Ten years ago, no more than 20,000 people born in India lived in Sweden, according to national Swedish number crunchers Statistics Sweden.
The number is now close to 50,000, with Sweden’s research scene and IT industry attracting young professionals from far and wide.
Not only do Indians make an impact on Sweden’s largest companies such as Ikea, Ericsson and Spotify – their influence is noticeable in other ways, too.
“Maybe one of the one or two interesting things is how you can now see cricket being played in Sweden. And I’m told it’s catching on very fast,” Indian ambassador Tanmaya Lal told The Local when we interviewed him for our Sweden in Focus podcast.
He also mentioned cultural groups such as dance group IndiskFika – made famous as finalists on Swedish TV talent show Talang – who spoke to The Local last year.
“They are IT professionals or researchers and in their spare time they dance. (…) It’s very interesting how some of these young Indian people are diversifying into their other hobbies and so on,” he said about his compatriots’ impact on Sweden’s cultural scene.
The flagship event of the Indian Embassy is Namaste Stockholm, an open-air, whole-day event with cultural performances carried out by the Indian diaspora in Sweden. An estimated 15-20,000 people came last year, when it was held for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic.
“But in many smaller towns where Indians are based, they do their own sort of festivities. So it’s a very vibrant cultural calendar for the Indians here in Sweden,” said Lal.
Lal himself came to Sweden two years ago during the pandemic. A trained chemical engineer but a career diplomat for the past 30 years, it’s his eighth foreign assignment, with some of his previous work focusing on India’s engagement with its greater neighbourhood, Europe, the United Nations and Africa.
Today, almost 250 Swedish companies have a presence in India and almost 75 the other way around, he said.
“The trade between Sweden and India is four billion dollars annually and it’s growing fast. Innovation, clean technologies, investment, these are very big areas.
“We are also doing a lot of jointly funded research projects. (…) Swedish startups and big firms are interested in how they can scale up their solutions in the Indian context. Given our digital transformation right now, there’s huge interest there, from both sides.”
The ties go back a long way. Though neither of the two countries existed in their present-day forms at the time, people from the areas now known as India and Sweden may have been interacting since at least the year 700.
“Obviously today we talk about trade and globalisation. But if you go to the historical museum here [in Stockholm], in the Viking section, there is a small, brown statuette of Buddha, which was found in a Viking settlement not far from here, on Helgö island,” said Lal.
“It really dates back to 1,400 years, it is estimated, coming from the part of Kashmir. It reveals how the Viking trade networks were there – vast networks going all the way to India.
“We also find, for example, if you go to Birka, the museum there has a lot of Indian beads. So again, around 1,000 years back these trading links were there.”
You might think that a diplomat with a career spanning three decades and multiple countries would at some point grow blasé with new places, but that is not the case for Lal.
“Immediately what comes to mind is that I was fortunate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony. It was quite moving to just be there, and you can’t do that in any other place than in Sweden,” he said when asked what he likes the most about life in Sweden.
“I also remember that last year we were fortunate to watch some Northern Lights here in Stockholm. It’s absolutely amazing that you can do that. Things like this, which are completely unexpected and quite unique to this place.”
Listen to the interview with Indian ambassador Tanmaya Lal in the latest episode of Sweden in Focus
Interview by Paul O’Mahony, article written by Emma Löfgren.