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Another city, another life

As more and more people pour in to our growing metropolises with newer opportunities, millions are having to contend with 'settling in'. HT correspondent presents stories of some of those immigrants to three of our largest cities.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2007 03:23 IST

Delhi | Easy money, fast folks

Back in Kerala, Prathaban KD would have never imagined fleeing home when the heat got to him. But Delhi is different. A flat on a seventh floor in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi is nothing like the sprawling, independent house that he left behind when his bank sent him to the Capital last December. And so, when the temperature soared and Delhi sizzled, Prathaban decided to send his wife Preetha and their one-and-a-half year-old daughter Prisha back to their village down south. Now, the 44-year-old senior manager with the Catholic Syrian Bank is coping with forced bachelorhood in a city “which has so much pent-up anger”.

The transition hasn’t been easy for the family. “Back in the village, everybody knows everybody. They would have my entire family’s biodata in their heads,” he says. Here, it took him quite some time to figure out who lived in the adjoining flat of his building which houses some 200 families.

Six months down the line, the family is still finding its way around. “There are a couple of south Indian families in the buildings and we get together sometimes,” says Prathaban. That’s the only social network his wife has here, some 3,500 km away from her village. Prathaban, however, has found helpful colleagues and customers “who are ever ready to give tips on where to shop or dine”.

But not everybody is friendly, not when they are facing the Delhi traffic at least. Prathaban, whose office is a half-hour drive from home, admits that commuting was never this stressful. “But then, there are a lot of stress-busters too, like the malls,” says the banker. He has had to make adjustments, too. “There are times when I suddenly have to rush out to buy milk or vegetables. If I step out in a lungi, everybody would stare. Now I wear pyjamas,” he says with a laugh.

"You don’t come across too many people who deliver on time,” says Neha Singhania, a 25-year-old interior designer from Purulia, West Bengal, who shifted in two years ago and launched her own company. She has had to deal with shirkers and those who would not pay on time. “This city teaches you to deal with all this and more,” she says.

Prathaban agrees. “Give out a task. Ten people will promise to do it, and then promptly forget all about it,” he says.

Even with all such tribulations, Singhania says she has come to love Delhi. “It offers great scope to people who can think different,” she says. So it doesn’t take long to adjust professionally. “But on the personal front, it is an altogether different game. It’s not easy to find genuine friends,” says Singhania. But once you start making friends, the circle keeps getting bigger and bigger. That’s Delhi for you.

The more outgoing you are, the better it is for you, agrees 28-year-old Ajay Kumar Mishra, who works for Doordarshan and moved to the Capital from Allahabad a few years ago. His wife and sister joined him a few months later.

“My sister is very talkative and cheerful. Back in Allahabad, she couldn’t have imagined getting paid for being so,” he says. But in Delhi such a quality can fetch her a radio jockey’s job, he laughs. No wonder, she loves the city for the world of opportunities it opens.

Mishra says, in the beginning, everything about Delhi was a spectacle. “There are no red lights in Allahabad. The ones here take hours to turn green. Rows and rows of cars, scooters and bikes stand cheek-by-jowl. But the mess clears up in a minute!”

If there is one thing he has learnt from the city, it is that you better be fast; else, you will miss the bus.

Yogesh Awasthi did not miss the bus. “There will always be opportunities. All one needs is sound education and will power,” says the 34-year-old investment banker. Born in Varanasi, Awasthi came to Delhi after completing an MBA at XLRI Jamshedpur. He exudes confidence, but also admits that the big city has taken its toll. “My wife gets terribly bored. She has always stayed in a joint family and finds apartments very depressing,” he says.

“I do talk to my parents over phone, but it’s not the same,” says his 27-year-old wife Surubhi. “I love to make friends, but this isn’t my city. I was never prepared for this life. Soon, my daughter (she is four) will get busy with school. I dread thinking about the lonely hours I will have to spend at home,” she says.

