The expat factor
Here can be more than one home for a person, says Tatsiana Chykhayeva, 31, an expat from Belarus, who moved to India in 2017, after her long-time friend (now husband), Rohan Saraf proposed her for marriage. This may sound strange to those of us who continue to live in a country where we're born and raised. But for the many expats who have made the Indian capital their home, it holds true. After all, home is more than just the place that people think you belong to. For many years, people believed that expats came to India just to experience all things exotic'.
While India's culture and heritage have attracted foreigners to India for decades, Delhi now offers a world of opportunities, which has started attracting many expats to the city. In conversation with a few of them, we discover what makes people leave their countries and settle down in the city.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
68-year-old Kazem Samandari made the big move to India from Paris in 2007, two years after his daughter and her family headed here for professional reasons. A tech consultant by profession, whose parents were originally from Iran, Samandari is the founder of L'Opéra, a French boulangerie and patisserie with 15 outlets across Delhi-NCR. After almost a decade of being here, does he feel at home? Samandari says, Home is where you feel welcome and accepted. It is where you have your friends; the place where you can contribute to society and its citizens, learn as well as teach. And we have found all this here. Gilles Chuyen, 48, echoes a similar sentiment, I felt an immediate pull and calling to India. I moved because I loved the people and the culture, and how warm human relationships are here.
Delhi has been home for almost 25 years now; I feel much more alive here. Born and raised in a quaint village in France, Chuyen graduated from the Institute of Political Studies in Aix-en-Provence, with a specialisation in India, followed by another course on Hindi and Indian civilisation. There was always a yearning to come to the country, not just because he was attracted by its history and philosophy, but because he wanted to explore the dance forms India had to offer (he was trained in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam in France). On moving to India for his Ph.D research, Chuyen started learning Mayurbhanj Chhau at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and realised my true calling was for the performing arts. Now a full-time performing artiste, Chuyen has aced Bollywood dance, and not only choreographs musicals and shows but also teaches the style all over the world. Just like Chuyen, 55-year-old Marzena Magnuszewska, a Polish citizen, was fascinated by Indian history. In 1984, Magnuszewska, then a student of Indology in Poland, came to Delhi for the first time. She says, My reason for choosing Indology was to learn about a culture completely different from mine.
After my second year in college, I visited India to experience this in person. It was 1984, and Indira Gandhi was in power. Post her graduation, and on working with a travel agency in her homeland, Magnuszewska got an opportunity to visit many places. Yet no other country I saw later was equally exciting and exotic', she says. Later, in 2011, she started her own travel company in Poland, and has since been organising trips to the Indian subcontinent mainly Indiafor Polish tourists. She now shuttles between Poland and Delhi, and considers the Indian capital her second home, My life here is easier and mentally healthier than it is back in Poland. WHY DELHI MATTERS Delhi has been good to me and I enjoy the cultural life of the city, says Peter Nagy, an American who grew up in the suburbs of New York City and moved to Manhattan when he was 17. Nagy, 60, is the director of Nature Morte, a prominent contemporary art gallery in Neeti Bagh. Nagy moved to Delhi in 1992 as a tourist and stayed on. He has seen the city evolve, he says, Delhi has become more cosmopolitan in the past 26 years, and I find the cultural and intellectual environments quite stimulating. I like that it is easy to get any-where else in India (and out of India) quickly. Chykhayeva also agrees that Delhi has changed over the years. She says, When I first came here to visit in 2016, sights like people sleeping under the bridge disturbed me a lot. But that is changing now. In fact, Chykhayeva thinks India, as a country, is more often than not misrepresented.
The Belarusian citizen who is a trained life coach and also helps with the marketing and PR of her husband's Greater Kailash 1-based restaurant Roadhouse Cafe, has started documenting her experiences in the city via a blog named Life Talk Delhi. I remember everyone talking about the world-famous' cows you see on the streets in India. There was a time when I took bread to feed them but I couldn't find a single one on the streets. There are many misconceptions; at least South Delhi, I know for sure, is developed. People are cosmopolitan and you have the liberty to wear anything. Then again, you need to respect the city too; you can't wear a bikini and walk around because obviously, it's not a place like Bahamas with a chilled-out vibe.
NOT JUST HUNKY-DORY
No city is perfect, and Delhi has more flaws than just one. While safety has always been one of the major concerns for Delhiites, it was surprising that none of the expats we spoke to for this story brought this up. But the toxic air was highlighted in multiple conversations. Nagy says, I wish the air quality was better. And I don't like being so far from the ocean. Chuyen concurs with that thought. On the contrary, Magnuszewska's hometown Kraków is equally polluted, so pollution is not what she worries about. She says, Here, there are more people, more traffic, much more noise. Chykhayeva has yet another bone to pick with the people here, Delhiites have no respect for other people's time, and lack in punctuality. I also miss walking here as the city hardly has pedestrian paths it's either got hawkers or people sleep on the sidewalk. She concludes by saying that despite these glitches, Delhi is a great place for opportunities, People here are open to new things, and there's a good possibility to succeed here if you have great ideas.