On a cold yet sunny November morning I meet Uma. I had looked her up in a community of expats in Cologne and was intrigued by her website that I asked to meet her in person. In the first five minutes of our conversation I get to know that she is a marketing communication professional who often works full time, juggling life in her various roles as a mother, a spouse, an independent consultant, a volunteer, a student at The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) and sometimes a teacher, where she offers short workshops in breathing techniques and meditation in her after work hours. Amidst all this Uma says she also makes time for regular yoga, creative activities with kids, travelling, social causes and writing. She impresses me with her positive attitude to life.
She was born and raised in Chennai (east coast of India). Uma recollects that even as a child, she was always in multicultural groups. India’s diversity brought together people of different cultural backgrounds in schools, universities and workplaces, so she is kind of used to this Multi-kulti. And, to add to that, her marriage to her then colleague, a man from Delhi, makes her household a two-state India. Adapting to another Indian culture, food and language in her marriage while living in cities that neither she nor her husband grew up in has helped her stay opened minded. Here is an excerpt from my conversation with her.
What was the most difficult part about moving to Germany?
My earliest memory of overcoming a difficulty in Germany was learning to drive on the right hand side – coming from Asia’s left lane driving- and adapting to the limitless speed of the Autobahn. And that, I chose to do driving lessons in the seventh month of my pregnancy – my decision – in a language that I barely understood, remains till date, one of the most difficult thing about moving here. Imagine, accelerating at 120 km, with a baby kicking and pushing. It was more than just an adrenaline rush. Learning to dress in layers is another difficulty that persists even now.
How does it feel to be an Indian woman in Germany?
Well, my fundamental identity is not my nationality, although I know that’s how most people perceive me. I think the chances I have had in life make me feel more global than Indian. Of course, I am proud to be an Indian and I’m grateful for the chance I have to break some of the stereotypes about India. You know sometimes, Europeans tend to see Asian countries and culture though a pinhole camera. Many things you read or see about India in the news are true, but to assume that applies to each one of the one billion Indians is being prejudiced.
Tell me more about your childhood…
I come from an educated and well-to-do family. I grew up in an environment that gave me and my sister the best of two worlds – an educated and intelligent business world that we experienced through a diligent and successful Dad and an educated, wealthy and philanthropic world that came through my Mom’s large well-known family. It was mostly my mother’s foresight and parenting techniques that helped me and my sister be the fiercely independent and sensible women, that we are today. In the 80s and 90s – a time when Indian mothers pushed their daughters to conform and abide by conservative rules and regulations imposed by the society, our mother encouraged us to be independent, taught us to think for ourselves and gave us the chance to find our own limits. And my sister and I would not be what we are without her foresight.
Do you raise your daughters in the same way?
Absolutely! My husband and I do the same. We provide them with opportunities to learn and experience different things without cluttering their minds with our personal judgments. We also let them know that irrespective of what they meet in life or make of life, they will always be welcome in a safe and warm nest called home.
What is it that you don’t like in Germany?
Hmmm, well, some trivial things like less sunshine, taxation, lack of extended childcare for working mums, etc. But if I think deeper, I would say the western world tends to mistake the Asian politeness as a sign of personal weakness and I have had to come up with creative ways of changing that perception.
What would you like to change in Germany?
Stop it from changing me too much! I don’t want to change anything in anyone, but I would like to bring IAHV’s programs to schools, universities, workplaces and other such communities in Germany so people can be the change they want to see in others….hmm…I know what you are thinking ….that it sounds mighty and too big and philosophical even, right? But it is better to have might goals than petty ones you agree?
Do you feel integrated in the German society?
I feel integrated and belonged everywhere, not just Germany. Happiness is independent of Geography.
My last question to you Uma, what do you think the future holds?
No idea. And not knowing what the future holds is in some way, exciting. But I hope to combine my working hours with certain social projects that help people improve the lives of people around us. So, the future for me will have a significant social agenda – an agenda that goes beyond fund raising – an agenda that requires time, effort and skills.