Pendulum of Life between Orient and Occident

During the colonial period

My great-grandmother owned big rice fields. The British, as occupying forces, wanted to collect a large share of the proceeds as tax. In protest, my great-grandmother gave the Vellakaran (white fellow) no money and only accepted rice as payment from the tenants. Sometimes the tenants and farmers “paid” their debts with fish, spices and herbs. From the herbs the women produced Siddha naturopathic medicine.

During the colonial period, the professional title was no longer used because it was confused with caste. Although our family followed Hindu traditions, we were not subject to the caste order, but were respected and feared by some because of the professions my ancestors had practised.

The family was respected because many of its members were Waithiyar healers and produced healing medicine. They were feared because they did not subordinate themselves to the authorities or the Raja (the prince / governor), and knew how to defend themselves with their martial art (Kalaripayattu). They were not particularly squeamish. They also did not bow to the caste system.

It is said that once the court physicians could not revive the princess of the Free State of Travancore (today Thiruvananthapuram ) when she fell off the swing and sank into deep fainting.

Subramonian Siddha-Vaidhyar (Siddha Medicine Man) was summoned thereupon. My grandfather took several Neem tree branches with young leaves and dipped them in tulsi water (basil water). Now he had instructed the maids to beat the princess’s feet, hands and face with the branches and rub them firmly. He himself is said to have massaged and pulled the princess’s toes vigorously and to have called on the princess in a loud voice and commanding tone: “Ezhi, Molae, Ezhi, Urakkam theernu! (“Get up, daughter, get up, you had enough sleep!”).

The princess had awakened in astonishment from her unconsciousness. As a reward, the prince gave my grandfather the title Vaidyar-Aasaan (Master Healer) and a silver stick. My grandfather kept the title, but he put the stick in the corner because he thought he had strong hands and knew all the Marma points needed to keep his opponent under control. There are 108 marma points (vital points) in total – these are the core of life.

For comparison: The Ayurveda treatment very well known today is a very gentle therapy and a pleasant healing method in contrast to the Siddha treatment.

In Siddha treatments, the fasciae are massaged particularly strongly, which can cause pain.

My Indian family

India is a big country with many cultures and customs. As in many countries, there is a north-south divide. People in the north usually have a lighter skin colour and speak languages that we do not understand in the south. I belong to the Dravidian ethnic group, which has a darker complexion. My family comes from Kanyakumari district at the southern tip of India, surrounded by three large seas, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

It is a wonderful, mystical place. Over the years, my family migrated to the South Indian cities of Chennai, Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram. I grew up in a large family and have a huge network of relatives. We mostly speak Tamil, the oldest living language in the world, and Malayalam.

These languages are similar, but Malayalam has more Sanskrit words and a more nasal sound. It is interesting to listen when my relatives from the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala communicate with each other. Sometimes one speaks Malayalam and the other one answers in Tamil, but both get along well

The women have more to say in our family and they also manage the inheritance. In general, men are left empty-handed.

Even today, in the age of equality, not much has changed in this structure. The women determine who marries whom – the men are only the implementers.

In our Siddha Society, women are allowed to start their own business or school.

The income belongs to them alone. The dowry that they bring into the marriage is also their property. The Indian legal system officially recognizes this system under the Hindu Marriage Law since Indian independence (1947). During the colonial period, Indian women despised the English because they did not recognise the existing matriarchal society. In conflicts, women quickly formed a team and there was endless discussion, politicisation and manipulation.

Today, Siddha is no longer spoken of as a family tradition because it is no longer practised in the old form. With massage oil and medicine from herbs one earns more than in former times. Many young women study and have a better education than men. It is now quite normal for women to have degrees such as BSC, BA, MA or work as siddha doctors (BAMS-Bachelor of Ayurveda Medical Science). The men are either teachers or computer specialists (like me). I personally regret this development because the millennia-old knowledge of siddha healing medicine is getting lost.

My family entrusted me with my grandfather’s handwritten Siddha healing book. But who could decode the secrets of the records and make them available to the world?

At one point my grandfather wrote poetically and ambiguously: “Give this recipe to a girl who is three times six years old! What is meant is a young woman of at least eighteen years of age. In our Siddha tribe there are still strict norms and a strict order.

For example, those who show physical or mental pain in public are criticised or reprimanded. Impeccable behaviour and proud behaviour is expected. If one behaves inappropriately in public, it will be considered a disgrace to the entire family clan, and in the worst case, the person will be expelled from the family.

One of my uncles from the maternal side had a wife and child once entered into an extramarital relationship. When this came out, the family asked him to end the liaison with immediate effect. Since he did not want to bend, his wife and child were taken to their hometown and the man was expelled from the family association. He was not allowed to return to the part of town where his wife came from and lost all his rights.

Religious customs

It will amaze the “different believers” to learn that many children in Hinduism are not forced to accept the “religious” ideas of their parents, because these educators can be wrong. Everyone should explore his own way in order to attain or experience his truth.

We were taught not to distract other people from their religious practices and from their search for truth or God. That would be a sin, because all religions have one same goal. They try to give a meaning to life.

I myself have found the divine in the universe. The universe that you can’t envision is for me the divine. Nor would it be wrong to say that Hinduism is not a religion, because it is a philosophy of life. “Unity in diversity” is an important characteristic of Hinduism.

