India, by choice!

India, by choice!

It was a choice made six years ago, and Pierre Marquis is happy with it. Despite his parents’ apprehensions, the young businessman decided to move to India.

“With the market opening up, it was offering up immense possibilities not just for its own countrymen, but even for outsiders like me,” he says. Little wonder then that the 30-year-old Parisian is among an increasing number of expatriates who are choosing to come to India not as tourists, but to work and live here. Fascinated not just by the exotica it offers, they also want to be part of its current booming economy.

Of course, down the years, there have always been Indophiles like Mark Tully and William Dalrymple (who, in a Yasmin Kidwai’s film, India By Choice, calls himself a ‘Scottish Punjabi’) who have made the country their home. But their numbers were few and far between. “That’s no longer the case, especially because India’s challenging market is irresistible for professionals like me,” says Marquis, who touched down in Delhi after having spent over a year in China. “I was expecting a similar experience here, after all, both are great powers of Asia,” he says. But what has made his India-experience special is the fact that “almost everyone speaks English here, unlike in China, hence getting around is easy,” adds Marquis, who initially had planned to stay in India for just about a year.

“It’s been six and I could be staying longer,” he adds. And it’s not just work alone that will keep him busy. With its many festivals — and consequently a good number of holidays — Marquis gets enough time to indulge in his other passion — travelling. “India’s changing environment is great not just on the professional front, but even its infrastructure, with more airports, air links and cheaper fares, has made travelling easier and enjoyable — stuff that makes you want to stay on and explore.”

And the country’s pollution levels are no deterrent. “When the smog levels go up, I simply pick up a face mask for myself,” he says. “And that’s something everyone here should do, not just expats.”         

Agrees Attila Lendvai, who’s happy that he’s fast getting acclimatised to the Indian weather and way of life. “Much before I got married to my Indian girlfriend this year, I had decided to make India my home,” says the Swede national who would “follow the right procedure and get an Indian nationality too, if it’s allowed.” What got him hooked onto India were the diverse opportunities that he sees opening up for him. “And the fact that it’s so different from Europe and the environment I have been used to, is what makes it all the more challenging,” says the 60-year-old business and marketing expert who spends a few hours every morning tending to his plants and a little garden he’s set up on the terrace of his flat.

Even the numerous wedding functions in his neighbourhood with their blaring music do not bother him. “It just shows they’re having fun. And in any case, I believe in the adage, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’,” states Lendvai, who is mulling over several business ideas with his nutritionist wife Meghna. “My work here is most likely to be related to food — like opening a bakery,” he smiles. Interior decoration or small water-treatment patterns that have been his forte back home could be some of the other options. Lendvai laughs talking about how his Swedish and Hungarian friends have been asking him the same question for the past one year since he decided to move here — why India? “I have a simple answer to that —  when you’re past middle age, it’s time to start afresh, in a challenging new environment. And so, what better place than India?”

This happy mix of the modern (from its rising standards in infrastructure and civic amenities to medical facilities) and the exotic (many still romanticise it as a land of elephants and snake charmers), besides the opening market is what is working well for India, says Jack Leenars, who first came here as the South Asia correspondent for De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper. “I’d always been keen on working in India and hence sought this posting here,” he says. And then, after about six years, he suddenly bid adieu to assignments and deadlines to do something entirely different — organising bicycle tours. “Everyone thought I’d gone insane, saying nobody is going to be excited about bicycles,” smiles Leenars. But he proved them wrong because, as he says, “Bicycles are part of our culture — they’re such a good way to connect with both people and places.”

And now, with a team of 25 people and a fleet 85 bicycles, Leenars’s Delhi ByCycle offers five different tours of the city with a chai stop in-between. “It’s just a great way to reach out to each other and makes us all one with the local life here,” he says.

