Expat Voice: An Unending Adventure
Arranged marriage and social hierarchy were not the only practices that Johan Andersson found unfamiliar when he moved to India from Sweden.
When Johan Andersson moved to India for a short-term work assignment, he looked at it as an adventure. The 36-year-old management consultant from Sweden decided to move to the country to follow “additional career opportunities and private ambitions.”
Six years later, the Bengaluru resident is happily married to an Indian, and the couple has a little daughter.
Andersson talks to Little India about his life in India, arranged marriages and “black and white magic.”
Setting Up Work in India
It was easy for me to sign up for a six-month assignment and come to India as I thought my stay in India would be like an adventure. The opportunity to work and live in a completely different culture and environment seemed fascinating. However, the project that I was working on was extended by another six months, before I finally decided to move to the country.
I am a management consultant with a Swedish company called Centigo, which supports western companies to succeed with their respective businesses in India. I came to India to set up the company’s operations in Bengaluru.
“Sorry. Driver is Drunk”
Travelling within the city was extremely challenging, initially. Now, with the app-based cab services, travelling has become quite convenient. Once when I had pre-booked a cab, the service provider sent the details of the driver and the car in the nick of time. Later, I received a message which said: “Driver is drunk. Car is not available.”
I eventually decided to take a rickshaw. I think, it was one of the best messages that I have ever received. I appreciate the fact that I was told the truth about why the driver could not pick me up.
In my initial years in India, when I asked for directions from strangers on the street, they would keep talking to me for about 5-10 minutes, even though they did not know the directions to that place. Now, when I ask for directions to a particular place, I can figure out if the person knows where the place is or has at least understood the name of the place I am looking for.
When I was researching on India, I had read that marriages here were actually arranged by the respective families of the bride and the groom. It felt so bizarre.
I thought that the practice may have existed years ago but the situation could not be the same now. So I didn’t believe what I read until I came here and realized that the practice is prevalent even today.
In Sweden, we are not even familiar with the term “love marriage” because we don’t look at marriages that way. The culture in my home country is very different, no marriage is arranged there.
I met my wife through work. She is a tour guide and runs a cultural consulting company called Bluefoot. Some colleagues had come down to Bengaluru, and I had hired her to give them a tour of the city. That is how we met and got to know each other.
We have been together for more than five years now and have a daughter who will soon turn four. We got married in 2014, but to me commitment towards each other is far more important than marriage.
Black and White Magic
Some of the religious beliefs in India, like black magic or white magic, do not make any sense to me. I understand how it works but I do not believe in it.
Once when I fell ill, the nanny who works at our house offered to help me. She took some lemons, a few other ingredients and performed a ritual. She then rushed to the street and threw them away.
When I asked her about the ritual she explained that the illness was now gone as she had taken it away and thrown it on the street. On being asked what would happen if someone crossed the spot where these ingredients were discarded, she told me that the person crossing the spot would get the disease. The ritual failed to improve my condition, so I don’t understand why and how I should believe in it.
The Indian society is still struggling with the class system, and like many others, I don’t agree with it. In the country I have grown up, everyone is treated fairly equally. We were children from different families with parents doing different jobs, but we were all equals. I hope the situation in India changes with time.
Beauty of Gulmarg
I visited Gulmarg in Kashmir because I love skiing. I am an advanced skier and have done a lot of it in the Alps before, which is one of the best places in the world for the sport. I went there without any expectations. But the beauty of India lies in its unpredictability and you never know what is in store for you. Skiing in Gulmarg turned out to be the best skiing experience of my life.
However, the stay in Gulmarg was a nightmare as the hotel I was staying in was terrible. Among other things, it was -10 degrees in Kashmir and there was no hot water, and the room heater was not working. The breakfast was also terrible.
Nonetheless, my trip to Gulmarg will always be memorable because I loved skiing there.
I feel that India is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you might find inside.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at email@example.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.