I started my blog AngelasBangalore.com while completely jet lagged in my hotel room the first day I moved to India. Although it started only as a way to share my daily life with friends and family back home, it turned into India’s first luxury travel blog and it continues to be the Google ranked #1 ‘Bangalore blog’. Conde Nast Traveller magazine recommended it on their 100 Secrets of India list, which was a huge honour because they are such a respected resource in the luxury travel space. This week I’ve redesigned it and I’ve hired three amazingly well-travelled young Indian women to help me grow it. I’m so proud that my team is comprised of talented and curious female world travellers. They are bright and educated women, adventurous in spirit and so absolutely delightful to be around. Each is an inspiration to me and an amazing role model – not only for girls in India but for any traveller-at-heart around the globe!
As of this summer, I’m also the co-founder of a website strategy, design and development company in Kerala called Logic Shades. Together with my two friends Sujith and Bibin, who I’ve been building websites with for a few years now, we are starting to grow our client base around the world. The thing we are most excited about at the moment is that we are on the verge of building the new site for RED Brigade as our way of donating to their amazing NGO. As a side note, I’ve just interviewed their founder Usha Vishwakarma and am about to start writing an article about those brave girls.
Where are you from?
I was born in Los Angeles, California but lived in Mexico from the age of 21, Spain for 12 years, India for three years and then China and Hong Kong.
How long were you in India?
I lived in India for two and half years until I was blacklisted from the country like a criminal over an administrative issue with my PAN card. I’m not joking, it was awful! At first I didn’t realise I was going to be blacklisted but we weren’t allowed to leave the country as they investigated us, sending police and FRRO officials to our home, my work and even checking references. Then I was told by the FRRO’s former senior official in Bangalore that everything would be okay and that I simply needed to fly to my country and request a fresh visa and then return back to India, which I did, only to arrive at the airport and be turned right back around like a deviant. It really was awful. My cats were in India! My life, my new company I had just started up and I had to leave it all behind because of an administrative issue over a PAN card. It was heart-breaking. Now I’m working with a lawyer to fix my ‘blacklisting’ status so I can return.
What brought you to India?
I was living in Barcelona when the recession hit back in 2009. I was one of five people leading a start up digital marketing company with 250 employees and we outlasted most companies because we played in the online space. I ran Comms with a team of 22, so my department was the first to be cut. After a year of looking for work in Spain I sat down with my 16 year-old daughter. We opened up Google maps and we chose seven countries where we thought we could be happy (I’m not a flag waving American, so I hope to never have to live there again)! India was the first country to offer me a job and I happily accepted. After I arrived, life turned upside down and I didn’t exactly live the ‘dream’ in some respects professionally, but in other ways I had more opportunities than I ever had in my life.
What do you love most about being here?
It depends on what you mean.
If you are talking about my professional life, I loved all the random projects and jobs that presented themselves. I had a weekly column in DNA newspaper and that was really fun. Because Bangalore had never had a blogger like me, I enjoyed a certain amount of liberty because of AngelasBangalore.com. I was treated like a journalist and was part of the Page 3 crowd. Also, it’s only because I lived in India that I won the contract to handle a tour and social media for Guns N’ Roses Live India Tour in December 2012. I travelled with the band, enjoyed behind-the-scenes moments normal fans like me wouldn’t experience otherwise, and of course I worked really hard but it was EPIC and totally awesome.
If you are asking about my personal life, I will tell you that I loved my friends, the Sunday brunches, the special moments with my daughter and my driver Shiva. There were crazy things that could have only happened in India like when we had a home invasion by a monkey, or feeling beautiful every time I wore a sari! India is an amazing country full of contrasts. For all the negative things I endured as a woman in India (like most Indian woman do), I have an equal amount of positive things to say about the country.
Being in love was hard in India because of the man I fell in love with there. We had to pretend to be friends because he and his family are well known and I had three strikes against me according to his family (and probably a lot of society and the media had they known). I was seven years older, I was divorced and I had a daughter. Because we kept it secret it caused a lot of problems and we had a lot of fights because it was hurtful for me. Looking back I should have just cut ties with him but the heart wants what the heart wants…and I still think of him every day and haven’t moved on yet.
Are there any great moments that particularly stand out for you?
There are so many great moments!
- I worked with the Karnataka Premiere League and KSCA for a short time so I would sit in on meetings and have discussions with Anil Kumble and Javagal Srirnath, which was very cool.
- While my brother from San Francisco was visiting, we attended a village wedding in Tamil Nadu with 2,500 people and we were the first non-Indians that many of them had ever seen so it led to some funny antics and adventures
- The most memorable week of my life in India was right after my daughter graduated IB and was about to leave for university in the UK. We took a road trip to Coorg to stay at the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri for a week. It’s a long drive and we sang along to 70s and 80s music the whole drive down (to the horror of our driver I’m sure). We visited the Bylakuppe Tibetan Buddhists’ village, spent time just talking and reminiscing about our life in India and she even took a pottery class at the Taj so I have a souvenir from my trip that means more than anything I could have bought in India. And the best part, my daughter told me that India was the best thing that ever happened to her, which was amazing to learn (I blogged about it with her blessing!).
What have been your greatest integration challenges?
Losing my independence as a woman was the hardest thing. I used to take the train and subway every day for eight years in Spain and never once in all that time did anyone touch me, try to grope me, or make me feel unsafe as a woman. That’s not true in India. I have been fondled, groped, attacked and looked at, at times with such disgusting lust that it made me feel unsafe to live in the country. I’ve been living in China and Hong Kong since India and in the two years I’ve been here I’ve never felt unsafe. No one has leered at me and no one has touched me. It’s the same as in Spain or the USA. I thought I was really happy in India until I moved to China and experienced one day as an independent woman again and then I realised that I had to change who I was almost 100% to live in India. I was so happy there, but I’m not sure I’d ever move back and have to lose that freedom again.
Have you joined any networking groups?
No. I made a conscience decision to make my own friends – Indian friends – and not just hang around expats. I ate dinner alone with my laptop every night for the first two months I lived in India until I made my first friends. Then they took me under their wing and introduced me to their friends. It was great. One of the people I was introduced to became one of my closest friends in India – Deepak Joshi – who at the time was the Senior Creative Director for Ogilvy, was always my +1 at parties, cricket matches, after parties and events. It’s fun looking back through pics because I have more photos with Joshi than alone or even with my daughter and that always makes me smile.
Do you have any practical tips for ex-pats moving to India about how to integrate or deal with cultural differences?
Be respectful! I can’t tell you how many cultural differences there were from what I knew in the US and Europe, to what is the reality of life in India, but if I hadn’t respected them I would have been really in trouble. Dress appropriately, be kind and embrace the differences even if you don’t adopt them.
The hardest part of that for me was love. No matter how much time we spent together or how much we cared, his family would never approve. I can’t imagine ever treating my own daughter or her happiness like that. It’s something I was never able to wrap my head around. Be careful with your heart in India – not all love is a positive thing for Indians and that is something very hard for most westerners to understand.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m in between roles at the moment so I’m focused on helping to grow our start-up website company Logic Shades. Traveling and writing are my biggest passions, so as my hobby, along with my three power girls, Deena Pinto, Kudrat Kahlon and Smriti Shankar, I’m going to work hard to grow Angela’s Bangalore into a resource for all the major travel destinations in India, not just Bangalore and Mysore like it has been. I also launched AngelasAsia.com in Q4 2014 and have started covering Bali, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Thailand, Vietnam and beyond!