KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH
What does it means to be an expat in Bangalore?
Bangalored: The Expat Story; Eshwar Sundaresan; EastWest Books; Rs. 350.
YOU will begin this book by wondering why Eshwar Sundaresan named his book on Bangalore's expatriates, "Bangalored", which we use to mean "outsourced". You are likely to find the introductory clarification that the author feels expatriates in Bangalore have the power to make this "uni-dimensional" use of "Bangalored" rounder, thus ridding it of the connotation of a fate worse than being hit by a Bangalore torpedo, a little simplistic and naïve. But you are just as likely to forget these in the reading, as I did and take the book for what it is, pleasant, light, interesting.
Three-quarters of it is interviews with a variety of expatriates in Bangalore, in which Sundaresan attempts to answer some questions: Where are they from? Why are they here? How has Bangalore, and India affected them? How have they changed the city? Will the relationship between them and India be symbiotic? So you have the Trinidadian Sue, of "Sue's" restaurant in Indiranagar; you have Chang, Bangalore's oldest Chinese resident, maker of shoes; you have the `most famous expatriate in Bangalore', Philips Software CEO, Bob Hoekstra ( pronounced Hookhstra); you have Father Hank Nunn, the Canadian who runs Atma Shakti Vidyalaya; the Kenyan John Patrick Ojwando, President of International Students Association; you have the British stone sculptor Caroline; you have students, software people, NGO workers, the owner of a college, the office bearers of an Overseas Club for women, visitors here attending a cricket match ... .the list goes on. They all talk, they talk about what being in Bangalore means in terms of work, relationships, climate, food, being accepted, wanting to go back "home", and in terms of what this stopover means in the journey of Life. It's rather like listening to a circle of newly-met people telling their stories, but Sundaresan adds depth to these accounts by attempting to put them in context: he has a section on the history of expatriates in Bangalore, where he tells the stories of some of the famous people who lived in Bangalore, he also makes it a point to ask different kinds of questions to different people, he has a section on the more material aspects, such as statistics. The history of expatriates in Bangalore is where we meet Abbe Dubois, whose work on Hindu life still remains something of a classic; Ali Asker, after whom the road is named and whose family owned the land that Windsor Manor now stands on; Dr. Charles Irving Smith, whose initiative in opening a ward in the city for mentally ill patients is the beginning that led to NIMHANS; Fanny Leusch, later Mother Mary, whose grit and vision helped build St. Martha's; Tatiana and Gerhart (she used to be a regular visitor of the city's famous night clubs where she would order beer for herself and ice cream for her pet python, which she brought draped around her neck) who brought popcorn and popcorn-making machines to Bangalore. The book ends with Sundaresan presenting his conclusions and impressions about issues that shaped the book: knowledge-seekers and problem-solvers; the corporate connection, romance, racism etc.
Varied and pleasant
Pleasant reading, varied voices, varied stories, good humour, and many things that we may not have known about Bangalore. Does it manage to capture what it set out to? The essence of being expatriate in Bangalore? I think it does, without going so deep as to make the book inaccessible to the general reader. "At the end of it, I found answers to most of the questions. Sometimes, I found just the shadow of an answer; occasionally, I could even see a clear pattern. As I studied the expatriate movement in Bangalore over the past 250-odd years, I discovered an uncelebrated facet of the city — its ability to assimilate."