Tag Archives: india

How to India: Ganpati Dancing

So I’ve found a whole new way to make a spectacle of myself! My new video series is called HOW TO INDIA. It’s a (hopefully comical) instructional video series for foreigners living life in India.

My first video was about how to Bucket Bathe. Basically, taking a bath with a bucket instead of a shower or bathtub.

My latest video (my second one) is about how to safely enjoy Ganpati as a foreign woman, with som bonus dance moves at the end (make sure you don’t miss it!).

Click here to watch!

So, how does one safely dance in a crowded, sweaty, male-dominated procession on the last day of Ganpati?

Ganpati is a Hindu festival which culminates in a procession called Visarjan, where the Ganpati Idol is immersed in water. A lot of families keep a Ganpati Idol in their house and submerge it in water at home. However, the large community Ganpati idols are ceremoniously paraded down the streets and taken to the water  (the river in Pune, the ocean in Mumbai).

Processions are amazing to see and hear, but they are extremely crowded and you need to be careful.

Going out Safely: If you’re like me, and you stand out from your typical Indian crowd, you can draw unwanted attention to yourself by dancing.

  • Tip 1: Go out with a group.
    • Strength in numbers means Fun in numbers.
  • Tip 2: Girl Power
    • Some Ganpati processions have sections for the women to dance in. This is intended to protect the women from unwanted touching and cat calling. If you’re a woman, feel free to jump in and make some friends!
  • Tip 3: Pack light
    • Take only the cash you need for the night and some ID. Make sure your phone is fully charged in case you get lost!
  • Tip 4: Wear a Disguise.
    • I find that wearing a hoodie worked really well for me last year.
    • If you want to go all-out, you can buy a mask. Nobody will look at you funny on this day, I swear.

Now make sure you watch the video on youtube to see my recommended dance-moves. There is also some additional footage that shows what to expect during a Ganpati procession.

If you want to learn how to take a bucket bath… well, I have a video for that too.

HTI_BucketBathing

Click to watch!

I’m video blogging now!

I have started a video blog (or Vlog) called Pollywood. I know, it’s a corny name but all I could think of.

It’s a day-in-the-life type weekly video series that my family and friends in Vancouver talked me into because they wanted to see what life was like in India and the film industry here. It’s going to be a mish-mash of whatever is happening in my life, some perspective on the film industry (my own limited perspective), and general info about India and what’s going on over here.

Just a warning, there is going to be a LOT of my cat Mogambo in every video but don’t worry, he’s cool.

I have no expectations for the series but once I put up my first video on Monday I would love feedback from anyone who is interested in seeing more.

Check it out! Pollywood Vlog

DSC_0163

Mogambo the cat.

What love smells like

Wow, what a wild 3 days! My directorial debut with our company Gulbadan Talkies. It was such a pleasure making this video for Ital Veloce‘s Valentine’s Day launch.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.38.49 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds_1s67dJDw

We went to Kala Ghoda Art Festival, Mumbai, for our shoot in order to get some beautiful backgrounds to suit the mood of the interviews. We also got lucky because the festival drew a cross-section of Mumbai society that was open-minded and expressive, and were ready to take on the challenge of answering our question, “What does love smell like?”.

We shot 21 interviews in total, and spent some time wandering around to get some stimulating b-roll images that had an aromatic feeling to them. After that, it was a whirlwind of editing and sound until posting it online 4 hours before Valentine’s Day.

Thank you so much to our team. Gulbadan Talkies wouldn’t be the same without you!

What does love smell like? Ital Veloce

Directed by: Paula McGlynn
Production: Sarang Sathaye
Cinematography: Aditya Divekar & Aniket Gaikwad
Sound: Ashish Shinde
Edit & Sound: Joe John
Thanks to Henny Gurnasinghani

Also please check out our first video, directed by Sarang Sathaye of Gulbadan Talkies.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.45.49 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqhUNPgToGM&feature=youtu.be

http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

Run Foreign, Run!

Warm Up

How hard can it be do go for a run in India’s international metropolis? Mumbai has a special place in many hearts including mine but that probably doesn’t include the terrible pollution and traffic.

Being from North America’s most liveable city, I grew up being spoilt by Vancouver’s long, straight roads with bicycle lanes and wide sidewalks. The fresh mountain and sea air make the perfect humidity and temperature to run outdoors, and the infrastructure makes it safe and even peaceful to run as long and as far as you can dream.

When I made the transition to living in Mumbai, it meant that I went from running 30 km’s a week to none. More than anything else, I was afraid of committing some social taboo since I didn’t see any female joggers on the roads. The thought of the people staring, the traffic, and the sidewalks kept me indoors. The cost of a gym membership, the gym small-talk, and the monotonous running on a treadmill kept me sedentary.