There is no holy book like the Bible in Hinduism, but there are countless Holy Scriptures. The Gita is a holy scripture of the Hindus, written in Sanskrit as a poem and is mostly sung. It is a guide to life in the form of a question and answer session between a prince and the Avatar of Vishnu, one of the Hinduism deities. So it is the first FAQ list in the world!

Life in India is religion, because everything you do has something to do with religion or spirituality. For centuries, Indians have adapted their attitudes and lifestyles to nature so that religion is deeply rooted and an important part of Indian culture. In some cases, the customs and traditions of other religions are also integrated into Hinduism.

Despite the diversity of the Gods and Goddesses, it is clear to every adult Hindu that this is about divinity and not about figures, names or Holy Scriptures.

Every Friday our whole family walked around Ulsoor Lake some five miles away to Ganesha Temple. I enjoyed walking with them, not only because I liked the elephant-headed God Sri Ganesha, but because there were delicious sweets after the ceremony. Also there were funny musicians and singers and they narrated very exciting and interesting stories from the Mythology. The singers recited and sang the Sanskrit verses and interpreted them in the Dravidian languages. Oh, I miss them. Many of these stories were about Gods, demons, mythical creatures and how they dealt with worldly problems impressed me very much and helped me in my life to achieve success not only in my private life but also in my professional life.

Most of these stories, narratives, poems and songs describe the courage of individuals and how to deal with anger, how to control oneself and how to avoid not being ruled by others. What one can counter with cunning and treachery, what every person’s job is in the family, in society or at work, and so on. This way of life and spirituality still shape my life today in Europe and in India.

The guru advised him to first accept everything and practise the rituals. The impatient disciple continued to drill and still wanted a quick explanation. The master replied, “You don’t ask an ant how big the mountain is. The ant can’t imagine it. Likewise, we humans do not know exactly where our earth is in space, because we cannot imagine its greatness.

My aunt has a small altar in the kitchen for the Goddess Maariamma (Maria). She simply included the Christian Mother of God in her prayers. The Hindu Gods find their home in the Pooja room (prayer room). Buddha stands in the living room or in the foyer.

Here, for example, is a story from the world of Gods: The God Shiva and his wife Parvathi once had marital disputes. Shiva realised that he was not innocent and wanted to reconcile himself with Parvathi. But Parvathi was still angry and didn’t talk to him anymore. Shiva met Narada, the heavenly storyteller, and took him home. Parvathi did not want that Narada came to know about the disgruntlement in her house and tell others about it. She therefore showed herself from her friendliest side and spoke to Shiva again!

Once a tricky local politician was present at such a storytelling event. The singer recited emotionally and dramatically the story of a tyrant from Indian mythology, who was last punished with illness by nature because of his atrocities. The message was effective – the senator improved his policy in favour of the inhabitants.

My children now know many of these stories and I tell my grandchildren one every now and then if they wish. Sometimes it is interesting to see how children absorb such stories and what thoughts they have with them.

After telling a story about the four-headed God Brahma, my grandchild thought for a while and said: “Thaathaa (grandpa), then the God Brahma doesn’t need a rear-view mirror in his car, because he can see in all directions”. I had to laugh out loud because something like that had never occurred to me in the last six decades. My grandson only looked at me questioningly.

Missionary schools

During my childhood I only attended Christian mission schools, because those days the Hindu schools were not systematically organised. At first I went to the same school where my mother had spent her school years. The CSI school (Church of South India) was run by European nuns. My mother had learned English there as a child and helped me with my homework when I went to school. Decades later, when I visited my mother from Germany, she told me about the nice nuns. I asked her if she could remember the names of the nuns. “Yes’, she said, ‘they were English women. One of them was called Gertrude and my favourite English teacher was called Brigitte”, and mentioned other names. When I explained to her that if the nuns had German names, they could also have come from “Germany”, she was amazed and added: “Yes, from time to time they have spoken strangely to each other”.

During 1959-1965 many teachers at the Methodist Mission School, Dharmaraja Street in Bangalore were not nice to Students of Hindu community. They used to beat us when we forgot to wipe the holy sandalwood paste on our forehead that we received from the temple priest. To avoid such blows with the thin bamboo sticks called caine, I attended the Sunday schools of the missionaries. I memorised many Bible verses and recited them out loud before a teacher could reach for the stick.

I got support from the history teacher (Chandra Teacher), she was a Hindu, but was not allowed to wear Kunkumam, a forehead bindhi. She mostly dressed in white saris, the colour of the missionaries. This teacher always put in a good word for me with Headmaster Wilfred. If the class didn’t follow him, he got angry and beat everyone in his way with a thin stick, but used to stop when he saw me staring at him.

The time at St. Aloysius College in Cox Town (Bangalore) was very pleasant. We had a big sports field and a well equipped laboratory. The college was run by Catholic missionaries. Once a Methodist bishop visited us. The whole school was cleaned up and our khaki-coloured uniforms had to be clean and ironed. Then the bishop came, dressed in a red robe. Selected students were allowed to stand in a row, bow before him and kiss his ring because he had a relic, a small piece of bone from the body of Jesus, with him, as the teachers told us.

I didn’t understand why I had the honour, because the teachers knew that I belonged to a Hindu community even though our family had integrated into Bangalore. We didn’t call each other Siddha anymore, which would not have been understood here in the big city. When it was my turn, I saw his golden ring with red stone, but no trace of bone pieces. I hesitated because I didn’t want to kiss any bones anyway, because it was kissed by other students and was not cleaned after that. Then the gym teacher grabbed me tight by the collar and pulled me to the side. My throat got choked. My trousers got wet with fright. Unfortunately I did not get a blessing.

