in between

An Indian consulate is a fascinating place. It’s like a circus without animals and without a master of ceremonies. Everyone is performing, something, but they don’t know why, and they don’t know who they are following.


At the Indian consulate, I received my visa on a friday, on my third visit to the consulate that day. At first, I did not go at the right time. Then, there were too many people, whole Punjabi families, and I had another appointment. I was advised to come back in the evening by the doorman who i have gotten to know so well.

Is baar mujhe MIL JAEGA ye visa!’ I joked with him, laughing instead of crying with anxiety.In the evening, the crowd had not diminished in the least. I waited, waited, and picked up my visa at the counter after a woman rifled through the filing box, after a man could not find it.

A little girl, waiting with her family for their PIO cards, ate a syrupy jamun from a sweetbox and tasted honey on her tongue.


At home, I woke up and slept without a plan. For today, for tomorrow. Sun came through snow-covered branches, through my window, and fell on my bed where I was.

Tentative friends asked me to come to this event or party, or even just to come over for tea, on whatever day. Tentative, I agreed, because it’s not like I had any other plan planned. But I shouldn’t have said I’d be there, because those days my moods couldn’t be counted on. My desires and energy levels couldn’t be depended on. I should have known that I could not be depended on, should have stopped saying that I may come here or there when it may happen that I stay home.

Days assumed a structure. I woke with parents to eat breakfast. Then, they run off to work, or, on the weekends, outside for yard work. It was saturday morning at 8:45, and dad went out to shovel snow off the walkway. I was up by 7:30, rushing out of bed for no reason.

So my dad shovels the snow, and I am languid on the couch. In repose. Having nothing pressing to do, I am not pressed. My same body that was once so active, frantic in its obsession to keep moving, is now content to rest against cushions, or roll around on beautiful heated hardwood floor.

In Bombay, I’d have left the house in the morning while everyone was asleep, and then have come back at night when everyone was asleep, slipping my flats off at the door and tiptoeing to my room. I ran around then, and lie around now.

How rich and at ease am I.


On a sunday in the pre-departure area, people were waiting to go to Hong Kong. Wealthy Punjabis and Chinese were nursing their infants and eating A&W french fries and starbucks lattes.

All of the airport-waiting people are addressed over the loudspeaker in English and Mandarin. Everyone speaks in a hum, hmm, the flight is delayed. Hmm, what does it mean for our connecting flights.

The Punjabi men looked smart and prepared. Shined shoes, trousers, sweater vests under sports coats, neatly-wrapped turbans. Some of the women already wore beautiful Indian finery, with heavy cardigans and wool shawls on top, chiffon dupattas draped over their greying braids. Some will change later, shimmying out of their tracksuits in the tiny airplane bathroom to change into beautiful salwar kameez, to greet their families once they reach Delhi or Amritsar or whatever their final destination is.

One man was becoming fed up. Others had left their bags in the seats across from him, and then went off to buy skittles and a magazine. So then, the man was half-heartedly defending these people from otherswho wanted those seats; it is crowded; this is unfair.

The man was anxious, when would they come back? Where does his loyalty lie? After all, he doesn’t know any of these people!


Getting ready for Christmas?” smiles a tentative acquaintance when we notice one another in a cafe.

Yes, I am! And you?” I trill, not feeling to explain that I won’t be here for Christmas, where I am going, for me, Christmas will not really happen. Why won’t Christmas really happen? Because. Why don’t I feel to explain? Because.

I may have tentative plans for the day that involve a long walk, many errands, writing a letter or an article, and end up spending the day in a cafe simply sitting and watching life. Or watching life from an even safer perch, through the window in the front room.

I may have tentative plans to recline all day and dream, and then get up and run six kilometres, and then come home and empty the dishwasher and prepare an elaborate dinner, just because.

Because of this incongruency between plans and outcomes, I do not make so many plans and just allow a natural deroulement of events.

Every fifteen seconds, someone enters the cafe, cracking the door and bringing a breeze. Everyone inside wears their coats and scarves, and their fingers, tapping on keyboards, are ice cold.


I am the richest person in the world in Bombay.

I had forgotten how beautiful this place is. In the way the light falls, the cars rock back and forth as they inch forward and avoid hitting the people, rushing between vehicles like fish in different currents.

I have never in my life seen such a will to live, not only live, but thrive and continue and love, against all odds.