Living in India, I could handle many eyes staring at me on a daily basis and I only ever managed to let it piss me off about once a month when it would get really bad on a day when I have no patience. Being a caucasian with blond hair, I realized that it would just have to become a part of life. Still, I was conscious of running outside but the thought of sweaty body building men hitting on me at the gym seemed even worse.

After being told to stop complaining and just give it a try, I decided to go for an early morning run in my neighbourhood. I couldn’t imagine running in the afternoon/ evening after the streets had baked in the hot sun all day.

I used to say that the hardest part of exercising is putting on the running shoes but I have changed my mind about that. Running shoes on, I headed out for my adventure.

KM 1

I decided to start out on the beach near my house. At low tide there is usually 2-4 kilometres of good beach to run along but I had only seen it at sunset when it was crowded with cricket players, young couples, and old men. At 7:30 am, I reached Versova beach to find it almost empty at high tide. I ran toward the fishing slum, the only direction I could.

As I was running, I suddenly passed an Indian man squatting in his lungi on the edge of the water and staring peacefully out to the horizon. I didn’t think much of it an assumed it was some kind of morning meditation and continued on. Then, I passed two more doing the same thing, lungi’s hitched up to their waists. One of them sleepily turned his head in my direction as I was approaching and I realized that perhaps this was not just a morning meditation but also a part of the daily morning ritual for all the men and women of the slum as I saw another 20 or so lined up further down the beach.

I decided to give them their relative privacy and headed back to the streets to give test the sidewalks.

KM 2

I was on! Running on the sidewalks of Mumbai was like a full obstacle course. With the music playing in my headphones loud enough to just hear the car horns, I was dodging rickshaws, elderly people, roadworks, piles of dirt and garbage, and complete holes in the cement. I even thought that perhaps this could actually be a better workout than just running and I could become a hyper-alert runner and perhaps even start learning parkour.

That was when I passed a pack of stray dogs sleeping next to the chai-walla stall. They jumped up and started chasing me, biting at my heels. Scared shitless, I growled at them with my wolf-pack dog training yell and ran faster. I don’t know if I intimidated them with my growl or they just lost interest but they left me alone after that. I kept running forward and left behind a group of men laughing at me as they drank their chai.

KM 3

Now utterly conscious of the people around me, I noticed that I was the only person running. I wondered if all the gyms were full and if running outside really was a societal taboo in Mumbai. Some cars swerved closer to me as they passed while the drivers were busy staring at me. Ready to go back, I picked a bus stop 20 meters ahead as my turnaround point.

The bus stop was full of 17-21 year old boys on their way to college. They saw me coming and I knew that they were pointing me out to their friends. Starting to get uptight about the whole thing, I stared ahead and ignored them, putting on my bitch-face. As I reached them, they broke into applause. I stopped to turn around and saw the shock and guilt on their faces. Secretly relishing the feeling, I took out my headphones and asked if the applause was for me. Silence. One of them lamely pointed to some indiscriminate spot across the street as if to displace the blame.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said to them in my hoighty-toighty highschool bitch attitude. I put in my headphones and started back, really proud of myself but not so satisfied with my run.

KM 4

Taking a different route home  to hang up my running shoes until I could afford a gym membership, I passed something that I had always thought was a private garden. I stopped to take a look inside and saw that it was actually a 500 meter running track, full of men and women walking, running, and sitting on the small benches meditating. “So, THIS is where all the runners have been hiding!” I thought.

As it turned out, many parts of suburban Mumbai have these private parks that have been built by private developers in order to get permits to build their boxy, high rise apartment societies. Entry was 2 rupees (4 cents), and it was open mornings and evenings.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

Cool Down

So I had finally found my running-haven. I started going for runs whenever I could wake up in the morning early enough to avoid the heat. I found it difficult to run more than 4-5 kilometres because I would get very tired. I read the weather report and in Mumbai it had been a forecast of “Smoke” for the last 2 months. I heard a rumour that it was recommended to run only in the evenings to avoid the pollution which settled on the ground overnight making the morning air extra-polluted.

I started running in the evening, which turned out not to be the worst thing ever. The park was busier though, and after many runs feeling like an anonymous park-runner I finally had the experience I was really trying to avoid by staying away from the gym… conversation.

Running my laps, I noticed a young guy kept stopping his workout in the stretching area to come watch me run by. Ever damn time I would run past, he would stop what he was doing, walk to the edge of the track, and openly stare as I passed. When I finally finished, I couldn’t see him and was glad I didn’t have to face him. I bent down to touch my toes and stretch my hamstrings and closed my eyes, glad to finally have a peaceful place to work out. I slowly straightened my back and opened my eyes, and I turned around to find the guy standing directly behind me. Oh shit, seriously?

