In India, we hear about people travelling across oceans to be with their love but very rarely we hear about people shifting to India to be with their love. Today at your Adda, we have someone special for whom love matters a lot. For someone who is not an Indian by birth, marrying an Indian and adapting to Indian Culture is not an easy decision to make. But she has done it and she is loving every bit of it. We welcome Cynthia, one of the oldest expat bloggers in India. In her interview, she shares her experiences about relocating to India, her family, her life and much more. Ready?
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
A: I started in 2004, after a friend of mine in the US told me I had a gift for words and quite a story to tell being an expat in India.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
A: That’s quite a big mix, mostly about my thoughts and experiences about living in India, I occasionally post reflections on some articles I read, or some TV ads that caught my eye.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
A: That has happened a few times, I generally leave it as a draft, go on with my day and come back to it later, I work better when I can let thoughts wander around in my mind a little bit, if something makes it in words and isn’t what I expected it to be, I just assume the thoughts were not ‘cooked’ properly, so back in the ‘oven’ they go.
Q: You first met your husband (then boyfriend) online, and then met him in UK, after which you were in a two year long distance relationship. What were the ups and downs of a long distance relationship and how did you cope with it? Were the people who knew about your relationship, supportive of this decision?
A: The ups are that we got to chat online daily and share a lot of things, the downs are that it can get very lonely, I didn’t always cope well. Writing a diary helped me cope with the frustration though. My family knew about our relationship, some of my friends too, I didn’t get a lot of support, they mostly thought I was crazy to just keep going with a long distance relationship with a guy I met online in the first place, I had some though moments with that, being made fun of, being belittled and ridiculed by those who claimed they loved me, I had to put my foot down on occasions. I had two friends who cared and were supportive though.
Q: When you first arrived in India, was it just to live with DH or work related as well? Didn’t you try pursuing a career in interior designing in India, since you have studied that subject?
A: The move to India was to be closer to my then boyfriend now husband, I got an internship as a sofa quality check officer in a sofa manufacturing company, it didn’t last long though. I then worked for a call center as a French language specialist, and later as a freelance translator, there is more career prospect in languages there. I’m an interior decorator which back home was a glorified term for sofa maker and soft furnishing decorator. Back home it’s a noble art as it involves restoring antiques, in India I found out it is cheap labour for those who didn’t get a good education, and it doesn’t use the age old traditional complex techniques used back home.
Q: Being a daughter of parents who originally belong to two different cultures, are there any problems that Ishita faces, in house or with other kids?
A: Not yet. In the house we are pretty clear where we stand, so I guess it is what she is growing up to consider normal. Being just 2 years of age she doesn’t interact much with other kids, I had random stranger pointing out things they thought were not normal, like her not speaking big words and sentences at age 2, or how confusing this must be to grow up in two cultures. Sometimes it goes under my skin. I’m still perfecting the art of diplomacy there, I don’t want people to tell my daughter the way she lives isn’t normal, because then what exactly is normality in the first place?
Q: Does DH and your family members read your blog? What are there opinions?
A: DH reads it occasionally, he loves my style and keeps telling me I should write more. Both our families know about the blog, but I don’t think they read it on a regular basis. There is a language barrier at play, his family speaks more Hindi than English, and my family speaks French with just a little English.
Q: Disparity and extreme cases of richness and poverty prevail in India. After arriving from Geneva to India, you must have noticed this side prominently. Did you try to change things here? If yes, were you successful?
A: Oh yes I noticed it immediately. India is a land of strong contrast, as for trying to change it, well I never joined an NGO, but I try to do my bit. DH and I donate to charities when we can. As an outsider, frankly I just don’t know where to begin in this matter. I however do all I can to do my bit for the environment, I feel I have more control there.
Q: In your recent post you had mentioned about the loneliness an expat has to go through. In your case it is more vivid, since DH has relocated many times. Do you feel if the relocation part is subtracted, the loneliness would have subsided as well? How easy or difficult is it to travel places in a country like India, so often?
A: I think should we have stayed in one place, I would have had a bit less of an issue with loneliness. The 5 years we lived in one same place in Bangalore were less lonely, this past year with 3 relocation was the most taxing on so many levels. We are also not as young as we were, we are now yearning for stability, anything that challenges that is an ordeal. As for travelling in India, I didn’t find it so tough. I grew up in a family of ‘rough travelers’, though from experience, if you relocate with a lot of furniture, a kid and a big dog, you need a few weeks of very thorough planning to do it without loosing too much of your sanity. It was easier in the old days of plastic furnitures, few books, and just us. It was a 2-3 days planning affair, one or two days living in suitcases and subsiding on junkfood.
As a parent you can’t live the bachelor/bachelorette way when moving, that just won’t do. And we relocated so much in the past 8 years that we now know the drill, we get better everytime, not that I want to test my moving skills again for at least a couple of years now.
Q: What are the notions, you think, that people in India perceive for the ‘western’ people? Name one which you strongly disapprove of and one that you agree with and why?
A: From my experience, they percieve us as rich, eating only junk food, enjoying the good life, being a bit colder and distant in relationship. Adding to these, I heard too often that western women are not good marriage material, love to divorce, not family oriented, can’t cook and can’t keep a house clean!
