continue to enjoy our insights on India. Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

I will; it's fun reading all your accounts of daily life in India. :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Yeah, I can identify with this. A person who's spent most of his/her life in another country will see India from a totally different perspective, so much so that they might focus on things we take for granted.

In general, I've noticed two kinds of foreigners. Those who, when confronted with a new lifestyle and way of doing things and just go with the flow, and those who just can't stop complaining about their new experiences and compare it to home. If nothing else, at least it makes for interesting reading.

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