I went to the other side of the stretching area and resumed stretching. The guy tried to do a pull-up on the bar and failed. He then tried to get my attention again, “are you stretching?” he asked?
“Yes,” I replied with my expert bitch-face. I put my headphones in and faced the other direction.

He left. Message received.

I don’t think there will ever be a guarantee of exercising in Mumbai in peace. I’ll just have to keep running.

 

 

Featured image source: http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

Crossovers

If you are at all wondering what I am doing with my life over here in India, you might be surprised to know that there are a fair amount of British Columbians and Canadians working in Film and Media in India.
While at the moment I am developing film projects and freelancing, I am also trying to foster film and media business between B.C. and India. Part of this is on my other website, BC – India Film & Media bcifm.com where I publish articles, news, and events relevant to people interested in working with either industry.

I have recently been conducting a series of interviews called the Crossovers series where I feature artists and professionals working in the crossover environment between India and British Columbia. So far I have featured people working in film, but if you or anyone you know is working in this crossover area in film or media and is interested in doing an interview, please get in touch with me.

Our next interview will be with Jessica Dhillon (AKA DJ Goddess). In the meantime, you can read the previous interviews here: http://bcifm.com/category/crossovers-2/

The Hunt for Chocolate Boy

Do I feel guilty about taking 10 months to write part two of my epic story to find Rahul the chocolate boy?
Somewhat…

Enter Mumbai, February 22nd, 2013 – more than a month after posting Finding Chocolate Boy, and still not having found him.

It was time to pull up my proverbial bootstraps and step outside my air-conditioned apartment and into a breezy Bombay taxi heading for Colaba. By breezy, I really mean a low-pressure cyclone contained in a tin can taxicab known as an Ambassador – the classic mode of transportation in the city. To ride with the windows down meant combing the dreadlocks out of my hair for the duration of the ride but to ride with the windows up meant suffocating both the taxi Walla and myself.

I opted for the windows down and tied my hair for the 45-minute, traffic nightmare, 10-kilometer ride South from my nice new apartment in Worli to my old neighborhood in Colaba. Taking this trip in the middle of the day traffic was a big mental hurdle to jump over, but I squeezed myself into the floral upholstered backseat and headed out for the second hunt for Chocolate Boy.

Since my last hunt, I had kept a plastic bag with chocolates, a Canadian flag, and that silly joke breath spray in my cupboard. Now it was with me and I thought of the chocolates melting in the mid-afternoon sun as I walked down a side-street in Colaba. I was on a mission and was ready to document the whole experience for a follow-up blog post as well.

As I was wandering around with my eyes peeled for my Chocolate Boy Rahul, I turned a corner and a short man in a blue and purple striped shirt started following me.

“Yes ma’am?”

Shit, don’t make eye contact. He’ll try and sell me something!” I stopped looking around and focused on my energy on ignoring him.

“Ma’am, yes. Come this way!” he pressed on, unrelenting.

I determinedly looked straight ahead and picked up my pace.

“Do you want hotel? Taxi? Map?”

Not-Res-pon-ding! He kept tailing me and started smiling.

“Can I help you find something?”

I stop.  Perhaps he can…

“Actually, yes. I’m looking for someone,” I said.

He stopped, presumably surprised that I didn’t turn out to be deaf and dumb. I fought back a laugh at his confused expression.

“Someone?” he asked.

“Yes, a little boy. I have his picture here,” I pull out my iphone and show him Rahul’s photo.

After explaining my story and confirming that I wasn’t a pedophile, he took a proper look at the photo. He studied it closely.

“Do you know him?” I asked hopefully.

No, he said he didn’t know him but he knew someone who could help.

Eager to find out who this mysterious Someone was, I followed my guide through a series of streets. While fantasizing about discovering some underground Don of Colaba street-kids, I suddenly thought of what my poor mother would think if she could see me following a strange Indian man I met on the street to an unknown location. I’ll admit I got a bit nervous.

However, my nerve monkeys calmed down when my guide entered into a traditional Indian cloth shop with Kurtas and Salwar Kameez hanging in the windows. Inside were five men lounging around on a mattress that was strangely placed in the middle of the store. Nerve monkeys came back. They hustled to bring out a chair for me on which I awkwardly sat and clenched my butt cheeks tight until someone made a move.

My guide spoke in Hindi to a very large man with two mobile phones. The man nodded and asked me if I wanted chai to which I politely said no.

The guide gestured for me to give him my phone, so I pulled up the picture of Rahul and gave it over. My precious iphone was then passed around the room in silence and I watched the men’s faces to see if there was any recognition. After some minutes of quiet discussion, the large man passed my phone back to me.

“He doesn’t know him,” my guide said.

