The great India story

While we complain and snort in disgust at the many shortcomings of our country, foreigners seem to be more accepting of our culture. Some expats share their experiences. By Rameshinder Singh Sandhu

chandigarh Updated: Mar 13, 2014 10:28 IST
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
Hindustan Times

While we complain and snort in disgust at the many shortcomings of our country, foreigners seem to be more accepting of our culture. Some expats share their experiences. By Rameshinder Singh Sandhu


Siakou Koffi Senyo, 29, Togo, Africa

Lecturer of human resource management, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar LPU professor

Siakou thanks the buzzing online social network for introducing him to India. It was while working in his hometown, Togo, that Siakou learnt that many of his friends were either studying or teaching in India.

Curious, he would often ask them about their experience in India and about Indian culture. Inspired, Siakou’s dreams to see the country for himself turned true when he managed to get the job of a lecturer at the Lovely Professional University in 2011.

His experience in India, says Siakou, has exceeded his expectations. From Punjabi food — Siakou is a regular at Haveli restaurant near Jalandhar — to celebrating the various festivals, such as Diwali — to witness which he pays obeisance at Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar every year — Punjab has got him hooked.

Enjoying his stay here to the hilt, the lecturer tells us he has a huge Punjabi jutti collection, which he has sourced from the hubs, Amritsar and Muktsar.

India at a glance
How will you compare India and Togo?
Every society has its own way of life and traditions. However, having seen various Punjabi weddings, I feel that too much money is spent on them here. In our country, we do not spend so lavishly on weddings; instead we keep it as simple as possible.

What do you love the most about India?
There are many things that I love about India, amongst which hospitality tops the list. Everyone is so welcoming, especially in Punjab. Are people hospitable in every nook of the world? I doubt that.

What irks you about India?
Being a foreigner, I realise that India is a land of rich cultures. But, I feel that the youngsters are not proud of it. They seem to be more fascinated by the western culture and foreign languages. It saddens me, because I came to India because of its rich cultural diversity, and there are many like me who do so. But, Indians take less pride in their country’s rich cultural credentials.

Filmy connection

Constantin Adrian Sarpe, 26, Oradea, Romania

Assistant professor of management studies, Punjab College of Technical Education, Bhadowal, Ludhiana
Constantin and his friends wrapped up their MBA programme in Romania, most of his friends opted to complete the mandatory six-month training period in Europe or North America. But, Constantin decided to apply in India. In 2012, he was invited by the Punjab College of Technical Education in Ludhiana. As luck would have it, by the time he had completed his training, Constantin was so impressed by the Indian culture that he thought of applying for a full-time job with the institution.

Living in Punjab and touring across the nation has taught him a lot, says Constantin. In love with Hindi cinema, the 26-year-old has watched most recent hits — including Jatt & Juliet, Dhoom 3 and Ramleela — aided in understanding the dialogues by his students. The weekends, Constantin has reserved for wearing his favourite kurta-pyjamas, which he got stitched from the local Ghumar Mandi in Ludhiana. “My students tell me I look very nice in traditional clothes,” he smiles.

India at a glance
How will you compare India and Romania?
One big difference that I have noticed is that people in India don’t respect every kind of work. In the Romanian society, every kind of work is respected and no job is ‘too low’ to be done. One may be rich or poor, he or she will take up every work with enthusiasm.

What do you love the most about India?
Diversity in everything is what I love about India. There are so many languages, religions, cultures and traditions which are beautiful in their own ways. I don’t think one can find so much variety anywhere else.

What irks you about India?
Well, the traffic here is horrible. But, in my opinion, the entire blame can’t be put on the authorities. Citizens hardly obey the traffic rules. Constant blowing of pressure horns creates too much noise. Another thing that I have noticed is that many people hardly ever use dustbins. They talk of aping the western countries’ cleanliness, but that happens when everyone makes an effort.

In India’s kitchen
Antonello Cancedda, 50, Cagliari Sardinia, Italy Chef-de-cuisine, JW Marriott, Chandigarh

Working in India as a chef since December 2011, it was actually yoga that had served as Antonello’s Italian chefconnecting link to India. About 20 years, when he started learning yoga in Italy from a guru of Indian origin, Antonello recalls being told many stories about the land, all of which led him to fall in love with the country.

Ever since he has been in India, Antonello has not felt like going back.Taking great interest in learning Punjabi and Hindi and gaining knowledge about the various traditions of Punjab, the chef, who loves music, also treats his guests to many Punjabi and Hindi songs while they taste his creations.

