Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Expat Voice: Tales From Gujarat

Marie Pla in Alibaug, Maharashtra

Marie Pla came to India from France for a six-month internship in Mumbai, and went back determined to return and work in India.

“I came to Mumbai in 2016 and had to return to France as my visa would expire. By then I had already made up my mind to come back and pursue my career goals in India,” says the 24-year-old urban planner from Paris.

She tells Little India about her love for Indian food, learning the art of draping the sari and visiting ancient monuments in the country:

Seeking a Job

I started looking for a job in India as soon as I went back to France in 2016. I applied in around a hundred organizations and was able to land a job within a few months. I returned to India in 2017, in a new city — Ahmedabad. Peppered with historical monuments, Ahmedabad gave me a new experience in life.

Life in Ahmedabad

Although Ahmedabad is a two-tier city, its fascinating that it has close to six million people. No other two-tier city in Europe or even in the United States would have such a huge population. Ahmedabad is very regional and yet it has a huge role to play in Indian economy. The city is not very cosmopolitan and since it is a dry state, the possibility of meeting new people in a bar is ruled out. The culture here revolves around work and family, and I did not feel that it would be hard for me to adjust here.

Blend of Old and New

Ahmedabad is steeped in history. The step-wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan fascinated me a lot. I have seen some of them in the old city in Gujarat and they are stunning. I also visited a step-well in Bundi, Rajasthan, and the depth of these wells can be quite intimidating. There came a point when it became so pitch-black that we were literally groping in the dark. The step-well in the old city in Ahmedabad has become a center of a lot of community activities where people come together on festivals.

The old city in Ahmedabad has many such incredible and ancient structures that pop up as one walks through the narrow by-lanes in the area. My friends and I were once visiting the old city and were looking for an auto when someone indicated that we take a narrow lane that would connect us to a bigger road. As we came to the other side of the lane, we chanced upon the Jama Masjid. This was perhaps the only intimate encounter that I have had with an ancient monument.

Going the Six Yards

I love Indian textile and handloom, and being in Gujarat it’s difficult to miss the handicraft. I feel that saris look beautiful. I can now drape it well and wear it whenever there is an opportunity. Recently, I bought my first sari. I was intrigued by the numerous styles and ways in which Indian women drape their saris. I looked up the internet and found many different styles of draping the sari and tried all of them on myself — it was a lot of fun.

Making the Perfect Dosa

I have many friends who are from the southern part of India, which means that I have tried a lot of South Indian cuisine. I love Konkani food as the blend of different spices and the aroma is delectable. I like eating dosa and now I have mastered the art of making a perfect crisp dosa — although I buy the readymade batter. Many foreigners find Indian food spicy for their palate, but I love different cuisines in the country. I have tried food from different regions, like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Gujarat. I have not eaten a lot of North Indian food and that is next on my list.

Marie Pla with her friends Pallavi (center) and Bhavya in Dakshinachitra, Chennai

Goat in an Auto

In 2016, when I had just arrived in Mumbai, I was walking home from work. In France, people tend to walk a lot and I felt that I could do that in India. As I started heading home, I saw a goat being taken in an auto. It was an amusing sight for me and I took out my cell phone to click some pictures. Suddenly I saw a man, who was walking right behind the auto, switching on the flashlight in his phone so I could get the perfect shot. This cracked both of us up and we ended up having a good laugh about it. That was the only way we could communicate as we did not know each other’s language.

Marie Pla in Puducherry

Indian Politics

In my opinion, the conversation in India is drifting away from the real issues that India is grappling with, whether it is getting safe drinking water, affordable housing or education. India has some of the brightest minds in the world; there are brilliant researchers and policy analysts. The governments need to make use of these bright minds.

Unity in Diversity 

The diversity in India is so vast and vivid that it makes one feel that each region is different from the other. Right from the language and the way people dress, to the customs, rituals and food, one region varies from the other. That, I feel, is India’s biggest strength and can be its weakness.

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.