Looking around, I searched for some cue for what to do next. Perhaps now I was supposed to pay some sum of money which would suddenly jog their memories. Perhaps the meeting was over. However, the men just sat and watched me. The large man answered one of his phones while I secretly snapped a photo and made ready to excuse myself.

I smiled painfully and enunciated carefully, “Well, thank you very much for checking. I should really go and keep looking now.”

“Would you like to buy a saree? Kurta? Do you like Indian clothes? Very nice. Silk, cotton, linen,” my guide almost pleaded.

Of course the end game was to sell me something.

“No, no thank you,” I laughed.

“You don’t like Indian clothes?”

“No, they don’t look good on me,” I lied, eager to extricate myself from the situation.

IMG_2005

I left the shop and the men inside it, and started trying to find my way back to a recognizable street. My guide suddenly came out running.

“Wait, wait ma’am. You’re looking for this boy? What do you want from him?” he asked.

“Nothing, I just want to give him this gift!” I repeated again as I open my plastic bag and pull out the Canadian flag and breath-spray.

“Let me see the photo,” he insisted.

I exasperatedly pulled up the photo again and he looked at it very hard, furrowing his eyebrows.

“I know one person who might know,” he said finally.

“Are they going to try to sell me something?” I ask.

“No, no ma’am. This is my other boss. He has a travel agency nearby.”

“Alright,” I said.

Still not ready to give up the hunt for the day, I was ready to follow my guide to one more store just in case I find someone who might have seen Rahul walking around the streets.

I followed him back to the road where we had met, and then into an alley where I had earlier I had run into some boys playing cricket who claimed that Rahul was ‘gone’. The boys were gone now too, but I was more hopeful that we were in an area where I had once met my chocolate boy.

We entered a tiny travel agency with enough room for a desk and a bench. Inside were four men, younger and thinner than the last bunch. I squeezed in with my guide and the young men got up from the bench and let me sit down. They stood outside with the door open to watch the transaction.

The boss behind the desk smiled and spoke in clear English. “Hello, do you want to book a trip? Elephanta island tour? Alibaug beach vacation?” he asked.

I felt my butt un-clench a little now that I could communicate directly without my guide giving a dubious interpretation of my story.

“Actually, I’m looking for this boy. I met him here about six months ago and he was around all the time. I can’t find him anywhere. But then it’s only my second time looking for him,” I explained.

After checking the photo and confirming that I didn’t have any untoward intentions with Rahul, he showed it to the other men standing outside.

They checked the photo and started discussing animatedly. I smiled as a look of recognition appeared on their faces.

One man carrying rolled up maps under his arm spoke to me in accented English, “From one of the schools in the area. But it’s Saturday so he probably at home today.”

“Where does he live? Can you take me to him?” I ask in excitement.

“No, he doesn’t know him but I can tell that he doesn’t live on the street. A lot of kids from the suburbs come to school here and hang around the streets after class and beg from tourists for fun,” explained the boss behind the counter.

“Where is the school? I just want to find it so I can come back on a weekday and ask there,” I press.

The man in the pink shirt and maps volunteers to show me the way, and I say goodbye to my trusty guide with 50 rupees in exchange for his business card which had three business names on it.

It was with this that we took off up the street and away from the places where I had seen Rahul hanging around before. The man in the pink shirt’s name was Siddarth, and he asked me for more details on the story of Chocolate Boy and about Canada. We finally arrived at Woodside Inn where I used to go drinking on the weekends. Instead of going in, we took a left and went through a small alley that, to my surprise, opened on to a large dirt field with children playing soccer and cricket. I would never have expected to see such a wide-open space in the thick of old-town Bombay, where real-estate was more expensive than downtown Vancouver!

IMG_2007

IMG_2009 IMG_2011 IMG_2006

IMG_2008

We went around and started asking schoolboys with backpacks, kids in soccer uniforms, and a group of girls waiting for their turn to practice if they knew Rahul. They all studied his photo and eventually the girls confirmed that Rahul practiced soccer here in the afternoons after school. I asked when he would be there next and they told me probably the next day.

Super excited, I passed them all some chocolate as a thank you. I walked out with Siddarth and he gave me his phone number in case I needed his help next time I came down to find Rahul. I thanked him and tried to give him 50 rupees, but he refused to take it. I asked why, and he proudly proclaimed that he would rather earn his money from work.

“But you were a big help to me,” I insisted.

“I sell maps. Why don’t you buy a map?” he asked.

I smiled and bought a map of Mumbai which now hangs at home.

IMG_2013

The next day I returned at 4 o’clock with the hopes of finding Rahul joyously playing soccer on the dirt field with his friends. To my dismay, I couldn’t see him anywhere.

I found the girls again waiting for their practice to start and they happily waved me over and told me that Rahul hadn’t come that day. In fact, they hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks.

