We are heading the way that many, many young Britons have gone in the ‘great’ colonial past. (As an Irish person, I can assure you ‘great’ is most thoroughly in inverted commas!) We are packing our bags and moving to India with, I hope, a tad less arrogance and significantly greater tolerance than the colonialists of the past.
It is to Pune, three hours South-East of Mumbai, that we are heading. The former capital of the Marathi rulers and the former monsoon holiday destination for colonialists with a love for its ever so slightly cooler mountain climate.
This is a city that has grown over the last 20 years from a city of minor significance to being in the top ten largest Indian cities with a population estimated to be over 6.5m but growing by 100,000s a year.
It has been dubbed (yet another) Indian Silicon Valley, the Oxford of India and the Detroit of India. Western descriptions perhaps intended to show just how modern and developed this city is.
The truth of course is not so clear cut. Certainly, it is a centre for Indian tertiary education. Certainly, it’s IT parks employ 1000s of the Indian educated middle class providing IT services to largely western companies. Certainly, it is home to very many aspirational Indian universities. Most certainly it is home to many, many automobile companies; not the least TATA motors a subsidiary of TATA (which interestingly, through the various concerns it has bought into in the UK, from steel to cars, is UK’s the largest manufacturing employer). Reality is however that people have flooded into Pune from all over India in the hope of finding a job, any job. Most of these people only experience the very fringes of the wealth such development has brought if any of the wealth at all.
Alongside, the shiny new Trump Towers, the Phillipe Stark’s Yoopune residential building lie those that have not managed to find a way to this prosperity. Be it through poor access to education, caste or sheer bad luck. 32.5% of the population live in a slum. Many of these are illegal (not registered) and lack the basic services such as access to running water and refuse collection.
So yes, along with the prosperity of Pune, alongside its Westernised face will be the more bleak reality of poverty on a scale neither of us have ever experienced.
Our visit to Pune over the Easter holidays showed it to be every bit this strange combination of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. I saw some of the biggest, most extravagant houses of my entire life there and for the first time, I saw slums. Although, having only just spent one week in Pune, it seemed obvious to me that at night, for example, far fewer people seemed to be sleeping on the streets than in my one and only night time visit to Mumbai – there it was obvious – perhaps in Pune it is just more hidden. Or perhaps, what they say is true, Pune is one of the wealthier of Indian cities, with fewer living in extreme poverty.
Pune is an exciting place. Change is evident everywhere yet no change is also evident everywhere – an oxymoron if there ever was one. The noise of tooting horns (Horn OK Please – across the back of most commercial vehicles); the colour of stunning saris and salwar kameez (a people not afraid of bright colours – thank god); the non-intrusive intrigue of passerbys when they realised that we are white foreigners – everything was invigorating and made me want to move there even more than when I only had a google ‘Pune’ search to rely on. I just can’t wait to get out there on Saturday and begin the process of being able to call it ‘home’.
For three years, our lives are going to be significantly different to how they are today. I hope that we do not find ourselves living in an Expat Bubble, obliviously to the other side of India on our doorstep and possibly even driving our car or cleaning our house.
Everyday is going to be a challenge, everyday I will learn something new either about myself or about India or even possibly both. Challenges will be frustrating, aggravating, infuriating but they will also be thrilling, exhilarating and life enhancing.
Time will only tell but one thing is for certain, we are about to go on an adventure or as Winnie the Pooh would call it – a ‘grand adventure’!
So feel feel to read along, join me and my husband in our ‘grand adventure’. Grow with us as we grow through experience and challenging our status quo. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the ride!