Learning was not one of my passions. I was in a clique, the “Pandawas”, with whom I always had great fun. We thought up some wonderful excuses for parents and teachers and attended the Matinee performances in the nearby cinema theatres instead of going to school. We teenagers were carefree and felt cool, but the examiners didn’t understand our attitude. These buffers just flunked some of us. The matinees were to blame for that! Inevitably the clique disbanded at some point and I had to change college.

Every year at Joseph’s College, students who were particularly hard-working received prizes and awards. Nothing helped now. I had to study daily, often late into the night. I slowly grew a moustache and I haven’t laughed out loud for a while. If I didn’t manage the PUC (Pre-University College), I would be lost. My parents didn’t say anything, but lovingly took care of me. I was ashamed and swore to take the exam with top marks. My father guaranteed me his support for the university, for which I must get good grades.

“If you don’t make it,” he warned me, “then you have to start an apprenticeship, work hard, physically and mentally, he said, and you won’t be able to afford luxury in later life.”

But fate wanted it differently. Fate, well, honestly, I don’t know. It was a turning point in my life. In Tamil we call it Gandam.  


My father had a nice job as a civilian in the Indian Army, he was the superintendent of the HR department, had influence and could get me a mechanic apprenticeship at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The training was hard, very hard. He suggested that I should enter the mechanical engineering profession but I decided to enter the electrical or electronic field.

This training required more mental work. Surprisingly this was better for me. During weekends I used to stroll around Bangalore with friends, one of them needed company and introduced me to the hobby electronics course. Coincidence or luck? Be that as it may, this profession later opened up the world of information technology to me.

I completed my apprenticeship as an electro mechanic at two companies (HAL and BEML). One produced heavy earth moving vehicles and railway trains and the other one built airplanes. I enjoyed the training and learned something new every day.

Mr. De Souza, an Anglo Indian (that’s how the descendants of Indo-British marriages were called back then), was my mentor during the training. His mother tongue was English, although his name sounds Portuguese. When I got my certificates with distinction, I went to him, he just said “Okay, very good, follow me” and brought me to the planning department. Under the guidance of an experienced employee, I was assigned there to plan the material supply. I didn’t question, I didn’t contradict, I just said: “Thank you, Sir, I will not disappoint you, Sir.” Mr. De Souza answered briefly: “Of course not”, and went on.

It was exciting to walk through all the halls and take care of the material supply. Since all halls were equipped with cranes, I wanted to climb on one of the cranes to get a better overview of the supply infrastructure. The crane operator was impressed: “At last someone who cares,” he said, enumerating all the grievances, explaining how to reduce the multiple trips, why the large parts should be prepared outside, and so on.

These were tips from an experienced crane operator that were worth their weight in gold. I made an aerial sketch and optimised the supply. The crane operator and I received praise for this. However, we were both reprimanded. Because it was forbidden for me to climb the crane, and the operator was not allowed to drive me without permission from the security. Somehow this reprimand did not surprise me. Sometimes you have to cross the borders, once my maternal Uncle had told me, I remembered. Well, still it was an exciting time!

My bike and I

1966. The monsoon season began: The streets were in miserable condition – dirty water everywhere, the buses did not drive regularly and the umbrellas were constantly broken or flew away. There was only one thing left, put on a raincoat and sit on your bike.

My father and I were a team, we took bicycles apart and repaired them. From two defective wheels we built a good, stable wheel by unscrewing and lubricating the ball bearings, inserting balls and assembling everything.

My father was a fan of “German Products” from the GDR (German Democratic Republic). “They are very stable and easy to repair,” he said. The “bicycle training” with my father helped me all my life in many technical jobs. 

After five years in Germany, I visited my family in Bangalore. When I told my father that I did not live in the GDR, but in the FRD – Federal Republic of Germany, he was surprised. 

I had taken my German girlfriend with me to India and we told them all about life in West Germany. My friend spoke fairly good English. But I had to interpret from Tamil into German for her. My father spoke English with her.

During these conversations I once did not notice that I forgot to change the language and told him about some incident in German language. He just grinned and looked at me in a friendly manner. My father was always a man of gentle manners, a philosopher, a person who lived ahead of his times. My mother was an active, energetic practical woman, like my grandmother. These days were pleasant, cordial and beautiful weeks with my family.

On one of these monsoon rainy days I was late on my way to school. I drove quickly and recklessly through streams and wet shortcuts. It had to happen, my bike threw me off track. Yes, the bicycle was to blame, who else?

I had to push it home, pull it, carry it and drag it. I sat on the wet floor for two hours, repaired it temporarily and my father didn’t notice. Mother lovingly cared for my wounds.

“May Ganesha be with you,” was all she said.

But while chatting with our neighbour she added: “It’s true, young calves are not afraid. But Ganesha will protect him. Even today I remember the words of my mother. Since that time I’ve been driving carefully and at a moderate speed.

My mother instructed me to go to the temple to thank Ganesha and as a sacrifice to beat a coconut on the ground. I did, but I had to sacrifice my mother’s delicious fish curry, because on temple day only vegetarian food was allowed.

