” Amar! Kannst du Deutsch Sprechen?” my friends would ask me.
“Ja, Ja. Ich Spreche Deutsch,” and I will reply with a smile. And that was the most used German I used throughout my entire stay often replying to my friends’ pun. But I never really needed to speak fluent German because the most of the times I was always with friends.
When they were not around me, the following terms helped me often –
“Ja, Nein, Danke, links, recht, Tschüss, Gute Nacht, Prost, Bon Appetit, was, Wo, Ein, Zwei, Drei, Sonntag, Montag, Dienstag, Januar, Februar.. etc.”
Having brought up in an orthodox family in an Indian village, respect became an extremely valued component of my everyday life. While on the other hand, I inherited spirituality, believing in Karma, harmony, and extending helping hands to the needy from my mother. I have also spent a chunk of my childhood travelling around with my father. The
I have also spent a chunk of my childhood travelling around with my father. The “Atithi Devo Bhava” concept – friendliness & caring the guests, I learned while travelling around with him.
There are so many instances in my life where being a polite and friendly person who also believes in spirituality, honesty and Karma have helped me win friends beyond boundaries and for the lifetime.
I grew up to be 25 years of age. I hardly knew that the traits mentioned above would help me make one of my most beautiful memories ever until now in my life.
The values and the ideologies that were imparted within would come to pay me off in the most beautiful way possible. It’s not just some weeks or a month, I felt it over almost half a year. Here is the account of how I spent one of my most grandeur 6 months in Europe in a brief plotted over experiences.
Just Help Out
Yeah, just help out without any expectations. It gives a peace of mind; it imparts a sense of self-success; and who knows the Karma might be paving a beautiful future in return.
I met Sam at IIIT-Bangalore. I was in the first year then and he had come on the campus. Having studied German in my bachelor’s, I decided to meet them and test my German skills. We became friends. I got to know from them that they have to do a lot of paper works as they were foreign nationals.
Even they were facing problems in buying a SIM card, bargaining with the taxi drivers, understanding the local market and adjusting with the spicy Indian food. I helped him the best I could do. I accompanied them wherever possible.
Gradually, we turned out to be one of the best friends on the campus. I was seen by the Germans more often than Indian friends. We travelled around; we planned a lot of things; we helped each other out a lot of times. I was not even a single bit aware that this Karma will pay me off one day.
One day, the professor from Germany Mrs. Katinka came to see their students. They introduced me to her. She was also the in-charge of student exchange program from Germany. We became good friends and I expressed my wish that I wanted to do research in computer networks to which she agreed.
There is more Indian in all of us
I love travelling. I love experiencing a new culture, new food and meeting something new, be it a person, a place or an experience. But to more on that, I also want people to experience the same. I don’t know why but I really like that. So, at the end of the Semester, I invited Sam to my remote in Bihar. A few more of his friends also joined the journey.
Stepping down at the Gaya station in the night and then travelling 20 Kms to a village was something out of the world. I travelled the same path a hundred times but for the first time with them, I realised how differently it might also feel.
The dense fog was washing the windscreen of the vehicle. There was a pensive silence amidst the roar of the engine. The beaten sound of the loudspeakers & twinkling lights staring out of the fog from a distant village where a marriage ceremony was taking place redefined the whole moment.
My father runs a school in the village. Next day when we woke up, there were already people waiting to see them. They were being treated more like a God.
- A village without electricity covered under the stars in the night.
- The spirituality when the kids join their little hands for the morning prayer and the Mantra sound fills up the empty air.
- The silence prevailing at night
- Cherishing Indian cuisines which are hardly available in the commercial restaurants.
- Kids at the village schools asking for an autograph and following them everywhere they go
- The speciality in the truest sense that they felt at my village
At the end of the week, they said they saw something which is hardly seen by any of tourists who come to visit India.
Time walks back: Being a Karmic?
Time just flies by. Friends see each other on the video call and remember their voice in quirky emails. After one year, I was selected for the Student Exchange Program at Freie University, Berlin. I was equally excited to go there. But I needed to submit official documents which also included my passport copy.
Obtaining the Passport – The Indian Connection:
Agree or not, obtaining any government official ID legally in India was as tough as trying to watch Titanic scene in front of your parents, though the times have changed now. When I tried obtaining my passport the legal way, I came to realise how much tough it was.
Then, I met an agent and he counted me several possible ways through which I could obtain my passport easily and fast. One of the easiest and the fastest way which would get me a passport was getting authorised from a gazetted officer from my district and it was the Superintendent of Police that I decided I would meet.
There was a long queue before his office and everyone had to write a chit along with name, address, and the purpose of visit. After some time, I was called into the office. The purpose of the visit was asked and the conversation continued…
“So You have completed your Bachelors from SRM University?”
