Feeling at home, away from home

Anand Rangaswamy, Economic Times, 17 October 2014

In 2005, I moved to the UK as the first Godrej expatriate. After spending eight years there, I was given the opportunity to head the Latin America and UK cluster earlier this year. This meant I had to relocate to Buenos Aires. Both from a personal and from a professional perspective, I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to live and work in three, totally different cultures. There are big differences, but equally, there are similarities.

The first thing that struck me about Argentina was how friendly people are. They greet you very warmly and, in my experience, very quickly, like to welcome you into their homes for weekend 'asados' (barbecues-Argentinian style). Before I went to Argentina, I was warned that as a vegetarian, I would really struggle in this beef country. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Buenos Aires is a very cosmopolitan city and has a big Italian influence. I am yet to face the problem of not being able to get anything vegetarian to eat when I go out for a meal. There is a key difference in food here, compared to Indian food - the food here is a lot less spicy, but that is something that I am ok with having lived in Europe. Also the 'Malbec' wine in Argentina is excellent.

Godrej Argentina is a merger of two businesses bought by Godrej over the last three years and is the market leader in hair colours in Argentina and Peru. Godrej also has a joint venture in Chile. In my new role, I have overall responsibility for the businesses in these geographies, in addition to the UK business. Overall, a very exciting opportunity in an exciting new geography.

My experience is that Argentinians love India and the Indian culture. There is a huge interest and curiosity about India here. Yoga is very well known. I have managed to find the best yoga teacher that I have ever had in Victor Bonventre, an Argentinian. This is after having practiced yoga on and off over the last 30 years. I know Argentinians who learn Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam and Kuchipidi. There is even a nutritionist who practices based on an in depth knowledge of Ayurveda. In fact I was recently interviewed on radio to talk about my experiences as one of very few Indians who lives in Argentina.

Last year (2013), I climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, as part of my goal to attempt to climb the seven peaks of the world (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents). With this role in Argentina, I am perfectly placed to attempt to summit Aconcagua. Training is on to ensure fitness for this nearly 7,000 meter peak. This involves a combination of circuit training, yoga and one day a week of very long walks.

Buenos Aires has a very good cultural scene and is the birth place of Tango. I thought that it would be a shame not to experience it and have started taking some classes to learn it (or should I say, attempt to learn it, because it is not easy for someone who has two left feet).

The passion that you see here for football ('futbol' in Spanish) is amazing and I got to experience it even more because Argentina reached the finals in the last world cup. The experience was surreal. The amazing thing was that even when the team lost in the finals, people were out on the street celebrating that the team had done so well to reach the finals. It was great to watch.

The opportunity to learn Spanish is great and it is definitely beneficial to speak a bit of Spanish to be able to experience this beautiful country. Argentina is a huge country with a lot of natural beauty -from whale watching, to being able to visit colonies of penguins and sea lions, to having the southern most lighthouse in the world, to being one of the best places in the world to travel to Antarctica and the South Pole (another one of the things on my to do list), to having the widest water falls in the world, to hills that have seven different colours - the list is endless.

Argentina also has quite a lot of options for adventure sports and I enjoy that. I have started my travels to enjoy the beauty in the north of the country, which is warmer now in winter, and the plan is to work my way down to the south. Equally, there is a lot to see in Brazil, Peru, with Machu Pichu and the Inca trail - so much to do and so little time, especially when you also have to work for a living!

Having lived and worked in three totally diverse cultures, I have learnt that I can maximize my experiences only by being open and receptive and by not being evaluative and critical. If I can embrace the culture and the people rather than fight the experience because my reference points are different, they welcome me more and I enjoy and learn more. I believe that this is the perspective that can enhance experiencing a different culture to the maximum. La Buena vida!!