It was just wonderful how my mother could prepare fish curry in coconut milk. This aroma, this taste of gentle chemmeen (prawns), cooked in coconut curry with seven ingredients and enriched with the paste of sweet and sour ripe tamarind fruits, is just delicious.

The mission of the family

One day, it must have been the summer of 1973, I remembered the words of my grandmother’s younger sister when I visited her in South India to say goodbye. She was sitting on the veranda talking to her friend. Although I was already 21 years old, she lovingly stroked my head and wished me all the best for my education in Europe.

Then she became serious and formulated her mission as a member of the supreme family council: “You will cross seven seas and seven mountains. Take seven of our arts with you to the people there and when you return home, bring seven arts from there. Then she blessed me for my long journey. Her friend added: “Don’t forget, it is a mission and we expect you back when you have fulfilled that mission”.

சின்ன ஆச்சி :

நீ ஏழு கடல்களையும் ஏழு மலைகளையும் தாண்டி போறே. நம்மளுடைய ஏழு கலைகளை அவங்களுக்கு கொண்டுபோய் காட்டி கொடுத்துட்டு, அங்கேயிருந்து ஏழு கலைகளே நம்மூருக்கு கொண்டுவா, என்னே, நல்ல போயிட்டு வா.

நல்லா இருப்ப நீ.

சின்ன ஆச்சியின் தோழி:

மறந்துறாதே என்னே, அது இப்ப ஒன்னுடைய கடமை

Tamil is the oldest living language in the world and has words with high content and deep meaning.  Until that day I had considered the words of the two women only as good wishes of two older ladies and not as an assignment. I cannot explain why I suddenly took these words so seriously, took further courses and voluntarily participated actively in the events of the German-Indian Association, but the mission of my relatives accompanied me since that time. 

Why Germany?

No, I did not want to leave India, there was no need! At the beginning of the seventies India was a promising country. The five-year plans of the Congress Party were realistic and India began to become independent and self-confident. I just had my teenage years behind me and thought I had grown up.

One Sunday evening my father called out to me. I knew, instead of “Suraeesh” if he only called “Dah! (“Come here!”), it was something serious. I thought to myself: “I haven’t done anything wrong: The bike is repaired, I am going to night school regularly, on Sundays I attend a course in the morning where I learn to type, and in the afternoon I drag myself to the driving school. I assumed that it had been the neighbour who had blackened me. Not long ago, I had a heated discussion with her and the old lady was angry with me.

Instead my father said: “Fill out this form cleanly, write beautifully and everything legibly!”

It was about a selection procedure for an internship in Germany. In such a situation, I knew it is better to follow his orders and ask later. I took the forms and went to the veranda, where my desk stood. Several questions came up: “Where is Germany? Where is my atlas? My sister certainly misplaced it! Why do I have to go to Germany?

On the same day I had to start preparing for the selection examination.

When my mother got wind of the matter, she started fierce discussions with my father with many reproaches and questions, because she wanted to keep me with her. Oh dear, it was thick air then.

Some days before I had seen a white boy at the lake. I thought: “Such people, who speak so strangely, surely come from Germany”. I hadn’t understood a word.

On the day when I went to the assessment exam, my mother didn’t come to the gate to wish me good luck, she stayed in the kitchen. There were exactly 400 candidates, the questions were not difficult at all, but I did not understand half of what the German engineer said. Did he speak English or German?

Four weeks later, when I came home from work, I heard that my parents had once again become involved in a heated discussion. My sister greeted me with a broad grin and whispered: “You are flying to Germany by airplane”. Apparently I passed the exam. “Germany”, I thought. “Why actually? Where is Germany again? Where is my Atlas?”

Mr. De Souza was not disappointed when I said goodbye to him. He congratulated me, laughed and rejoiced. “Don’t forget us, my dear boy,” he said while saying goodbye.

He had never called me “my dear boy” before. “Yes Sir, I will not forget you, Mr. De Souza, Sir.” No, him, forgetting my mentor… never!

My mother never forgave my father for sending me to Germany.

Seven years later my beloved father died. I inherited his diary, his wristwatch and various documents. In it I found my horoscope, created shortly after my birth, and it said: “This person will spend his life in a place far from his country of birth”.

Maatha, Pitha, Guru, Dhaivam

We have a saying: Maatha, Pitha, Guru, Dhaivam. It is a very old but well known Sanskrit saying from the Vedic period.  Mother is put in the first place, because she has borne you, she introduces your father to you and both would look for a teacher, who in turn shows you the way to divinity through his teachings and knowledge.

I had many teachers, consultants, mentors and gurus, but my father was my friend, consultant, trainer, mentor, also my guru. Above all he was my father. Today I am a father and grandfather myself, but I still adore my father.

During the early 70’s Trafo Union, a German company, a fusion between the companies AEG and Telefunken designed a business concept. This was one of the European development aid projects.  

The idea was to train technical personnel from India in Germany. Teach them the technical language, methods, quality etc. to gain by helping each other. 

The German companies sponsored forty artisan trainees with warm European clothes, shoes, German lessons, courses in behaviour and information about Germany. They also financed a six-month preparatory training course and German lessons at Max Mueller Bhavan in India.

Arrival in Germany

Half a year later, 40 Indian interns landed in Stuttgart. We were to complete a two-year apprenticeship and then be sent back home to India.