“Yeah in 2010.”
“I see. By the way, do you know Nishant? Ummmm…. I think he must be your Junior?”
“Which campus sir?”
“Chennai campus. He graduated from there in 2011. He is my son. Currently, preparing for IAS in Delhi.”
“Wow! but Uncle, I studied in the Modinagar campus….” (Did you see how easily we can anyone uncle? It’s an Indian thing only?)
And the conversation kicked off. In the next visit, I was given the authorization letter. From “Sir” to “Uncle” and getting to know personally a gazetted officer because of some academic connection happens only in India.
Visa Fee exemption at the German Consulate, Bangalore
“Listen. Just say that you are doing Master at IIIT Bangalore. Also, do not forget to mention that your seniors have been going to Germany as a part of SEP. Since we are going there as a research scholar, we do not pay the visa fee.”
The above was the suggestion that I was being given away by my senior. For the Visa purpose for my Student Exchange Program, I had to visit the German Consulate in Bangalore.
“Maám, I am from IIIT-Bangalore. My seniors have also been to foreign countries for the exchange program for research. I am also going for the same and I think, there is no fee for the people going for the research work, maám,” I said with a smile on my face.
“Is it?” She replied with an astonishment.
I am still not sure if I was ought to pay the visa fee or not but our cultural ideologies which support the educational motives surely helped me in getting my visa fee exempted. We love to help each other out for no reason. We take pride in something where our country is involved.
I remember another instance when Tobi, another Colombian friend of mine, asked me that why Indians put Emphasis on “I” when we say “India”? To which I had no answer then but while I write this, I can relate myself to the fact that how much take pride in our culture, our country, our ideologies and Indian values.
The Baggage problem at the Bangalore International Airport:
“Sir, it’s overweight”
“I am just a student, Bhaiya :)”
I am standing in front of the Lufthansa Airlines at Bangalore airport. My check in baggage was overweight exceeding the limits.
“Sir, you will have to pay around two thousand for your extra luggage.”
“Yarr Bhaiya! I am just a student. Going to foreign for the first time. There are rice and daal inside the baggage along with a small prestige cooker. These things are very costly in Germany. Understand naa, please. Now it’s your wish. If you want, I can leave these things behind in the dustbin but please see you can do something.”
And, rest is the history.
If we Indians are said to be the most emotional people on the planet then we are also the most empathetic people on the planet. We understand the need of the hour. The moment I cleared the immigration part, the whole incident reminded me of an ad where the mother sends the pickles to his son living in foreign. But little did I know that the best was yet to come.
What goes Around comes Around?
After getting selected for the student exchange Program, I was very much apprehensive of going alone to a foreign land for the first time in my life. That too, to a country where I just pick up the word but could not understand the language whole-heartedly. But Sam was already there at the airport to receive me.
For the entire six months of stay in Germany, I stayed at his place without even paying a single penny to him. On top of that, he had arranged everything for me. And from the second day onwards, I did not even feel like I was out of my country.
One night, when we thought of going to a party, I got a pair of new shoes from them so that I can look chic. I was also surprised to see his mother preparing Strawberry cake for me and his father serving me the finest Bavarian beer. Truly, what goes around comes around.
I would spend weekends at his home in Nuremberg as if that was my home. I was always given a special treatment. I had been allotted a room especially for me in the basement. I was not lesser than a family member.
When we went to the party, there was a time when the DJ played the Punjabi song, and in the next few moments, I was seen showing Bhangra steps to the people around. Even though we did not know each other but the dance floor that we shared along with the smiles, steps and the hi-fives made me stand out for a moment.
“See that Indian Guy.”
It’s not only the emotions, the helping nature of the Indians, the Karma, the cultural pride but it’s also our movies, music, lifestyle makes us stand out sometimes. They help us win the moments. Moreover, we love sharing the happiness because –
We have a habit of sharing everything. I think we were a rare set of friends who hardly divided their bills when we went to the restaurant – the Indian way. Even though the western countries focus more on Individualism, we learned the beauty of micro-socialism among friends. Whenever I cooked Biryani, I knew Sophie liked it. I would always ask her.
One day, she asks, “Amar! are all Indians generous like you? Do they all share their meal every other day?”
What happens next? I was left with nothing much to try in the restaurants. I tasted most of the European dishes either at our apartment or at some friend’s apartment.
I made so many friends in Berlin. I always received a warm welcome from them. I don’t remember how many in-house parties I attended. One thing was that people always wanted to know about our culture, sometimes about lord Shiva or Krishna, sometimes about the Karma and spirituality.
One thing that Nadine could never forget from her trip to my village was the tea.
“Amar, that was the best tea I had ever had when I was your place in winter. Can you teach me how to make that again?” asked Nadine to me.
