Diary of a Weekend Puneite: They call it home too!

Members of the Pune Expact Club at a recent Ganesh Walk

Diwali has come early for 45 girls in a tiny village off Pune. Purely because of Karen, a member of the Pune Expat Club who has been collecting goodies, treats and practical gifts for them over the last few weeks. What I was fascinated by how someone who hasn’t grown up in this country can understand the true spirit of the festival, which we sometimes in these days of materialism have forgotten.

Or when Anna, a Belgian expat who would crochet and knit found willing students amongst her house help and her friends. She began teaching them different versions and the day she left, she was gifted clothing made from this craft that she had taught. A befitting Guru Dakshina that brought tears to her eyes and goose bumps even today as its recounted.

Stories like this abound in Pune –a city that’s increasingly becoming home to many an expat who are finding an India assignment a must-do—especially given the whole ‘India Story’. The dazzling growth of the country and the city has increased numbers exponentially.  Preeti and Vikas Roongta, the owners of Lexagent Expat relocations and the force behind this top ranked Pune Expat Club have witnessed this rise over the last 11 years ever since they set up shop in 2005. “With over 3500+ members on our list, the community is just growing by leaps and bounds. From interns and top management professionals earlier, now the number of nationalities and the range of expats taking up roles here have changed.”

It’s an experience that can give anyone new and tolerant eyes! Especially for an old Pune hand like me. When I bumped into Danit from Israel at a common friend’s home – I heard interesting perspectives as we discussed work, home and life. “I cannot believe how easy it is to watch movies in India. It’s easy on the pocket, it’s comfortable and it’s a complete experience especially with the whole popcorn and shebang! Back at home, this experience is both expensive and exhausting as you work schedules to organise it.”

They deal with other clichés too.  Like how the punctual expats navigate Indian Standard Time or dealing with the Indian headshake at work. Or the lack of community parks or public hygiene in the bustling city that can baffle them.  Or handymen who disappear without even a phone call! “It’s tough to see someone begging with a child… I can’t move… It leaves me in tears,” is a common comment from the expats who find the poverty in India leaves them emotionally wrung out.

There are other realisations too! I laugh out loud as I read Marianna’s blog Mrs Sharma and Indian Stories on the sounds of the city and realise how much we adjust to what’s around us. The former Kyiv resident-Marianna- who’s on her 5th year in Pune city recounts, “Once uncle was hawking and spitting, noisily clearing his throat at 5 o’clock in the morning, I could no longer sleep. Four subsequent years this transient unsexy morning sound used to invisibly mark a dawn in the back of my mind. Probably that’s why all the traffic noise, impatient honking or festival drumming on the streets never bothered me.”

Marianna is also amongst those who have stayed back in the city finding love and warmth.  “The single expat boys go berserk when they see Indian girls in a saree. I don’t think they can handle the sensory overload. Their brains go for a toss,” laughs Roongta who’s seen many expats become permanent residents of this country and finding love, marriage and more with ease.

The settling in has become easier. The mushrooming retail sector, the jump in gated communities and also the flourishing food and drink options in the city have all contributed to Pune becoming a city of choice. “From one Dorabjee to multiple versions, from soft toilet tissue paper to baby foods – they are finding it all at less than half the price,” says Roongta whose team of 27 works round the year to help expats to embrace the city and enjoy the India experience – be it with heritage walks, coffee mornings or multiple events through the year. The assisted help makes it easier too. “From maids, drivers to cooks and nannies – the expats are humbled by it all. And their ability to really respect the dignity of labour shows! Their staff knows everything about their life and become extended family, are treated like guests and also showered with gifts on festivals and special occasions.”

Not all of the experiences are rosy and colourful like the Mahatma Phule Mandai Market which is a much-loved expat pitstop! Much like Indian women whose husbands immigrate to the US, the spouses of expats find the going tough – almost suffering from a depression akin to postpartum blues – as they put a career back home on hold. “We push the brighter side while their husbands are away at work, helping them make buddies and craft this time as one they must enjoy for themselves. It’s a boon for many of them especially with so many different activities – be it our annual Christmas market or us helping them with their social calendar – from shopping to dining out and helping them make new friends,” says Nicky Lamba, the current president of the Women’s International Network in Pune. This closed group started 24 years ago helps local ladies buddy up with expat ladies to help them acclimatise with the city. With over 130 members now, the group is open for membership for foreigners anytime of the year!

That it’s a winning and an experience to cherish is clear when expats who leave the city say what they miss most is “the warm helpful smiles of Puneites and the warm sunshine through the year!”

Picks of the Week

The Homecoming
Rahul Mishra is the toast of the Paris Fashion Week, with Suzy Menkes mentioning him as “a national treasure for India” earlier this week. But we are happy that this humble designer continues to make his annual pit stop at Pune with Rudraksh. Exhibiting his collection for Autumn/Winter 2016 and also from India Couture Week on October 14, Mishra’s design life has run parellelly along with Pune brand Rurdraksh that has pushed it on its platform. For Rasika Wakalkar who’s grown up with Mishra and watched his brand take off both internationally and tempt the Pune audiences with as much ease, “I can’t help but feel a sense of pride in what he does!” Amongst others showing in the city with Rudraksh this month also include Wendell Rodricks showing resort wear for post Diwali travels and the absolutely amazing Abraham and Thakore with their shimmer line for Diwali. Need any more reason to stay stylish?

Brand Ambassador  
We love the fact that Marvel Realtors’ Chairman & CEO Vishwajeet Jawahar despite many a building still continues to live in his first residential property Marvel Residency at Koregaon Park. Talk about being the perfect brand ambassador even in these trying times!

Nidhi Taparia

Nidhi Taparia

Nidhi Taparia wears many hats -- digital expert, entrepreneur, writer and coffee junkie -- with ease. A weekend Puneite, Nidhi left the city 16 years ago to fall in love with Mumbai – but Pune still is her first crush. The views expressed here are personal. Diary of a Weekend Puneite appears every Saturday.
Nidhi Taparia