It was a warm day in July 1972. We were warmly welcomed by Mr. Kai at Stuttgart airport. He was our Interpreter, manager, compatriot, friend and consultant in one person. Even the ride in the wide, noiselessly moving airport bus was an experience. The streets were clean and empty.

Everything was new; during the ride we looked from left to right and back, everywhere there were signs with strange pictures on them. All of a sudden we saw a very wide bus coming towards us and – oh no! It drives directly towards us and the driver does not deviate! – But the oncoming bus just passed us on the left. A relieving sigh and one of us said: “They’re driving on the wrong side of the road! Shortly after our arrival in the Burgstallstr. 75 in Stuttgart Mr. Kai showed us our rooms. In each apartment there were five camp beds, a table with six chairs and a small kitchen. In the cellar there was a shower, for 3 minutes of hot water we had to throw in 10 pennies.

Life in Swabia

The weather was warm in July and the days were long, so we could settle in quickly. The Tengelmann store manager was surprised that the rice cooker bags were suddenly among the bestsellers. None of us could cook.

We experimented around and soon made something to eat. After a few weeks we discovered a shop selling Indian products. From then on we cooked food as if we were in a contest. The cooking instructions came by aerogram from worried mothers, aunts and friends.

We thought the Germans didn’t know a clever recipe; everything tasted the same to us. Some things smelled so funny. The beer also had a bitter taste. Now we improvised different dishes.

Egg-Pilaw was a hit. You beat a few eggs into the boiling rice, add half a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoon curry, and a tablespoon butter. Ready in ten minutes. Add limes or mango pickles. Delicious – yes, if you’re hungry. If the pilau is too salty or if the curry has slipped, mix it with three tablespoons of yoghurt and call it “Indo-German Pilau!

We’ve been deployed in the company in various departments to learn and work. Although we successfully passed the Goethe-Institut exams in Bangalore, we didn’t always understand our colleagues.

The German colleagues spoke to us more slowly, but sometimes they spoke to each other in a secret language, which we later got to know as Swabian.

Once the Meister said: “Gaangamer” and walked away. We were puzzled, but we learned quickly. After a few months we understood the Swabians and cheerfully shouted “heidanai”, “jetzet-le”, “ha noi”, “des goht fai net” and with “gaangamer!” we went along.

How should I address him?

The Germans often don’t know how to address me when I introduce myself with Suresh Subramaniya SURESH, as it appears in my passport. 

 My full name is: Suresh Subramaniya Raghava SURESH

Suresh – Given Name ஸுரேஷ்

Subramaniya – my grandfather’s name

Raghava – my father’s name

SURESH – Family name

I respond to both first names, Suresh and Subramaniya. In India the given name, in this case Suresh, is used as a family name. Some friends affectionately call me Subra.

Since many people in India wear similar names, the names of their parents and grandparents have been added to the list in order to identify a person more precisely.

For women, the names of the mother and grandmother are added to the name of the woman, and for men, those of the father and grandfather. In the past it was customary to add the profession of the family.

My grandfather, on his father’s side, was called Subiah Subramaniyan Aasaan (the medicine man), his wife was called Bhagavathy Maruthuwa Ammaal (the herbal woman).

My Grandmother from my mother’s side is Thaayammaal. My mother was called Nellarusi Thayammal Leelavathy

How to become a computer technician?

In my opinion, it is not politicians who make quick decisions or override the cultural barriers of society and bring people together, but business people.

It was the clever, foresighted captains of industry who brought people from abroad to Germany, for example in the framework of the merger of AEG-Telefunken and NGEF (New Government Electric Factory) in Bangalore. After the two-year internship we should return to Bangalore to manage the production there according to German standards.

After two years we noticed that the economy has different laws. The merged companies terminated their contracts. However, we received support from the company that had brought us to Germany. The internship contract was converted into an employment contract for another year.

I remembered my school days in India. We had to change twice when we took the bus to the city to borrow books and technical magazines from the British Council. It took us a lot of time to acquire knowledge.

Germany was, in terms of education, a land of milk and honey. Evening courses, language courses, technical training, everything was possible. All you had to do was register and pay a small fee. You can learn everything you could think of. The library was free of charge and a vast amount of knowledge was available. 

“What do you do with this gifted extended year?” I asked myself. “Education is the solution,” my intellect said. “That is the basis for your future,” explained my wisdom.

With a degree and with an academic title I could get a job easily, I thought. But the university didn’t recognize my Indian credentials. I was advised to call the Ministry of Culture. They rejected me because my certificates and educational knowledge were not sufficient for the local education system, which didn’t surprise me. What I did not know at this time was that the Indian cultural ministry also did not recognize foreign testimonies simply like that.

What surprised and impressed me, however, was in the form of the refusal. It was a long, polite letter explaining why my school and college certificates could not be recognized in Germany. The whole thing was sealed with two signatures and stamps, I felt respect for this refusal. However, I had to hand in my student identity card.

Another time a committee of the IHK, consisting of five members, wrote me in detail why my Indian education did not correspond to the standard in Germany, that they regretted having to give me negative information and wished me all the best for the future!

When I didn’t understand something and couldn’t get any further myself, I asked other people. Sharma, a friend, informed  me about an apprenticeship as a computer technician. At that time an article appeared in the newspaper saying that a calculator had been developed that any average person could afford. The great thing was that you could even program this calculator. Since I already brought basic knowledge of electronics from India, I spontaneously wanted to complete an apprenticeship as a programmer.

