Many people have already made up their minds about India without setting foot there: it's a rape-prone, dirty, overcrowded desert of malnutrition and poverty. After six years spent growing my business and my family in Bangalore, I want to pull my hair out when I visit Switzerland and hear statements like this.
Granted, I live in cosmopolitan Bangalore, which is not representative of India. But at the same time, I challenge anyone to find any place in India that can accurately represent it. India is a country as big as the entire European continent. Its population of 1.3 billion is divided into 29 states, each with its own local language, landscape, cuisine and culture.
I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to speak for the rest of the country, but I can definitely alleviate some fears and misconceptions about Bangalore, at the very least.
Moving to India
I grew up a country girl in a village near Lausanne, a city along Lake Geneva. My love for mathematics and computer graphics led me to study and then work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Soon, the person who became my partner in just about everything inspired me to start our own company, Minsh, in 2008.
After a few unsuccessful projects, which led to an utter lack of funding, we both chose to move to India to leverage the “eastern Silicon Valley” at a much more affordable cost. I like to call it our 30-year-old life crisis: we had never been in India before, but needed a radical change. Little did we know how radically it would change our lives forever.
I vividly remember our first week in India. Both of us got sick and ended up sitting or bending over our hotel’s toilets. We were scared to cross the streets because of the traffic and could not find where the sidewalks were for the life of us. But at the same time, we were amazed by the organised chaos everywhere we looked: luxury and poverty, smells of flowers and sewers, elders and children, dwarves and giants, sarees, burqas and miniskirts. The second shockwave was how people treated us: always friendly, always curious and always smiling. We were in love.
Bangalore the Silicon Valley
About 20 years ago, large companies willing to outsource their development in India settled in Bangalore, mostly because of its ideal weather: the city is at an altitude of 1,000 metres, providing enjoyable weather all year long, far from the 45-plus degrees Celsius summers of other large cities like Mumbai or New Delhi. Because of this, many engineers started settling in Bangalore to find well-paid jobs. There’s a saying in the city, “If you throw a stone at someone, you have a 50% chance to hit an engineer”. Startups followed the engineers, venture capitalists followed the startups, and then the incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces and, rapidly, a whole startup ecosystem were born and growing.
Imagine this dynamic hub from a Swiss perspective: Bangalore counts eight million inhabitants. That’s roughly the whole population of Switzerland in a single city, composed mostly of engineers, accompanied by great weather and awesome food. No wonder we’re still here after six years.
'Fair' woman in India
As a woman, not once have I felt uncomfortable, scared or threatened. On the contrary, it seems that my foreigner status and my “fair” skin as they call people of white color, was an advantage on many occasions, like attending networking events, getting introduced to influential people or even skipping a queue. In Switzerland, people crave a tan, as it usually signifies, “I’ve taken lengthy sunny vacations in an exotic place”. In India, it’s to the contrary; people hide from the sun, and buy skin-whitening products, just so they look as light of skin as possible. Over here, the whiter your skin, the higher your status. Seems like no matter where you go, people always want to look differently than the way they were born.
The status of women in India is improving, from a general standpoint, but there is still a long way to go. In some ways, India sees women as we used to back in the 1950s, except changes are happening at a much faster pace. When I came to Bangalore, I remember getting very annoyed when people would look at my husband when talking to me – what I used to take as a sign of disrespect towards me was a sign of respect towards my husband. I feel much less subjected to this sort of behaviour now. Today, women entrepreneurs are much more common than they were six years ago.
I have two kids, both delivered by C-section in Bangalore, and, in many ways, I think my experience must have been much more comfortable than it is for many other mothers in Western countries. I was in a squeaky clean private clinic, which specializes in maternity, and the doctor who delivered my babies was the same one who followed my pregnancies (even though my first kid was born at 9pm and the second one was on a Sunday). I enjoyed a private room where I could rest afterwards, and where my husband could stay with me, and even sleep over, during my stay there. Today, I enjoy the help of a nanny who takes good care of my young ones while I’m working at my company, Minshexternal link, which provides white label mobile apps to more than 50 clients around the world.
Thanks to an amazingly dynamic and modern city, we were able to bootstrap our company, develop our product from scratch, and start a family at the same time. Life as an expat is not always easy, especially with my parents, siblings and friends back in Lausanne. But in many other ways, I feel blessed to be a blonde mom entrepreneur in India.
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