I have known Lindsay since 2007, when after we had a discussion on Skype and as we had to attend the same event in London she told me I could have a room at her apartment. When we met we become friends for life. Now she lives in India, far, far away from London and Europe.
I am fascinated by her new life and have so many questions for her.
Here is a written interview I did wither and I reproduce the video interview we did together a couple of years ago.
Q-May I ask you to introduce yourself? Who are you, where are you from, what do you do for a living?
My name is Lindsay Anne Hart, I was born in England and lived there until 3 years ago, now I live in Hyderabad, India most of the time. I have had a portfolio career including working for a bank, found that so boring, a real estate agent, being a Playboy Bunny (in another lifetime)!!! No, not really just so long ago, to owning a bar and restaurant, becoming a personal stylist, a soft skills trainer, coach, counsellor, mentor and consultant – phew!! That does seem a lot of experience but many great times and have, mainly, loved my life. As you will see from the above list I have always worked with people in a ‘front of house’ type of role, which I am told I am very good at!
Q-You were born in Great Britain and have lived all your life there, have raised a family and have grandchildren. How was your life in London?
I loved living in London, I moved there 3 years after my husband died – had previously been living in a tiny village where we had the ‘roses round the door’ English cottage, a wonderfully parochial, middle class lifestyle. I was secretary of the Village Hall Committee and helped organise the Summer Fete and other village occasions. I realised I needed more in my life – it had been fabulous whilst Keith was alive and after Joel was born for a few years. I made many lifelong friends in the village and had wonderful peaceful lifestyle. Not so in London, life was much faster paced, sometimes too fast everyone always rushing to fit too many things into a day (including me). I belonged to some great networks that helped me to meet new people and grow and flourish, especially Ecademy and the Commonwealth Club. Built a wonderful group of friends and colleagues and for a while was President of Women in Enterprise based at the Commonwealth Club, we had some great lunches and speakers not to mention fun and laughter. London life was full of good times such a great place both culturally and socially. Friends from abroad came to visit – Holland and Switzerland, mainly during those visits spent many happy hours doing ‘tourist’ type things – things I should probably not have done just living there as so often when you live somewhere you just don’t do those kind of things.
I have 3 children Joanna, Matthew and Carla and 4 grandchildren Joel, Annabelle, Connery and Molly (aged from 13 to almost 3) who are the light of my life. Have heard it said that having grandchildren is better than having children as you don’t have the same responsibilities (that is for their parents) and that is one of the best parts as you can have so much fun with them and not have them around all the time. Do miss them now I am in India though as I only see them when I am in UK and Connery lives in New York, so see even less of him, Matthew and his wife Summer!
I loved being a mother even through the teenage years which were somewhat challenging at times (more info if required). Whilst my children were growing up I worked part-time, I felt I wanted the best of both worlds, and was fortunate to have that choice, being a mother, having time with my children and being independent, having my own life and work. It seemed to work for our family.
Q-Where does your love for India come from?
It probably began when I was about 5, my sister and I were asked to a birthday fancy dress party, I decided I would go as an Indian Princess, dressed in a pink saree with a topaz on a gold chain resting on my forehead (my Mum must have been thrilled as she could not sew – no sewing required for a saree), my sister went as Little Miss Wimbledon in shorts, T shirt and a tennis racquet, again no sewing skills needed. Shows how different we were and still are! That is my first recollection of India – no idea where it came from as had never been there – maybe a past life?
Keith and I had our honeymoon in Sri Lanka – know it is not India but a very similar culture and just loved it. When I reached the time ‘where life begins’ (40) Keith decided to take me to India for ‘a trip of a lifetime’. It was just that, we visited the Taj Mahal – best thing I have ever seen, it truly is a wonder of the world and no photographs/videos can ever do it justice, it has to be seen to understand its magnificence and true scale and beauty. In Jaipur, known as the Pink City, we went to the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) where the Mahaharanis/Ranis (queens) and highborn women would sit behind the Purdah wall and watch processions of gaily-coloured elephants, Maharajas and courtiers. Both the men and elephants were dripping with jewels, gold and ropes of pearls and beautifully painted – oh to have been there then! We went to many other places on the Golden triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, which is most tourists’ introduction to India. I felt as if I belonged, was at peace and at home there from the very moment I stepped onto Indian soil and all those wonderful experiences just made it so special. When I lived in London my neighbours were Indian and they invited me to a wedding in Pune (a hill station outside of Bombay) it lasted a week and It never stopped – event after event and so many sarees to wear, wonderful!!
