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The Expat Blog About Town

They know your city better than you and blog about a foreign land with passion. Check out their India diaries

Written by V Shoba |
March 1, 2009 12:18:11 pm

They know your city better than you and blog about a foreign land with passion. Check out their India diaries
They haggle with the autowallahs,lick baingan bharta off their fingers and launch into Billo Rani. Okay,they can’t get past the first two words of the song,but so what? How many Delhiites can claim they discovered,at the Sunday book market near Delhi Gate,that Major League baseball player Bob Uecker had written a book? And how many can navigate old Delhi’s twisted arteries to locate a poster painter by “finding the Daryaganj fire station,taking a right,walking a hundred yards and asking the paan wallah for Vijay”? Dave Prager and Jenny Steeves,authors of the blog Our Delhi Struggle (ourdelhistruggle.com),look just like their Eastman-colour Hindi film avatars in the poster Vijay has painted of them—they’ve put it up on their blog and sent postcard copies of it back home,New York. “Dave aur Jenny: Delhi struggle. Pyaar mein khatron se zyada taakat hai,” it reads. They admit the ‘struggle’ part is somewhat misleading. Dave,creative copywriting head at an ad agency in Gurgaon,says,“We were trying to be clever by punning on ‘daily’.”

After 14 months in their cosy flat in south Delhi,the couple has learnt to exchange pleasantries in accented Hindi,take stares from shop attendants in their stride and get over their fear of the traffic turning them into a “road parantha”. The blog gushes over the small luxuries of India: the doctor will make house calls and reply to your SMS,cheques clear in a matter of hours,the beer shop owner will arrange for the bottles to be dropped home,and you don’t have to throw away your toaster that doesn’t toast—you can actually get it fixed! And,like many other blogs written by expats in India,Our Delhi Struggle is as much a diary of the couple’s great Indian adventure as it is a practical guide,for curious foreigners,to everything Indian.

Cindy Bajema moved from California to Bangalore a year ago and blogs at snidknits.blogspot.com on everything from monsoon leaks and “impromptu vegetable stalls” to how she discovered—the hard way—that RAC on a railway ticket meant ‘reserved against cancellation’,not ‘reserved air conditioned’. “Even if it is just a ‘this is what I did today’,it helps you envision what life is like there as an outsider and makes a change of environment less daunting,” she says. A photographer for a local magazine for expats,she loves exploring the shopping galleries at Chickpet,the streetside fare at Malleswaram and Woody’s restaurant on Commercial Street,where she is slowly working her way through the dosas in the menu.

India is taste bud Elysium and here,food is the ultimate cultural catalyst. Says Jurate Petraityte,a Lithuanian married to a Mumbaikar,“Everyone keeps asking me if I have got used to Indian food by now and I joke that Indian food was the reason I married my husband.” Her blog,A Girl From Foreign (agirlfromforeign.blogspot.com) reads like a Mumbai eat-out guide,taking you through roadside sev puri and bhutta,Burmese stew and martinis at a Colaba restaurant and buffet lunches at Marine Drive. Language is a bigger problem than she anticipated. Despite taking Hindi lessons,Jurate,who moved to Mumbai a year ago,finds it difficult to follow the Bambaiya dialect. But it hasn’t interrupted her intrepid exploration of Mumbai by car,auto and yes,the local train. In one post,she recommends taking the new pedestrian bridge connecting Bandra Kurla Complex and Bandra station — “No need to take an auto and get stuck on narrow roads crowded with people and hawker stalls at Bandra market,” she writes.

Most expats will tell you India is like no other place in the world,but they won’t tell you why. Paul Ancheta,a visual merchandising specialist from the Philippines who moved to Mumbai in 2005 and then to Kolkata in 2007,knows exactly what’s so different about the country that has endeared itself to him. “I expected,quite wrongly,that Kolkata would be as well-planned as the other cities I’ve lived in overseas. Kolkata cannot,and should not,ever be compared to any other place on earth. To do so would be to remain unhappy,” says Paul,who writes the blog Window Views (paulancheta.blogspot.com).

It is these sights and sounds of India that Ellen,an American who moved to Delhi only a month ago,wants to capture in her blog,A Reason to Write (areason2write. wordpress.com). Her first few blogposts on India veer from the utilitarian to the wonderstuck: McDonalds delivers; The New York Times costs $160 per month; kitchen appliances look like they’ve been shrunk; the road signs are cool,“almost like graffiti”; don’t forget to carry a day’s supply of diaper wipes and tissues when you visit the Taj Mahal. “I don’t want to forget anything about my time here,” says Ellen,whose blog gets 200-250 hits a day.

The visual delights of everyday life make excellent fodder for blogs. Joseph Mc Gann and Kristina,authors of American Expats In India (americanexpatsinindia.blogspot.com),who moved to Gurgaon in May last year,are steadfast chroniclers of pop art on Indian trucks and taxis and decoders of road signs. But even the mundane—how raspberries here look like tomatoes but taste like raspberries—comes alive in their blog. “Initially it was intended as a way for our families to keep up with our goings-on. Then it morphed into a kind of live diary for us to remember our year here more clearly,then into a guide as we had a number of people contact us about living in India. If you Google the words ‘American expats in India’,our blog is the first search result,” Joseph says.

Dave and Jenny are quite the celebrities in Delhi now—a faithful reader recently recognised them at a café. They’re in talks with a few publishers to bring out a book on their Delhi chapter,which is drawing to a close.
All set to travel to Bangkok/Hong Kong/ Beijing/Singapore,they brush aside concerns about finding new jobs in a new country. How will they manage? “Jugaad,” Dave says,“We’ll make it work.”

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