Author Archives: bronwyngrace

Shaam ho chali hai – a sunset on this chapter of life

Haan yeh zaroori nahin
Jo paas hai, woh saath hai.
Na ye zaroori hai ki
Jo saath hai, woh paas hai.

This is a passage that I’ve always found to be remarkable and meaningful. It’s a beautiful lyric from a mediocre song which was written for a forgettable movie called Radio. It essentially means that whatever is close to you may not be with you, and that whatever is with you or beside you, is not necessarily close to you or at the top of your mind. It’s obviously more beautiful in Hindi than in English, but reflects many of my feelings on the transition between Mumbai and Vancouver.

There are experiences, people and places in our lives that will never be as close to us as we might have held them once, but may continue to keep an irreplaceable part of our hearts with them. Shreya Goshal’s syrupy voice in this lyric describes how a momentary interaction can be more influential than a lifetime of steeping, like a teabag, in the atmosphere of the place we were born into. Who we have always known doesn’t define who we’ve always been. Regardless of place, time or circumstance, we create our own stories by choosing what is of beauty and meaning in our lives. I would like to believe that there is no interaction that we have for no reason. I’m grateful for every person, situation and circumstance that created the ocean of meaning that surrounded me over more than two years in Mumbai and more than three years in India.

In Bombay, I was writing at www.littlebirdbombay.comI’ve been back in Canada for two very full months now, walking a tightrope between remembering and longing for my life in Bombay and trying to create something new and wonderful here. I will continue to write and post photos at my new little nook in the vast space of the internet, and I hope you visit me there:

www.theurbanbeautiful.com

I want to say a heartfelt, heart-full thank you to each and every person who has read, followed, written to me, or felt something from my writing and experiences over the history of this blog. You are the reason I’ve shared so much. Thank you engaging with me and encouraging me: you are so appreciated. Here is to continuing to seek, to learn, and to find beauty and meaning in every experience.


from bronwyngrace to littlebirdbombay.com!

Thank you for wanting to hear what I have to say.

My memoirs of Varanasi and current writings on Bombay are now at :

www.littlebirdbombay.com

I hope you follow me over there!



a clown in a rickshaw ocean

A new rickshaw wala abandons his rickshaw in the standstill traffic to go and get a paan.

He stands and listens to the cross-legged paanwala complain about his wife while he sucks and chews and masticates the betel nut and sweet coconut in his mouth.

Then, with a red mouth like a clown and dusty feet in chappals, he heads back to the sea of rickshaws. In that ocean, he cannot find his own.

He curses. His home place of Jamshedpur is nothing like this goddamned crazy city full of traffic.Traffic starts to inch forward maybe a hundred meters ahead. His passenger starts to worry, where is he, she is already late.

He swims through the ocean to reach her and swings himself into the rickshaw like an orangutan, swiftly starting the rattling engine. They lurch ahead just in time.

He feels relieved and a little bit heroic, and smiles a paan-stained clown smile at whoever will look. The children in the next rickshaw on their soft mothers’ laps laugh and point at him.


wonder in house-searching in bandra

I talked to Ashutosh on the phone the evening before I came to see the room.

Well, the thing is that I already have two people who are interested in the room, but they don’t like cats. Do you have any problem with cats?” he asked. I assured him I liked cats, that I’d come in the morning to see the place.

I arrived at 9AM the next day at the century-old colonial bungalow near Rizvi college. Ashutosh had already phoned before I left the house:

How long will you take to reach? Shall I put the tea on?”


He greeted me with a namaskaar as I slipped my shoes off, stepping over the threshold inside.

The thing is,” Ashutosh said, “I have actually just gotten four new roomates. They’ve just come yesterday.”

Confused, I didn’t say anything, but followed him into the front room.

You can meet them if you’d like.” He smiled, and pulled open a cupboard door.

Inside were four beautiful new kittens, nestled peacefully in a row against their mother’s body. She was beautiful, much more apparently serene than a human is when they have given birth only 12 hours earlier. The group of them were collapsed together on top of a grey towel.

The little ones’ stomachs were wet and sticky from being born. Mummy had bitten off the cords. Their eyes were closed.