I was adopted as a baby and do not know my ancestry, maybe I have some Indian heritage, who knows. I have read much about India and its history, the Raj and Moghul times especially, they were so spectacular. I have been called a true romantic; I probably am – not always sure it was meant as a compliment though! Feel a lot of people think I live in a ‘fantasy world’. Well maybe I do at times but I love my life and do have my feet planted firmly in today’s world and understand the difficulties people face at all levels in the world today (and always did) including my own difficult times.
Q-You have left your country where you have been living almost your entire life. Even though you wanted to go to India and live there, was it an easy decision to take?
It was a very difficult decision to take as it meant leaving friends and family behind, the hardest to leave were my gorgeous grandchildren, knowing it meant I would see so little of them. I had some very difficult financial problems to deal with and decided a NEW LIFE was needed – a whole new beginning. A life that was mine, as I actually had no ties, as all children and grandchildren were settled and had lives of their own to lead. Although I loved having an active part in their lives it was time for me to let go and just be me. After Keith died I was really ‘on my own’ by that I don’t mean my children and friends (old and new) did not care or look out for me – they did – and magnificently, but that I could choose what my life would be like, where I went and what I did.
Overall my life has been fabulous and I have always done my best to ‘make a difference’ in all the work I have done – from making celebrations special at the restaurant, to helping people to grow (training), helping others make life changing decisions (coaching and counselling) to helping business owners grow and manage their businesses, raising funds for charity etc. What better time than to go to my lifelong dream country?
Q-How have your children, family and friends reacted to your decision?
As you can imagine it caused quite a lot of conversations to be had! some quite difficult. My children felt that it was up to me what I did with my life and overall gave their blessing to this madness!! Friends had a mixed reaction – lots of people thought I was completely mad going somewhere on my own where I knew nobody; I think a lot of that was how they would feel if they were going to do it, as well as genuine concern for my wellbeing. They also thought I was very brave, for that you can probably read mad. Others thought it was a great idea for me to begin a new chapter in my life but were concerned for me about going alone. My sister (Gill) was very supportive but also concerned that I had made a decision that was so huge and how I would actually manage the reality. She has been quite amazing all the way through and there have been times when I could not have sustained being here without her and other good close friends love and support.
Q-You have started your life in India volunteering for a local organization called BHUMI. Why have you decided to engage with them? Couldn’t you have gone to India in a simpler way?
Oh definitely! I could have started in a simpler way – just arrived and started a new life. I did think about that but realised that if I did it would be far more difficult to integrate into a way of life here, how easy would it be to find somewhere to live and meet people etc.? Joining an organisation as a volunteer gave me a base from which to work out a lifestyle here. The only thing I asked of them was that they provide me with accommodation, which they happily did. I shared it with a lovely English girl (Freya), a German boy (Cody) and a few Indian men!!!!!!!!!!!! I had never lived like that before – never having been to University/college – it came as a bit of a shock but actually I soon came to love it. We had such fun, we laughed a lot and had some fabulous times together – they often came to me to help them with issues in their life – mother/counsellor role.
Freya and I both volunteered with Bhumi a small NGO based in a slum – Rasoolpura – in Hyderabad. She worked with mentally and physically challenged children and I fell into the role of working out how the organisation could work better. After a year both Freya and Cody left to return to either work or studies; they were replaced by Tanja and Philipp both German students who came for a year and again we formed lasting friendships. They are both now studying for their degrees back in Germany.
