Most of us have moved to Switzerland in our adulthood lured by jobs or love. Many left. Many stayed. In our new series, Namaste Switzerland invites the next Indo-Swiss generation to tell us more about growing up in a different homeland.
Smriti Kapoor came to Switzerland 30 years ago with her parents when she was just about 5 years old. Growing up in Switzerland was fun, she says, as a matter-of-fact. She recalls her brief time in India where she studied in Delhi Public School.
All I remember was being stressed about homework. And I think that’s what my parents did all the time, too! Here school seemed to be rather laid back.
Since there were not many other Indian children while I was growing up, I had a lot of local friends,” she says, adding, “My parents had more Indian friends than Swiss, and so, naturally, I knew some of their children. These were my ‘Indian’ friends.” As a child, she had made the distinction between children.
Different and accepted
Smriti says that she always knew she was different. “I spoke a different language, ate different food and celebrated other festivals. And obviously, my skin colour was different from that of the others here.”
She liked watching Hindi movies and listening to Indian songs. “Because of my inclination towards Bollywood, I never knew the popular boy-bands other kids around me used to listen to. But, to honest, I was not bothered about that. My friends liked me for who I was and, I guess, I didn’t mind being different. At home, I lived an Indian lifestyle and outside – a Swiss one,” says Smriti.
Essentially, she recalls, it was Bollywood movies and her classical Indian dance training that kept her rooted in Indian culture.
Work, hobbies and career choices
Schooling and the concept of studies and that of getting a ‘respectable’ job are entirely different in India. In the Indian perspective, you complete your education in order to get a good and respectable job with a high earning. Here, there is no division of labour so to speak. In Switzerland, when you speak with young adolescents, normally you hear that they learn because of their interest in an area – and then work towards acquiring a profession in that field. Alternatively, they choose to get direct hands-on experience with the minimum qualification required so as to be financially independent sooner. Were there conflicts of understanding between Smriti and her parents? “I always wanted to be a doctor. But my parents kept telling me I could be whatever I wanted as long as I was happy. So, in this respect, there were no conflicts.”
Today, Smriti is a pediatrician and enjoys her line of work.
Hobbies are a major focus here – while back in India, hobbies are often just a co-curricular activity that has little significance. Yet, for 16 years, starting at age 6, Smriti learned ‘Bharatanatyam’ and also attended guitar lessons. “My hobbies never interfered with my school. I guess, because I had good grades, my parents weren’t worried. Maybe, if I was struggling in school, they would have interfered… But everything was going smoothly, so there were no problems in this area either.
Dating – the potentially problematic theme
Back in the day when Smriti moved to Switzerland, India was still quite a conservative society. Good kids did not date back then. Today, the scenario is changing. But in Switzerland, dating is common. So what went on while her friends dated?
Smriti laughs and reminisces her first so-called ‘boyfriend experience’, “When I was growing up, lots of girls had boyfriends. I met my first ‘boyfriend’ at a school camp when I was fourteen or fifteen. I didn’t really know the concept of dating. He was good looking and nice. And it was the rush of finally having a boyfriend, like my other friends, that really had me on a high. My parents seemed fine with it till the time I met him again. My dad was like “why are you going out with him? ‘Shaadi ki baat karein kya uske maa baap se…?’ (Should we talk about your marriage to his parents?) I was stunned!” That was probably the ‘shock treatment’ Smriti received as a teenager that was strong enough for her to dump him, other than the fact that he wanted to go to ‘clown school’ and she clearly had other ambitions.
But finally, it was her first crush – Dilip – who she tied the knot with. “Dilip and I met through Indian Association Baden when I was around 6 years old. We always knew each other – and he was my first real crush. Then, he went on to Kantonsschule and we lost touch. We met and connected again at the university at the age of 23. We used to study together at the library. And the rest is history.
As a parent today
A mother today, Smriti has two children – four-year-old Ayaan and seven-month-old Niya. She says, “I think my parenting style is very much like that of my own parents. As long as my children are happy and doing what makes them happy, it’s all good. Career-wise, as long as they can be financially independent, it’s enough.
For me, it’s more important to be able to connect them with Indian culture. Since I’m not very Indian, my children will have even less ‘Indianness’ and, naturally, it’s harder for them to be exposed to Indian culture. I would like my children to have somewhat of an Indian identity as well.”
To hear views of her mother, who came to Switzerland over 30 years ago, read Reflections and Reminiscences: Aruna Kapoor.