I sighed and the girls could see that I was disappointed. One of the girls offered to give me a call when they meet him next. So, with a little hope left I gave her my number.

She then took me to the soccer coach and I showed him Rahul’s photo. He again confirmed that he practiced with them but hadn’t been around for the last few weeks. I told the coach to please let Rahul know if he sees him that I am his Canadian friend looking for him from 6 months ago.

Sure that I wasn’t going to find Rahul anytime soon, I proceeded to give out the rest of the chocolates to the school children on the field and walked myself over to Woodside Inn where I had scheduled a meeting with a friend soon after my anticipated grand-reunion. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that all this month I had been sitting in Worli, Rahul had been practicing soccer right around the corner. If only I hadn’t waited so long to come back and hunt for him then maybe I would have caught him at his soccer practice.

But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better, it’s philosophizing my life.

“I can’t live our lives with if-only’s and what-if’s. There was something to be learned from all of this I’m sure,” I told myself.

It took me so long to go out and find Rahul because I had been caught up with my own life and was distracted by my work and other, ahem, interests… What was hanging so dearly in the balance that I felt inclined to brave the 45 minute taxi sauna two days in a row on a hearsay that Rahul might practice soccer in the field nearby?

Perhaps I wanted to find an anchor in Mumbai. Maybe I was just looking for a little adventure. In fact, I could have just wanted to write another blog based on the success of Finding Chocolate Boy part 1. There is something terribly addictive about seeing those WordPress site statistics jump up suddenly with every new post.

Regardless, 10 months later I finally got my act together to write the darned thing and now I’m feeling an urge to go to Colaba and look for Rahul just one more time… The only problem is that I forgot the breath-spray and Canadian flag at Woodside Inn that last day after a few too many Jameson’s.

Finding Chocolate Boy – Part 1

BC-India Film and Media: New Blog!

I am now running a new blog for all things BC-India film and media related, so that those who are only interested in that don’t have to wade through my personal blog posts.

Check it out right here and subscribe!

BC-India Film and Media: Articles, reports, and events

Bollywood Unmasked: The Director’s Chair

Today I have a guest article published in The Director’s Chair online magazine, an online E-Zine with Film Directing Tips, Film Making Articles and Online Resources for the Independent Filmmaker.

Bollywood Unmasked: The Real Potential of BC Film and Media Collaborations with India

In the five months I have spent researching the Indian film industry, I learned that there is huge potential for more film and media related business between British Columbia and India. With a grant from Western Economic Diversification (WED), I went to India twice with the SFU India Initiative to look for ways to increase ties with BC and the Indian film industry.

With no previous knowledge of India and coming from a Scottish-Canadian background… Click here to continue reading

 

A big thank you to Peter D. Marshall for the opportunity.

Finding Chocolate Boy

“Please put up your backrest, miss”

I was in the last row of seats before the washrooms with nobody sitting behind me. My seat was reclined by about two inches.

Nevertheless, I silently brought up my backrest to it’s original, leaning slightly forward position while the non-English speaking man next to me pretended to not understand as if he’d never flown on a plane before. His seat remained reclined the full five inches with his tray table down.

The South Korean steward moved forward through the rows of seats and Ravi Shankar started to play on the speakers. Korean Air knows how to introduce you to India gently, and it works well with the dark, musty red carpets leading you to the baggage claim of BOM (Mumbai’s international airport).

But as the plane started to tilt downward, I suddenly felt a big wad of anxiety forming around my solar plexus. I chastised myself. “Why are you so nervous all-of-a-sudden? You have been dying to come back to Mumbai since you left 6 months ago.”

Within my sparsely packed suitcase, there was a bag of gifts for my friends from my first and most recent trip to India who had really left an impact on me. I had met so many great people, especially because my friend Sara and I were on a networking mission to learn more about the Indian film industry. However, there were a few who really went out of their way to help us on our trip and these people became good friends. Because I have an innate guilt that nothing in this world should come free, I have brought payment for their friendship in the form of maple syrup, Canadian flags, and handcrafted dream catchers.

I let my mind rest on this bag of Canadian kitsch and I tried to remember what I had bought for whom. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anybody important. Still, the anxiety wouldn’t go away and I didn’t know what was causing it. As someone who analyzes themselves as a hobby, I felt I should think about it a bit.

Three months previously, I had started this blog and online portfolio so I could have a more visible presence on the web. Fake it ‘till you make it became my new motto. WordPress has a great dashboard for your blog so you can see how many people visited your page, how many clicks, what links are most popular, etc. However, I get the most entertainment from seeing the Google searches that have led people to my website. Some of the most recent favorites are: “awkward look gif”, “shaved my eyebrows off”, and “don’t worry bus, we all make mistakes”.

