After reading about the horrifying attack on the Tanzanian student who was stripped and forced to walk naked in public and whose car was set on fire by an angry mob, I got reminded of a scary incident that personally happened to me last year, where I nearly got attacked by a mob in South Bangalore.
Sometime in November 2015, I took an Ola cab going to South Bangalore. From a perpendicular road opposite the hotel where my business establishment is located, the cab driver refused to cross the opposite road. He irritably told me to just cross the opposite side of Siddaiah Road by walking. Though I was quite upset with this lazy and unprofessional driver, I had no choice but to get out of the car.
As soon as I had opened the door, before I could stand and step out of the car, I heard a loud thud of a motorbike hitting the door and its two passengers were overthrown. Everything happened in lightning speed, before I could even understand what was going on!
The two male passengers from the motorbike immediately rose from the ground (fortunately, there were no physical injuries but the incident triggered bad tempers) and one of them came rushing towards me, in the act of dragging and pulling me out of the car.
I instinctively pulled back the car door in and locked it. Then palms pressed together (like doing the namaste sign), I said, “I am so sorry sir, I did not mean to hurt you. I did not see you.” I am not sure if they understood me as everyone was speaking only in Kannada, but I hoped they saw from my facial expression that I was truly sorry.
In less than a minute, a huge mob has gathered around the car. Without even understanding what exactly happened, everyone was involved — they were yelling at me and kicking and banging the car. They wanted me to get out of the car!
The Ola cab driver was powerless to protect me. He was also scared and just locked himself inside the car. He could not drive forward as there were too many people infront of the car.
To say that I was scared is an understatement. What I only read about in newspapers about the angry Indian mob was unfolding before my eyes, and I was the central character in that life-threatening situation.
How could the crowd react that way without even understanding the facts of the incident first? Did it have any bearing that I was in a car and the other two guys were just in a motorbike that I was judged as the errant party? Or is it because they saw that I am an expatriate and not “one of them”? Or are they just simply stupid?
Then I remembered a blog I wrote in May 2015 on how to deal with a challenging situation like this . . .
- I did not get out of the car.
- I did not fight or yell back at the mob. Instead, I looked very apologetic.
- I called up the Indian hotel manager across the street where my office is, and begged him to come with the watchman and a group of other male staff to rescue me from this angry mob.
- After making the call, I turned on the video camera of my phone to record everything.
- My other hand quickly searched for the pepper spray inside my bag which I always kept with me for self defense. I was ready to fire it in case the mob succeeded in forcibly opening the car.
The crowd was getting thicker and madder every second that passed, but I was fortunate that my office was just across the street and I was able to cry for immediate help. Thank heavens, I survived that traumatic incident unharmed.
My heart bleeds for the Tanzanian students who got attacked by the mob for mistaken identity. I am horrified that those who attempted to help them were also attacked. Worse, the Police allegedly failed to protect them.
As an expat who has lived in India for almost ten years now, I still could not understand why some people are the way they are, and there is nothing that we can do to change them. That sounds vague but I am sure you get my drift. For the meantime, you have to be vigilant of the things happening around you, and learn how to protect yourself from unforeseen situations like this.
Please scroll down and read an earlier blog I have written — The Dangers of Helping Someone In A Road Accident in India, where I shared some pointers on what you can do to protect yourself from an angry mob in case you find yourself in a similar road incident/accident like this.
(Published in Economic Times – Bangalore, India, Expat Diary Column, 7 November 2010)
What is it like to live in India? This is a common question I get from my other friends around the world. Oh, I could write a whole book to describe my life and adventures in India. Living here is visually, emotionally and mentally stimulating. I have never seen such sights and colours, experienced such sounds and flavours, and learned so much from a culture so rich and a people so varied.