So I applied to the Control Data Institute in Frankfurt. A few days later a student adviser from Frankfurt called Trafo Union, where I did my internship. He asked me several questions and sent me a questionnaire by post. I had to fill out these forms and bring them to the entrance examination in Frankfurt. Since the programmer training should be offered in English language, I did not make any thoughts. In Frankfurt Mr. Schüler welcomed me very friendly and asked me to fill out more forms. This time the questions were in German and it was about basics of mathematics, physics, electronics and mechanics.

I was led into a large hall. More than 80 people were present. After a gong we were allowed to start with the entrance examination for the programming course. Less than ten minutes later Mr. Schüler came back into the hall and walked directly towards me. He grabbed the examination sheets and asked me to follow him. I was shocked, didn’t know what was happening to me, and everyone in the room watched in astonishment. I walked out of the hall with my head inclined with Mr. Schüler. He took me to an even larger hall, where more than 200 people sat and worked diligently on the entrance examination. Mr. Schüler assigned me a place and I discovered that this time it was the entrance exam for Computer technology.

All questions were in German. I looked at Mr. Schüler questioningly. He just quietly encouraged me: “You can do it!” and left the hall. I had no other choice, so I began to answer these questions.

A few days later Herr Schüler called me again and told me that I had passed the entrance examination. Four weeks later I was to start my computer technician training. “There’s always a new chance,” I said with satisfaction, taking all the money I had saved and investing it in my training. Since I didn’t get any financial support from the employment office or any other source, I took out a loan.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of others

Herr Schüler organised a one-room apartment nearby and allowed me to pay the school fees in instalments. My total savings were 7000 DM and the course cost 8000 DM. An elderly lady from Stuttgart, whom I had met through my class teacher in India, took over the guarantee. After finishing the course successfully I wanted to get a job, but the employment office wouldn’t give me a work permit. This permit was a prerequisite for the residence permit. A friendly civil servant from the residents’ registration office wanted to help me on the condition that I would find work first. After four hard weeks and an application marathon I got a job at Wang Laboratories. The nice official from the residents’ registration office called the employment office and I got the work permit. Within two years I was able to repay the loan.

Without Mr. Schüler, the helpful elderly lady and the friendly officials all this would not have been possible.

What kind of Arts can my friends in Germany learn through me? What kind of Arts shall I take to India?

The order of my Chinnaachi (grandmother’s younger sister) often occupied me at that time. My mother wrote to me that the family had a Pooja for me (the ritual in the Ganesha Temple). Later she had sent me the relics of this ceremony in the form of white ash and sandalwood paste that she had received from the priest. Fortnightly I wrote aerograms, explained the life in Germany and reported mostly only positively.

But I also described the negative sides of life, e.g. that it was very cold for me in the winter months and I missed the family, the festivals and the delicious dosas, Idly, Vadas, Sambars (vegetarian dishes) and the strong South Indian decoction Kaafii (unfiltered coffee) very much.

In the spring of 1975 it became clear to me that there were only a few months left before I would return home. I wondered what I had brought with me and what I should take with me. Time was pressing: What would I be able to tell my relatives in India? Would my stories live up to their expectations?

I had to present something as a foreign returned person: Presenting pictures, telling stories, and reporting. Oh Ganesha! Yes, I had to ask him. How many coconuts have I already crashed for him?

 I’m sure he’d help me. One Friday morning I decided to recite my Ganesha Mantra. I placed the Ganesha figure facing east on the windowsill:

“vakratuNDa mahAkAya

suryakoTi samaprabha |

I don’t remember how many times I recited the mantra.I sank into deep meditation. When I opened my eyes, the sun had set. My feet hurt because I hadn’t sat in yoga Asana for a long time. I tried to concentrate and asked myself, “What am I doing? Where am I? What’s going on?” In such moments you drink a Masala Chai (milk tea with spices), but not alone. I left the house and went to see my friends.

The computer course in the institute consisted of a mixed group, a young man from the Philippines was the son of a manager, he had no money worries, another came from Africa, a likeable guy who always talked loudly and laughed, then another roundish guy from the Czech Republic, who hardly said anything, but always achieved the best results in the exams. The remaining 18 people were from Germany. Most of the German comrades had either an apprenticeship or several years of professional experience behind them.

A policeman was also there, he received financial support from the government and had to be retrained. This gentle ex-policeman wanted me to teach him yoga. When I showed Pranayoga (living life yoga) and a few Asanas (yoga postures), he was very impressed. The others grinned at the beginning of my narrative and laughed, then they became silent and listened intensively and didn’t comment. From then on I had to give yoga classes every Wednesday afternoon. Since I was running out of material for the classes, I asked my relatives for written support. I regretted that I had not taken the time in India to learn more about yoga.

When there was nothing “clever” to eat at a party, I cooked sambar and rice with the hostess. Sambar is a kind of vegetarian ratatouille in the south of India. This dish was the only one I could cook reasonably well, and it tasted good to everyone present. Later it was said that I had given them a cooking course.

It occurred to me that I had already introduced two Indian arts to my surroundings, and thirdly I could give small lectures on the religions and worldviews of the Indians, on Indian history, on the European and Arab occupiers, on the literature, stories and tales of the ancient Indians, and so on.