I decided to volunteer with Bhumi as it seemed the most professional of all the organisations that I looked at – everything from sitting under a tree teaching 5 year olds to read and write upwards! It seemed the most challenging and also, I felt, it would stretch me both intellectually and also dealing with such different lifestyles. I stayed with them for a year and then decided as I had met so many people with many different interests that I would use my skills to help people from different walks of life working as a freelance consultant/mentor etc. I still mentor Nayeem (from Bhumi) who is an amazing young man – about 25 and already a well respected community figure in Rasoolpura (the slum I worked in and where he has lived his whole life) I am helping him to grow and develop his innate people skills and support him in many ways including how to run an NGO and all that entails – boring things like structure, legalities to the more fun and exciting things like organising events and other fundraising activities, although fundraising can seem like pushing water uphill at times. He has a burning passion to improve the lives of the people of India beginning with his own community.
Q-You are in India by choice, but surely there are big differences between your life back in London and your new life.
You are quite right it is another world entirely. There are two worlds here – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The ‘haves’ are growing rapidly in number; mainly they love and want a ‘western lifestyle’ but with eastern values. The ‘have nots’ actually have very little or nothing in many cases, they are the majority and are the people I am most interested in supporting in any way I feel I can make a difference.
My life in London was exciting, I had a very ‘full on’ western lifestyle – lots of evenings out having supper with friends, having dinner parties, visiting the cinema/theatre, going to galleries and exhibitions especially the V&A, my favourite, travelling by Tube – not something I miss.
Life here is also full of variety, and best of all, sunny most of the time – sometimes tooooooooo hot, but overall I just love it as I truly hate the rain and grey skies, they depress my spirit and enthusiasm. So many fascinating people to meet and events to go to and so much that is of interest to me.
Q-Women position In Indian society is different from the one in the UK. Have it been difficult for you to as a woman, or as a foreigner you benefit of a particular treatment?
No, it has not been difficult for me to become part of Indian life for what I see as a few reasons:
Hyderabad is very cosmopolitan in its makeup. It was ruled for many centuries by the Nizams’ who were Muslim so there is a very large Muslim influence and population in the city. The ‘Old City’ is where the Nizam ruled from (until just a couple of years after Independence from us British)! Although this area of the city is now in complete disrepair it is still the enclave of (mainly) poor Muslims. In other parts of the City there are ‘enclaves’ of Hindu’s and others for Expats – amazing how we only want to live with others the same as us!!!!!!!!! Not always true but there is sometimes a divide between the 3 communities – especially among the less educated and disadvantaged groups as they do not often get to mix with each other and/or learn too much about each others’ beliefs and ways of life.
As a foreigner, and a woman, I am often treated differently than ‘local’ women would be. Often I am treated with great deference only because I am white. Having said that there are occasions when very devout Muslim and Hindu men will not engage with me – no shaking hands, obviously, I have learnt to do the Hindu hands together greeting and the Muslim hand to the face greeting as it saves embarrassment all round and is respectful of their cultures, after all, it is their country so I should be the one to make the necessary changes to my behaviour. Amongst the more educated, usually middle/upper class people I meet I am treated with respect but sometimes am expected to be with the women as men talk to men and women to women – has been a huge learning curve. I am able to talk with both sexes more easily than they are with each other though. Men in business are, in general, respectful to me – not sure if it is only because I am foreign.
I have been invited to many Muslim weddings where men and women are completely separated – even for the reception, there is a dividing ‘wall’ between the sexes – find that a trifle irritating sometimes but the weddings are so fabulous and fun that it is a small price to pay.
Women are often ‘invisible’ not just because some wear the bhurka (Muslim women in Old City especially) but they are expected to keep to their place. For example at meal times men are served first, by the women, then children and lastly the women – I am sure that in poor households that may more often than not mean they have very little to eat.