Ironically (I think) the day I get on my flight to Mumbai somebody has searched “mcglynn died on plane”. In order to counteract this scary prediction I post about it on twitter. If I acknowledge it, it’s way less likely to happen… and if it does, then it can go down in history that I predicted my own death.  So I get on my plane anyway and don’t tell my poor mother and father about it.

Final Destination: Mumbai.

However, I know that this anxiety isn’t caused by fear of flying. The last year I probably spent around 70-80 hours in flight, not including airport time and layovers. I actually love flying, because it gives me a very good excuse to watch 6 movies back to back and not feel like I should be doing something more productive like working on my screenplay. Surprisingly, the trip was great because I had a moment of inspiration after watching “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and rewrote the whole structure of my current script (based in Mumbai of course).

I had travelled so much because the last year included 5 months of travelling from May to November. Vancouver – Chennai, Chennai – Vancouver, Vancouver – Toronto, Toronto – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – Cape Town, Cape Town – Johannesburg, Johannesburg – London, London – Vancouver, and now Vancouver – Mumbai.

I fell for Mumbai in a big way. I fell in love with its chaotic energy; it’s people, and its buzzing potential. I was told many times before I first planned my trip to India, “You either love it, or you hate it”. For Mumbai it became “you either love it, or you hate it, or you become obsessed with it.”

I’m not ashamed to say that when I left Mumbai, I shed a tear. I was intoxicated with whiskey and Mumbai, but mostly whiskey… or was it Mumbai? I got back to Vancouver later and was buzzing with unbridled energy. I could feel the twinkle in my eyes, and I had made a resolution to return to Mumbai in the New Year by any means possible.

So there I was. The plane hit the tarmac smoothly and we all coasted toward the baggage terminal at 2:45 am on the dot. The anxiety dulled as I stepped into the spiced air, then revved itself up again while I got stuck between a family of six taking up the whole corridor rolling their bags and dragging their children. I realized that this was a new frontier for me and I was feeling so anxious because I had reached uncharted territory in my life. While I had lived in Mumbai for a month and a half, never before had I returned to a foreign country with the intentions of living and working. I was going into the unknown.

“Oh my god, does this mean I’m no longer a student? Am I finally all-grown up and making big life decisions?” Sure I hadn’t technically graduated from University yet, but I hadn’t been taking classes for 6 months and planned to finish my degree via correspondence (only 5 classes to go!)

It was an exciting and daunting thought that carried me through to the baggage carousel. My bag arrived at the same time as me, and I could feel jealous stares as I cruised in and picked up my bag like it happens all the time (it never happens to me). With that little sign from the universe, I started to feel like my cocky-self again and as I went through customs I critiqued the outfits other white people had chosen to fly in. Are your pajamas really going to make your seat any more comfortable? Classic internal monologue of a person so aware of their own insecurities they have to criticize others privately because they know how ridiculous they’re being.

So why was reaching a new point in my life more scary than exciting?

Canadian-Breath-SprayI thought of one of my gifts, a Canadian spearmint breath spray with a lumberjack on the package, the sort of thing you pick up in a joke store. I was planning on giving it to a very special friend who probably had no idea of my name. During my first stay in Mumbai I was living in Colaba, a beautiful part of town with equal parts beggars and tourists, taxi drivers and merchants. That was where I met my little chocolate-boy Rahul, and keep on reading before you jump to conclusions about my British heritage and how racist I must be.

I first met Rahul when I was walking around the Colaba causeway, a street lined with shops and merchants selling their wares (Same shit, different block). Children often target white elephants like me and ask for money, rice, or milk and play up on their cuteness to get what they want. I was getting accustomed to saying no when Rahul came up to me and asked me for chocolate.

“Sorry, I don’t have any chocolate on me”

“Chocolate”

“I don’t have any chocolate”

“Chocolate, ma’am”

“I told you I don’t have any chocolate!”

I started walking faster to try and lose him, but he kept on following me.

“What do you want?”

“Chocolate”

I stopped, and took a moment to look at him. He was not dirty like the other kids of the street, and had an adorable smile with white teeth and big brown eyes.

“Do you live around here?”

“School” he said, pointing down the street and looking up at me with his sweet smiling face.

I realized he just lived around here and he spent his time after school playing with the other kids in the area and getting free candy from tourists. However, it was off-season and there weren’t many tourists around so I found I was getting quite a bit of concentrated attention whenever I went out for a walk. This monosyllabic boy was somehow making an impression on me.

“Sorry, no chocolate today. Maybe tomorrow”

“Ok” he shrugged, and he let me walk away.

I kept of seeing him every day and each time I didn’t have any chocolate. After a week of this, I decided to buy a chocolate bar and keep it in my bag for a surprise. Of course I couldn’t find him anywhere after that. I would scour the street every time I went out, and I even started making special trips to walk around and look for him.