There was one woman in the street who was only flesh and bone. She maybe weighed all of eighty eight pounds, but she carried a load of fifty pounds. Maybe for hours. When she puts down that load, she will pick up another: that of caring for her full family.

My relationship towards life has never been so tumultuous. I have never loved the world so much, never felt so angry towards it, so worried, inspired, or so cared for. I have never been as beautiful, as ugly as I have been here. There is no other place in the world where there is so much faith, and so much faith misplaced.


On cambie street bridge, I savour tidbits of conversation with strangers, as they feel like whole meals. The only sustenance I have in terms of understanding, of recognition. With a stranger, you cannot take as much, but you also do not owe as much. Yet. While neither here or there or anywhere, what a relief to talk to someone new : who doesn’t know you, doesn’t expect anything from you. You don’t have to explain life or circumstances to a stranger : thank goodness, because you might not understand any of it yourself!


In the plane, it was dark and everyone watched movies. Someone opened a window and the light came in from outside the plane, a shock of whiteness, brightness.

When the power for the Tvs failed, everyone was struck by not being able to know had many hours had elapsed, how many hours were left. In the flight, or in life.

A dad told his little boy,

If you could run as fast as the plane goes before it takes off, you would be able to fly, too.”

The babies that were crying have settled. The toddlers that were running up and down light-studded aisles are asleep, tousled hair falling on their mother’s shoulders as they lean. Everyone slept and the creases in their faces were softened by the gentle yellow light. Everyone appeared younger and more tired than they really were.

Vishal is Maharashtrian, an HSBC information security manager, and a community centre cardio classes afficionado. He told me,

‘Only the people who have dreams can go to Bombay.’

‘There is a lot waiting for me there,’ I confided in him, ‘And now… I am coming.’


From Bronwyn, to Bombay : “It is only I who love you, insanely.”

First off, I will not say ‘Mumbai meri jaan,’ because we both know that I am yours.

I have been away from you for too long!

You didn’t notice when I left, you were preoccupied with other things. At the very moment that I swung my bag into the overhead compartment on a London-bound plane, there were teenage lovers kissing in Phoenix Mills. A birdwala was feeding his peacock-coloured sparrows in Crawford market. In an expensive old building near Nariman point, a family had gathered to watch as a Brahmin baby took his first steps.

My leaving was no different from these happenings, and all of the other happenings in your spaces at that time.


You didn’t notice when I left, and you will not remark when I come back. Anyways, someone is always coming or going from Bombay. How many come and go and stay every day?

You welcome everyone. You don’t care what their last name is, how fair-skinned they are, or what scandals are in their family history. You don’t care if they come empty or full, lost or found, thank goodness! If you discriminated like some places do, most of us would not be able to come at all.


I will stay in your spaces and won’t make a mark on you, but you will more than mark me! You will define me. And now I come to you again, to try my luck at life. Like so many have done and like so many will do.

They come for money, for protection, for opportunity. For a name, for anonymity. You don’t know their names; they make no difference to you. But you give each what she or he comes for. As quickly as they can receive, you give. In hope, in money, in happiness, in children, in rain, in whatever else could be desired or expected or wished for.


You, Mumba Devi, are a goddess. But you make us humans feel as though we could do anything! And this is what makes you so powerful. You do not offer equality or even respect, but you do offer hope and opportunity, unlimitedly.

You are so beautiful and give so freely, but, no other place has been known to demand so much.

In Taslima Nasreen’s book ‘French Lover’, a French man says to his Indian lover Nila:

You do not love me. It is only I who love you, insanely.”

How many slaps in the face have I taken from you, from your officers, your people in charge! But I come back to it every time!


I have been turned down at the visa office, discouraged at the consulate, delayed at the airport. Every force that you have tries to drive me away from you, but still I am stubborn, and I manage to find my way to you.

So able and so fiercely independent, I have never been in a relationship as unfair as ours. And how funny it is that you so encourage and celebrate all of those qualities in me, and yet push me away so much!

But I am your devoted lover, and I feel that you don’t mean it. So I will forgive your hurtful words:

The visawala, when he said ‘You have no option. We cannot grant you a visa on any basis.’

The doorman, when he said ‘You will have to come back again. (and again, and again…)

The university, when they said ‘It will take a lot of time to gather everyone into a meeting, maybe next month.’


I am dedicated to you, and you are passionless towards me.

I say “I love you” and you say “I don’t care… but yes, you can stay here.”

You say take it or leave it, and we take it.

