Foreign women married to Indians have gone native, not only enjoying the life the capital brings but also giving back to the society into which they have fully assimilated
Early morning, if you see a British lady out for her morning run, collecting garbage along the way — all in a bid to keep Delhi clean — you’ll know it’s Christine Pemberton.
A keen runner and a concerned Delhiite — concerned about its garbage, pollution levels and traffic snarls — Pemberton wishes she could mobilise everyone to do their bit for the city that has so much to offer. “A bit of effort and the change would be enormous,” says this effervescent, multi-faceted lady who shifted to Delhi in 2005 with her Indian husband and their two children. Also accompanying them were members of their extended family — three dogs and four cats! Although no stranger to Delhi – it’s been Pemberton’s marital home ever since she got married in 1987 — the shift here from Johannesburg — where her husband worked with a French bank — did seem like a walk into a totally new landscape though. “That’s only because we’d never stayed here. However, there’s been no reason to regret this move,” she adds.
Needless to say, Pemberton is one of the expat wives who willingly make India their home. They do it out of love — for their spouses, families and of course, the land they have, over a period of time, come to call their own. “As wives of Indians, this is our home too,” says the freelance writer, blogger and, of course, runner, and goes on to add how she is often mistaken for a diplomat. “Many are clearly disappointed upon learning that I am not.” And when they hear her speak in Hindi, “their reactions are, more often than not, hilarious — with many gawping in disbelief”.
There is disbelief too when she is seen participating in the Capital’s growing calendar of marathons – and it turns into admiration when she pockets the medals and certificates reserved for the ‘stars’ of the show. “From being a total non-runner in late 2013 to a marathoner less than three years is something that gives me a certain amount of pride, I must admit,” says Pemberton who has added another ‘to-do’ to her day’s agenda – picking up garbage that she comes across on the morning runs.
Along with her young running friend, Ripu Daman, she has also started an initiative called Ploggers of India. “Inspired by a Swedish movement in which runners clean up after their run, be it in the park or on the street”, they decided to do something similar in Delhi. “Our logic was that when we run outdoors, why run past trash? Just pick it up and do our bit, however small, about the garbage problem in the city.”
If Pemberton is doing her bit for ‘Swachch Bharat’, Francesca Barolo Shergill —who first came to Delhi as a research-scholar — has been working for the cause of women’s empowerment in India. In 2004, when she came for the second time — this time to do her Masters from the Delhi School of Economics — she stayed on to work, first with an NGO in Rajasthan and then with some social organisations in Delhi. The thought of returning to Italy never even crossed her mind probably because, as she states, “I was getting too passionate and very involved with my work here.”
Her passion for work and interactions with women from different strata of society ensured that Shergill picked up the language (“I speak Hindi more than fluently”) and also a husband: polo player Simran Singh Shergill. “We were introduced by some common friends,” informs the 39-year-old. The two dated for a while before tying the knot in 2009. “It was a very smooth courtship and marriage without any opposition from either of our families,” says Shergill, who was neither expected to touch elders’ feet nor keep her head covered in front of them. “The only time I do that is in the gurudwara,” she lets on. Happy with the freedom of choice she has, Shergill prefers the salwar-kameez all through summer. “Not because it’s a traditional dress but because it is perfect for the hot weather,” and cooks what she wants, especially “artistic rotis”.
Destiny is what pulled Catriona Child to the country where, decades ago, her parents had spent time working for the people of North-East India. Although she loves to visit the villages where elders still recall the good work done by her “forebears”, Child stays most of the time in Delhi with her husband and daughter. Having first come to India in 1986, it was 13 years later, asking for directions in Janpath, that she met the “chosen one” for her. And since June 2005, when the two got married, Child has been happy staying here. “I have loved India from the beginning, including, to some extent even its chaos, despite getting a little frustrated at times,” and with a smile, adds, “Life here is never boring. Yes, I was kind of bored with some aspects of my life in the UK.”
Running a communications agency and also involved in social projects that support schools in remote areas, Child believes in always looking at the brighter side of things. She recalls how many of her friends back home, upon learning of her decision to settle down in India, thought she was bonkers. “Now they see how much I like it here, and when I send them photos, they can’t seem to help saying, ‘What an interesting life you have!’”
When the young 21-year-old Roswitha, now Joshi, decided to marry her suitor whom she had met while she was still at school, many of her friends and well-wishers “would put the nastiest possible articles about India” before her to scare her off. But all this had just the opposite effect — “they tickled my curiosity and, at times, my funny bone too”, says the author of many books, the latest being, Trapped in Want and Wonder.
Having first lived in Frankfurt where she studied political science and history while her husband worked in a bank, the Joshis first moved to Bangalore and then came to Delhi in the mid-seventies. “Many people wonder why, when I could have persuaded my husband to stay on in Germany, I did not. But that’s because I was curious to find out what a place that did not always get a good press was really like,” says Joshi, who was charmed right at the onset not just by the city’s friendly people but also its sunny weather. “For many months, I remember getting up in the mornings, opening the curtains and happily exclaiming, ‘Another sunny day!’ — much to my husband’s amusement,” she recalls.