After a couple of weeks of this chocolate bar melting and re-melting in my bag, he turned up again.

“Hello” he said. He started walking next to me.

“Hey chocolate boy! I have been looking for you”

He kept smiling as we walked together. He doesn’t ask for chocolate.

“Is there anything you want?” I asked.

“Rice”

Was this kid mocking me?

“I thought you liked chocolate”

“Yes” he said.

“So would you like rice or chocolate?”

“Rice” he answers with a smile.

“Well, too bad. I only have chocolate for you today.”

I reached into my bag and give him the semi-melted bar of chocolate. A group of kids saw this and they got up and came over.

“Thank you” he said. He took off just a scraggly-haired little girl came up to me with her palms out.

I dodged the rest of the kids and got back to my friends house where I was staying, and was dying to fill them in after weeks of my search for chocolate boy. That Sunday we visited the slum kids a few blocks away and brought a soccer ball and a big bag of candy to give every little chocolate boy and girl a fun day.

As we made our way into the slum, chocolate-boy joined us and I finally learned his real name. Rahul the chocolate boy led us through the slum and helped give out candy to the children and told them in Hindi that they could come play soccer. He was our guide and middleman who made sure the big kids weren’t stealing candy from the little ones, and that it was evenly distributed. We found a good patch for the soccer match and it rained, which only made the whole thing more fun.

The day I left Mumbai, my sandal broke and Rahul found me limping my way back to the house. He took me to a cobbler on the corner and we talked as my shoe was being fixed. I told him I would be back, and that I would find him again. He asked about Canada and when we should meet and I said I didn’t know what day I would be back but I would look for him.

So I found myself back there, 6 months later with some joke breath-spray, a Canadian flag, and 500 rupees ($10 CAD) wrapped up in a plastic bag so the other kids wouldn’t see his gift and try to take it from him. The anxiety from the plane ride had abated because I realized the cause. I am afraid of big changes because generally my life is pretty good, and although I don’t have much to lose I know that things can stop going my way and get a lot worse. This new stage of my life had a lot of potential to go wrong regardless of how much I wanted it to go right, and I am scared of the unknown whether or not it’s failure or success that takes me there.

I made a special hour and a half trip to Colaba from my hostel in Andheri near the airport in order to track down Rahul and give him his gift. I had a night out planned with my old troublemaker friends in the area as well, but I came early in the afternoon to find my chocolate boy. I know that the gift would probably be a little underwhelming for your average kid, but I know from experience that a lot of Indians are cautious of getting close with foreigners because they come to India, say they’re coming back, and disappear. It is the same reason why I used to never go out of my way for a tourist besides giving directions. But when someone goes out into the unknown and invites a stranger in transit to be their friend, it really makes a huge difference to their trip. My best memories from travelling are all because of my experiences with locals, and my top activity for every country is to have a home-cooked meal at someone’s house.

Tree-lined street, Colaba. Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Again, it is fear of the unknown that we avoid making new connections. The fear of losing time we invest into a new friendship, or the money we spend on their drinks at the bar, or the energy we put into making them happy. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, so it meant a lot to me when my friends in India took the risk and gave me their time and friendship, and I know part of the gift was the mere fact that I came back.

I walked through Colaba… the usual streets I would find Rahul and couldn’t find him. Very conscious of how much I looked like a lost tourist, I tried not to wander around in circles too much (again trying to avoid confrontation and potentially meeting new people). As I walked through a back road fairly close to the slum, I passed a large group of young boys with a cricket bat. I peered closely at the shorter ones and saw one I thought looked like Rahul. One of the older boys spotted me, and asked if I wanted to join the game. Surprised at the invite, I looked up and saw they were all watching me. I said no, only because I was tired and it was very hot but I appreciated the invite. I asked if they knew a boy called Rahul who hung out in the area. I gestured his height by placing my hand, palm down at my belly button.

“Rahul?” the tallest one repeated.

The boys looked at each other. I could hear the name Rahul being repeated amongst them. Nobody said they knew him.

“Sorry, he’s not here” the tall boy said.

I thanked them and walked away disappointed I hadn’t found him.

I sat down for a fresh lime soda at a hotel near the Gateway of India and paused in the middle of the book I was reading to analyze their response. “Sorry, he’s not here”. Did that mean that they did or didn’t know him? Did it mean he was there earlier? Did that mean he moved away? Was he dead?

I stopped myself there. I didn’t want to over-analyze it anymore; another unknown area that can only be discovered if it’s explored. I gave up the search for the day, but I knew I would be back.

