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Travel report by Nicol Foulkes

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 11:00
In January I made a two week field trip to the Indian cities Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The primary purpose of the trip was to re-connect with networking groups, informants and the cities themselves as they too have undergone a lot of change in the two and a half years since I was there last.

My research investigates the lives of Northern European temporary migrants in India who have relocated as a consequence of their own or their partner’s job. Filtering the analysis through the lens of privilege, the thesis centers around three main areas under the umbrella of social citizenship (values, capital, and formal social rights) , with a focus on the experience of the Danish and Finnish migrants.
During the two weeks several meetings were arranged with informants and other networking groups. Unfortunately for various reasons many of them cancelled, and I was only able to meet with one of my interviewees (the vast majority of who have in fact already left India and re-connect with two of the four key networking groups I am in touch with.
In Delhi and Mumbai I did homestays with professional Indian women in their thirties and spend some time talking and interacting with them with the purpose of getting an insight into the lives of some of my informants’ Indian ‘equivalents’. In Bangalore, where most of my meetings were scheduled, I chose to stay at a small hotel in the center of the city, near the main bus station.
As expected there were many changes to be seen in all three cities. The construction at all three airports had more or less finished and to my mind they match the standard and organization of Singapore or London Heathrow Terminal 5. A striking feature when travelling to and through Mumbai and Bangalore in particular was the advertisement of luxury, often using the word lifestyle rather than luxury. There seemed to be manic construction of luxury offices, hotels and apartment blocks, yet no signs of improvements to the housing situation of the cities’ poor who constitute the vast majority of their populations. I found myself drawn to these gaps visually and in conversations with Europeans that I met who flirt with the poverty in their employment of maids and drivers who they pay incredibly low salaries for the chores, responsibility and hours they are expected to work. 
The other major change I witnessed, primarily through the networking meetings I attended but also in general on the streets and in the shopping malls, was the increase in numbers of foreign people from different countries of the world. This is a clear reflection of the continued growth in foreign investment in India. Perhaps unsurprisingly and in connection with this, prices of consumer goods were also much higher and more comparable to some parts of Europe than three years ago, and there were more European-style small grocery stores to cater to Western consumption needs. The presence of Western multinational chain stores was equally more visible, yet still only in specific pockets of the cities.
I walked a lot, visited luxury shopping areas, hotels and spas, and I also visited slum areas, more ‘local’ shopping areas and worked for a day in an orphanage. I once again, albeit for a relatively short period, tried to get an insight into the lives that Northern Europeans in Indian cities live and do not live.

Read more about Nicol Foulkes.