Then & Now7:30 AM
First, thanks you all for visiting my blog in the wake of the Interview on Madh Mama's blog. My blog statistics took to the roof, I hope many of you will become regular readers.
I have been keeping an eye on the comments on that interview. One person pointed out I was one of the oldest Indian expat blog around and came to India at a time it was still a challenge.
There is a lot of truth there. And it amuse me a little when I come accross people who just learned that I live in India and utter a surprised "Really? India???".
There is that idea that India is a though place to live in, where no one can possibly have a decent standard of living and basic things are hard to come by.
I'm not going to deny that it CAN be hard. And, if you live in smaller towns and rural area there are a lot of things that you won't come accross easily.
That said, big cities and metro are fairly cosmopolitan, and even without living on the short term expat company package, life can be good.
That part has always been there by the way. Contrary to what documentaries want you to believe, not everybody lives in tin sheets shanties with no running water or electricity.
But, a lot of things DID change in a decade. Things that could seem very trivial to non expats, but make a world of difference when you are trying to settle in this country without feeling too homesick or culture shocked.
Back in the days (boy do I sound old?), even cities were fairly concervative. Few were the ladies that were out of college wearing western wear. And if they did, it was formal office wear. It gradually got down to more jeans wearing and now many SAHM wear capri, or even shorts, if not skirts.
As an expat, I also used to get a lot lot more stares in 2003-2004 than I now get in 2015, be it in metros, or smaller towns. I still get them, but way less.
The biggest challenge any expat face. No matter where they come from, and where they relocate, is food. There are different degrees of food frustrations.
I know Indian expats in Europe have had a less though a time finding basics to cook Indian food than I had finding stuff to just cook one basic dish of pasta circa 2004.
Back in 2003 when I was still living in Switzerland I know for a fact that there was basic chutneys and spices available. My local supermarket even had papad making kits and finding garam masala or even dried curry leaves wasn't all that hard either (and wasn't even costlier than continental spices and herbs).
My lot in India was then sent into panic mode reading a recipe wondering where the hell parsley could even be available.
Scratch that, just finding pasta that didn't turn to mush while cooking them and didn't require you to sell your soul to the devil (or take a mortgage) was a quest worthy of the Holy Grail's.
For years, you could even forget the idea of finding any lettuce. It didn't exist in the market. I know some people who could have killed for a few leaves. Or, went to Subway or Mc D just to get the half handfuls of greens in an otherwise blah burger or sandwich...the things you stoop to just to get some of that homely comfort...
Don't get me wrong, Indian food is awesome, but when you come from another corner of the world, you end up missing certain things. The same way Indians abroad can't see themselves eating continental everyday.
So much so, that the day my local supermarket finally stocked 3-4 leaves of half soggy iceberg lettuce I was ecstatic. Who cares if these sad few leaves set me off 60 rupees? It was LETTUCE...I could finally get tossed green salad for lunch! This was in 2006, after 3 years of doing without.
These days, I can get a whole head of lettuce for that price, and not the iceberg kind (which is fairly bland and watery). Nope, I am talking arugula, romaine, oak leaves or frisée. Well some of them are even cheaper than that damned 60 rupees for a handful. Other things that didn't happen before 2006-2007 were regular access to mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, red radishes, italian basil, and dried continental herbs (fresh herbs came later).
Another thing that has been a big game changer is e-shopping. Many cities that still aren't super cosmopolitan can get access to items and even pantry food stuff via internet. Pots, pans, clothes, toys, quality home linens and home decor are all found on the major e-retail sites and delivered in most cities.
The question of where to buy what which litterally haunted me in my earlier year is no more. I know that if all fails, Amazon and Flipkart will come to my rescue.
The increased blood pressure and heart rate while reading an exotic recipe in Femina, or coming upon a craft project are well in the past.
Now, of course, there are things that still haven't changed much. Some people attempting to charge me 3 times the regular price for something simply because I look like a foreigner. Daily and frequent power cuts if you live anywhere outside Mumbai. And, of course dust, pollution, lazy and cheating maids, corruption and traffic jams...But, they are fairly manageable still.