“Sure. Let’s try it.”
Yet another time after we had Chai-Biscuit in Germany in Indian style after years.
I remember I was looking out for a military color jacket and Mo & Dine showed me almost entire flea market of the Berlin for the same. Alas! we could not find that. On Easter, when I reached Sam’s place, his father bought me a jacket.
Be it the food or the cooking, the way we all sit together and share food define our Indian ideologies. While on one hand, we give values to the Individual thoughts but on the other hand, we also rock as a group.
Westerns Love Indian Culture:
Even at the University, I realised that the westerns love the Indian culture and talking about different aspects of it. They love hearing about the Indian mythology which subtly passes the message of Karma and spirituality along with its fables.
There were many instances when I found myself representing the Indian culture while we talked a lot about the spirituality, the cosmic energy, the Karma. In one of the tours organised by the university for the international school, I and my friend Shayan had almost become the Spirituality Guru.
At the beginning of the trip, it was hard to break the ice as most of us were talking in their most comfortable skins. After the tour, when we boarded the ICE train back to Berlin from Hamburg, There was a Norwegian guy who also spoke German as well as English.
He seemed particularly interested in the India-Pakistan dispute history and later, we walked down the steps to take a halt on the spirituality topic. After some time, everyone had almost gathered around us. I still do not believe that we kept on talking about the same topic from Hamburg to Berlin.
At the end of the trip? I had more friends who would smile and say hi to me in the cafeteria during lunch. Not only that, I was also invited to the office of the international school because the organisers were so impressed with us.
Once I was taking a haircut at a salon in Berlin and the barber and I had a communication problem. He was unable to understand the style I wanted. There was an old Indian person there. He helped me out with the language barrier.
We became very good friends. Imagine talking in Hindi when you walk down the streets with a stranger whom you met 24 hours ago. Imagine eating Chhole-Bhature in an Indian restaurant and asking “Bhaiya thoda Pyaaz Aur de do Yarr”.
He was settled in Berlin for a long time. He was all alone there. He was not married and the government was taking care of him. One day, I visited his house to fix his PC. While talking I just asked him, “Uncle you are all alone here?”
I could look into his eyes and the warmth that my single question carried. We are emotional; we like to extend our hands as far as possible. Our roots are strongly connected to the family, friends, culture, rituals and the thigs we do that define us. Years have gone and I can say proudly that we are still close friends. Years have gone by still it seems a yesterday.
Indians Seek Indians
In Poznan, Poland
Trust me, it’s not only the foreigners but it’s also the Indians who seek Indians within and outside. On my European visit, there were two major instances when I met India-origin NRIs and they were happier to meet us than we were for them.
On my European tour, I met two Punjabi guys who used to run a restaurant just near the Poznan old town square. Though we did not say that we were Indians the first time and we paid the bill. But they second time, we sat together and talked as if we were friends for a long time.
Later on, they refused us to take money from us for the food and on top of that, we were served the best dishes, especially pizza, they were very good at.
The Indian Boatman in Venice:
On our next destination which was Venice, we met another Indian-origin guy who used to operate a boat there. He was so delighted to meet us. That he offered to show something offbeat which most of the tourists are hardly able to see.
The world knows more about India that you think: #MoreIndianThanYouThink
Sometimes, I felt that the people from different culture knew much more about Indian than I had thought. Their questions would sometimes intrigue me. Their knowledge of our regional culture, facts, history often mesmerised me that people really are interested in knowing India.
On the other hand, we Indians would love it when we see a part of us in everything. When a Bengali meets another Bengali more likely they will talk in Bengali. While overseas, if we see a part of us in anything, our happiness multiplies. Now think, India follows you everywhere you go. Won’t that be a great thing? But this is just not a thought, this has turned into a reality.
I have recently been to Thailand, Mauritius, Czech, Italy and there just to make familiarity with you, they talk about Bollywood, serve Indian food and greet you with a “Namaste”.
The happiness of meeting someone who can speak your language; the happiness of talking in your language after weeks, the happiness of listening “Namaste” “Bollywood” “Lord Krishna” “Ramayana” “TajMahal” “Mumbai” can only be felt if you are missing those things.
It’s not only at the personal level, but even in the digital world, Indian culture is being captured and celebrated in a different style because We love connecting back to our roots wherever we are.
I recently came across the Lufthansa Tv Ad on Youtube named “A secret plot to defeat the Indians by thinking like Indians!” I felt how close they are in capturing the Indian essence – Cricket, Yoga, Chapati, Dance, Namaste, Indian Curry etc. At 00:25, even the guy tries the famous “Helicopter shot”.
I am sure these initiatives by Lufthansa would help them in winning more Indians. Here is that video: