In June 2014, the Swedish Government sponsored a program called Swedish Institute Management Program (SIMP) hosting 20 individuals from India (after a rigorous screening process of 135 applications over 6 months) working in the field of Corporate Sustainability/Corporate Social Responsibility. Sweden is considered a world leader in sustainability practices and in corporate governance too. The idea of this program was to share Sweden’s expertise with the world, developing nations in particular. The Swedish government sponsors such a program across China, Africa and Northern Europe too. The program was spread across a year with two modules in India and one 2-week module in Sweden.
The program in its entirety was a phenomenal learning experience. It gave me a much deeper understanding of corporate social responsibility, the differences in the way it is perceived in the western world as compared to India and its deeper connections to environment and human rights. And I got to spend time with a group of twenty very mature yet fun, accomplished individuals who are on top of their career ladders across various leading corporate houses in India. Being somewhat of a private person, I didn’t think I’d enjoy spending time with a large group of twenty people but I very much did.
Over a year after attending the program, I realized the influences of the program on my thinking process, my understanding and in some way, possibly my goals for the future too. It has in fact led to a couple interesting decisions – some of them public and some, not yet.
Anyway, so the reason I moved out the inertia after almost over a year, was because my love for travel sent me back into reminiscing mode and turned my thoughts to the glorious, glorious city of Stockholm. While there is plenty to write about my learnings from this program, I’m going to limit these posts to travelogues capturing my journey in Sweden and my extended travel post SIMP. I’ve been to only nine countries so far but in all of these, Sweden and in particular the city of Stockholm has to be my absolute favorite. It’s a city that has a regal, old-fashioned charm to it, that’s almost impossible to articulate in words. I spent three weeks in Sweden and visited three more cities – Malmo, Gotland and Borås. So I had time to soak in the all the charm of this Scandinavian nation, gradually savoring each bit.
Our first week in Sweden, we were hosted at a castle outside Stockholm. Yes, a castle. :) I believe a good beginning had a lot to do with me losing my heart so hopelessly to Stockholm. Couple of pictures of Nasby Slott and lovely breakfasts, dinner and fikas that we had while we were there.
The next three pictures are the minutest glimpse of the famous Swedish Fika! Here’s a little bit about Fika from the country’s official website (yes, it’s that important to them).
Swedes prefer not to translate the word fika. They don’t want it to lose significance and become a mere coffee break. It is one of the first words you will learn when visiting Sweden, right after tack (thank you) and hej (hello). Fika is much more than having a coffee. It is a social phenomenon, a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time. Fika can happen at any time, morning as well as evening. It can be savoured at home, at work or in a café. It can be with colleagues, family, friends, or someone you are trying to get to know. It is a tradition observed frequently, preferably several times a day.Accompanying sweets are crucial. Cinnamon buns, cakes, cookies, even open-faced sandwiches pass as acceptable fika fare. It comes as no surprise that Swedes are among the top consumers of coffee and sweets in the world – or that Swedes appreciate the good things in life.
I get along well with people who appreciate a good, hot beverage. I’ve always been of the opinion that a hot beverage (and by beverage I mean adrak wali chai/filter coffee not your green/herbal tea etc varieties) must not just be ‘had’ in a rush but must be slowly savored and enjoyed to your hearts’ content. I remember even during the most stressful periods of my life, when anxiety and stress got the better of me, I simply made a cup of tea and sat down in peace and consumed it. Somehow after those 15-20 minutes of tea therapy, everything felt better. And it stands true even today – my morning tea time is sacrosanct. So I truly appreciated and enjoyed this part of the Swedish culture, where they placed so much importance on these breaks for coffee/tea that allowed conversations to develop and sort of built a little event around it. Of course, needless to say, by the end of the module, because of all the cinnamon buns, cakes & tarts consumed with gusto – twice a day, I looked like someone had pumped a whole lotta air into me. :(
There were many a formal dinner nights by the candle light, with elegant table settings, wine and delectable fare. We had many talented singers in our group and after these long summer night meals, there would soulful renditions of Kishore Kumar songs amongst many others old favorites This particular night (the picture below), I remember, it was ‘Huzoor Is Kadar bhi na’ from Masoom(1983).
[Pic below] The first few mornings, I was here everyday. After a walk around the castle grounds and the apple orchards, I would come and sit here for a couple of minutes before I had rush to shower and get ready for breakfast and leave for our day-long sessions. The day i.e. the sessions began at 8 AM. It took me a while to get used to the sense of space and privacy, that these countries had to offer. Growing up in India, you could never have had such a peaceful place just to yourself even for the briefest moments. So after a few days, I started getting used to the idea of sitting calmly in this space after my walk, just enjoying the lovely weather, the greenery and the tranquil waters.
This picture below was definitely the highlight of our stay at Näsby Slott. We had a three-hour violin workshop, where 20 complete rookies learnt to play the violin from a concert violinist. That’s our instructor in the picture standing right in the front and there’s me on the right, rushing to get the front seat. I’m usually never enthusiastic about the front row seat but just one look at the violin cases opened and neatly lined up, got me super enthused. We played 8 small sets of music and grand finale was, wait for it,…. the title song from Kal Ho Na Ho. :) Apparently, our instructor had done a couple of concerts in India and that’s where she picked up this song. It was a lovely experience.
So that’s pretty much the summary of my first week in Sweden and in Stockholm and this was the first part of (hopefully) a couple of more travel pieces coming up!
Lovely pictures courtesy : Shubhmay