There are an estimated 450,000 people of Indian ancestry in Australia. Some 163,000 Indians migrated to Australia in the last five years alone. But Australians living and working in India are still a rare breed. Just as the average Indian migrant faces a mixed bag of experiences – some pleasant and some challenging – it’s a tricky affair for Aussie expats living in India as well. In this series, we speak to such Aussies about their life in India – what took them there, what they do, and what they have learnt about a different culture and a new way of life.
This issue we speak with JENNIFER MILFORD, COO of a leading Indian law firm.
What do you do in India?
I am the COO for Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, one of India’s largest law firms. With more than 100 partners and 520 lawyers plus business services teams located in seven offices throughout India, it makes for a busy role.
What challenges have you faced at work?
Both, the “daily unexpected” (which keeps life interesting), as well as the (sometimes) slow pace of change.
How did you first get to India?
I was in a similar role in Hong Kong for 10 years.
The needle of Australian-Indian bilateral trade has been stuck at $15 billion for some time now. Why aren’t there more Australian companies in India?
With India, I think it can be hard for businesses to know where to even start. But over the last five years, I have seen the growth in levels of support available to Australian business, in terms of agencies, organisations and even individuals who specialise in assisting Australian businesses to enter Indian markets, so I think that needle will move over time.
Let’s talk about your personal experiences of India now. What was your first impression?
I first visited India many years ago and loved the colour and culture even then. That hasn’t changed and it is one of the things I really enjoy about it. I call it the “daily colour”, as in I know there will always be something to surprise, challenge or even shock me on a daily basis. Life is never dull or too predictable in India.
Adjusting, what was the most difficult bit?
I was fortunate enough to make some great friends fairly quickly and easily, so that certainly softens any landing into a new culture, not only from the social perspective but a network of friends can also be a source of great tips, especially around seemingly simple things like food, shopping and restaurants.
I think the biggest difficulties for expats living in Delhi are the air quality, the traffic and for animal lovers, seeing cows eating plastic bags by the roadside. Having said that, Sydney is not without its traffic and pollution problems too!
What did you find to be the most strange?
Not so much strange, but I found that it has been really worthwhile building a deeper understanding by digging into the meaning behind the various holidays and festivals.
Figured out the head wobble?
I love the head wobble. But I always ask and never assume that I have interpreted the meaning correctly. I have learnt that the meaning behind a head wobble can be highly nuanced.
What was the easiest thing settling in India?
Finding great people on the ground to assist me has been key. My driver has made my life so much easier and I feel very fortunate to have had his help over the years. I am also lucky to have very good people at work who have been able to help me sort some of those India-specific issues that do arise on a regular basis.
How did your neighbours treat you when you moved in?
Very hospitable and welcoming. I have had some great neighbours and yes, great landlords too!
Apart from family and friends, what do you miss about Australia?
A supermarket where I can visit at the end of a busy work week, and being able to buy the week’s food and groceries in a single shop and stop.
What’s your India bucket list?
Still quite long. It’s such a vast country.
Do you see yourself long-term in India?
I have lived in Delhi for almost five years now and it still continues to surprise me.
Any advice to Aussies looking to work in India?
Think more globally. Expect to be surprised and challenged by India. Be open to learning something new, every day.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Read a book by an Indian writer?
Quite a few really as I was a member of three book clubs at one point in time, as well as a visitor to the Jaipur Literature Festival. We read Arundhati Roy, Anuradha Roy, Amitav Ghosh, and of course, William Dalrymple, Tarquin Hall (OK, I know they are British), Salman Rushdie, and Kiran Desai but also Neel Mukherjee, Arvind Adiga, Khushwant Singh, Madhur Jaffrey, Shona Patel, Jaspreet Singh and Namita Ghokhale.
Know any Hindi words?
My first Hindi word – apart from Namaste – was ‘chalo’. I still love it.
Favourite local dish?
Aloo gobi. How can cauliflower taste so great?
Cook anything Indian?
Favourite Indian celebrity?
That’s a tough one. Deepika, Kajol and Alia? I also like to sneak in a Koffee with Karan on occasion.
Seen a Bollywood movie?
Absolutely. Who doesn’t love Hrithik Roshan in Bang Bang? Fabulous. I also really enjoyed The Lunchbox and of course, I would have to add Jolly L.L.B. to my list as well.
Know any Hindi film songs?
Well, the obvious one of course is Jai Ho (but the words are pretty easy for us Westerners to learn!) I am pretty good at humming.
Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan?
Shahrukh all the way!