When I came to India, I felt I was born again, but without parents. Perhaps, even without hands and legs. India was not my first choice for an internship. Like every other student in the world, I wanted to go to the US. Later, I realised I wanted to go to a growing economy and my alternatives were narrowed down to the Commonwealth countries. I chose India because I wanted to discover new places and things, those that are different from what I have seen in France. I wanted to open my mind to a new world, and live by myself in a set up that I have not known. And I knew if I made it there, I could make it anywhere. The stress of going to a country where safety issues were a major concern was constantly on my mind. I wanted to be well prepared, because I did not want to pack myself off the country, after spending a couple of weeks, unable to adjust. It took me almost a year to mentally prepare myself to come here, and I do not regret it one bit.
As a student of political science at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence, we have to do an internship abroad in the third year, in any field. I came to a corporate events company, but soon realised that I was not doing any real work, and when opportunity knocked by way of a journalism (reporting) internship with a national daily, I really wanted to grab it with both hands. I had never thought of writing professionally until the day I was leaving home, when I mother cleaned out my room and put out my writing drafts for me to look at.
At the very first meeting, the editor put me at ease and told me this was an opportunity, and introduced me to the person in charge of the education supplement who I was going to work with. I was quite sceptical that I was not going to get any concrete work initially, since I did not consider myself as a writer. Luckily, I was given an assignment immediately, and I got busy from day one. I was really taken away by the trust everyone placed in me, and I soon figured that Mumbai is a city that gives you a break, and if you’re good, there is no reason why you will not progress.
My Indian experience would not be so wonderful, had I not been in Mumbai. I love Mumbai. It is so much like New York City! I keep publicising Mumbai as the New York of India. I am able to move around easily and unlike European and American cities, taxis are affordable. The energy and vibrancy of the city makes me want to hang out late with friends, which again, is safe. I really appreciate the friendliness of the people, who will stop and show you the way if you are lost. And yes, though I do miss my regular food, I am starting to develop a strong liking for South Indian food, especially uttapams and upma.
This city is truly a melting pot, not only of cultures, but also people and languages! I was afraid that English being my second language, I wouldn’t be able to pull along very well. Little did I know that I will be learning Hindi, picking up words and phrases from everyone around! Being in this city has made me a very confident 19-year-old, who has learnt how to haggle, and if necessary squabble with the taxi and rickshaw wallahs. I want them to understand that just because I am a foreigner, they cannot take me for a ride! I learned it the hard way, but it was a lesson well learnt! I was glad that I had ample opportunity to show off these skills to my mother and aunt who visited me in January. It should not have been a surprise for them, I had already told them about my escapades in the local trains.
While working at the events company, I used to live in Bandra and work in Andheri. Initially I opted for autos, but soon moved on to the trusted Western Railways. During my first train ride, I lost my balance and almost fell down, but since then, I’ve had no trouble travelling in the second class compartment to my destination.
Apart from developing survival skills in this ruthless city, I have also had my share of Bollywood fun! The first movie I watched was Rockstar, and that too without subtitles. The two things I fell in love with were Ranbir Kapoor and A R Rahman’s music. Despite not knowing the language, I could follow the plot at least in the first half and the fun I had with the music more than made up for my loss at the language. When I went for The Dirty Picture, I had no expectations. I was already aware that there are no subtitles in Indian theatres, but the plot was very interesting. Vidya Balan did a great job, and I was really happy I could follow the story to the end!
I could go on about my myriad other experiences, but the memories that will remain with me forever are of those small moments you chance upon in life. That of seeing my first published article in the newspaper and that of the kindness and trust that I have received in India. The sight of homeless street kids is something I will never forget, it still gives me goose bumps. I have, however, come to terms with the fact that I cannot help each one of them. And those will make up my Mumbai moments mosaic.
Volume 1 Issue 9