Kolkata | Fairy tale at the end of a spice route

By Nandini Guha

None of them were born or bred in the city. They arrived here relatively late in their lives and met at a city hotel. Meet restaurateur Shaun Kenworthy and his wife Pinky, a model. They married here in 2004 and have now opened their own restaurant, the Blue Potato, in the city they call home.

When Shaun arrived in Kolkata after 10 years in London restaurants and one year in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, he wanted to do something different. “My stint at The Park proved to be a creative one. I was responsible for re-doing Flury’s and The Atrium, where I had to revamp the décor too,” says Shaun. He met Pinky, a well-known model, at the nightclubs in The Park.

But there were some things that needed to be taken care of before the two tied the knot. For the first three years in the city, Shaun literally sweated it out. He used to walk to his hotel, which eventually helped him shed some 30 kilos, says the beaming Brit. It was then that he decided to pop the question to Pinky.

Though his personal life changed, his professional aspirations remained on course. “I have even taken to Bong food now. When Pinky’s mom cooks for me, I can figure out the shukto and the aloo bhaja. However, at Blue Potato, we try to serve the best of Italian and French cuisine. I try to follow the traditional French way of cooking and I also plan to serve only wine at the restaurant,” says Shaun. He now wants to set up a chain of restaurants with presence in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad.

Pinky, who has worked for designers like Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Anamika Khanna, now plans to get back to modelling. As the daughter of an Army officer, she had been in several small towns before settling into Kolkata. But some colleagues extended their arm as friends.

“I was friends with Celina (Jaitley) and Koena (Mitra). But I soon made more friends, as the people were warm and the city felt safe. Now I want to live here with Shaun all my life,” she says.

Mumbai | Where dreams can take wing

First person | C Jayaram

I first visited Mumbai when my eldest brother got married. We came for the marriage from Edapally in Kerala and I was besotted by the city's charms. I confided in my elder brother about my wish to settle down here.

After my graduation, I worked for a company in Kochi for a while before taking a train to Mumbai. I thought there would be better opportunities to study and work. Within a month, I got an accounting job in consumer durables company, and then shifted to Air India later in 1970.

I got married to Lakshmi in 1974 and we have a son and a daughter. Whenever my son Nishant was asked in school what he wanted to become, he replied that he wanted to be a pilot. When he was doing his first year of graduation, I made him take leave and sent him to the US to learn flying. He took a pilot’s licence which became valid in India after an exam. After his graduation, he joined the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Academy in Rae Bareli.

After a short stint at Jet Airways, he landed a job with Air India as first officer, fulfilling the biggest ambition of my life.

I have no doubt that I couldn't have had a life as successful as this had I stayed back in my village. Now, whenever we go to Kerala, Lakshmi and I do not feel at home. We long to get back to our Andheri apartment.

As told to C Sujit Chandra Kumar

Mumbai | Intolerance & the city

First person | Sarmad Kadri

I used to visit Mumbai regularly from Kolkata for my father’s leather business, and I slowly fell in love with the city. After I got married to Nuzhat, we decided to move to Mumbai because of the career opportunities in this city. Turns out that it was a wise decision — my wife has gone from being a reporter to an assistant editor in three years, while I am handling the leather business and freelancing as a writer for television as well.

But there are other things about this city that aren’t easy to get used to: travelling by public transport or the fast-paced life. In Kolkata, taking the metro is a piece of cake. Here, the trains are scary. My wife fell off a train once. Kolkata is very laidback; in Mumbai, you are running around all day, and you never have time for yourself.

But the biggest shock for us was religious intolerance. As Muslims, we found it really hard to rent a flat here. Several building societies don’t want to rent to non-vegetarians and non-Hindus. Bengalis tend to be a lot more tolerant.

It took another Bengali to make us feel comfortable here. When we finally found a flat, the landlord, who is also Bengali, helped us out by giving us tips on where to buy fish and acquainted us with the city.

When we had just moved, we thought that since life was so hectic here, our new friends would not have time for us. But as time wore on, we realised that no matter how busy a Mumbaikar is, he will always be there in your hour of need.

As told to Riddhi Shah.

First Published: Jun 24, 2007 02:34 IST