Everyday is full of surprises for the young woman who helps put Hyderabad on the radar of national and international artistes. Monika Hirmer talks about work and her time in Hyderabad.
It is early August 2012; a small group has braved the afternoon showers and gathered at Goethe-Zentrum, Banjara Hills in response to email invitations and posters, to listen to a talk by German urbanist Martin Kohler. In her bright colourful patiala and kurta, she goes in and out of the room, checking the microphone, making sure the speaker has everything he needs, adjusting the projector, socialising with guests all the while switching seamlessly between German and English — Monika Hirmer is in her element.
As she tells us, her job as Project Coordinator at Goethe-Zentrum involves everything from speaking to artistes, finding a suitable location sending out invitations to people to organising the actual event. On it for almost five years now, Monika has been an integral part of the team that puts Hyderabad on the radar of artists and performers, both local and international. The city and its people have grown on her, she says, but every day brings new realisations.
“Despite having spent so much time here I am still surprised at many things I come across on a daily basis. Working here is very different from working in Europe. At first it seemed very disorganized and unstructured but I realized that, somehow, everything falls in place in the end,” she explains. Her ability to adjust to the haphazard work environment here perhaps has to do with the fact that Monika has more work experience in India than in Europe.
While Monika is German, she grew up in Italy and it was while doing an under-graduate degree in Media and Journalism that she first had the opportunity to visit India. “I always had a fascination for India and Nepal. I had read about it in books and my parent travelled a lot so they would bring back interesting looking artefacts from these places. So when I had to pick a place to do my internship in, a friend suggested Mumbai and I didn’t think twice about it.” Her internship with Business India in Mumbai went on for a little over four months.
“Coming from Italy to India what I noticed first was the vast differences between people and livelihoods. I had taken a trip to Nepal with family but Mumbai was totally different. I didn’t know how to react to the beggars on the street or the Mercedes driving out of a skyscraper on the very same street. It was something I had to deal with internally,” she says. The stint sparked her interest in India and rather than going back to Italy, Monika chose to do her Masters in South Asian Studies at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London.
Her job at Goethe-Zentrum here is an attempt to combine her interest in India with the need to reconnect with her German roots. “ Since my parents moved to Italy when I was very young I felt like I missed out on my German roots so when Goethe-Zentrum accepted my application I took it up immediately and this January, it’s going to be five years since I came to Hyderabad,” she says.
As Project Co-ordinator Monika has a first hand insight into Hyderabad’s cultural scene. What does she think of the city’s audience at such events? “Hyderabad’s people are both receptive and curious and that makes for a great audience. There have also been many more cultural events taking place in the city. When the audience has more choice, their tastes become more defined and their interests, more channelized in a subject, deeper. This allows us, the organizers, to delve deeper into subjects,” she points out.
Monika, however, doesn’t let her job come in the way of experiencing the city for herself. “I have a good circle of friends here and we get together at someone’s place every now and then. We try our best to travel to nearby places; we made a trip to Bhongri recently. My job is such that I get to meet many people so making friends here was never a problem.”
A vegetarian, Indian cuisine is a delight to Monika. “In Europe, it is very hard to get by as a vegetarian. There is a limit to how many raw vegetables you can eat. Thanks to the spices here, one vegetable can be cooked in so many ways,” she says.
Monika, it seems, is a stickler for tradition – both Indian and German. “Back in Italy I used to bake Christmas cookies with my mother this time of the year; I make sure to keep up that tradition here too!”
Having a special fascination for Indian tradition and rituals Monika is eager to take part in as many as she can. “Most recently I went for Dandiya; the night was so filled with colour and music – the elements that I love most about the country,” she says. But five years, it seems, is not sufficient time to get to know an Indian city. “While I know a lot about the place from what I have read and studied, I still feel like an outsider – an observer rather than a participant in the traditions of the place. I don’t think I can achieve that until I pick up a local language.” It is the things that you “don’t find in maps a tour books” that is holding her here in India. She also plans on pursuing the subject of Hindu women’s rites for her PhD research which she hopes to do in India. “India has become a very important part of my life and while I want to go back to Europe eventually, I know I do not want to cut my thread of connection with the country and city.”