Lately, there’s been a little change in Leenars’s home address, since he’s shifted base to Goa. “And no, it’s nothing to do with the pollution levels of Delhi, but the need to shift out of a metropolis to a smaller city — to give a better quality of life to my children,” he explains. Of course, the shift hasn’t affected work. “I am travelling back and forth all the time, and with a big team to help me, work carries on.” Ask him if, being a foreigner, he’s faced any security issues and Leenars shakes his head. “Never. On the contrary, we get a lot of respect and support. And my Hindi — it’s not as good as my children’s (who go to Indian schools in Goa) — gets me by as one of the crowd.”

India is among the most happening of countries right now, concedes Marie Abbo, who, as a marketing professor at a business school in France, had to organise an international training programme over 12 years ago. “When I was given a choice between India and China, I chose the former,” says Abbo, whose decision was prompted by the fact that she knew a bit of Sanskrit and that India was a democracy. “This form of government helps in promoting free discussion. And at the MBA level, that is what I was interested in — a free exchange of ideas among students.”

Abbo has since been coming to India with her French students and staying here for three months at a stretch. “I wanted both my French as well as Indian vidyarthis to experiment with life, and not just exams, in each other’s countries,” explains the 59-year-old who has alongside completed her PhD at the Delhi University on the alliance between NGOs and brands.

After calling it quits from her job as a professor, Abbo is now working to set up her own company that will bring in skin-care products and brands into India. “I want to keep my association with this country going,” she adds. “It’s not just work and the professional attitudes that will keep it alive, but even my love for aloo tikki and paneer. After all, where else will I get the amazing flavours I get here?” she asks with a laugh.

This happy mix of the modern (from its rising standards in infrastructure and civic amenities to medical facilities) and the exotic (many still romanticise it as a land of elephants and snake charmers), besides the opening market, is what is working well for India, says Jack Leenars, who first came here as the South Asia correspondent for De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper.

“I’d always been keen on working in India and hence sought this posting here,” he says. And then, after about six years, he suddenly bid adieu to assignments and deadlines to do something entirely different — organising bicycle tours. “Everyone thought I’d gone insane, saying nobody is going to be excited about bicycles,” smiles Leenars. But he proved them wrong because, as he says, “Bicycles are a part of our culture — they’re such a good way to connect with both people and places.”

And now, with a team of 25 people and a fleet 85 bicycles, Leenars’s Delhi ByCycle offers five different tours of the city with a chai stop in-between. “It is just a great way to reach out to each other and makes us all one with the local life here,” he says.

Lately, there’s been a little change in Leenars’s home address, since he’s shifted base to Goa. “And no, it’s nothing to do with the pollution levels of Delhi, but the need to shift out of a metropolis to a smaller city — to give a better quality of life to my children,” he explains. Of course, the shift hasn’t affected work. “I am travelling back and forth all the time, and with a big team to help me, work carries on.” Ask him if, being a foreigner, he’s faced any security issues and Leenars shakes his head. “Never. On the contrary, we get a lot of respect and support. And my Hindi — it’s not as good as my children’s (who go to Indian schools in Goa) — gets me by as one of the crowd.”

India is among the most happening of countries right now, concedes Marie Abbo, who, as a marketing professor at a business school in France, had to organise an international training programme over 12 years ago. “When I was given a choice between India and China, I chose the former,” says Abbo, whose decision was prompted by the fact that she knew a bit of Sanskrit and that India was a democracy. “This form of government helps in promoting free discussion. And at the MBA level, that is what I was interested in — a free exchange of ideas among students.”

Abbo has since been coming to India with her French students and staying here for three months at a stretch. “I wanted both my French as well as Indian vidyarthis to experiment with life, and not just exams, in each other’s countries,” explains the 59-year-old who has alongside completed her PhD at the Delhi University on the alliance between NGOs and brands.

After calling it quits from her job as a professor, Abbo is now working to set up her own company that will bring in skin-care products and brands into India. “I want to keep my association with this country going,” she adds. “It’s not just work and the professional attitudes that will keep it alive, but even my love for aloo tikki and paneer. After all, where else will I get the amazing flavours I get here?” she asks with a laugh.




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