I have a lot of hope.


You, Bombay, are not created by your people! They are created by you. And now that you have beaten everything out of me by not allowing me to come to you, I am an empty cup. And now that you will finally allow me to come to you, I am running towards you like a maniac to drink water.

I will forgive you, and every force that kept me from you. And I will run into your arms. And this time I am confident that you will receive me, with as much love as I have for you, if even just for a moment… because I (and everyone else in any unfair relationship) live for that moment.

Because the dreams that you offer to me are worth more than any amount of time, money, anguish or difficulty that it takes to get me to you.

Yours faithfully, in love,

Bronwyn



Skinny jeans and runners; dupattas and wind and rain

There is a baby wearing skinny jeans on her fat legs. Sausages stuffed into denim. And little puma runners on her puffy, soft feet. How inappropriate.


She is rocked to calmness on her mom’s swaying hip. Mom also wears matching skinny jeans and runners: she dressed her baby as herself as a pleasant surprise to the rest of her Moms Group. She’s eating salad that she bought for 1.39/100 grams from an organic grocery store. Out of a compostable container, with a biodegradable fork made of corn.

She chats about the goddamn weather with another woman, then covers her mouth. She tries not to use curse words when her infant is listening.

The other woman laughs, nods, holds her own baby, a little boy about the same age as the other one with the sausage legs.

His neck is practicing holding up that heavy head, those weighty cheeks. It takes a lot of work, but he is patient and revels in each success and new independence that he gains.

Baby frowns, becoming frustrated because he wants to sneeze but his sneeze won’t come. He is too young to reason about why he feels as he does. He doesn’t even know why he is frustrated, but anyone watching can guess.


On the other side of the world, there is a baby wearing nothing on her thin legs. And no footwear on her already-hardened feet. How inappropriate.


Baby is rocked to calmness on her mom’s swaying hip, listening to the jingling of aunty’s ankelets as she sweeps outside their home. Watching her cousins drawing their dreams in the dust with sticks.

Until wind lifts the dust and their dreams into the air, and everyone shrieks and wraps their dupattas around their faces to filter the air, and runs indoors. Dust dances in the thick air through a thin sheet that separates inside the house from outside.

Until rain starts and beats the dust into the ground. It starts light, then comes heavy. Not only smothering the dust that was in the air, but pulling and tearing up the packed dirt that was patted so firmly by so many human feet, including baby’s.

The cousins shriek again, for a different reason, and tear out of the home into the downpour. Mom doesn’t have the energy to stop them, and also has a little bit of delight in her chest. She stands with Aunty in the doorway, beneath a ledge, watching the girls grip one anothers’ hands and spin in a circle. Their braids fly and water runs down their faces, shining their gold noserings. Their dresses are soaked through as their brown feet stamp up brown mud.

Baby waves her hands and legs, trying to also dance or be more involved. But she’s also happy to watch from mom’s hip.

A leak in the ledge allows a little bit of water through, and it starts to stream onto the part in Mom’s hair. Mom steps back out of the way, so that the stream is in front of baby.

This is the most marvelous thing that baby has ever seen. She has almost no memory of things she’s seen before, so everything is exciting, especially this stream of light and water that is happening right in front of her. Baby waves her hands and touches it, while the cousins continue to dance. And the only sound is of rain smashing into tin roofs.


From Bombay to Trivandrum in the night

September 26th 2010

I woke after a two hour nighttime nap at 3:30AM. Everything slept while I turned on the hot water heater and ate muesli and curd out of the yogourt container.

Then I phoned Lallan, a rickshaw wala who had driven me and little Pree home from a walk along Carter Road the night before. I had asked if he would come and pick me up in the middle of the night, to go to the airport. He said call me fifteen minutes before you want to leave.

Now, he said thik hai, mai abhi a raha hoon. I’m on my way.

One man who lives in the courtyard of our building stumbled to the bathroom. He wore a lungi and scratched at his stomach and looked as though he was in a dream. I saw from my windowsill.

Lallan called a moment later, to say I am downstairs. I closed my compact and turned off the fluorescent bulb, leaving my awakeness as the only contrast to the asleepness of the six other human beings inside. Opening the door, fluorescent brightness from the hallway spilled into the apartment, illuminating the the slight breathing movement of the four girls who slept in the front room.

The rickshaw hurtled down the bare highway in the dark, and I loved the night weather.