Chocolate-boy has disappeared again, but I know he will turn up when I least expect it. I will go back with his photograph and ask around if I have to, because I promised Rahul that I would be back and find him and I can’t bear to give the lumberjack breath spray to anybody but him. My mission to find Rahul has become a small-scale and more palpable version of my life right now. I will only know when I find him whether or not he trusted me to come back. I am still scared of the new path I’m on, but if I have learned one thing this year it’s that fear is no reason to hold yourself back. Fear of finding out that I’ll never see Rahul again is mixed with fear of some strange new life that awaits me. And so I venture forth into the unknown, with my fear tucked away and wrapped in plastic with the rest of my baggage.

P.S. If anybody knows Rahul, please let me know.

Rahul posed for me while the cobbler fixed my sandal.

Rahul and the Cobbler

Mumbai, what is it about you?

I have done some travelling in the short while I have been on this earth but there is only one place with a magnetic pull where every minute I’m not there I feel like I’m missing out. I have seen many different cities and explored many countries such as England, France, Egypt, South Africa, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the list goes on. However, the one city that really left an imprint on my psyche is Mumbai.

Even though the new name struggles to roll off the tongue, the energy of the city quickly infuses your being through it’s daily do-or-die decisions like crossing the street. Those who haven’t loved India are the ones who have tried to resist being taken with the flow. The beauty of this massive metropolis is not only in the pretty twinkling lights of the Queen’s Necklace traffic at night, but also the dirt, the stink, and the pollution. Mumbai offers plenty of bad and so-called “dirty” things as any city does, but it’s intensified by its volume compared to Western cities. However, without the contrast we cannot truly appreciate the good things.

Unfortunately, I find many visitors focus on the bad things in Mumbai and fail to see the beauty that shines through the dirt. My experience was definitely influenced by having a nice, air-conditioned flat to stay in just off the Colaba Causeway and having friends who have lived in the city for their whole lives. I had it really good during my month and a half in Mumbai, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid. In fact, most tourists passing through don’t have the chance to see a lot of the great people and places I did, so consider my experience one of the many facets and faces Mumbai has to offer. I love this city.

To be honest, I didn’t even take the time to see most of the tourist destinations. I didn’t go into the Dharavi Slum area, and didn’t see the Dobhi Ghat. However, I caught the local train from Churchgate to Goregaon (an hour-long ride) a few times a week, got an inside look at the famous Film City, and made it out to the club more times a week than I’m willing to admit. I spent every moment in Mumbai spoiling myself and reaping every pleasure I couldn’t afford back in Vancouver. I ate delicious desserts every day from a great cafe called Leo’s Boulangerie, indulged in a couple of Thai massages, and drank all the Whiskey that came my way. This city taught me how to party, and how to get mix business with pleasure.

However, I can’t say the city whispered in my ear and told me how to talk to taxi drivers so they don’t rip me off. It was the collective energy and attitude of sucking every drop out of life that came through the people I met and shared my experiences with. It’s the personal interactions you have while travelling which are the most memorable, and I have since made a vow to help every tourist I meet by being a good host and showing them sides of the city they wouldn’t normally see by inviting them to join me and my friends and family. The best meals I have ever had when travelling have always been home-cooked.

So, needless to say, I got to enjoy a few home cooked meals during my stay. Before my trip to India, I had no idea of the variety in Indian food. Having a limited choice of Punjabi restaurants in Vancouver, I was surprised to learn about the joys of eating Idli off a banana leaf at 3 in the morning… and Dosas with omelettes and sambar from a street-side shack for breakfast after an all-nighter. There was also Sri Krishna Sweets, where I would go with my friend and buy one of everything so we could taste each one. Oh, how I dream of Ghee.

I definitely didn’t get to try everything edible, but at least I know I’m going back. The day I left Mumbai was a Sunday, and my friend and I had to catch a bus to Hyderabad that night at 8 o’clock. Our party-animal friends spent the day with us and dropped us at the bus fairly inebriated. We knew we weren’t coming back for a long time, and Mumbai had started to feel like home. A tear or two found it’s way to my eye as I looked out the window and we drove away.

I found it a lot easier to fly out of India than I found it to get the bus to Hyderabad. When I got back to Vancouver, my days were full of meetings, reunions, and work, yet somehow I felt like I was doing nothing. My body was still buzzing from the energy in India, and the pace in Vancouver felt unnaturally slow. I knew from the moment I left Mumbai that I had to go back and try to live there.
From that moment, everything I have done has been to increase my chances of moving to Mumbai. I did lots of research on Visa requirements and seriously considered signing up for a job I didn’t want just so I could be there. However, I just couldn’t get my ducks in a line for a permanent move in January, so I am going back to Mumbai for ten weeks to see what I can do. Perhaps the charm will wear off on my second visit, but I doubt it. There is something about the energy of this city that measures time by the breath. I will go back. How do I know? I just bought my plane ticket.

20121121-165033.jpg