Friday, April 11, 2008

My Friend From France

She is much taller than me. She has a dazzling smile. She is strong in the fundamentals of finance. She is well-qualified. She has lovely brown eyes. She is incredibly down-to-earth. She eats with her hands more adeptly than any villager in the country would.She is a fascinating human being. And believe it or not, I am talking about somebody who I have grown to admire, respect, love and indeed cherish, even though she is not born in India. She is a special girl!

I am not talking about any girlfriend that I have (wish I did!). But, I am talking about my lovely friend from France, who has been living in India for the last few years. She came to India on an exchange programme in a top business school and has since been working here. I first heard her voice when my boss was recruiting a foreigner into our team. And he said France - obviously, my ears caught that word - I mean, how many guys will get to have a French girl as a team mate in India! Finally, my boss managed to recruit her, get her visa done and then she arrived in our office in Bangalore - back in the summer of 2005.

We worked together, but very quickly became good friends. She knew a lot about India even before she arrived and had seen so much more of the country than my friends and I together had. She was good at her work and picked up the Indian way of working pretty quickly ( meaning, long hours and working on weekends!). I will never forget those lovely Friday afternoons when she used to bring a home baked chocolate cake to the office and share it with the entire team. It was an unseen culture in our office - but she carried it off & brilliantly at that.

I quit that firm and we kept in touch. I saw her transform from the regular European, bland food-eating individual into more and more of an Indian. She started eating spicy Indian food. She learnt the variants of the north Indian and south Indian palette. She picked up the tricks of the trade, so to speak, in eating without a fork and a knife. Of course, she did crazy things along the way - such as mix gulab jamun and curd for dessert, that had us in splits! But, that's the kind of effort she put in, towards understanding the Indian way of life, not just the food. I have seen her take great efforts to be as Indian as possible on Ethnic Day at the office, when she would turn up in a saree and dumbfound the most ardent of Indian male admirers. Her height, her charisma and her poise were exemplary at all times even when she was surrounded by men and women who spoke the local language - poor thing, she never understood Kannada or Hindi! That's something she always told a good friend of mine and me (we were all in the same team) - that both of us, never ever speak the local language in front of her. We understood what she meant - imagine surviving in a country of over a 1000 languages, and knowing only one language i.e. English! Tough life! But my lovely French friend has done it, and done it with style for a long time now. She is even training to learn Hindi nowadays.

There have been some memorable moments with her - like going to a Hindi movie and translating every word for her, so that she gets the context of the movie (she must be one of those rare girls who does not drool over Shahrukh Khan when he is on screen; but instead was all ears to my translation efforts - possibly the only time I scored over King Khan!). There have been other times with her as well, such as long walks in and around her neighbourhood, or catching up on evenings at Coffee Day and having a nice little conversation or two, or going to watch a play, or watching a concert at Rangashankara (a famous Bangalore art centre), or just driving around Bangalore in the car and listening to music and engaging in long conversations, or trying out some new cuisine in town. Interestingly, there have been so many variants to our outings that I have forgotten which is more memorable than the other - they have all been special!

The fact that she has become so much of an Indian is demonstrated by the fact that she is able to fight with rickshaw drivers on the tariff! Another testimonial is her ability to drive in Indian traffic, that too the pathetic Bangalore traffic, which is a nightmare for the most seasoned of drivers. But for my European friend, its no big deal! She will glide through the traffic at ease. Her road sense, her ability to jam on the brakes at the eleventh hour, her sense of navigating around cyclists and buffaloes and what have you are a revelation in the art of learning to live in a new country. Imagine, for someone so used to picture perfect situations back home in Paris, where there is no trace of a bullock cart of a cyclist on the main highway, to driving a four-wheeler in the nightmarish, one-ways of Indian roads! Some transformation and ability to adapt, that!

I have been away from Bangalore for a while now. But every time I go home for a vacation, I ensure that I meet my lovely French friend. She is a delight to hang around with. Just reliving old times, catching up on old office gossip, learning about her trials and tribulations in our country have taught me the lesson that great friendships have no barriers - not of geography, not of language, and definitely not of food etc. She knows that I am a vegetarian and that I am a tee-totaler. And she respects that. All the same, she has taught me many things about how life pans out in France; how people end up going out to restaurants 3 - 4 times in a week; how family dinners are a special place; how people work in one firm for many years, unlike what we find in India, where the average Joe jumps jobs at the drop of a hat and how the French government takes care of people without a job.

All in all, my French friend is one of the finest human beings I have ever met. Incredibly sweet girl and somebody whose friendship I genuinely treasure. I know that she will go back to France eventually, but to have gotten the chance to meet her and get to be such great friends with her while she is in India, is one of the privileges of my life. And one of the truly memorable friendships in my life, which I am confident, she reciprocates!

Cheers to you, girlie!