Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Mumbai, etc
I am a housewife and former journalist from Kent, England. I came to Mumbai with my two children in July 2009, to join my husband (Mick) who had come to India the previous year as MD for Synovate India. Synovate was recently acquired by French Company Ipsos. Mick is now CEO of Ipsos India. I am the trailing spouse.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After about six months I joined Mumbai Connexions, an expat group here in Mumbai. I soon became involved in the production of the group’s magazine, Chalo, and later began to write a monthly column about my day to day experiences in this crazy city. Maximumcitymadam started with this column.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
When I wrote ‘About a Boy’ I had just left my 13-year-old son at a boarding school in the UK. It was the first time we had been separated for any length of time since his birth and I was feeling a bit emotional. It was a big moment for both of us. Going back to Mumbai without him was more difficult than I could have imagined. ‘FRRO OFF’ and ‘Maid in Mumbai’ were popular with Chalo readers as they could identify with what I was writing. ‘Say hello and wave goodbye’ is a favourite.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Mumbai differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life is busy; the city is dirty and smelly and can seem quite grim. I miss the greenery of England and the change in the seasons. I arrived in Mumbai during the monsoon and I was appalled at the chaos. I became sick, the apartment was still being renovated when we moved in and I didn’t know where to buy food. We had to travel everywhere by rickshaw as buying a car required all sorts of documents which we didn’t know how to get and everything was a massive effort in the heat and humidity. How times have changed! Now we have settled in Mumbai, we are lucky enough to have a driver and a maid who help us out with everything.
Opportunity and new experiences seem to come knocking on a daily basis. Both the children have modeled for major clothing brands and appeared in TV adverts; we get invited to Bollywood parties and have met all sorts of people from B-town actors to Hollywood directors. Our holidays are more frequent and exotic – tiger-spotting in Madhya Pradesh, a visit to the Taj Mahal, beach-shacking it in Goa - all very different from our erstwhile fortnight on a caravan site in France.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Mumbai? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Even after three years I have not got used to the extremes of wealth and poverty in Mumbai. The filthy rich live cheek by jowl with the filthy poor. I will never get used to seeing tiny babies play with dirt on the streets and disfigured or limbless beggars on ‘skateboards’ – it is shocking. It continues to shock.
We were not prepared for the high cost of education and property rental. There are many changes I would have made in retrospect, too many to mention here. Perhaps it was just as well that we came to Mumbai without knowing how difficult the first few months would be; otherwise we might never have come. That said, I have no regrets we have seen a lot and learned a lot.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
On a road trip with my parents to Agra, we stopped at a roadside café in the middle of nowhere. As we parked up we were surrounded by men pulling monkeys dressed as little girls on leads. They had make-up smeared all over their little monkey faces and wore little frilly dresses. The men shouted at the monkeys to dance for us, hoping we would give them money. I was appalled and told my family to ignore them as we walked into the café. When we sat down, I said to my ten-year-old daughter: “Poor little monkeys, imagine dressing them up like that.”
“I know, she said, “the clothes weren’t even fashionable.”
As we ordered the coffees, there was a power cut and when the lights came back on, a minute or two later, my dad and 12-year-old son had disappeared. I went to look for them and found them outside dancing, whooping, clapping and throwing rupees at the monkeys.
My daughter, now very angry, said: “let’s drive off without them and then THEY will have to dance for money in ugly dresses, see how they like that!”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Mumbai?
- Pre-order a copy of ‘NamaskarMumbai’ – the expats bible
- Bring a dehumidifier
- A good driver who has experience of working with ex pat families is invaluable. People are always coming and going and good, trusted employees are recommended on the Mumbai Connexions listings email twice a month.
How is the expat community in Mumbai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Join Mumbai Connexions on arrival. There are about 300 members from all over the world. Friends come and go as contracts begin and end. I write about this in the entry ‘Say Hello, wave Goodbye’
How would you summarize your expat life in Mumbai in a single, catchy sentence?
India runs on India time, get used to it.