She had been whining so much when she was about to give birth… I think she was insisting that I leave,” Ashutosh laughed softly. “She didn’t like the male energy. I invited my neighbour to act as her midwife.”

Only hours old, the baby cats already wore beautiful patterns in their fur. They meowed as mice would speak, in high voices, and struggled around blindly.

The details of them were already beginning to be clear: their whiskers were brown with white tips, noses soft and damp, their tails ended in points. They were precious and helpless and already loved.



Merry Christmas from Bombay


Each as they want, choose or feel forced to do.

Vehicles carrying animal and human lives line up at the junction of two major roads. They are in a staggered row, depending on each driver’s anxiousness or impassiveness to get going as soon as the light changes. The drivers lean back in their seats and spit to the side.

There, each person is doing as he or she chooses, wants, knows, thinks or has done before. They are at an intersection on the road, at an intersection and crossroads in life.


In one rickshaw is farmer and his son and their goat. They live in a dairy colony in Gurgaon but had gone to collect their goat from Bombay central, first arguing with a taxi wala and then rickshaw wala.

“My rickshaw is new,” complained their present driver. He was uneasy to pollute his brand new rickshaw with the smell of a dirty goat, at least not so soon! But was won over by a bribe. He, like those dyeing fabrics in Dharavi or those folding paan leaves in Mahalaxmi, is doing what he has been born into.


A child pushed a miniature merry-go-round made for children between a rickshaw and a cab, leaning with the whole of his weight and all of his skinny self to make it move. The paint was chipping off of the merry go-round: its colours were faded and the whole thing was not as joyful and fun-looking as it was originally intended to be.

The little boy is doing the only thing that he knows how to do, except for also being able to curse back at the rickshaw walas who curse at him for cutting them off. He came voiceless to Mumbai four years ago from a village in another state, but now his Bombaiyya Hindi is perfect.


In one taxi is a gaggle of Bandra babes, girls going out on the town. They laugh and pass around an illicit cigarette. The driver eyes their bare legs from his mirror as the cab jerks to a pause. The girls are too drunk on their beautiful young lives to notice.

They are doing what they want. How delicious.


A Sunni Muslim man sits on a motorcycle next to the cab. Behind him and sideways is his wife, peering at the world through heavily-lidded, kajal lined eyes. She’s hiding every lovely part of herself except for these eyes, and these she shows off.

Her sisters are more like the girls in the taxi, dressing modestly at home but sneaking off to flirt with older boys on the weekends. But for this married woman, honoring the tenements of her faith is more freeing than skirts or blouses could be. She is doing what she chooses to do.


An elderly couple stands at the curb beside the rickshaw with the goat, waiting to cross the street. Sir has placed his cane in front of Mam to prevent her from being too close to the traffic.

Mam’s fingers smell like the cilantro she rubbed between them at the market. She’s carrying a bag of ripe tomatoes and onions, unperturbed by the alarming price increase.

Sir was born in another time and place, slept by the highway and worked in tea stalls before succeeding in his entrepreneurship. No reason to have servants, to do everything differently now that things are different, he reasons. And so still, he walks to and from the market with his wife every evening to select the vegetables that she will cook for dinner. He thanks god that he does not have to worry about onion prices, that actually there is very little he has to worry about anymore. They together are doing as they always have done.


When the light finally changes everyone moves forth: some are faster than others to gun their engines (having had more opportunity or inspiration) and some slower, but each does move ahead.

All except for an orange tabby cat that is rust-coloured with dust. She had been wandering in front of the vehicles until the engines roared to life again. She jumped and hightailed it to a place on the roadside where there was a very pleasant texture of ground: round pebbles in soft dust. Rather than running the race with the others, she’d rather roll over there to scratch her sides.


How to obtain an Indian visa in the most honest manner possible within an impossibly corrupt system

In Bombay, the most likely place to find foreigners (after places like Bagel Shop in Bandra or Blue Frog in Lower Parel) is the Foreigner Regional Registration office.

In the same way, in the last little while, after my neighbourhood cafe… the Indian Consulate was the most likely place you could find me in Vancouver.

