Bombay Wali comes to town!

Posted by: Adhika | Posted on: April 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment

Bombay Wali comes to town!

Bombay Wali – a woman from Bombay


In Bombay Wali and other stories, a fiction collection released recently by Guernica Editions, Veena Gokhale presents engaging characters negotiating challenging situations in Bombay, and other urban locales in India and elsewhere. An Indo-Canadian writer living in Montreal, Veena has lived in Bombay and other Indian cities. For the last 20 years, she has also lived in various Canadian cities. I had the opportunity to read the anticipated collection and interview Veena to gain some insights as to the inspiration behind this writting.

Bombay Wali is available at and Chapters/Indigo

Hear Veena read from Bombay Wali at the following locations:

Sunday April 28, 5pm: The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, Hotel 10, 10 Sherbrooke Street West, with other Guernica authors, (Free event.)

Saturday May 4, 4.30 pm: Naada Yoga, 5540 Casgrain Avenue (Free event)

Wednesday May 8, pm: Ashtanga Yoga Montreal, Suite 118, Belgo Building, 372 Ste-Catherine Street West, (Free event)

Tuesday May 14, 7.30 pm: Visual Arts Centre, McClure Gallery, 350 Victoria Avenue, Westmount (with other authors); $5.00 entrance

Visit her online at


Q: “Bombay Wali and other stories” has a very interesting format, featuring very lively, heart-felt stories, how did you come across this idea?

A: Writing stories is not a new activity; I wrote my first short story when I was 7 or 8 and published it in my school magazine. As a teen I day dreamed a lot and wrote stories and poems! I started to get to know “tough tantalizing” Bombay when I worked there as a journalist. This was the 1980s and the city had not yet been renamed Mumbai. It is a fascinating place, very diverse and dynamic. I got to cover new trends, interview all sorts of professionals and artists, review restaurants, attend cultural events. At the same time, it is not an easy city; everyday life is a struggle for most people. You see homelessness, slums, beggars, communal riots, drug addiction, and corruption.  I started writing the stories about Bombay when I was doing a Masters in Toronto, in the 1990s. They just started forming in my head! 

I published a couple – one in an anthology of South Asian women writers, another in a literary magazine. Over the years I wrote and published more stories. When I came to Montreal, and had difficulty finding work, I decided – okay, time to select some stories, do a final edit, and try to find a publisher. Luckily my partner supported me in this non-commercial venture!


Q: What inspired the title ‘Bombay Wali? What does it mean?

A: Good questions! Bombay Wali means a woman from Bombay. Walla would refer to a man. The title comes from one of the stories in the book, which is called Bombay Wali. It features three, young, women journalists – Renuka, Gulnar and Tanya – who are good friends. Renuka needs money and Gulnar comes up with a desperate scheme to help her.

Gulnar is writing a novel called Bombay Wali: “Believing that thorough research must precede writing, she spent her days taking in the scene and her evenings writing down her observations. Fortunately, her boyfriend, Geet, supported this notion…They also frequented a wide range of city restaurants. Gulnar had decided that her heroine’s parents would own one. But would she be Goan or Gujarati? Muslim or Parsi? Tamilian, Malayali, or for that matter, Chinese? Gulnar could not decide.”

By the end of the story Gulnar has changed her mind about what makes someone a real Bombay Wali! Since 6 of the 12 stories are set in Bombay it made sense to have this title. It has an informal, somewhat playful vibe, like some of the stories.

Q: All the stories and scenarios that take place in India in the book have an Indian flair, and reflect an understanding of Indian culture. What is your background?

A: I was born in Bombay but soon after we moved to a town called Bhilai, in the very centre of India. Later we lived in Calcutta, which is way east and then moved west to Vadodara in the state of Gujarat. Finally we came to Bombay. The languages I got were Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, plus Marathi, which is my mother tongue, and I went to an English-medium school. Of course each of these places had different food, customs and geography.

I was lucky to have my grandma living with us when I was a child. A great storyteller, she told me many stories from Hindu mythology. I was exposed to Hindi movies, Marathi plays, Hindustani classical music. As a child I learnt Bharat Natyam. Classical Indian dance is so beautiful; I just adore it! There were a lot of Western influences too, British and American mainly. I always asked questions about social norms. I looked at Indian society from a rational perspective because there are good and bad aspects. All this I think contributes to Bombay Wali.