My first glimpse of India was in October 2006 when I landed in Mumbai. An Indian businessman friend invited me to check out his country for possible business opportunities in the anti-aging skincare industry. I visited and talked to entrepreneurs and potential clients in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. I saw a whole range of possibilities here and an opportunity to tap a big market with innovative products. I belong to Philippines, and have been to most of the developed world, but this country was just so unique and presented opportunities that other markets did not.
I said to myself, “Wow, this place is just great!” I was so excited that I took the plunge of committing to a long-term business without knowing the challenges that lay ahead of me. In April 2008, I relocated with my family to India.
I can give you a litany of the challenges of living and doing business in India but at this point, I have already learned to accept the things I can change and cannot change. I now see India from a different perspective. Its imperfections are what make it perfect for business. If you can offer solutions, then you can utilise hitherto untapped opportunities, and a whole new set of people are suddenly your clients and friends.
It has not been smooth sailing though. The challenges have got to me. There have been trying moments when I would cry and felt like packing up. I could only look up to heavens and ask, “What am I doing in this country? Why is everything such a struggle to do? Is this all worth it?” Then the next day, I would get a call from someone who tells me, “Hi Ema. My friend is raving about your skin treatments and I was wondering if you could also help me”. Ahh, that makes me feel better. If I could make a difference in this country and if Indians recognize and appreciate it, then I am re-assured that moving here is all worth it.
I have learned a lot of lessons in India that made me more patient, wiser and stronger. I spent a lot of time learning and understanding the country’s culture in order for me relate to my clients better. Living here made me discover the power I have within me to do things I never thought possible.
In conclusion, allow me to describe India in a romantic way: India is like a woman whom you may not find attractive when you first meet her. But as you get to know her better, you get drawn to her in ways you can’t understand. And before you know it… you are in love with her! (END)
It has been more than four years now since I wrote that article. It’s now June 2015, and yes, I am still in India, and by the grace of God my business is still alive and has now diversified into related businesses. Every morning, I still wake up feeling excited about the many things I want to accomplish in this country. It feels like there is never enough time to do everything! When I look ahead, I still find the road long and winding — and overwhelming. But when I look behind, I realise that I have already covered quite a distance. For that, I am truly grateful to the many people who have helped me and believed in me, and to this country for opening up endless opportunities for me and my family. I am also grateful to the many people who have mentored me in business and in life and prepared me mentally and emotionally before coming to India.
I remember what someone told me the day I was about to travel to India for the first time: “There is nothing that I can do or say that could stop you from going to India, because it is written on your palm. Go and live your dream.”
- Police — (+9180) 100
- Traffic / Accidents — (+9180) 103
- Director General’s Office — (+9180) 22211777 / 22942111 / 22942777
- Help Line (DG’s Office) — (+9180) 22942595
- Commissioner of Police — (+9180) 22260707 / 22942222
There are a thousand and one interesting things to do in Bangalore. It all depends on your areas of interest — are you an adventurer, a shopper, a spiritual person, or an art enthusiast? I have put this list together specifically designed for my expat friends who want to experience something meaningful and unique in Bangalore. This is also dedicated to my Indian friends who would like to re-discover the beauty of their country.
1) Take the Bangalore Walks— If you only have half a day for a tour of Bangalore and you want to absorb the history and discover the hidden beauty of this city, this tour is a must. I don’t think I have ever understood the Indian culture and appreciated Bangalore as much before I took this tour with the very passionate and insightful tour expert and company owner, Arun Pai. Come with a camera and an open mind for three hours of informative, stimulating fun. They have customised tours on foot or you can hop on and off a tour bus. Temples and techparks, coffee and churches, markets and mayhem, they make sense of it all. For tour descriptions and schedules, check out www.bangalorewalks.com
2) Hop on the “Art of Bicycle Trips” — The Art of Bicycle Trips offers simple and unique ways to intimately experience the real India. Enjoy a biking and hiking holiday through beautiful landscapes at your own pace, engage with communities along the trip and indulge in unique regional cuisine. Their well-researched, handcrafted itineraries are designed to reveal India’s diverse culture, heritage and countryside. They also have bespoke bicycle trips which are ideal for families with kids, couples and group of friends. Select any existing classic itinerary or design your own adventure. Check them out at www.artofbicycletrips.com
3) Learn how to cook Indian food — The first time I have seenan Indian housewife’s kitchen, I was overwhelmed by the numerous jars of colourful spices she uses — ingredients I only used to read in exotic recipe books. Now is your chance to discover all these spices and their distinct flavours and learn how to cook a few of your favourite Indian dishes.
