Expat Voice: Lessons in Chaos
American citizen Chris Erhard loves indulging in some “chai pe charcha” with his friends in Mumbai.
Chris Erhard grew up in Minnesota and then lived at West Palm Beach in South Florida for 17 years before moving to India in April 2017. He works for a United States-based mortgage servicing company, which also has operations in India. “There was a need for someone to manage work here, which is why I moved to Mumbai,” Erhard tells Little India.
He talks about the challenges of working a “mid-shift,” his love for Alia Bhatt, “shooting” experience and more:
Working in Mid-Shift
My first trip to India was way back in 2002 when I stayed in Bengaluru for five weeks for work. I visited again a couple of years ago on business and also traveled a bit across the country before returning to the United States. So, I had spent quite a bit of time here before deciding to move to Mumbai.
My biggest obstacle has been the change in my work schedule and its impact on my social life. I work a mid-shift, which has been quite a challenge due to the insane traffic and the odd working hours. I leave for work around 2 pm and don’t return home until 1 am, sometimes later than that. Therefore, I find myself in a “no man’s land” kind of a situation. I have friends who work in day shifts so they are already asleep, and then there are others who would still be at work. Therefore, my social life has taken a hit.
Having said that, I’ve made some great friends at work. We have “Chai Pe Charcha” sessions almost every day. Sometimes, we grab a vada pav as well.
I think everyone knows how terrible the traffic in Mumbai is. The construction of the metro has made it worse. The infrastructure isn’t that great. The sidewalks are falling apart. All of a sudden, you find yourself in front of sewer while walking on the pavement. You can almost fall into it if you’re not paying attention.
People don’t usually follow traffic lights here, especially at night. There’s a red light but if no one is coming, they will just drive past. People aren’t punctual either. The “Indian Stretch Time” used to bother me earlier but now I realize this is how things are here. It used to make me cringe initially but I understand that they work here. I don’t know how or why but they do. So, I have got used to it.
Cricket and Bollywood
Mumbai, or India in general, is cricket-crazy. If there are two TVs in office, one has cricket on it while the other has Bollywood videos. Most clubs here play Bollywood music. I am definitely trying to learn cricket. We recently had an office cricket tournament. I am also going to watch an IPL match soon.
When I had gone to see the Khajuraho Temples in Madhya Pradesh, I was wearing an Indian cricket jersey. When I went down to the hotel lobby, the staff working there was like, “Oh Sir, that’s a nice t-shirt.” They were all excited and wanted to get pictures clicked with me. Life is simple here. It’s the people you meet long the way that makes all the difference.
I was once walking down a road when I saw a crowd of people. I have no idea what they were looking for but I saw nice cars. I saw a woman step out and people take pictures so I also took a couple of pictures. Then they all left while I was still trying to figure out what the hell happened. Later, I asked who the lady was and was told that she is Deepika Padukone, a famous Bollywood actress.
It was around the time when that controversial film (Padmaavat) came out. There was a lot of security. I read that someone in power put a bounty on her and the director’s heads. I thought it was insane that somebody could say something of that nature and be accepted by a certain section of the population.
Love for Alia Bhatt
It’s a long flight from the United States to India. I was watching something random on the in-flight TV screen when I saw someone in front of me watching a different movie. I saw the actress and wondered who she was. Then, I began to look for that particular film on my screen. The name of the film was 2 States. It was really nice. I have been an Alia Bhatt fan ever since. I keep telling everybody that I am going to meet Alia Bhatt before I leave. She is one of my favorite actresses.
I love how chaotic and crazy this city can be. It’s a vibrant place with different kinds of food and festivals. I try to experience and be a part of the festivals in any way I can. Last year, my help’s daughter took me pandal-hopping in a rickshaw during Ganesh Chaturthi. We went to around 15-20 different places and saw Ganesha idols in different sizes. I was invited to watch the submersion of the idol as well.
I’ve celebrated Holi and Diwali, which happen to be two of the most wonderful and unique experiences of my life. I also attended an Indian wedding reception. I have had the chance experience a lot of things that are a part of Indian culture.
I never thought of myself as someone who was interested in history but the history here is fascinating. I went to Goa with a friend and I didn’t just want to sit on the beach. I wanted to go to central Goa, where there are a lot of churches and old buildings and a lot of history. It was fascinating to see temples and know about everything that went into building them. I have seen local dance performances as well and thoroughly enjoyed them.
People here are very welcoming, want to share their stories and are also curious about where I am from.
It’s Just a Shooting!
My friend and I were driving down the road one night after work. He slowed down a bit because there was something happening on the streets. I asked him what was going on to which he replied, “Oh! It’s just a shooting. No big deal.” I was like, “Oh my god! What the hell is happening? I’ve never heard of any shooting here.” I had just arrived in India. I had no idea about how things worked here.
We drove a little further and he slowed down the car again and began talking to someone in Hindi. He then told me that it was just another shooting but it’s nobody famous. I was like, “Dude, where are we? Where are you taking me? What is it with all these shootings going on?” The confusion was cleared only after he told me that it was just a movie shoot.
“Shooting” in the United States means someone pointing a gun at people and killing them and not shooting a movie. For my friend, driving past a shooting is no big deal. But, for me, the meaning is completely different. We still laugh about it in the office.
I have become more grounded after moving here. A staple item for me could be a luxury for someone else. I have become more tolerant. I have also learnt to not take things for granted. If you socialize with an open mind and try to know different people, you might just end up learning something from them. It’s a wonderful country to live in.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.