Expat Voice: The Shades of India
French journalist Maud Tyckaert visited Hyderabad for a project and has seen the city -- and her life -- change over the last decade.
Maud Tyckaert first visited India in 1998 as a tourist. “I went to Agra and a few cities in Rajasthan during my visit. I found everything to be exotic – landscapes, people, food, odors, religious fervor,” she tells Little India. “All my senses were touched. I have beautiful memories of Jaisalmer. It is one of the most amazing Indian cities I’ve ever seen.”
Six years later, Tyckaert visited India again. The 45-year-old former journalist traveled to Hyderabad to work on a story on the future development of the city as the next Silicon Valley. “I used to work with a French magazine then and specialized in covering events from Muslim and Arabian countries. But I am a teacher now,” she says. Tyckaert tells us about meeting her husband in Hyderabad, finding beauty in the worst of places, issues such as female submission and more:
A Different Side to India
When I visited Hyderabad in 2004, I wanted to show a completely different picture of India because most foreigners are still used to seeing the cliched images of a woman carrying a matka on her head. However, we faced a lot of difficulty during the shoot due to the weather conditions.
The hotel I was staying in had a discotheque where a DJ named Manish Sahijwani played the music. At that time, I didn’t know that he would be my future husband. He showed me a completely different side to the city. I saw the youth, including girls, coming out at night and enjoying themselves. I had never seen anything like this in India. I thought Indian girls stayed at home and were not allowed to step out of the house at night.
He also took me on a bike trip to Kullu and Manali, which remains one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever been on. We were in a long-distance relationship for four years and eventually got married. I moved to Hyderabad in 2008 and started working as a French teacher.
Life in Hyderabad
When I came here, there was no metro or five star hotels or huge skyscrapers. The city has developed quite fast though there’s still a lot of greenery around in Hyderabad. There were lots of lakes and empty spaces when I moved here. Now, a lot of buildings and companies have come up.
At first, I found the adaptation quite easy. However, as time passed, I realized that it was was really difficult. I had to live with my mother-in-law after marriage, which was not something I was used to in France as I have not been raised in such an environment. There are huge culture and lifestyle differences that exist between both countries. I had to depend on my husband to solve small problems – plumbing or electricity issues – at home. In France, it was easy but here being a stranger with language issues means higher bills than normal.
I am also not used to the superstitions, caste hierarchy, social injustice, female submission and lack of hygiene that exist here. Among Westerners, India conveys an image of serenity through yoga, the omnipresence of spirituality and Ayurvedic science. I naively thought that living in India would facilitate my efforts to become a more relaxed person. But I realized I was wrong.
I will never forget the day my husband returned home with a broken shoulder and a broken ankle because he met with an accident with a buffalo. I will also never forget the day my house looked like a swimming pool due to heavy rainfall. I was wiping the floor with one hand in the dark (thanks to innumerable power cuts) and carrying my baby in the other.
Tackling Discrimination in India
We live in the army area, which is far away from the school my children study in. They play with the children of the maid who comes to work at our house.
Initially, when they would come home, my mother-in-law would make them sit on the floor and give them separate plates. I never liked the fact that she used to discriminate so I would object. But now, her way of thinking has changed. Whenever something is cooked at our house, all 4 children sit on the table and eat together. It took a lot of time but I am glad that things have changed.
People here have a habit of speaking to the servants rudely, which is why even they have become used to being spoken to in that manner. But how can your race, caste or occupation decide your value within the society?
Superstitious Beliefs in India
My mother-in-law is a superstitious woman. So she would ask me not to wear black on Saturdays and not to wash my hair on Sundays and not eat meat on Tuesdays and not wash clothes on Thursdays and so on.
When I asked her the reason for such beliefs, I was told women who have brothers should not wash their hair on Sundays in order to protect them from harm. I could never understand the logic behind it because my upbringing and cultural background is very different.
I would explain to her that all these are superstitions and that she should not follow them blindly or force me or my children to follow them. I have also heard that women should not enter the kitchen or touch the Tulsi plant when they are menstruating as it causes the plant to die.
I taught French in a couple of schools earlier but now I teach privately. Teachers don’t get paid well here. I also proofread, write and edit coffee table books for a French publisher. I saw a lot of discrimination between Indian and foreign teachers in schools as far as wages were concerned. This has been one of the major reasons I quit teaching in schools as I couldn’t tolerate the injustice. Indian teachers would earn a lot less than foreign teachers or expats.
I hate the fact that school education is extremely expensive here. Most expats living here send their children to an international school, which charges a lot of money annually. But they have to pay half the amount as the other half is taken care of by the company they work for.
I was not sent here to work by some international company so I have to pay the entire amount. Sometimes, I feel we earn only to pay the school fee.
Hyderabad is a huge city and to avoid the noise and the pollution I live in the army area, which is quite far from the city center. So, I used to travel around 50 km every day on my scooty to go to work.
But one day I was stuck in traffic in 45 degrees heat just 3-4 km away from my house. I suffered a heat stroke then due to which I couldn’t breathe and started panicking. I left my scooty on the flyover and knocked on every car window to request them to let me sit inside their car for a while because I desperately needed the AC. But no one bothered to help.
I managed to reach home somehow. It took hours to get my heart rate back to normal. I realized that I couldn’t rely on people to help me.
India has changed my perception of life. I think I became a better human being after moving here for which I will always be grateful.
I learnt how to live in the moment and make the best out of it because you never know if there will ever be a tomorrow. I learnt to never be afraid of what the future holds for me. I learnt to appreciate what I have instead of complaining about what I don’t.
Staying in India forces you to face reality and deal with it. I have seen poor children who do not have the same facilities as us but they are happy. Their definition of happiness seems to be very different from ours. You can earn all the money you want and be successful. But what is the point of doing so if you are not happy?
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.