Of course I was first to the airport. There, begging kids put on a show of clutching at their stomachs. They shared half a bag of kurkure, divided as evenly as unevenly-sized chips can be.

Kartik, Prasad and the other girls arrived in a van from Royal Palms, where all of the Russian models and dancers live in flats together. The girls wore heels at 5AM and dragged their bags out of the van. Anna’s five year old son moved to the front seat with Prasad, and they smiled and waved and drove away.

We foreign girls joined a pack of Indian models and flounced through the airport. The models were more special than anyone else, and thus behaving like wild people people. A flight attendant asked if one girl was drunk.

Dekh na, Anjali has gotten a coffee! Kya VIP hai, wow, I also want one.”

We are having so much of fun!”

Sun na? How Priya hogs, how she eats! But still she is slim!”

They kept their sunglasses on for the flight.

Once in Trivandrum, we all piled in another van, folding the models’ limbs in half to fit. We listened to their CD for the evening’s performance, Euro trance pumping into the thick jungle. From the van to a simple boat, and a plain man paddled us along the backwaters while we watched Kerala’s beauty. The models continued their continuous photo session until we arrived at the hotel, ate fancy buffet food, and then went to our rooms for a nap.


My first Hindu wedding

April 17th 2009

“Hello? Hello Bronwynji?”

“Hey Ashish,” I exclaimed. “How are you? Are you at home? I’m just at Haifa checking email, I’m coming soon.”

“Yes all are at home, waiting for you! The Nadine wants to talk to you!”

“Okay, sure…hello? Nadine?”

“Hey Bronwyn! Hope your day was fab! Guess what though, I’ve been invited to a wedding tonight! Want to come?”

“Oh my gosh…yes! Whose wedding? Where? Oh my gosh!”

“I’ll tell you later, but you better hurry home and get beautiful now, you have like half an hour-”

“-totally doable under normal circumstances, but is it forty degrees out, so that is a little challenging-”

“-natch, you came here for a challenge, right?” Nadine laughed. “See you at home, asap! I’m borrowing a suit from Mamta, I’ll grab one for you too.”

I practically skipped down the gali to the house, like the goats, smiling at some neighbours. Inside, Nadine was waiting for me, salwar suit in hand. Ashish lay on the living room cushions, hands clasped behind his head. Dirty fingernails scratching his dark neck.

“Are you ready, Bronwynjii? You look nice.” he giggled.

“Are you joking? I have to have a shower, I just walked home, and you know how I walk!” I raised my arms to check out my sweatstains. Impressive.

“Yes…too fast!” he shouted, as though it was a well known song.


On the rooftop, I grabbed the bedsheet that I use as a towel (to go between the bathroom and my room, a distance of five feet) and locked myself in the bathroom. Turned on the spout and poured buckets of water over my head. Back in in my room, I pulled the tight churidars over my calves, the kameez over my head. I ran downstairs in a cloud of talcum powder, trying to do up a necklace clasp at the same time, trying not to trip on my chiffon dupatta at the same time. Nadine was already ready, bangles clanging on both wrists, suit being adjusted by Mamta.

“The fit is maybe not quite right, but it will do.” Mamta said primly. She’s a bigger girl than either Nadine or I, but looks way more classy in a salwar kameez.

“Good to go? Let’s go!” We followed Mamta out of the house, stepping carefully in the stones and dust in our beaded shoes.

“Ehhhhhh auto!” Mamta yelled in a gruff voice that I’d never heard before. She instantly turned back into her composed self and flipped her dark hair.

Chaal na? Get in.”

An enormous jeep-shaped mini bus stopped in front of us. Several sari-clad women were already crammed inside, facing one another on benches, holding on to bars above. Nadine and I simultaneously hitched up our churidars and hoisted ourselves inside. Mamta and two of her girlfriends also climbed in.The vehicle groaned to a start. We bumped over the pavement, swerving carefully around the groups of people that filled the street.

The site announced itself by colourful strips of fake silk worn by trees. Trellises had been erected to hold more fabric, a temporary garish palace of thin white and red cloth. The ground was astro-turf, like a mini-golf green.

Inside the cloth palace compound, women were dripping in gold jewellery, their sari pallus covered in intricate embroidery; men wearing western suits and looking underdressed compared to their wives. Children roamed the area, wearing miniature suits and puffy dresses. Food was everywhere: a full buffet table spanned the length of two sides of the enormous rectangle.

