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From blue-collar workers to curry kings, chronicling the stories of Indians in Europe

Shome Basu/Luxembourg
Tanya Desai performs Bharatanatyam in Luxembourg.
  • Maria Thomas
By Maria Thomas

Writer at Quartz India

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In a time of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric across Europe, it’s stories of people such as the Sikhs who make Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in Italy, for instance, that act as a reminder that diaspora communities do wonderful things for their adopted homes.

Settled in cities and towns across the globe, Indians make up the second-largest community of migrants in the European Union, bringing a unique touch to the societies they live and work in, and not just through art and culture, music and dance. It’s the stories of these individuals that the Delegation of the European Union to India wanted to uncover so they sent three photographers—Kounteya Sinha, Paroma Mukherjee and Shome Basu—to travel the length and breadth of Europe, meeting members of the diaspora in Italy and France, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Their photographs are now on display in New Delhi in an exhibition titled New Homelands: The Indian Diaspora in the European Union.

“In the post-war era, Indians have journeyed forth to many different  states of  Europe. There are Roman Catholics as well as Punjabi farmers in Italy; Goans in Portugal; blue collar workers, and doctors in the UK, academics and artists in the Netherlands, France and Germany, bankers and jewelers in Belgium, and so on,” Alka Pande, curator of the exhibition, writes in a statement.

Here are some of the people and stories the photographers discovered across Europe:

Shome Basu/ Slovakia
Sajjad came to Slovakia in 1998 while he was working for Slovak Airlines, which was operating from New Delhi. Later, he settled in Bratislava as a cook at a local restaurant. Thanks to his fluency in Arabic, he also worked as an interpreter with the embassy of Saudi Arabia there. Sajjad speaks fluent Slovak and his signature butter chicken is famous among Slovakians in Bratislava.
Shome Basu/ Portugal
The Central Mosque of Lisbon was inaugurated in 1985. The initiative to build this mosque was taken by an Indian, Abdool Magid Vakil, an economist by profession who felt the need of a mosque in Lisbon when he came to study there.
Kounteya Sinha/Italy
Curry king Micky Sehgal arrived in Italy in June 1980 with $500 in his pocket. Today, Micky owns three of Rome’s most famous Indian restaurants by the name Maharajah and has an annual turnover of over 1.5 million euros. Sehgal’s first home was 65 square metres but now he lives in a 1600 square metre villa. Maharajah’s clientele includes Anthony Hopkins, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Rajinikanth.
Kounteya Sinha/Italy
Every night, after 8 pm, Sardar Singh from Jammu sits by the Colosseum to sell his paintings. With four flash lights lit up, he sits for three hours every day. He says, “I love the way they celebrate in Italy. Without fear. Embracing openly.” Rome has been his home for the past 26 years.
Kounteya Sinha/Slovenia
Mandeep Singh from Amritsar has lived in Europe for 15 years. Singh just launched Slovenia’s first recording company, called Virsa Records. His dream is to get Indian films and songs to shoot in Slovenia. Singh just finished shooting the videos of six Punjabi songs with Miss Universe Slovenia, Lucija Potocnik. Singh’s family is truly global – he is Indian, his wife Lithuanian, his elder son Arun was born in Belgium and his younger son Sharun was born in Slovenia.
Paroma Mukherjee /Sweden
Krishna Dutt came to Stockholm about 26 years ago with her husband and never left. A popular figure in Stockholm’s cultural circuit, she has written a book about her time in the city and even teaches Swedish. She has hosted artists such as Zakir Hussain in this very home and even though age has caught up with her, she still visits her sisters in India twice a year.
Shome Basu/Luxembourg
Ambi Venkataraman and his wife have been living in Luxembourg for nearly thirty years. He arrived there as an employee of a rubber company. At that time, to move in and around Europe, he needed different visas and currencies. Venkataraman used to carry maps and guides of different European countries that used to fill his room, recalls his wife. Today, he represents the Indian community in Luxembourg and Brussels. He has been conferred the title of Honorary Consul General of India to Luxembourg.
Paroma Mukherjee /Netherlands
Sruti Bala sets up her tabla in her study as she gets ready for her daily practice session. She has been learning the instrument for the past decade and is quite good at it. At the University of Amsterdam, she teaches in the department of theatre studies. Bala studied in Mumbai and her home is in Coimbatore, where her parents still live.
Kounteya Sinha/Slovenia
In just a few weeks, the sun will be scarce. But locals know exactly where to go to sweat it out—Manivannan Ramaswamy’s Ayurveda centre in Ljubljana. Ramaswamy’s steam chamber—an ancient Indian object named Vashpaswedana—has a temperature of 45 degrees. Ramaswamy is also using Ayurveda to help Slovenia’s World War II veterans overcome depression and anxiety.
Paroma Mukherjee /England
Asker, the head chef at the India Club Bar and Restaurant came to London 20 years ago from Kerala. Along with his colleague and friend Khaled, he never thought of working anywhere else other than the historic India Club. The menu offers a range of home-cooked Indian dishes, and his version of mango lassi is a favourite with customers.

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