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The Modern Indian Expat In Asia

The Modern Indian Expat In Asia

August 01, 2012

When South Asia meets South East Asia - the Indian Expatriate Dream.

Many years ago, I read an article written by the brilliantly funny Jug Suraiya where he talks about the Great Indian Traveller (or GIT) whose credo is “I am very bore”.  Armed with this philosophy, the GIT proceeds to wreak havoc upon holiday destinations. His presence is detected by empty packets of chips strewn around freely and boom boxes blaring “chikni chameli” (I decided to make the song more contemporary. I don’t think it had reared its head those days) and the GIT’s offspring also declaring that they are still “bore”.

Deeply impressed by this, it struck me that the Modern Indian Expat in Asia (MIEA) is no less worthy of being immortalized in an article.

The MIEA in his country of residence in Asia is readily recognizable by two things.  One, his deep conviction that all the Caucasians in his office are being overpaid and that he is being underpaid. Second, his abiding belief that he is personally indispensable at work. These convictions make for a nice combination of superiority, a sense of being wronged and self-righteousness.  To be fair, the MIEA works his butt off but ensures that weekends are spent playing golf and drinking rare Single Malts with his buddies.

This is important. There are only 3 rules of the Single Malt Club - a) the name must be unpronounceable and must have at least 8 consonants ; b) it must be from the most remote Lowland brewery (Highland malts are so passé) ; c) it must smell like superior disinfectant.  (Only Glynywwwlllyyn will do),

Madam MIEA  has a busy life. A typical day consists of supervising her super efficient household staff (dinner for 8 tonight), her coffee morning with her “girlfriends” (an Americanism that has been quickly embraced).  Lunch with a neighbor, tea with a friend and a quick nap before dinner, and that takes care of her day.  GroundHog day fashion, this repeats itself the next day – except the dinner will shift to a friend’s home. Life is so hectic, you know. I’m so tired of socializing.

The International School keeps her busy as well.  New customs and traditions have taken root. Halloween is big (must do the pumpkin carving and the costume), birthday parties are intricate social exercises involving the most appropriate venues and activities, the perfect return gifts for a multi-cultural crowd, and ensuring that no peanuts get into any of the food. Junior MIEA (with his truly enviable ability to switch from flat, nasal American vowels to a “good” Indian accent) has very specific needs vis-à-vis his birthday celebrations. After all, he needs to be invited back!

From birthday concerns to university concerns. The rule is – must be anywhere but India or the country we are now in. If not the UK or the US. any friendly East European country will do.

The MIEA family is also recognizable by their holidaying habits.  Mention the word “tourism” and they recoil in horror. Tourists are ignorant pond scum – doing guided tours and gawking at the Eiffel Tower.

“Doing” a place is much more civilized. It implies that you “get” the country – you avoid the clichéd spots, you immerse yourself in the culture and emerge a more interesting dinner companion – with better, brighter, more insightful stories with SOUL (“this little boy in the souk… he took me home and his grandmother made me real Moroccan tea out of a 14th century pot”). And think of the FB post that would make.

No more SEA (so crowded darling, who wants to go to Bali again?). Nope. The thing to do is to choose the most politically and culturally correct destination and then “do” it. “This summer we plan to do Petra and then Praha. Prague to you” Popular destinations are – Jordan, Burma or Myanmar (choose your PC version), Ireland, Morocco, driving in NZ (always) and of course that old favourite – New York – again.

The MIEA and his missus like to call themselves foodies. While traveling they fall upon the local cuisine with a vengeance. Pierogies in Hungary, damper in Oz, aglio olio with a light shaving of truffles, bratwurst and other wursts while in German… but hang on – I spot a “Shalimar Tandoori Palace”.  Any interest in further approaching (another) slab of cold European meat vanishes at the thought of good old butter chicken and dal makhni. God bless all the Shalimars in the world – even if the food tastes like a vague facsimile of Indian food, nostalgia adds a ton of flavor to it. You really can’t take India out of the Indian expat – Thank God. 


  • Writerzblock
    06.08.12 12:01 AM
    U're quite right Achala!! I realised it just after hitting 'submit' :-)
  • Rajpriya
    04.08.12 05:06 PM

    Thanks for clearing my doubt. It was good reading the expat story. Oh! While in Germany you should try out the home made Sauerkraut. A famous German speciality.

    The following link will give you all about German wursts and every kind of food and wines you may want to know.
  • Achala Srivatsa
    Achala Srivatsa
    04.08.12 12:24 PM
    Well, Asia outside of India - I was thinking od SEA actually... thanks for reading...
  • Rajpriya
    04.08.12 09:29 AM
    Asia is not abroad or is it?

    "Madam MIEA (Modern Indian Expat in Asia) has a busy life. A typical day consists of supervising her super efficient household staff".
  • Writerzblock
    04.08.12 03:16 AM
    Ha ha, well written article!! Particularly, the bits about 'doing' a city/country :-) and the 'Shalimar' restaurant!!!

    But you know, there's more, like for example, celebrating Kolu/Lakshmi Puka/Karva Chauth/etc decked in all their finery, and posting pictures on FB to prove they are indeed upholding Indian culture despite living abroad. The perfect blend of East and West!!

    Only one complaint, Achala, most women living abroad do not have 'household staff'. It is just themselves! That apart, very interesting article!
  • Divya S
    Divya S
    01.08.12 06:44 AM
    Hahahahaha Oh my goodness this is spot on.

    Back when I was in university, I used to hang out at the coffee bean and at 11AM sharp, an entire "Jing Bang" of MIEA Madams would descend to have a 3 hour conversation on 'charitable work'. They even wore badges.

    The conversation however was usually an uncharitable discussion of the latest scandals in their circles. At that point I'd abandon studying and just shamelessly listen. It was vastly entertaining to hear about Mr. so-and-so's affair with that tart, and Mrs. So-and-So's nose job.

    The thing is, I've always straddled both worlds. My parents are MIEAs and much of my childhood was spent socializing in those circles.

    But my dad kind of broke the mold and went native, so it was a government job for him, local schools for me and my brother, and citizenship for all of us. In fact, we see ourselves as Southeast Asian rather than South Asian.

    Nevertheless I still have friends in the MIEA category, and I find them exasperating and endearing all at the same time.

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