“Where to start eating?” wondered Nadine aloud, after we’d undergone lengthy introductions with the family of the groom.

“I don’t know. I feel overwhelmed!” Waiters hired specifically for the event scurried between guests, emptying trash bins that dotted the astroturf landscape as fast as they were filled. Still more hovered behind the endless tables that featured a lavish spread of food. They all wore the same uniform: white, sometimes stained, with red bow ties and black vests. Each young man’s near-black skin contrasted with the bright and starched white of his shirt.

We approached one table and picked up sweet and colourful non-alcoholic drinks.

“Thank you bhaiya,” Nadine and I smiled. The boy who served us looked to be maybe sixteen, stray hairs on his upper lip trying to create a mustache that would be worn proudly. Indianly. He nodded solemnly, unsure of how to react to these strange women

“Eat something, na?” Mamta said with her mouth full. Some people ate with plastic utensils, others with their hands. Her friends nodded in agreement, all stirring their own food with fingers or forks. So Nadine and I sampled chow mein, veg manchurian, tandoori naan with punjabi chole, shahi paneer in rich gravy, daal fry over buttery rice with cashews and raisins, masala salted lime soda, rasmalai, gulab jamuns and two different kinds of ice cream. A true feast!

When the bride arrive in a car, everyone began to gravitate to see her come in. She came, looking shy and afraid,

the beautiful bride coming in


“-exactly as the bride should look! She is playing a role here, like an actress you can say. If she is too bold or looking too happy, people will talk about her, like maybe she is experienced, maybe they will doubt her. So it is her job to seem afraid.” Mamta explained.

The bride was tall and fair and beautiful: arguably the ideal Indian bride. She crept forward slowly, almost shaking, eyes lowered to the ground. With the help of two other women, she climbed stairs onto the stage to meet her new husband. The two stood side by side and garlanded one another nervously. Several camera flashes went off every second for many moments. Immediate and extended family made their way onto the stage in waves, older nanis being assisted by younger relatives. They held their hands over the newlyweds’ heads for good luck.

soon to be man and wife!
Mom and Dad were very proud.

Nadine and I watched and ate ice cream. Mamta interrupted:

“It will go on all night, but some of us we have to go to work tomorrow! So let’s go home and take rest.” Reasoning like a true north American. Outside the cloth palace, where astroturf again met dust, we climbed into a similar vehicle. We chatted and laughed all the way home, and then linked arms to walk through the final dark gali to to the house.

“So? How was the marriage? Did you enjoy?” Lalu stood outside the house with his arms crossed.

“Oh my gosh Lalu, it was amazing! The bride was SO beautiful-” Nadine began,

“-the food was SO nice, you would have loved it, chole and-” I gushed,

“-there were so many people, and so many pretty girls! You’ll have to come to the next one!”


dreams

I dreamed that I had again stumbled into my Bombay home after some ridiculous job, late in the night. Home was the 2BHK at Bandstand that I shared with six other girls who had come from all over India to chase their respective dreams. Down from Mount Mary church, up from Shah Rukh Khan’s bungalow.

You used to see Saif Ali Khan and Kareena walking past our building, holding hands,” one of the girls told me.

In my dream I slipped out of my slip -on shoes, dream-tiptoed to my room. Turned on the fan and fell on my bed. That was all I could remember of that dream.

 

I dreamed that I ran again sweating along the west coastline beach of Panama. Fishermen laughed and waved at me. I waved back and felt hugged by air. At the end of my dream-run, I kicked off my runners and sprinted into the ocean, diving under frothy waves. It was the most delicious physical feeling.

I dreamed that at that same place, on the warm sand, I curled up as small as I could. Stretched out as wide and as long as I could. I was as much and as alive as I could be, nestled between dunes of sand in the same way that fireflies were.

 

I dreamed that I had again woken up in the middle of the night in Varanasi, so hot in my own sweat, the fan whipping the steaming air like an oven. I wiped my face on the bedsheet and pulled my maxi nightie over my head. And opened the door to coolness and a wet ground.

In my dream, the rain should not have started yet, why was it wet? I wondered briefly if Lalu had watered the whole rooftop to cool it, as he sometimes used to do. There was light dream rain that was almost mist, just ending. There was the thorough and thick darkness of the very early morning. In my dream I stumbled across the rooftop to the bathroom and flicked the light switch to no results. No power. I found my way though : it was a place that I knew.

