Neha: from Mumbai to Zagreb
Neha is an Indian expat living in Croatia with her husband. I interviewed her a while ago via email. You can visit her blog at Flying Suitcase
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Neha, and I am a freelance writer.
I was born in India, and spent my first few years in Mumbai. When I was four, I moved, with my parents, to Lusaka, Zambia. I still remember bits of that first journey in vivid details. My mother was nervous. I was upset – at having to leave our home and family behind. I remember the food in the plane – it was terrible, but I loved the packaging – I’ve always enjoyed airplane meals. I don’t remember arriving in Lusaka, but I don’t remember the day we left either.
For a long time Lusaka was home. There was a big Indian community and it made things very easy, especially for my parents. We celebrated all national and religious festivals with great pomp. In fact our whole year revolved around preparing of festivities; the desire to assert one’s cultural identity is so strong when you are away from home, it becomes the centre of your existence. It was only when we moved back to India that I realized the frenzy with which we celebrated all things cultural was not always the norm.
We repatriated (to Mumbai) ten years later. The shift was conditional on my adjusting academically in India. I was terrified and super excited. My time in Zambia was very sheltered – under constant adult supervision. Mumbai offered great freedoms; I had just turned 14 that summer, so you can see why the idea appealed to me. School was very difficult; I struggled to cope with the level but stuck it out, quite respectably in the end.
I started off as a copywriter. It was interesting and for a while I was sure that’s all I wanted to do. But as time went by I wanted to write more. It was also around this time that the opportunity to move to Croatia (with my husband) came up. After much deliberation, the resignation letter, that was written a year ago, was dispatched. And the attempt to write full time began.
You moved from Mumbai to Zagreb. Was it difficult to adapt to your new city at the beginning? How did you cope with the difficulties?
It was much tougher than I had anticipated – both the move and the attempt at writing. The struggles were subtle, and in a way that made it tougher to deal with.
On the face of it Zagreb was perfect – a centrally located European capital with an English speaking population. It was small, cozy, with great weather, even at its worst. But it was also incredibly insular. It wasn’t easy to break into groups and for a trailing spouse that translated into extreme isolation. Zagreb is not racially diverse – and I didn’t realize, till it happened, how uncomfortable I was as the odd one out. Zagreb also came with limited options – in terms of entertainment, culinary experiences, interest groups, etc.
Together these small, seemingly irrelevant details created a simmering of frustration; it took me a good year to figure things out. Much like the move, I underestimated the challenges of leaving a secured job for a freelance schedule. I didn’t have the slightest clue, to be honest; it was a blind struggle. How did I cope? Patience, or just sticking it out, I guess. It takes time to understand a new culture, a new city, to find those niche groups. But once a door opens, they keep opening, and you keep uncovering those little secrets that make life easier.
What aspects of the local culture appeal to you the most?
Coming from an over-worked culture, Croatia was a jolt to the senses. Croatians live their lives – they take their summers off, they work their set hours, they always have time for family, friends and food; they enjoy all there is to it, and work is just a (small) component in this equation. This isn’t true of the Mumbai work-life ratio – where first academics and then work is your whole focus. Zagreb is also a tiny city, so you don’t lose time commuting. This makes a great difference too. As a result, it feels like you have a lot of time at hand. Initially all the free time made me very restless. I couldn’t comprehend how one could sit at a cafe with the same cup of coffee for well over an hour. Now I am as guilty of it as any Croat!