After much stress, I obtained a visa. Gaining an Indian visa is hardly a subject I know anything about, as I was declined more than once before finally getting through. However, I believe that abiding by the following guidelines will increase likelihood of results.

  • Go to the consulate first just to get the information about which visa you require. Even information I had printed directly off of the Indian Consulate of Vancouver official website was declined and said to be false when I asked about it in person at the visa office. Go to the counter, say what you want to do, and create a checklist right then and there of the documents you have to collect.
  • Take note of WHO you talk to at the counter, so that you can say, for example, ‘Gurpreet had given me this information when I was here previously’, when you come for your second, fourth, or seventeenth visit.
  • When you arrive at the counter, do NOT volunteer information. Answer only the questions that are asked.Also, present your documents as they are requested, one by one. This is reassuring for the person at the counter. If you had a pile of candies for a toddler, you would not give them all to him at once! In the same way, give your papers one by one.
  • Be overly polite, and act overly naive about the visa rules. You should, however, know the rules inside and out! My opinion is that only those who know the rules of visas either much better, or much worse than the counter staff at the consulate will be able to obtain a visa.
  • Whatever documents you plan to present (be they real or false documents) should look as official as possible. Stamps, signatures, paperclips, staples, business cards, letterhead, etc. Be also sure to stick to the story of what your documents say.
  • If you can get whatever you want to do in India (working in Bollywood, selling drugs, studying a language, laundering money, any other criminal activity, volunteering in slums or hospitals, etc) done within 6 months, do not think twice: apply for a nice tourist visa. You will be granted the visa, and no-one will ask any questions aside from what sites you would like to see in India. Simple!
    **This applies especially for those going to volunteer. For some reason, a visa for an educated person wanting to do charitable work in India, for free, is the most difficult to get. It appears as though volunteers are considered the most dangerous of all terrorists who are struggling to go to India. If at all possible, get a tourist visa and then do whatever you want once inside the country.**
  • When all else fails, if you detect a bit of sensitivity in whoever you are dealing with, cry a little bit. This is particularly effective when you are dealing with the uppermost rank of visa official: the type who actually decides whether you get a visa or not. In my most recent conversation with a visa wala of the highest rank, he went from telling me You have no option. We cannot issue you a visa on any basis.” to… If you can provide a letter from your university on thursday {the next day} then we can issue you the student visa on that day itself, and you can take your flight on sunday.” …in only four minutes! This happened after I cried and told him that of all ways I could go to India, I was doing everything in the most honest and best way, and still he would not let me go? Sniff.
  • In dealings with consulate walas, I believe honey works better than vinegar. So: Do NOT bark at the doorman or at the counter person that this is your seventh time coming, that you’ve had to wait for two and a half hours. They know very well, they face people like you every day!Be sweet with them, tell them how much you appreciate their work, how many difficult people you imagine they have to put up with. At the end of the day, they hold all the cards and all the power. So speak softly, and say things like ‘I know that you are busy/you have many things to do.’Appreciate the work they do for you. Even though it may be your life’s single most frustrating experience, at the end of the day when you receive a visa, it is because they granted it to you. Say thank you.
  • It is likely easier for someone who doesn’t care whether they go to India or not than someone (like myself) who feels that they MUST go. The more you want or need to go, the harder it will be for you! Haha.If you are emotionally invested in any small or big way in India, do not let this show at the consulate. The only time to be honest about this is at the last minute, as a last resort. Part of this can include an honest or fabricated sob story, as well as a bit of crying, as previously outlined.
  • Above all, be prepared to bite your tongue instead of speaking, and to summon as much patience as is humanely possible, and then a little more.

How I would love to tell you that these guidelines may be of help to you in obtaining your own visa! But unfortunately, they will not.

People from the exact same places, going for the exact same reasons, have all been granted different visas, or been denied for different reasons. It is according to the taste of the person in charge, on that particular day, at that particular moment. Perhaps it depends on what his wife packed in his tiffin for lunch. Perhaps his daughter failed an exam and he is experiencing stress. Whatever it is, you actually only play a small part in it!

Submit your documents properly, and follow the procedure, and hope for the best. Because when you come right down to it… the results are as arbitrary as the day of the week of the colour of your shirt. Good luck!




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