Munna finds them a job.
“Yes we are going to Amsterdam’,screamed Pranab after a talk with Munna. Sujata’s joy knew no bounds. Sujata and Pranab were trying to save money for a flat in Gurgaon. They wanted to have two children. Their rented big living room with a bed and kitchen was already too small for the two of them. The couple worked for an IT company. Sujata had done the math –if they went abroad for two years,they would save enough for down payment for a two BHK flat in Gurgaon close to the good international school.
They were in a non –descript company.So they had no chance to go onsite to work with clients.They had been trying through Munna ,who ran an employment consultany in Gurgaon.
Munna had finally called them that morning to confirm jobs in a company in Amsterdam,in the Netherlands.”The Dutch like you smart people for their big machines to work.The company has booked a place for the first month.After you get your first salary, you find your own place.You will get your visas in two weeks.My cousin works at the German embassy in Dilli”, boasted Munna.
“German?”,Pranab had asked.
“Haan bhai,German –Holland –same same” ,Munna had confirmed confidently.
Five weeks later,the couple were on board an Uzbekistan airways flight to Amesterdam, through Tashkent and Moscow,the cheapest connection they could find.They had set some money aside to sustain their first month in Amsterdam and the rest of their savings was spent on Munna’s fees.They packed their entire world into their 46 kilos of luggage allowance and set forth their dream city –Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is beautiful
They had done their research in advance to know that taking a taxi would be too expensive, so they took the bus from the airport to their apartment. They were converting all sums to rupees and everything seemed very expensive.
When they eventually got to the apartment, they found out it was actually smaller than their studio in Gurgaon. It had a tiny foldable bed, a cupboard, a mirror and an electric stove with some basic utensils – frugal but practical very much like the Dutch philosophy, they would find out very soon.
After sorting the basics, they went out to explore the city. The flowers were blooming, and birds were chirping. There were numerous canals with beautiful bridges, with ducks and swans swimming. Everything appeared clean and orderly.
They observed Dutch drove tiny cars. They missed the long, flashy cars they would see everywhere in Gurgaon. There were almost no SUVs in the city. People were driving their cars slowly in the city, they stopped at zebra crossings to let people cross the roads and there was no honking. They observed the irony that even though they were driving on the wrong side of the road, they were driving the right way.
They went to the local supermarket chain Albert Heijn – the logo reminded them of a letter from the Hindi alphabet. It was difficult to find things they could relate to. The vegetables they identified were potatoes, egg plants and cauliflower. The other ones were alien – they saw something that looked like a tiny cabbage. Later they would find out it was called Brussels sprout.
After an evening of resting and exploring, they reported for work the following Monday. They were told that there weren’t any immediate projects for them, but they could take the first few days to familiarize themselves with the company and its technology. Joost, another colleague without a project, would help them with this.
Joost was a tall Dutch man of around 50 years of age. His blonde hair had greyed slightly. He spoke good English with a strange accent. He would roll his Rs (like rrrrr) and would pronounce the Gs very roughly (like ghhhh). He joked, “Dutch is a funny language, with very strong pronunciation. Once you learn to speak it, you speak every other language with a funny accent.”
Joost was very casual and would joke about almost everything. He warned Pranab and Sujata that the Dutch are very direct people and often their directness is confused with rudeness. He attributed this directness to their culture, where honesty and straightforwardness were looked as virtues and owning too much wealth was seen as something negative.
Sujata asked innocently, “Is that why you don’t show off with big cars?”. Joost explained with a laughter, “Why buy a big car when you hardly need it! We bike everywhere! We are very cheap, you see.” Sujata was quite impressed with this simple approach to life. Pranab, on the other hand, was skeptical. “You still need to save money. What about kids’ education? What about your kids’ marriage? What about healthcare when you get old?”, Pranab asked.
“Our education system is quite good. It’s almost free. Healthcare is covered by the state too. We’re a capitalist country, built on socialist principles. Most people aren’t religious, and they don’t get married. They just choose their partners and stay on if they’re meant to. We’re very weird.”, he laughed out loud. “My girlfriend Anna and I have been living together for 25 years now. We have two kids together. They’re both in university now”, he continued. Pranab and Sujata were scandalized. This had been, by far, the biggest culture shock for them! Feeling quite uncomfortable, Pranab changed the topic very quickly, “Err.. What is typical Dutch food?”.
“Our food is very boring actually. Mostly potatoes and meat and vegetables. Nothing like your delicious curries. Butter chicken, lekker”, Joost said using the Dutch word for ‘tasty’.
“What about jobs? Are they secure?”, Sujata asked.
“Mostly”, Joost explained. “Employees on permanent job contracts earn large severance packages, when they lose their jobs. With temporary contracts, an employee isn’t protected at all.” Pranab and Sujata gave each other an alarmed look – they were on temporary contracts. “But we’re a very entrepreneurial country. It’s very easy to start something of your own. In fact, I’m tired of IT and would like to start a food catering service”, Joost revealed. “Maybe, I can sell Indian food”, he joked.
The actual shock
Pranab and Sujata were enjoying their new beginnings. Each day brought them something new. But, bad news was lurking around the corner. The following Monday, a somber mood prevailed at work when Pranab and Sujata arrived. There had been some financial irregularities which invited a heavy penalty from the regulators, they heard. Their company would go bankrupt! Their entire world crashed before their eyes – they had spent all their money! They had nothing left and nowhere to go at the end of the month, when their accommodation ran out. They didn’t even have a return ticket to India. They tried to call Munna, but he was elusive.
They went to Joost. He appeared calm, although he wasn’t his jovial self. “I’ll get a lot of money from my severance pay. Looks like I’ll have to start my business sooner than I planned to. What about you guys?”, Joost was direct, as always. Pranab stuttered, “We’re ruined!”. He went on to explain their story to Joost.
Joost appeared pensive. He looked at Sujata and asked, “Can you cook?”. Sujata nodded a yes. Next, he turned in Pranab’s direction and asked, “Can you ride a bicycle?” Pranab nodded a yes too. They were both confused as to what was going on in Joost’s head.
“Here’s a plan – I start my catering company. Sujata cooks Indian food and Pranab delivers it. We start small and see where this goes. If it takes off, we expand otherwise we withdraw. What do you guys think?”, Joost shot off.
“But we don’t have a place to live in”, Pranab said looking dejected.
“You can stay with Anna and I for now; our kids’ room is available. You have to think of a good Indian name for the business.”, Joost commanded.
Three years later
Sujata cooked delicious food, Pranab cycled everywhere to deliver it. Joost used his network of old IT clients to get their canteen contracts. Indian food was an exotic addition to boring office lunch menus. The partnership did well!
A very nice Indian restaurant named ANNAPURNA stands by a canal in the heart of the city.
Joost pronounces it “Anna-poorrrrrrnaaa”.
Haan bhai –yes brother
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