'I explored India as much as I could'

'I explored India as much as I could'

Expat zone

'I explored India as much as I could'

Italy (okay, all of Europe) is slowly recuperating from a prolonged and severe economic jolt but Elena Santolini has no plans of heading back. She moved to the City two years ago and fell in love with what she saw. Now, step by step, she’s building her nest here, with thoughts of Italy shoved to the back of her mind.

She says, “When I was in Italy, it was my student life. Maybe if I had started working there, it would have been different, but now India is my home. Here, I have expenses, rent to pay, a salary, a job, responsibilities and friends I love. This is where my adult life started and I don’t feel like going back to Italy. That house is my parents’; this is something I work and pay for myself.” While Elena does miss her family, she notes that this move helped her realise who her true friends are. “When you are outside your country you understand who your real friends are. Now, I go back to Italy once a year and my parents are happy with that.”

Elaborating on why she isn’t keen to fly back, she says, “I don’t like the Italian mentality. Most people think that if they and their family are okay and they have money, they need not care about others or the country. Italy is going through an economic crisis where one day a person has a job and the next it’s gone, but they don’t want to change until that happens. And if you think the politicians are bad here, they are worse there!” To escape this indifference, she found home in Bengaluru.

Elena comes from a small town near Ancona (central Italy) called Senigallia. On a diagonally opposite coast to Rome, its population is miniscule.

“It’s a very small town with around 45,000 people. It gets boring after a while because there are few people; you get to know everyone and every corner of the town in a few years. My dream was to move to a crowded metropolis and when I got the chance to move here, I was excited!”

With a rusty knowledge of English, she came here in late 2013. “It was for a six-month internship. During those six months, I explored India as much as I could. I’d take a train or bus out of Bengaluru every Friday night and be back on Monday morning. After that, my company wanted to extend my contract so I agreed to stay on.”

She has travelled to Kodaikanal, Varkala, Ooty, Puducherry, Mahabalipuram, Madurai and more. And when she gets an extended leave, she heads to North India.

“We did a 15-day trip to 13 cities once. We went by local trains and buses. We started out from Bengaluru, went to Hyderabad, Delhi, Chandigarh, Shimla, back to Chandigarh, Amritsar, Ludhiana, where our train was cancelled, so we went back to Delhi, then Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Mumbai and Goa.” She doesn’t find it unsafe to travel in India and mentions that people are very helpful, even if they don’t understand you.

Unlike many expatriates, who have nasty cultural shocks on their first visits here, Elena had a rather pleasant one.

    “Most Europeans think that India is just a poor country and has nothing. They are wrong. When I first came here, I was like ‘oh wow, they have such big malls and streets!’. In India, people from different religions, ethnicities and economic backgrounds come together with ease. In Italy, that isn’t the case. Yes, there are problems of caste but there’s also a good balance.”

Another reason for her planting roots here is her boyfriend. “He was my project manager and boss but now he quit. We are planning to get married soon.” Elaborating on her relationship, she says, “In Italy, the food is bland. There is no fat or spices in the food. And the meat, which is an important part of our meals, is just grilled and served with boiled vegetables. My boyfriend, however, is a vegetarian Brahmin so I’m not even allowed to touch his food with my fork if I have eaten meat. Nor am I allowed to kiss him for a while!”

Talking more about food, she adds, “It’s very different. And for the first few months, my mouth would be on fire each time I tried anything. But now I’m used to it and even if I’m
crying, I’ll enjoy it!”

When she isn’t with her partner or travelling, she can be found partying. “For an expatriate, this is the only way to make friends. People come and go so if you don’t go out, you’ll be alone.” This is why she puts up with commercial pop and electronic music. “I’m more into rock!”

When you meet Elena, you can’t help but notice the body art she supports. With 12 ear piercings, two mouth piercings and six tattoos, she says, “Most of the tattoos are about rock music and my favourite band ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’. It’s like a religion for me; their music is a philosophy! So my tattoos are something related to them but hold meaning to me as well, like friendship, love and more.”

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