Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mumbai - the city of foreign dreams

By Sanjiv Buttoo
BBC Asian Network, Mumbai

Deepa Mehta
Mumbai has much to offer its expatriate residents

For the thousands of people who leave the UK each year and head for a new life in India, the world's largest democracy is certainly no third world option.

The growing numbers of British expatriates living in Mumbai (Bombay) - locally known as the Manhattan of the East - say that life here is not a cheap alternative.

According to the latest UK Government statistics, migration to South Asia is up by over 100% in the past five years and that trend looks set to continue.

It is not difficult to see why the statistics are moving upwards. Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where you can get anything you want anytime you want it.

'Very expensive'

The only problem is that you have to pay for it and you will find you are not the only ones wanting the best table in that restaurant or that prime piece of real estate.

In reality you are probably at the back of a long queue where everyone's got money and they came here before you.

Disc jockey MaFaiza
Mumbai is uplifting, it's fun, it's sexy, it's feminine and also provocative
Club disc jockey MaFaiza

Deepa Mehta has just moved here from Camden Town in London and is trying to find a suitable apartment in a favourable location.

She has viewed over 60 properties, has already seen one deal fall through at the last minute and is tired of living in a serviced flat.

"Real estate here is very expensive and a good place will cost me at least £4,000 to £5,000 a month to rent," she says.

"One of the big problems I am having is that I need a place where the kitchen is top notch as I like to cook. Here the kitchens are not that good because everyone has servants, so developers spend more time and money on living areas and bedrooms.

"I have just moved here and found it very easy to find a good location to set up my business and office, so I just hope I manage to find somewhere to live.

"But there as so many British expats here - the competition is fierce and all the estate agents know it."

It's not just property that has seen a surge in prices - the number of shopping malls and retail complexes are also booming.

Debenhams, Next, Marks and Spencer and Mothercare have all arrived in India looking for new business.

Each month others are joining them to quench the thirst for foreign products.

Designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Chopard have been here for years and say business is good.

Amrita Sanghera moved to Mumbai from the English county of Buckinghamshire one year ago and has settled down as an expatriate wife.

She is a regular shopper and says English stores remind her of home - but most of their pricing is higher than you would find in the UK so its not necessarily good value.

View of Mumbai
Mumbai is also lively, exciting and very expensive

"We feel more at home when we see English retailers on the Indian High Street and even though we could get the same products cheaper in the UK we still buy them as the quality is better than Indian products.

"Life here is great and the shopping is a plus as you can get authentic Indian products along side a pair of Marks and Spencer trousers".

Dalbir Bains moved from the UK to Mumbai - leaving behind a lucrative job buying lingerie for British Home Stores.

She opened an up-market boutique on the fashionable Juhu Tara Road one year ago and has not looked back.

"Indians don't know the quality and depth of products available in the UK," she said, "so I thought why not open a retail outlet here and bring my expertise to a city that will appreciate what I am trying to do?

"Many of my clients are Bollywood stars and rich housewives, but I also sell to the middle class shopper and of course the many British expats who are living here. So far my business is doing very well and I am glad I made the move."

'Not perfect'

Amid all the glitz of the city famous for its Bollywood film industry, Upen Patel started out as a model in London and still flies the flag for the British as an actor.

"I love it here and I think Mumbai is the best place in the world to live in. India maybe a developing country but the city in terms of pounds per square foot is the fourth most expensive place in the world," he said.

"My life in London does not compare. Here I cannot go out shopping, everywhere I go I have to use a driver, a bodyguard and have police security. It's not a perfect way to live but it's one that I have chosen and I have no regrets."

Upen Patel
For many, the pros of life in Mumbai outweigh the cons

Club disc jockey MaFaiza came to India 15 years ago to "find herself" and ended up selling mix tapes on a beach in Goa. She soon realised that India was the place to settle down.

Her parents were concerned but are now pleased she is doing well. She works all over India and in Europe but calls the city of Pune, near Mumbai, her home.

"It's uplifting, it's fun, it's sexy, it's feminine and also provocative. India has allowed me to express my creativity. India is extreme, humbling and inspiring. Somehow here magic happens and everyday I can honestly say to myself thank-you for being here," she says.

In Mumbai the number of baby and toddler groups is rising and there are more social expatriate groups than ever.

Re-location companies and property agents are cropping up everywhere because there is so much demand from foreign workers.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of British expatriates living in India because many people of Indian origin now have long-term visas.

The Indian Government say it is aware of the shift in population and welcomes anyone who wants to come as both will prosper.

Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Shiv Mukherjee, says that British-born people of Indian origin "may have different coloured passports but they are Indian".

"If they want to see the mother country and in the process if they want to work, they are most welcome," he says.

You can hear Sanjiv Buttoo's reports on the Asian Network on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

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