So I disagree with a far majority of these stereotypes. That said, true we are generally a bit more distant in relationships (professional and friendship), that can be perceived as cold in India. I understand it, that’s a cultural difference. Now for the rich part, well I can see where the idea comes from too, but this is not as right as it is thought to be, many of my friends back home struggle financially just the same as some middle class people here in India. I am also divided on the good life stereotype.
All the non sense about junk food, women can’t cook and clean and are bad family person…enough already, this comes from too much bad TV and not enough knowledge
Q: What are your hobbies and interests? What keeps you occupied other than running around Ishita?
A: Writing! That’s my biggest hobby. I don’t think there is a single day spent without writing, or on my blog, or on message boards, or in my diary. I love reading too, but I have far less time for this one than I had in my days before becoming a mom. I also like to paint and do little crafts project. I’m hoping once Ishita becomes older she’ll enjoy doing these activities with mommy, for now she has demonstrated artistic talent by scribbling the walls in our flat.
Q: Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Geneva…which is your favorite place to stay? Do you miss staying in Switzerland?
A: Bangalore has a very very special spot in my heart, but I think Mumbai is starting to grow on me this time, let’s see what will happen. As for Geneva, well I don’t really miss living there, I miss certain things from Switzerland, such as the ease of just going away from the city, being in outdoor activities…but truth be told, the last time I went back home in 2008 I felt already like a stranger. Things are quiet, slow paced, and after living in India I find it a bit dull. What irritated me the most in 2008 was the early closure of supermarkets and the fact everything is shut on Sunday. I grew up all my life knowing stores close at 6.45pm and 5pm on Saturday, but a few years in India I forgot all about it, I know it sounds silly.
Q: Would you like to write a book on your experiences of staying in India? List the 5 things that you adore about India and Geneva.
A: A book, now that’s a tough thing. That would be nice, but my story as it is has some very private parts, things not even our families know and I never want them to. And they play a big part in the big picture story.
Things I love about India: the food, the cultural diversity, the festivals, the friendliness of people, the diverse landscapes across the country.
The things I love about Geneva: The lake, the summer festival, the close proximity to several mountain ranges, closeness to the countryside, great public transport system.
Q: 2 years of long distance, inter-cultural relationship, then living in with your boyfriend in a whole new culture and environment of India, going on to getting married and having a 2 year old baby…life has been a fun ride for you. How has the experience been? Sum up the sweet and sour memories of it.
A: That has been a hell of a ride, but love every moment of it, it was worth it, and I know there will be more to come. The sweetest memories are getting married of course, and then getting pregnant and giving birth to our darling daughter. The sour – well the worst was a miscarriage that occured before we were blessed with Ishita, this was a time of gloom for me, not related to India. I would have felt the same anywhere, it was hard for DH to be sent abroad during my grief period. There are all the cultural frustrations too.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
A: I am part of a blog ring, it has brought quite a few reader to my blogs, I keep thinking I should do more, but never find the time to figure it out.
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
A: I consider it VERY important, I do reply to all the comments, though I have no tolerance for insults and rudness, they stand a chance to be deleted without further explanation if they cross the line. But the nice readers and commenters, I love interacting with them.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
A: It’s a wonderful outlet for what is going on in my life, and sharing experiences with others, getting comments from people telling you how they relate or how they have a different perspective is wonderful, I made a lot of good friends in the blogosphere.
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
A: The blogs I read the most are those from other people in a desi/pardesi relationship, and those of expats. Here are some of my favourites:
- White Indian Housewife
- The big, bad, blonde, bahu
- I have a close friend who is Indian and a writer who has a blog I love reading too : Shweta Taneja
- And the one from an Indian lady living in Canada, she became one of my close online friend: An Indian’s take on desi and videsi influences
All in all I love the quality of the blogs I come across in the expat/desi world.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: Do it! Find your topic, and be regular with updates, the more you update, the more you keep your readers coming back. Always write in clean style, no sms style abreviation, clear sentences and good spelling, express your opinion in a respectful way and you are all set to go. Parctice makes perfect.
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
A: I have adsense installed, but it really doesn’t generate much revenues. I installed it in 2006, and so far haven’t even reached the 50$ it takes for google to send you a cheque.
Q: According to you, what is the future of Blogging?
A: It has a strong future, but I think it will become more niche oriented and professional. It’s important to have a good topic and be consistent in your writing to get somewhere in the blogosphere.
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Color: Blue and orange.
Movie: The entire Star Wars saga, and my favourite Indian movie is Lagaan.
TV Show: Friends, Bones, Castle, Everybody Loves Raymonds.
Book: Memoirs of a geisha, the twiligth serie, Da Vinci Code, The lost Symbol, just to name a few of a VERY long list.
Time of Day: Evening.
Your Zodiac Sign: Cancer.
Whoa! That was an experience. It was very interesting to delve into the mind of an Expat in India and what are the things and sacrifices he/she has to make. Importantly it also clears a lot of stereotypes that one have created about expats in India. Thank you Cynthia for this wonderful interview.