Q: Please give us some background on yourself as an author – I really appreciate the style of writing. It’s very refreshing and intense – and yet very diverse, showing different social settings.

A: My writing has two streams – feature writing as a journalist in India, freelancing a bit later, and writing as a communications staff person working with non-profits in Canada. That’s the non-fiction part. And then there is the fiction and poetry. I joined writers’ groups when I lived in Toronto and Vancouver. It is extremely useful to receive critiques and to analyze and comment on the work of other writers. I bought books about how to write fiction. After many rewrites, I would send the stories off to literary magazines; some would get accepted, some not.

In terms of diversity, yes the characters in Bombay Wali come from different language groups, age groups, professional backgrounds. So there is Dilip, a dalit (lower caste) student who comes to Bombay to study on a government scholarship, and Munni, a little servant girl. Feroza is a middle-aged Parsi woman, a university professor who is the primary caregiver for her aging parents. Ashok is a businessman who is very modern and put off because he feels that his young niece is too religious! This sort of diversity is typical of urban India and I have lived it. As for intensity, it comes easily in India! It has such extremes that you are often forced to take sides; emotions can turn fiery fast!


Q: In connecting with the Indian Diaspora – what type of experience are you trying to bring to us?

A: I go beyond stereotypes to show well-rounded characters and I describe many different relationships. I portray their struggles and dilemmas and use humour. I don’t use needless drama, and in that sense the stories are realistic, but there is a bit of suspense all the same. I think I am presenting an authentic and interesting portrait of urban India. The themes in the stories are universal – friendship and resentment, family ties and freedom; violence, public and private; ambition and uncertainty, despair and acceptance, growing up and growing old.

I am very interested in going into Indian Diaspora communities and doing readings from Bombay Wali; perhaps presenting at events that are already happening. I can convey the flavour of the book in as little as 10 minutes. I would love to present with Indo-Canadian artists, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, etc. It is interesting when many art forms are presented together. People who belong to book clubs can get Bombay Wali at a discount price through me. I can attend a book club discussion in person or through skype. I want to reach younger people. Some of my characters are students and young professionals. The book can help spark a discussion about various aspects of life. So it is two-way communication, not a passive activity. I have good photos of the places in Bombay where the stories unfold, and other pictures of India, which I can share too. The best way to contact me is by e-mail:



Q: Are the characters based on real life experiences you’ve had, or are they fictional? 

A: Wouldn’t you like to know! There is one true story in the book and that is Munni, about the servant girl. Otherwise what happens is that all the things that fiction writers take in, different people they meet and their life stories and personality traits, things people say, things they read, see in movies, their own thoughts and experiences, everything gets churned up in some part of the brain and the characters and stories start emerging. So it is not possible to say this person/situation inspired exactly that character/story! In the story about Dilip, the dalit student on scholarship, the ending is from real life, everything else is made up. I read in a newspaper that the kind of service I describe at the end of the story called Snapshot, about the old Japanese woman, Sukiyo, exists. But I never knew a Sukiyo who lived in Tokyo!

Q: Please tell us of the journey it took to get this idea translated into this book!

A: It was a steep learning curve and the whole process has taken over two years. After I came to Montreal I got involved with the artistic and literary community here. For example, I wrote for an online arts magazine called Rover and joined the Quebec Writers’ Federation. I researched how to approach publishers, write query letters, etc. At a Rover event I met Michael Mirolla of Guernica Editions, my publishing house, and followed up. He goes back and forth between Toronto and Montreal. I sent him one story first and he asked for the whole manuscript. I also queried other publishers but it was Michael who was interested. Guernica has been in the business for 25 years and has a good reputation. I luckily know one well-established fiction writer, Mark Frutkin. He agreed to read my stories and write an author blurb, an endorsement of sorts that appears on the book cover. I approached an artist friend in India, we brainstormed, and she created a lovely cover image. Michael, I and my partner, Marc-Antoine, did the final proof reading. And now I am finding that promoting the book is actually the most work! In Hindi we say boond boond se sagar – drop by drop you create an ocean!



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