TV shows

A doctor tries to navigate India and cliches in TV show ‘The Good Karma Hospital’

The British series has numerous problems but a heartwarming lead actor.

Tales of foreigners looking to “find” themselves in India constitute perhaps the most prodigious genre of writing about this country from beyond its shores. The British series The Good Karma Hospital also begins with this premise but updates it for our globalised age. Here, the foreigner is herself of Indian extraction.

Ruby Walker (Amrita Acharia) is a doctor in London who is recuperating, unsuccessfully, from a broken heart. She hates her job, where nurses many years her senior boss her around, and her lonely apartment, which is filled with memories of her aborted romance. So, when she spots an advertisement calling for doctors in India, she laps up the opportunity.

In Kerala, she lands at the Good Karma Hospital, run by the formidable Lydia Fonseca (Amanda Redman), a hard taskmaster who runs a tight ship. The hospital caters to the local populace as well as to the steady stream of foreign tourists, a state of affairs that translates to low funds and long hours. The team includes Ram Nair (Darshan Jariwala) and Gabriel Verma (James Floyd). Walker is plonked in the middle of the chaos that marks any Indian hospital, but the bustle is salvaged somewhat by the sheer beauty of her surroundings.

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The series, directed by Dan Sefton, has its heart in the right place even if it cannot entirely avoid tone-deaf generalisations. In the very first scene, as Dr Walker is escorted from the airport to the hospital on roads where vehicles don’t seem to follow any rules, the driver comforts her by saying she needn’t worry. “Not everyone drives like this; only Hindus who are fatalistic,” he adds for good measure.

The show tries to introduce what one assumes is a primarily British audience to some of the pitfalls of Indian society, but in doing so, it often loses context, such as a sense of place. One story arc involves a man’s disappointment at the birth of a third girl child; another revolves around an unwed mother. While both these situations are not unknown in India, I am not sure Kerala comes to mind when we think of them. Plus, the background chatter in many scenes is in Hindi.

Ignore these irritants and the show can be engaging, especially when it is not trying to train the viewer in Indian mores. Fonseca’s midnight rendezvous with a bar owner is a nice counterpoint to her tough act during the day. Nair has installed his son as the manager of the hospital, but the latter’s roving eye is a cause for concern. The handsome Verma cares for his patients with a resolve that can be easily mistaken for arrogance.

It is Walker who is the show’s beating heart. Unaware of Indian customs and rituals in spite of her background (British mother, absent Indian father), she takes to her new home and assignment with gusto, quickly imbibing that all-important Indian lesson of making do with what’s available. (A pediatrician, she finds herself performing minor surgeries.) But it is her deep reserves of empathy – and the gentle eyes of the actor who plays her – that make her the ideal doctor.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.