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About Ailsa Johns – A British Women Living in India
Ailsa is a 26 years British girl born and brought up in London. She is living in New Delhi, India and working in private company. She has shared her living experience in New Delhi, India in terms of challenges of everyday life: Culture, Work Environment, Food, Friends, Housing, Immigration, Travelling and others.
Here’s the interview with Ailsa regarding her journey in India…
My understanding of India was pretty limited in the beginning. I perceived it as a potpourri of different cultures and a land of colorful festivals and religious holidays. Also, I was honestly alarmed with the safety issues, especially about women being out during late evenings and night.
My expectations were pretty limited actually – that helps me to not get disappointed. I looked forward to exploring different cultural believes and flavors in food. Also, I expected the whether to be a bit hot and the food to taste rather spicy and I was prepared for the same.
In the beginning, I was staying in South Delhi, which is relatively posh and more sophisticated. However, once I traveled to North Delhi, especially Chandni Chowk and the North Campus area of University of Delhi. It was a shock for me to find animals like cows and dogs running unsupervised on the roads. I was actually frightened and amused; both in equal proportions.
The staring! Oh my God! People here can stare unblinkingly to the point of creeping you out. Although that hasn’t been my common experience and in certain parts of Delhi I can easily relax and be myself, however, there are times in the day when the male gaze just creeps me out.
One is language barrier, because not everybody here is that well acquainted with English, let alone other European languages. Whenever I am traveling to deeper parts of the city, I make it a point to have my Delhi based friends around. Also, hanging out at touristy spots is a challenge, because hawkers see you as these packs of gold coins and they are after your life unless you buy from them.
There are certain cross-cultural conflicts. For instance, back in London it is pretty casual for us to have wine or champagne on evenings – but there is hardly any work place in Delhi open to the same. People as well are sometimes more closed and guarded. However, with patience, once you win their trust, they really open up and welcome you in. There are colleagues who regularly get me their home-cooked food and invite me over whenever they are having a traditional function at home, like the hair-cutting ceremony for infants or the fasts that the married women are supposed to observe for the long life of their husbands.
Culturally, India and the west are pretty different. Adults still continue to live with their parents, even if they have to suffer an intrusion to privacy and the likes. There is also a positive side to it, since parents are always around with their words of wisdom and any sort of assistance, advice or help when needed, and hence there is less of alienation and isolation that the people have to endure here. Besides, I think culturally, females in India are still supposed to fill certain traditional duties and responsibilities and it is a point of conflict if they refuse to do the same.
Since I came with hardly any pre-conceived notions, it was easier for me to accept people as they were, instead of putting their behaviors in my own set of filtered boxes. Also, the country is riding high on technology these days and a range of on-demand services, whether it is ordering food or hailing a cab, has made my life in Delhi pretty easy and comfortable.
We did come around landlords who would come with weird curfew timings or would charge more simply because I was a singly women living in Delhi. Their concerns were if I would party more, or have male accomplices over, which is really prejudiced. However, I had my foot down and took charge of negotiations. The point was simple – I pay the rent on time and they wouldn’t interfere with how I choose to live. Eventually, I could find landlords who were really open minded and liberal and aware of the cross-cultural conflicts.
Of course they do. I have a foreigner written all over me, given the blonde hair and a fair skin tone. Getting over charged was one factor I tried ignoring in the beginning, but now that I have friends around and I feel more confident in the city, I am able to negotiate and bargain for every penny that I spend.
Oh yes! I had to endure a tedious documentation process. But I was already prepared for it and had all my records and documents right in place and hence, it didn’t take much longer for me.
Work on you people’s skills, don’t come with any pre-conceived notions and be open and willing to associate with people. Although there are certain challenges, but the people are really sweet as well. It is always better to be part of certain groups on Facebook etc., make friends and get acquainted with places, prices and policies before coming. Also, work with an organization that has an appointed person to help you get acquainted with the same, or at least take responsibility for helping you mingle in the new premises and city.
The sooner you get comfortable with India, the better it is. Instead of wondering where you have landed up, or second guessing your decision, think of how best you can make your stay in India healthy and lively. People may surprise you with their own positivity, zest for life and an open attitude.
Yeah, I sometimes miss my miniskirts and have to think twice before wearing the same. However, I have started to love Kurtis, long cotton skirts and the Khadi clothes. It’s sweet.
Other than the language problems, sometimes Indians are prejudiced. I don’t blame them because we foreigners, especially white skinned, come with an entire character sketch of our own. However, due to social media and foreign shows entering India and whole lot of globalization, there isn’t much of alienation. It is easier to get along with people since most of them are educated and English-speaking, especially in work places and party circuit.
I haven’t explored much of North-East and I hear so much about that region being one of the cleanest and politest in India. I would definitely like to explore certain cities like Sikkim and Guwahati. Also, I am excited at the thought of visiting Kerala, Coorg and other places down south.
There are certain socio-economic and political conditions that impact women in general, regardless of the geography. However, as an expat living in India, I have had a relatively smooth time so far.
I am scared of certain places, especially Haryana and other NCR regions. However, after the mass molestation incident on the New Year’s Eve, I reckon women are not safe, in general. And honestly, this is true for other parts of the world as well. However, I am associated with several Feminist groups in Delhi who endeavor to make the city a safer space for women in general, in including females. I drive my strength from these safe spaces, individuals and groups.
Staring working in India wasn’t much of a challenge, other than the challenges I have already mentioned before. I had a job offer before I decided to move to India and while the formalities were taking place, I was always in constant touch with the contact person from the organization. Sometimes, I would also Skype or FaceTime with my soon to be supervisors and that really helped in breaking the ice and helping me start work without any challenges.
I think it would help if we are able to make the city safer for women, instead of policing their dresses or fencing them indoors. Just to see more females out after 10, chilling and having a good time in the neighborhood market helps in reducing the anxiety. If we can also keep a tab on street hawkers, especially at touristy destinations – that would really help. While I support the small scale market, it is a very uncomfortable experience having to avoid hawkers when an entire entourage comes volleying at you.
Oh I absolutely love staying here! Life in London tends to get pretty monotonous because we hardly get like two different seasons. I have grown to love Delhi and it has become a part and parcel of my life. I absolutely love the food here and the stark change of seasons. The people are kind and generous – they have a tendency of going out of their way to help you out and ensure that you are having a good time.