There are, in my opinion, double standards about sex – young women are kept sheltered and often know nothing about it before marriage and men who are supposed to ‘respect’ women and keep them safe and pure will do what they call ‘Eve teasing’ here, which we call sexual harassment, this is rife. It is rare to see women out in the evenings unless accompanied by male members of their family. Domestic violence, even in religious families is incredibly common, as girls/women do not count the same as boys/men. I have a friend who is a very minor film starlet who took me to the opening of her latest movie – the poster showed her in a bikini by a pool – the cinema was full of men and she was mobbed at the interval, so much so we had to move to a special part of the cinema (through the projection room) for our safety. Afterwards all the men were waiting for her outside and so many pictures were taken of her (and I noticed lots of me also)! Films and music videos are so overtly sexual that often they border on the pornographic; I am never quite sure how that equates to ‘respecting’ women and keeping them pure etc. Not actually sure if most men want to or feel they have to – double standards.
As I said earlier there is aspiration from all sectors of society here to have a western lifestyle, as portrayed in Hollywood films, but they expect to be able to keep their own traditional eastern values and basically the 2 are incompatible as the ‘liberalisation of the sexual divide’ is not really welcomed by men and in the rural areas they are decades (in some cases centuries) behind urban communities. Why would men want to give up being the dominant force of society? It is a very patriarchal society just as the ‘west’ was before the 1950/60’s, and still is to a lesser extent.
Rural communities, although many have televisions, but maybe no clean drinking water, drains, education or proper healthcare, are bombarded with ‘soaps’ all day and evening showing lifestyles way beyond what they can ever hope to achieve at the present rate of development. I was asked recently did I think India was a developing/developed nation? My answer was both yes and no depending on which sector of society you belong to. The rich and middle class, yes, you could say they are developed, the rural and urban poor are not even developing, or if they are at a snails’ pace. How can you be ‘a developing nation’ when more people do not have basic facilities but on the other hand be one of the technological capitals of the world?
They are so far away from most of the population having even the most basic facilities – clean drinking water etc. Even though there is a Right to Education Act there is no compulsion for children to go to school, often because to make ends meet financially they have to work; but also because many schools do not have properly qualified teachers and some classes have no teacher at all. There seems to be no real will at either national or state level to really improve such things. Corruption is rife in politics and government organisations like police etc – everyone ‘pays’ for services, so how will it stop? Rich seem to be getting richer and poor are actually, very often, getting poorer.
Why do I stay? You may well ask!! I stay because what little I can do for a few people is better than not helping anyone; who knows, if I can give those people the desire to help others well where will that helping, caring stop? Like stones thrown into a pond the ripples move outwards – on and on. Paying it forward – I give to someone and they then give to someone else and onwards slowly, slowly. That is how it can change. It would happen more quickly if politicians and people with power made it happen, but at the moment that is not really happening except in very small ways.
Another reason I stay is because Hyderabad is a very cultured city with many theatres, art galleries, museums, film groups etc and I enjoy such a rich and varied social life – actually I have 2 lives here – working with the disadvantaged and ‘living the high life’. The people I meet in the latter often are able to connect me to those who can help either with expertise, like doctors giving free medical camps with free medicines/surgery where needed, offering a film theatre seating 400 to show a film for children and providing the buses to transport them there from slum schools and orphanages. I feel very privileged to know so many interesting and caring people and that so many of them have taken me to their hearts.
Q-Have it been long for you to create a new circle of people and friend around you?
No not really although when I first arrived I knew no-one, not even the people who came to collect me from the airport at 4 o’clock on a dark November morning!! They were Freya and Harish, both lived in my first home here. Soon after I went to an Expat Association evening where I met an American lady (Juliet) who was the Cultural Affairs Officer for the US Consulate here in the city, with her was a wonderful young man called Saad who loves all and everything English – well I was off to a great start socially and have never looked back. Sadly Juliet has now finished her duties here and is back in Washington DC, I miss her and the fun we had together laughing over a bottle of beer between us at her home!! I have been ‘adopted’ by Saad’s family who are incredibly loving to me, they would and do, help me anytime day or night as well as being very well connected socially. That first evening with Saad and Juliet was great fun, Saad asked “would I like to go with him to a wedding with him and his family”, silly question, would I!!! YES PLEASE, not only because they are so lively and full of colour but you get the chance to dress up, my favourite pastime!! I think sarees are the most sensuous and gorgeous form of dress for women ever, so graceful. Going back to the Expat group they were actually not very caring or friendly I went again, once, months later and same applied so I gave them up!! Funny they are supposed to be there to welcome newcomers to the city. I have made many Indian friends both Hindu and Muslim and some of them are amazed at how well connected I am!! Maybe it is because I just love people; also people come up and begin talking to me when I am in the coffee shop or even just out and about.