India at a glance
How do India and Italy differ?
When it comes to hospitality, I must say that both Italy and India are at the same level. In terms of food, however, there are many differences. Italians don’t prefer spicy or vegetarian food as much as the Indians do.

What do you love the most about India?
I love Chandigarh the most, which is green, peaceful, disciplined, and above all, very cosmopolitan. I am also in love with the various gardens of the City Beautiful, and appreciate the fact that residents here have much more civic sense as compared with people in other Indian cities and towns. I also love the world of Bollywood and Indian music.

What irks you about India?
It’s the vehicles’ honking that irritates me a lot. Sometimes, I wish to put cotton in my ears. Even in a traffic jam, horns continue to get blown. Things are not like that at all in Europe. Another irritating factor are the beggars on the roads, who follow you and end up harassing you. We can get rid of this hassle if we stop giving money to them.

Old bonds made strong

David Lelliott, 45, UK British Deputy High Commissioner (north-west India), Chandigarh David’s wife and two little daughters accompanied him to India in January last year, it was a maiden visit for them, but not for David. Having toured India extensively almost 28 years ago, David had been left awe-struck by the country’s rich culture and heritage. That’s when he had decided to come to the country at some point in life.

Currently serving as the Deputy High Commissioner at the British High Commission for North-West India, David feels happy that his daughters, who haven’t started school yet, have begun to identify the gurdwaras and temples that come on their way.

Flaunting a large collection of Indian dresses, the family is truly bewitched by the country. Interestingly, his wife has also modelled saris for a fashion show held recently. And, who can resist our dal makhni, paneer and palak dishes apart from mouth-watering gajrela and gulab jamuns? The Lelliotts definitely can’t. David’s daughters, meanwhile, prefer samosas and kachoris, he tells us.

India at a glance
How will you compare India with the United Kingdom?
I will say that British society is pretty close to traditional Indian values such as respect for others and for religion, the family system and interestingly, citizens in both countries speak English which connects each other easily. My family and I also feel that in India, people are a bit more welcoming and generous than those in many other countries of the world.

What do you love the most about India?
Simplicity has touched my heart, especially in various villages of the country that I visited. We should not forget the words of noted American poet Gary Snyder who said, “Simplicity is light, carefree, neat and loving — not a self punishing ascetic trip”.

What irks you about India?

Every country has issues and problems. Rather than criticizing the issues, let us concentrate more on solutions. Usually, people complain more which takes you nowhere, but solutions open many doors for us. I am actually impressed with the efforts of various NGOs of the country that aim to fight against various social and civic problems.

The Gora Jatt

Glenn Peat, 37, Christchurch, New Zealand General manager, Hyatt Regency, Ludhiana

Glenn and his family might be more at home in Ludhiana than its residents. Though Glenn had arrived in India in 2010 to serve as an executive assistant manager at the Grand Hyatt Resort in Goa, his excitement knew no bounds as soon as he realised that he had been appointed as the general manager at Hyatt Regency in Ludhiana in 2012.

In fact, to everyone’s surprise, Glenn had arrived to the hotel’s inauguration wearing traditional attire of Bhangra dancers, mounted on horses (he has a passion for horses and owns four beautiful beasts).

In a very short span of time, Glenn and his family have become popular in the city as a ‘Jatt family’, for having adopted the lifestyle of the clan. The family has learnt some amount of Punjabi by now, while both of their daughters sing Hindi songs and the national anthem and are a part of the school choir.

What’s more, they have maintained a tradition of wearing traditional dresses to all parties and functions.

India at a glance
How will you compare the Indian society with New Zealand’s?
Here, life is definitely more relaxed as compared with New Zealand, where life is very fast. The fact that we can get house help here makes things a lot easier. The great variety in food and dress in India also makes it stand apart.

What do you love the most about India?
I am in love with Punjab, its food, dress and culture. My family and I have travelled to almost every popular destination in India, but Punjab and its vast green fields have attracted us the most. The Punjabi cuisine is now so famous that it has travelled the world over. I also believe that Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar speaks volumes about the power of Sikhism and its devotion.

What irks you about India?
I see that the people here blame the government a lot for various issues, but they too contribute to the problems. I notice a general lack of courtesy and civic sense in people. Most of them litter freely. Even on the roads sometimes, you see people just roll down their car’s windows to throw away the banana peel. It is both funny and irritating.

First Published: Mar 12, 2014 18:57 IST