They were everyday things that any Indian could shake out of his sleeve, nothing unusual. As I learned later, the other Indians who came here also did the same without having received an order from anyone for it!

During three years of life in Germany all kinds of souvenirs, pictures, books and other memorabilia have accumulated. I shipped these things in two large suitcases. “In six months the suitcases will reach Madras Port,” the shipping company assured me.

Learning Dancing

Now I wanted to get to know the arts of the Europeans, so that I had something to tell and show at home. Singing was not my strength, but maybe dancing. Western music, literature, painting, martial arts, football and baking cakes were on my list as “arts to be learned”. I didn’t want to become a master of these arts, but I should be able to perform and tell something.

Time was running out, so I thought: “Start with the simplest and sign up for a dance school”. That brought a huge change into my life.

There weren’t many dance schools in Stuttgart in the seventies. A German-Danish couple ran a dance school in Königstraße. My goal was to learn only the basic knowledge of Latin American dances. My dance partner already had experience and could waltz and tango. For her it was a refresher course and for me a disaster. She did not let herself be led, but led me, at some point I adjusted myself and nobody noticed anything of our role exchange. The dance teacher was also satisfied.

In this dance school I met two shy German girls. Both spoke the widest Swabian and I didn’t understand much. I liked one of them very much and it didn’t take long until I “fell for” it. The dance prom was beautiful and remained unforgettable in my memories.

This girl changed my life.

She was 20, I was four years older and we became a couple in the following months. I hadn’t thought about marriage, family, etc. The girl changed my life, she gave me not only her heart, but also time and love as I had never experienced before. But my training as a computer technician brought me to Frankfurt.

At that time there were neither mobile phones nor internet or e-mails. Since she worked in Stuttgart, we only had evening phone calls left for our love whisper. Me standing in a phone booth somewhere in Frankfurt and she in her apartment in Stuttgart.

My one-room attic apartment in Frankfurt had no kitchenette and no bathroom. I had to go two floors down to the landlord and was only allowed to shower twice a week. If you were used to showering daily, you had a bad feeling on the days when you couldn’t shower. I got a season ticket for the nearby swimming pool and went there every day. I couldn’t really have breakfast in the one-room apartment because I was only allowed to make coffee there. So-called good food was only available on Tuesdays in the restaurant of an American fast food chain. For seven D-Mark you could eat your fill there.

One Saturday when I left my apartment, I saw my girlfriend sitting on the stairs. Amazed, I asked, “What are you doing here? When did you come?”

She had come on the first train to surprise me. I took her to the city for breakfast and sightseeing. She stayed with me on a 1.20 m wide bed, which was not comfortable for two.

On Sunday evening, I brought her to the station. When I came back, I found an envelope stuck to the door of my apartment. The envelope had no stamps, the sender was my landlord. In it, I was given a short and concise notice of termination of my rental contract with immediate effect. Reason: Unauthorised overnight stay of a strange person in my apartment.

I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. Nobody had told me then that a tenant also had rights. I called a real estate agent and a week later I had another one-room apartment, where there was also a small kitchen. My girlfriend visited me every weekend. My life changed completely. These were beautiful and stressful times.

Since her parents did not agree with her choice, she was unhappy. “When they get to know me, everything changes,” I reassured her. Since I was convinced of myself, I was sure that they would like me. After all, I was highly rated as a groom in India. A few marriage brokers had already made offers to my parents and introduced me to some brides with a high dowry.

The first visit to the Black Forest was very cool. The younger siblings and the mother of my later wife were curious and nice. Only the father stood crosswise. Not only did we have linguistic communication problems, we didn’t understand each other later either.

No, I didn’t experience a hostile, xenophobic attitude or behaviour, but I didn’t fit into their vision of life.  I simply had bad luck with this family. Bad karma!

When I arrived home in India with my German girlfriend, there was discontent at first. But the German girl, who later became my wife, was so good-hearted and patient that she was integrated into the family.

Cultural identity of my children

We parents, a Swabian mother and an Indian father, wanted to educate our children interculturally. The children now know both cultures and we have always celebrated both cultural festivities. Every year there was a Christmas tree, Advent candles, the Festival of Lights and Durga Puja (prayer rituals for the goddess Durga). However, the two languages spoken at home were German and Swabian. Since I worked in the field, I could not teach my children Tamil, the oldest Indian language.

It is a pity, because languages enrich people and broaden their horizons. They felt more like Germans and only when they wore Indian costumes they behaved like Indian women, but only for fun. We motivated the children to learn other European languages. Today our children speak two to three European languages.

They had little or no problems because of my origin, perhaps because they are very light-skinned. But the facial features and hair colour show that I am their father when we stand next to each other.

My children have never called India their country of origin, nor have I insisted on it. I think my children have selected us as parents before their birth. It may sound esoteric, but that’s how I see it. I also consider it a privilege to be the father of my children.

What do I miss in Germany?

Sometimes I miss my relatives in India, the regular spiritual festivals, the emotional cocktails of the Bollywood films, the languages, dialects that are used every day, the pointless nonsense discussions that usually lead to nothing ;-). It’s better that I don’t think about it, otherwise I start thinking and get homesick.

I also often miss the warmth and hospitality that one experiences in southern countries like Turkey or Italy. When I talk about lifestyle here, in Germany one often thinks of luxury, expensive sports, chic clothes, etc. But I’m talking about openness, banal or serious conversations, simply not doing anything serious, enjoying the time, going inside yourself, dreaming and laughing loudly, also cooking comfortably with relatives or friends, playing with the children, having fun. Easy to live, easy to enjoy and easy to work.