I dream-walked back to my bedroom, pulled the dress off over my head, lay down on the bed. Couldn’t do it, so hot. Stood up, pulled the dress back on. Went and drank some water out of the tap (I was crazy in my dream.) Walking back to my bedroom, I could not make it. The smooth concrete wall next to me was wet, I fell against it. Leaning, sliding down simply and slowly. The cotton getting wet and bunching against the wall. The rain and mist fell over my bare legs and my wrinkled nightie and my face, in the thick darkness of the early morning, and I opened my mouth and drank the night.


Kadir weds Shaheen: a Muslim wedding in Khajuraho, Madya Pradesh

I had arrived at the location in a taxi van with Ifraj, Sadhav and two other boys.

Uff, you must be so tired of being with boys na? So long in the car with all of them, very terrible, chaal, now come with us!”

Sadhav’s sister Sona grabbed my arm and led me upstairs, where the women of the groom’s family were. They had also driven the one hundred and ten horrible kilometres that took four hours on Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh’s bumpy roads, to arrive in Modaha for the marriage.

Upon arrival, women hitched up their saris or salwars to squat by the sinks, a single row of taps over a concrete gutter. Each splashed water over her face and neck, forearms and legs, rinsing the journey’s dust down the drains.

Upstairs, in the big room lit by small bulbs (cobwebs in corners casting shadows, moths flitting near the light) women aged three to at least seventy years old readied themselves for the occasion. Out of plastic bags came each’s best clothes, folded neatly. Out of other plastic or cloth bags came compacts, creams, jewellery, makeup and other accessories. The flock of women began to change, pulling off their wrinkled clothes to put on fresh ones.

Most were putting on saris: pulling on petticoats and cinching them tight at the waist, and then slipping luscious, smooth arms into front-fastening choli blouses. One frowned as she grabbed and pulled at her own breasts, trying to get them in the right place. One end of the sari is pinned at the hip, and then wrapped around once to cover the petticoat. The thumb and pinky fingers of each right hand deftly fold the sari into pleats, measuring the remainder of the fabric carefully. Folds are then flipped inwards around the band of the petticoat in one quick motion. Each belly sucked in to create the space, and then released. The remaining end travels once more around each woman’s body, crossed over in front and drawn up to the left shoulder. Pinned in place. The sari pallu can be wrapped around the shoulders, hang loosely in the back, or be pulled over the head. These Muslim women all wear them pulled over their heads, but not yet.

Jewellery was taken from little boxes and bags. Women helped one another secure necklaces and ankelets. Bangles were shoved over wrists; earrings poked into ears. Braids were unbraided, brushed out thoroughly, re-braided. Thick, healthy hair; some dangles past the womens’ thighs. A jewelled pendant on a gold chain was pinned to center-parted hair and dangled on each forehead just below the hairline. Those married women applied extra sindoor is applied to the part in their hair, showing how very married they were. Eligible girls were done up with more attention to detail than anyone else, showing how very unmarried they were.


Makeup. First, Fair and Lovely whitening creams were passed around and applied to each lady’s face and decolletage. The older ladies have arms and stomachs that are several shades darker than their faces, years of Fair and Lovely. Pressed powder and blush are applied to cheekbones with care. Eyes are rimmed with kajal. Some women close their eyes over the point of an eyeliner pencil and then rub it back and forth.

Pakistani-style makeup” Sona told me me with a tip of her head, raising her eyebrows and pouting her lips. Thick mascara and eyeshadow were applied for very dark and smoky eyes. Lips were lined with pencil, and painted a ripe cherry red. Only then was the pallu draped over each shining black head, pulled forwards like a hood or with the sides tucked behind ears. Younger girls in salwar kameez put their dupattas on their heads and wrap the ends around their shoulders. They peer out at the world through lowered, eyelids on beautiful faces, bodies hidden beneath brightly coloured, flowing clothes. Even the littlest girls are dressed up, preparing for years of such parties, and even elderly ladies apply almond oil to their greying hair.

I felt as though I was being let in on a big secret, watching the roomful of women prepare for such a big event. Indian women, when seen in the street, already look perfect. One rarely sees the process. The inclusivity felt like a gift being bestowed on me. I accepted it gratefully, happy to feel like part of a group. I’m continually impressed by the way that Indian women make do, in every situation: in spite of al odds; dust, dirt, exhaust, pollution, animal waste and travelling, they still exude grace and loveliness. Undaunted by the world they live in.


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