Indians abroad: Feeling at home in Moscow

Photo: Jan Lieske

Photo: Jan Lieske

When Aram Devi, a resident of New Delhi, came to Moscow a year ago, he didn’t know a word of Russian. He picked up the language while handling customers at her shop in Moscow and fell in love with the country and its people. Here is the story of enterprise, cross-cultural encounter and finding a home in another country while being true to one’s roots, in Aram Devi’s own words….

I am the owner of the Amber Room, a shop located close to Sevastopol Hotel.  I learned the Russian language at work while talking to clients. It is very easy to learn. I didn’t need any course in Russian; I worked 12 hours a day sitting in my shop – you have no choice but to learn a language anyway if you have to talk to customers. But I can only talk, I can’t read Russian. At home I watch only Indian films via satellite television.  

I came here in November last year. I landed at Sheremetyevo, got off the plane, looked around and found nothing surprising. It looked familiar despite the fact that this was my first trip to Russia. Everything looked like it did in the pictures and videos my relatives had shown me before. My uncle has lived in Moscow for more than 10 years, and my brothers, too have been here for long. I knew all about the subzero temperature from the stories I heard from my relatives, but I didn’t think it would be so hard to stand the numbing cold.

People in Moscow are different from us in New Delhi. They have a lighter skin, and they are also generally physically fit. In India, not many go to fitness clubs, and our 30-year-old men look like they are in their 50s.

Here in Moscow, you are on your own, and no one cares. In Delhi, it’s different: everyone is curious and concerned about how you behave and how you look. Here, you live as you please. I like it. At first I was surprised to see how boys and girls behave: they hug and kiss right on the street, and no one cares. In India, we can’t do such things; it goes against the grain of our culture and religion. Initially, I couldn’t even look at the couples kissing, but now I’ve gotten used to it. I like it in Russia, as I don’t have to hide my feelings.

Russian men speak very loudly. Like: “Where?!”, “Where are you?!”, “Did you call me?!” My boss, when we are driving in the car with him and have to stop at red lights, he always swears. There aren’t many soft men. The girls, on the other hand, are generally more friendly around here. 

I live right next to the Sevastopol Hotel in a rented apartment. It’s a good area, with hot water and gas. We go bowling. With cinema, it’s more difficult since films are in Russian. If I knew where they show English films I would go there: we Indians are fond of movies.

There is plenty to do here to entertain oneself. I once went to the Red Square for a walk. I didn’t go to museums but in the summer I took a boat ride across the whole of Moscow. Well, the city looks new, with apartments, apartments all around. In Delhi, we have a lot of people everywhere, no empty space. It is much cleaner here. We go to clubs, but very rarely. Our boss Ram says it is dangerous: “Don’t stay out long in Moscow at night.” But nothing bad has happened so far. Some friends of mine were attacked at a disco a few months ago. They told me to be careful, but I myself don’t sense any hostility. There are no problems with the police either though they do stop me to check my documents, about five times a month, I think.

Food is not a problem. In this building we have all Indian food products, I also buy spices here, and I go to the supermarket for vegetables. I like pelmeni. And I don’t quite feel homesick as I go to India for two months every year. My mother and sister are there. You have to visit your relatives to keep in touch. They also call me: “How are you there? How are things in Russia? Come back.” And I always say: “I am perfectly fine.” Frankly, I want to stay here, I don’t want to leave. My friends in India don’t ask me to bring them matryoshkas but they all want me to bring the white Raffaello candy balls, they like them at home. They don’t want Russian clothes, they’re all for cold weather here. Before I came to Moscow I had only seen snow once, in Jammu and Kashmir, but there is much more snow here, and it is more beautiful. 

I like going to the countryside. There is a forest there, and everything’s so green. Customers invited me to the town of Ryabinsk, so I went. People there live with animals, no gas, no water –– it’s like life was 50 years ago. But it was not alien. I’m quite familiar with it. And I’ve also been to Privolzhsky, people out there live in the lap of nature.

I will be going to St Petersburg for Christmas. They say it’s like Europe. In winter, Moscow is wet and dull, you have to stay indoors, or chill out in cafés. In a café, I normally eat shashlyk without ketchup and drink vodka. I don’t drink at home every day.

In summer, the sun shines, and Moscow is beautiful. People wear colourful clothes. I never take taxis. I only take the metro, because I like to watch people. In short, you are happy because no one sleeps outdoors here, you have warm homes, telephones and electricity. Moscow has everything for a normal life, and a good life at that! 

Translated from

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