Xenophobic experiences?

Of course there is this experience. Every stranger in Germany, especially with a different skin colour, is confronted with it at some point. I could make a list of the idiotic views my colleagues Günter, Klaus, Micha and Hans-Dieter have over the people from other cultures. But they are always the same and it is a waste of time to enumerate them. Wrong upbringing is the reason for this racist behaviour. As an example, one can cite Indians who teach their children the caste system even though they know how inhumane sometimes it is. As a technical consultant in the field, I have worked in almost every city in southern Germany for the most famous companies. You get to know the people here from different sides. You often learn about their wishes, attitudes towards life, their motivation, education, family backgrounds, etc. Educated people and people who have lived abroad have little resentment towards foreigners.

I do not want to claim that uneducated people have prejudices by nature, but prejudices are mostly based on ignorance and wrong upbringing. I found two interesting remarks, which were usually made behind my back.

One of them was the saying of Gertie, a BackOffice employee at Xerox about my report: “What a complicated report the temple dancer has written!” 

This was because I wrote long sentences with details to avoid questions. 

The other one came from Armin, a right radical, a mechanic from a small city in southern Germany: “The ‘roasted one’ wants me to check everything again and do it right”. He was a lazy guy and did not know what quality in work means.

I didn’t find the two sayings discriminatory, because my dream job was to become a temple dancer at some point and get into dancing ecstasy.

A ‘roasted one’ is a very wise and experienced yogi. Because I am dark-skinned, I am usually misjudged by strangers, either I am a doctor or an engineer or a rose seller or pizza supplier. If people classify a stranger in the wrong category at the beginning, the stranger can benefit from these prejudices.

This is particularly expressed in the saying “Clothes make the man”, which has not lost its effect to this day. If you are well dressed and a bit rhetorical, you can experience better treatment and friendliness. If one is underestimated, this may also be advantageous: one has less stress and can afford some things, has, so to speak, fool liberty.

Skin colour, appearance, clothing, body language, voice and behaviour in Germany make a lot of things easier to achieve, depending on how you use these qualities and whether you know the cultural codes. 

Where is my home?

“Where are you going on holiday,” my colleague wanted to know. “Back home, where my roots are,” I said spontaneously. But after four weeks in my old home country, I always felt homesick for Germany, my adopted country, because that’s where I had ‘taken root’.

There were my family, friends, acquaintances, places and much that was close to my heart. I then always went to the beach in Kerala, not only to drink a glass of cold beer, but also to meet my “compatriots” from Germany and to speak German with the many emigrants. I seldom drink beer in Germany and it was a rather strange feeling that I suddenly missed the beer and my adopted country. Strange! Yes, at that time it was already twenty-two years that I was living in Germany.

Once, when I had gone out of longing to drink a beer and left the bar on the Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore, I heard the waiter calling out to me “Sir, Sir!” and ran to me on the street with a litre of beer bottle with screw cap in his hand. “Sir,” he puffed: “Sir, the bottle is still almost full, you hardly drank any of it, but paid for it. Please take the bottle with you! I thanked and kindly refused.

The first sips had been wonderful, but soon I didn’t like it anymore. 

In a big city mall I met tourists from Germany and felt to be with “my people” , talked to them, helped them with advice and felt at home but I did not reveal my homesick feelings towards German to them and nothing about my longing. “I am strangely funny already”, I thought.

Years later I was supposed to describe the term home. It is everywhere where you feel comfortable, where you can say everything without fear, where your friends are, where you can sleep carefree, where people understand you and it is possible to be yourself. Yes, I feel the same in my mother’s home, so I have two homes.


They say homesickness is worse than thirst. People miss their homeland, even if they have taken root in their new homeland. His horizon widens in both directions and suddenly he has two homes. Then man is always homesick for the other homeland. Personally I don’t find it bad, but consider it an enrichment. Happiness is when you can swing back and forth.

Today I am a grandfather, father, partner, friend, consultant, free thinker, independent and traveller. Over 42 years of professional activity qualify me to a pensioner’s life. Actually, I really live after I have become a pensioner. I was an electrician, computer technician, programmer, trainer, Consultant, technical service manager, intercultural and interreligious consultant. Due to my professional achievements our family could live well. Thanks to Nature for the chances that I could make use of.

What does integration mean?

You need two hands to clap. It’s the same with the integration of people. Both the parties, the foreigners and the locals have to accept integration, only then this would work. It is a kind of assimilation, but without cultural fusion. It’s like curry sausage: I bring curry with me, you vegan sausage and your friend from America ketchup. It tastes great. We’ve created something new, but that doesn’t mean we’ll only have to eat currywurst (sausage with curry and ketchup) in the future, that would be terrible. The fingers of our hands are of different lengths and so it should be. In the seventies, Germany was a developing country in terms of integration. Today everyone is talking about integration and people are actively involved. I see this development in a very positive light. There is still room for improvement, but the trend is towards peace and tolerance, despite Pegida and AfD. This is mainly due to the fact that people are better informed thanks to new media than these were a few years ago.

I would like to spend the rest of my life in my two homelands, sometimes in India, in my native place, sometimes in Germany, where I lived most of my life, for as long as possible in a healthy way :-).

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