Q-Since you live in India you much have had lot of fascinating experiences. Which one comes spontaneously at your mind right now?
Saad and Sakeena’s wedding at the newly refurbished Chowmahallah Palace (check it out it is amazing).
I should have been returning from UK 3 days before the 5 days of wedding celebrations. Saad had outfits made for me for each day as every day there is a particular colour theme! how fabulous is that!!! I was caught up in the Icelandic ash incident –no flights going anywhere at all. Consequently I missed all of the wedding celebrations. I finally arrived, very early morning, of the day of the ‘reception’ (last day) which was being held at the Chowmahallah Palace. It was absolutely spectacular, all lit up by spotlights showing off the magnificence of the ‘Durbar Hall’ (the open public reception hall where the Nizam met his visitors in public) with its beautiful marble pillars and huge, stunning chandeliers glowing in the background. We sat outside under the stars and behind us was a huge fountain tinkling gently. We were served a sumptuous dinner – no alcohol – never is at Muslim weddings as it is forbidden – not that it matters as the occasions are so spectacular. All the beautiful sarees and jewels and the men in their stunning shewanis and churidhars (the long, knee length brocade (usually) jackets with the skinny wrinkled leggings and curly toed slippers – a bit like Aladdin’s). Meeting so many of Saad’s family was a bit daunting though as there are so many of them – his mother was one of 12 and his father also from a very large family.
It was truly a night to remember and treasure forever.
Q-Can you describe India in one or two sentences?
Colourful, noisy, mostly friendly, diverse and full of contradictions.
Power cuts, streets awash and full of huge potholes but overall a fascinating place to live and work – like the advertising campaign says ‘Incredible India’ and I definitely think it is.
Q-In conclusion, what are you working at right now and what are your projects for the future?
I am studying for a qualification to teach English as a Foreign Language and finding it a major challenge!! When I finally qualify I do hope to remember how hard I have found some of the grammar rules (which I take for granted as I don’t actually remember the ‘rules’ just use them on automatic pilot) and the phonetic alphabet symbols!!
Mentoring Nayeem in Rasoolpura helping him to develop his work in supporting his community by using and making contacts that will help the people of Rasoolpura and maybe one day far beyond – that is his dream and I am fully behind him. He wants to start his own organisation beginning with Rasoolpura as a pilot community. I am helping him to start off with the right foundations – no mean feat as he wants to get at the actual work but, hating clichés have used one to explain he can’t run before he can walk if he wants his work to be sustainable and replicable in other communities. I tell him I know it is boring (for me also) but having strong foundations is vital to future success.
I am spending time doing research for a book I wish to write – definitely very much a ‘work in progress’.
Planning the ‘how’ of starting a proper ‘Finishing School’. Education here does not encompass any soft skills training – communication/behavioural skills, teamwork, etiquette etc. Although many people who are ‘educated’ have reasonable/good technical skills they often have no idea how to behave in the workplace or society in general – a lot of mainstream education is taught by rote – teacher tells – students repeat and remember – no thinking involved or encouraged. With my background in training and personal development I am looking at how I can best address this need and make a paying business out of it; watch this space. Will have to look at how to fund it also – starting may yet be some way off, who knows.
Long, long term I should love to open a small retreat in Kerala for stressed out people to come and relax and have enough ‘me time’ to find out what would really make them happy and successful, in their eyes, not just money and material things. It would have Ayurvedic treatments, yoga, a pool etc to de-stress. I would offer coaching and mentoring opportunities to facilitate the ‘finding out and implementing’ process.
Anyone who may want to help me financially to start either of these businesses please ask them to get in touch!