Born and brought up in Sicily, Italy, Chiara Lo Faro first visited India in 2010 and then moved to Gurgaon for love a year later.
“I was studying in Rome when I met an Indian student and we soon began dating. After graduation, he got a job here and we eventually decided to get married. I came here for the first time to meet his family and then in 2011, I moved for good,” the former banker tells Little India.
Lo Faro, a book translator and musician, talks about her life in India, her love for Bengali movies, finding humanity in the country and more:
Lots of Questions
I didn’t really come with any pre-conceived notions about India. I just wanted to live with the man I loved. However, I used to ask my husband Sunny a lot of questions about the country. We’ve been together for 10 years now and he still tells me that I ask too many questions.
I had seen a few Hindi movies and thought that guys would be really romantic and that there would a lot of drama. However, I realized that not all of it was true. I also remember telling my father that I would get a lot of organic food when I move to India, but I was wrong there too.
Life in Gurgaon
Adjusting here was difficult initially. I was much younger when I moved. I had lived away from home but not in such a different and far away country. Back then, there wasn’t much social media activity except Facebook. I didn’t have Internet on my phone either. Only one group of Italian expats existed on Facebook but it wasn’t active at all. Support from other expats was almost negligible because no one really knew each other.
I was mostly on my own. When you move to India after marriage, you are not allowed to work for the first year. After that, you can apply for a work permit. So the first year was difficult because my husband would be at work and I hardly knew anyone. Eventually, I began to work and now have a 5-year experience of working in the corporate sector in India.
When I moved here, a lot of people – newspaperman, milkman, etc. – would come to my place and I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted or were saying. I figured I had to learn Hindi and therefore used my free time to do the same.
I had bought an Italian-to-Hindi pocket dictionary from somewhere in Italy, which I began to use. I remember that the first word I learnt was sar dard (headache) as I suffer from headaches a lot.
Now, I am quite fluent in the language. People often think that I am a Punjabi or Kashmiri, and get surprised when I tell them that I am from Italy.
There is a lot of humanity in India. I took an auto the other day and started chatting with the driver about where he was from. Once I reached my location, I gave him a little more money than the fare. He felt really happy about it and said to me, “I wish you are blessed with much more than what you have given me.”
It touched me a lot. I gave him just a little bit more than the fare but it probably meant a great deal to him — so much that he felt I was worthy of getting much more than what I already have.
Italy Vs India
People in both countries are caring and helpful. Here, if I ask someone for help, they will not refuse. They will try to help out. It’s the same in Italy. I remember reading a line somewhere that said, “Italians are Indians who drink wine.”
In Italy, people have to do all the washing, cleaning and cooking on their own. But here people employ servants to get things done. It made me wonder as to why I should ask somebody else to do my work when I can do it myself and do it much better than anyone else. I have found a balance now but it felt really weird back then.
Here, hairdressers, tailors and waiters are usually male. In Italy, it’s the women who mostly do such jobs. Seeing women carry bricks on their heads at construction sites or people eating with hands was something I had never seen before. It also felt strange to be treated differently because I am a foreigner.
Translating an Indian Book into Italian
I had read an article in a magazine about Amin Sheikh – a street child who lived at the railway station for two years before being rescued by an NGO. He eventually got an education and an opportunity to travel to Spain where caste discrimination did not exist – a module that he wanted to bring to Mumbai.
He wrote an autobiography and published it himself. The sale of the book, titled Life is Life, I am Because of You, helped him open a cafe in Mumbai two years ago. I was moved by his story and wanted to help. I contacted him and asked if I could translate his book in Italian. The translation is done and we are contacting publishers in Italy.
Besides being a book translator, I play the piano, sing and compose songs as well. Therefore, I expressed my wish to convert one of his poems into a song. We are planning to organize a small show at his cafe soon.
I am also in talks with someone to compose songs for an upcoming movie.
Love for Bengali Movies
I had heard from people that Bengalis are very intellectual and cultural people. One day, I was randomly scrolling through movie titles on Amazon Prime when I came across some Bengali films and decided to watch a few.
I found them much better than Bollywood movies in terms of content and story. I watched a film called Teenkahon and liked it a lot. Since then, I have watched several Bengali films and really enjoyed them.
Living in India has changed me as a person to a great extent. Before moving here, I lacked confidence and would, therefore, limit myself when it came to doing certain things. But when I moved here, I had to deal with situations on my own, which gave me the strength and the confidence to do what I wanted to. It also helped me discover myself more as a person.
I learnt to go out of my way and help people because they have done the same for me. I realized that you don’t just have to follow what’s written in your job description. Sometimes, you should help people out of humanity.
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.