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A home away from home

A home away from home
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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 12 AM IST

(Jayachandran / Mint)
(Jayachandran / Mint)
Updated: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 12 AM IST
Laughter and smoke hit me as I let myself into the plush villa in Palm Meadows. At least 45 men and women, mostly in the age group of 25 to 35, were looking in one direction. I let their line of vision guide mine and saw a large TV screen which had on display a young white woman riding an auto rickshaw. The laughter gained momentum as the owner of the auto rickshaw ran behind the vehicle in panic, wondering what he had gotten himself into. The video then switched to three men playing ball on the street, except there was no ball! More laughter.
And that’s how the Bangalore Expatriate Club (BEC) members had a ball on the evening of Republic Day. They let themselves out on the streets of Bangalore on what they called a “scavenger hunt”. No, they didn’t go on a much-needed cleanliness drive in the city. Teams of four set out with a list of tasks to do at 3pm. The more tasks they finished, the more points they got and, of course, they did get brownie points for creativity. What creativity, I wondered, if the task list included getting a picture of a man urinating on the wall and a picture of a team member hugging a goat.
(Jayachandran / Mint)
Barbara Nolten, an active member of the club, had warned me that it was going to be quite crazy. I saw what she meant. “The BEC is always looking for ways to socialize. We meet every week in one of the pubs in the city and every once in a while, we try and organize an activity like we did today,” she explained. In the past, the club has organized a trip to Ladakh and gone on trekking trails in Ooty. The idea is to get to know the country better and, in the process, network, bond and create a community of professionals.
“The Bangalore Expatriate Club,” the club’s website (www.bangalore-expatriate-club.com) says, “aims at getting professional expatriates networking together so they can all share each other’s global experiences.” Each of the members present at the gathering that day had been living in Bangalore for varied periods of time and had grown to love the city. But they all agreed that settling in could be quite a nightmare. While most of their relocation issues such as accommodation, telephones and maids were handled by the companies they work for, settling into the culture was a whole new ball game. Ylva Simson took a break from her job in a leading Australian Bank to live in India for a year. “I’ve been here for less than six months and have many Indian friends. But you can’t get very far in your relationship with them because, at the end of the day, you are different. So, once in a while, I need to meet people who understand what I mean, and that’s why (I) joined the club.”
This was her first time at a BEC meeting, and she seemed to be fitting right in. “I am enjoying my holiday immensely. It’s just a constant host of lunches and dinners!” says Simson, who is also part of the Overseas Women’s Club (OWC). This club works on social causes and frequently ties up with local NGOs. OWC is serious business, while the expatriate club concentrates on serious socializing. OWC meets every Thursday morning at The Leela Palace for a cup of coffee. The members are either professionals or wives of executives working in the city.
Predictably, the upper age limit of OWC members is much higher than that of the Bangalore Expatriate Club, and their activities are more geared towards serious social work. But when they are not rasing funds, OWC members could spend a weekend trekking or discussing their doubts about the English language over a lazy lunch. Talking and learning English provides them a great platform to network.
While members of BEC interact casually and discuss their homelands in Bangalore, OWC makes a conscious and more formal effort to address issues of settling down. The club has a subgroup of new and expectant mothers who get together every week to chat about doctors, hospitals and the experience of childbirth in India. And for general relocation questions, OWC has a whole list of FAQs (frequently asked questions) answered on its website. If that doesn’t help, then new expats could meet club members on Thursday mornings for coffee. They will not only get initiated into the club but, in all possibility, all their moving-in queries will be answered as well.
The BEC is not a close-knit community, I’m told, but they end up feeling like they’re among friends simply because most of their stories are similar and unique in their own ways. Libbey Chatam from New York teaches at the Canadian International School in the city. While most of her understanding of the city comes from her students, she enjoys being a part of the expat club to share her experiences with other “foreigners” in the city.
But the foreigner tag doesn’t quite fit when you feel more at home in Bangalore than you do in your home country. Katrin, an automobile engineer from Germany, is worried that after a relaxed time in the Garden City, she might have a culture shock when she returns home, with everything and everybody structured and on time.
“Moreover, it’s going to be really difficult telling them about life in India. Whatever I say, they are only going to assume that I’m exaggerating. You have got to live (in) India to know India” says Katrin, who uses only one name.
And hearing that statement made me feel patriotic and warm in the heart, given that it was Republic Day. I settled down to watch more gags on the streets with a smile on my face.
To qualify as a member, you require a foreign passport. If you hold an Indian passport, you must be well-travelled or should have lived outside India for a while. On approval by the directors of the club, there is a one-time subscription fee of Rs2,000 for singles and Rs3,000 for couples.
(pavitra.j@livemint.com)
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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2008. 12 12 AM IST