India’s cultural invasion of Holland
Amsterdam bustles even on Sundays, with its shops all open and its streets crowded, but the same cannot be said of the suburbs outside the city limits. Whenever I visited my parents in the suburb of Amstelveen, I used to be irritated to find that one could not buy even a packet of chips there on Sundays: every single shop was shut. But times are a-changing. It is still impossible to get bread, butter, cheese or any other item that forms part of the Dutch diet in Amstelveen on Sundays.
But if I want parathas, samosas, kulfi or mithai there is no problem any more. Only one shop is open on Sundays here, but it is an Indian owned store, selling all the stuff Indians need!
In neighbouring Britain this would have been an unremarkable development. But not so in The Netherlands, where the Indian influence on local life so far had been almost negligible. There were very few immigrants from India here, most of the immigrants came from the former Dutch colonies like Surinam, and later from North Africa and Turkey. But there has been a slow and significant change. Today it is the countries with surging economies whose residents are coming into the Netherlands in increasing numbers, and leading the pack are Indians and East Europeans.
The second largest group of immigrants to Amsterdam in 2006 came from India, mostly IT workers hired by Dutch multinationals. Not only are 'Dutch jobs' being exported to India (that old grouse!, a good many 'Dutch jobs' in Holland are going to them as well. But even small Dutch firms are looking beyond the country's borders while hiring, and taking in Indians regularly.
Old perceptions about India — maharajas and poverty! — are rapidly changing too. There is a distinct interest in contemporary India. Walk into any Amsterdam bookshop and you may well find an Indian author's work figuring in the list (most shops display one) of the top 10 bestsellers of the week in that shop. It is not only books by the likes of Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul you find displayed on the shelves (Dutch translations, of course), you will come across titles by Vikram Chandra, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri and a host of such younger, relatively lesser known writers as well.
It is almost fashionable for the intellectually inclined to talk knowledgeably during literary discussions of having 'discovered another talented young Indian chap'. Reading these books, which provide authentic insights into Indian life further helps to brush away earlier sterotypes about this country which has suddenly begun to matter in the average Dutchman's life.
(The writer is a student of history and law at the University of Amsterdam)