Ravi Shankar speaks to The Local just days after joining around 100 friends and colleagues from across India for the first Desi Sports day in Älmhult, the small Swedish town where Ikea was born and still has its headquarters.
“When you're living abroad it's really fun to get together with people who understand your own culture,” he says of the event which he says was thought up by his friend Kavita.
“We played all the games we remember from childhood, tag team sports like Kho kho and Kabaddi and also Rassa Kassi, which is a tug of war…and of course we ate a lot of Indian food too. Apart from family, that is the thing I miss most from back home.”
Shankar, who lives in Älmhult with his wife Menka Sharma, 33, and their son Rudra Singh, five, says the Indian community in the town is strong, thanks to growing numbers of staff making the move to Sweden to work for the world's most famous flatpack furniture firm, where he is an IT consultant.
“Most of our social life is with other Indians. We meet up at work almost every day and plan for Indian festivals together. We are from all over the country though, so we mostly speak in English as we don't know all of each other's languages. It is our Indian traditions that bring us together here in Sweden.”
The Desi Sports day in Älmhult. Photo: Private
Having previously worked for technology and consulting firm Capgemini, Shankar originally came to Älmhult to work on a short-term project, but ended up staying for more than two years before being offered a permanent contract with Ikea in 2011.
He says making the decision to accept the new post was one of the toughest moments in his career, but he's never regretted the choice he made.
“I didn't sleep the whole night when I was offered a permanent job with Ikea. I took time to decide. We wanted to stay in Sweden for longer but not forever,” he explains.
“But I just thought, 'I am in the right job now, this is the job I have been looking for for more than ten years' and so we stayed.”
For Shankar, working in Sweden offers a sense of freedom he says is difficult to get back home in India.
“In India there is much less choice in terms of what projects you work on and you are always waiting for your contract to be extended every six months. Now I have a good role working with technology, I feel trusted by the Ikea manager who hired me and I can plan for the future,” he says.
“If you are working in India your main goal is deliver more in less time which puts a lot of pressure on IT professionals. The Swedes, they deliver quality. I prefer it here. You get some time to think about how things could be done better.”
Despite mostly socializing with Indian colleagues, Shankar says he and his family also enjoy spending time with their Swedish neighbours. And after previously working in India and the US and travelling to several European countries he's convinced that Swedes are among the most helpful people he's come across in his life.
“I think Swedes are very friendly. Before we came here we spent some time in Paris and people there did not want to help us, even if they knew how to speak English. We have never had that feeling in Sweden.”
Some of the Indian community in Älmhult, taken on the Desi Sports Day on July 18th. Photo: Private
Ravi Shankar and his son Radra Singh. Photo: Private
Shankar admits that his Swedish isn't as good as it could be after more than six years in Sweden, but says he plans to get better to keep up with the rest of his family.
“To be honest I was learning Swedish and I was going to classes but my day at work was starting at 6am and finishing at 6pm and it was tough then spending three hours in a classroom, especially once we had a baby. But my wife is going to SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) classes and my son is going to an Ikea sponsored international school. He speaks English already but there he will learn Swedish and Hindi.”
The 36-year-old says he's now almost certain that his family will spend the rest of their lives in Älmhult, although they remain sad to be separated from their relatives.
“We miss the food and our families. We don't miss the weather. It's much easier to work in the freezing Swedish winter than in 45C in India, believe me!”