Expat Voices

Expat Voice: An Adventurous Journey

Iranian national Hoda Karbalaei loves Mohammed Rafi's melodies, and feels that India and Iran have a lot in common.


Hoda Karbalaei moved to India from Tehran, Iran, in 2010 to pursue an MBA degree from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

“My father is a diplomat and had just moved to India at that time and asked me to apply in universities in India. I went to the Indian embassy in Iran, took an exam and won a scholarship,” the 32-year-old Iranian national tells Little India.

Karbalaei now works independently as a global mobility adviser and a cross-cultural trainer to expats, who are looking to expand their businesses in India. She talks about her love for Mohammed Rafi’s songs, adventurous train journeys, differences between India and Iran, and more:

Gulab Jamun or Chilli Chutney — The Choice is Yours

The Indian government initially gave me a scholarship to study at a university in Mysuru. It is a small, quaint place as compared to Delhi, which is a busy and crowded city.

However, a week before classes were supposed to begin, I fell sick, only to find out that I had dengue. I came back to Delhi and thought that I would leave India, but by my parents encouraged me to stay on. Also, my growing fondness for India and its culture forced me to stay back. I feel India can be gulab jamun or chilli chutney for those who decide to live here — you either love it or hate it.

Hoda Karbalaei in Manali, Himachal Pradesh

I stayed in Mysuru for two months and then moved to Delhi to pursue my studies. I shifted to a different university just one and a half months before the scheduled examinations. I was worried how I would manage but my Indian friends came to the rescue. I was able to clear my exams and I owe a lot to them for their help. I still consider clearing the exams in such a short span one of my biggest achievements.

Love for Mohammed Rafi’s Songs

I enjoy listening to old Hindi film songs. I love Mohammed Rafi and although I don’t know the lyrics of the melodies he sang, they soothe my heart. I can relate to the songs as the language is similar to my mother tongue — Persian. The new songs are good to dance to but they lack meaning and depth.

India and Iran are Similar, yet Different

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his book, Discovery of India: “Among the many people and races who have come in contact with Indians and influenced India’s life and culture, the oldest and most persistent have been the Iranians.”

I found a lot of similarities in art and culture of both countries. However, India is way more diverse than Iran. The two countries are also quite different in their own ways. Iranians pay more attention to maintenance of ancient art and monuments. They also try to keep their environment and surroundings clean, unlike Delhi, where I see auto drivers spit paan on the streets.

I have observed some really interesting things here. Every morning, I would hear sounds similar to how cats call, only to find out later that they are peacocks. I like drinking masala chai in kulhads, watching monkeys jump from one tree to another, and see sari-clad women helping their husbands at construction sites. Homes in Iran have gas pipelines, and not gas cylinders that are used in houses here. Also, drinking water here is different from the water used for washing, cleaning and other daily chores, unlike Iran. The cost of electricity is also cheaper in Iran.

Concept of Sharing Food

One of the things I found strange about Indians is their habit of sharing food in a restaurant or a cafe. In Iran, when we go out to eat, we order our own meals — we don’t share. It seemed very interesting to me and has helped me understand that sharing is good.

A Long Ordeal

I was travelling from Mumbai to Delhi with my friends during the winter season. Our tickets had been booked in different coaches. We decided that when the train would stop at a station, I would go to the coach that my friends were in. However, I could not make it as the coach was really far. The train left, leaving me all alone in the cold. I asked for help and was told that I would have to wait for the next train to come. There was not a single seat to spare. I had to stand throughout the 18-hour journey in the bone-chilling weather.

Hoda Karbalaei in Rishikesh

Realizations in India

Three years ago, I was travelling back home from a shopping mall in an auto, when a biker came and began asking the auto driver for directions. Meanwhile, his friend, who was riding pillion, snatched my bag and rode away. I was shocked and realized that I must be extremely careful with my belongings whenever I travel.

Finding Peace of Mind

I can see a lot of changes in myself since I moved here. We Iranians are always in a hurry to do things. India taught me to be patient and I realized that there is more to life than just work. I learnt how to enjoy life and found peace and happiness here.

The interview has been condensed and edited.  

Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at expat@littleindia.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.  

1 Comment

  1. Prasad. Bhvrs

    April 29, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Indians are innocent though some pose and hurt anyone as frustrated. only in the world is india where villagers are much more and most loving others and help others. Others in the sense that were not own family and irrespective of whether indian or not.

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