4) Enrol for a meditation course — Register for the Art of Breathing course from the Art of Living. Learn the Sudarshan Kriya, a technique taught in the Art of Living which takes you to the “deepest meditation where body, mind and breath become one rhythm, connecting to the source of life within.” This allows us to dissolve stress and negative emotions, calm the mind, and uplift our energy. This is one of the best things I have learned in Bangalore and I really hope everyone will get the chance to experience this. Look for a workshop near you at http://www.artofliving.org/in-en
5) Watch a Bollywood movie with Indian friends — If you truly want to understand the Indian culture and way of life, I highly recommend watching a three-hour Bollywood movie with Indian friends. This is one of the most entertaining experience you can have in India. Don’t worry if you don’t understand Hindi, your friends will be there for you to translate the gist of the important scenes. Trust me, you will understand it because 25% of the movie is song and dance. I must have watched at least 20 Hindi movies by now and I understood them perfectly well.
6) Eat dosa with bare hands — Ahh, the mere thought of this makes me crave for this famous South Indian food. My favourite is the masala dosa (with potato fillings inside). I like it crispy and orange-brown in colour on the outside.
7) Shop at Commercial Street — It’s like you have not been to Bangalore if you have not been here. I find this place more charming at night. Come in comfortable footwear and be ready to haggle. Try to learn a few Kannada or Hindi words so the vendors think you have been in India for some time and you could probably get better prices. You can also explore Chikpet, Shivajinagar and the Tibetan shops on Brigade Road.
8) Have lunch at Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) near Lal Bagh — This has been one of my most interesting and satisfying lunch experience in Bangalore. Served by Indian waiters wearing lungi (a sarong-like garment wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles), I ate a delicious pure vegetarian thali, a complete meal made up of a selection of various dishes served in small bowls, called katori, placed on a round tray. This cost me Rs.150 and I could eat as much as I could. There are different branches of MTR now, but this particular outlet is the original one and is a historical landmark in Bangalore.
9) Buy and wear a saree or a sherwani — Feel like a princess as the saree vendor wraps around you the most colourful textiles and luxurious silks you would ever see and feel in your life. Getting your sexy blouse stitched, wearing the accessories that go with your saree (bangles, bindi and tikka) having the saree draped by skillful Indian hands and the initial fear and excitement you feel when you first wear a saree, feeling anxious that it would all fall on the floor… These are beautiful memories of India I would forever cherish. My male friends told me wearing a sherwani makes them feel like royalty.
10) Have a fresh beer at one of the microbreweries — There are currently only two cities in India that can issue licenses for the operation of independent microbreweries, and Bangalore is one of them. These microbreweries have their own interesting blends and concoctions which are quite tasty and some are unique in India.
11) Do Temple Tours — “You must visit the 10th century Chola Dynasty temple in Domlur. They open in the evening at six. Go there for blessings and to see the offerings done. It’s a small temple with original small statues of the 11th-12th century and the inside is original stone and it looks ancient! Then go to the Gurudwara Temple on Ulsoor Road during lunch time and get served free meals, communal style. On Ulsoor Lake, visit the Ganapathy (lake view) temple. It has lots of deities on the first floor too. Look carefully and you will find detailed symbolic clusters of gods. This is opposite the Kodak store. Durga Temple (North Bangalore) Sri Kalika Durga Parameshwari Temple located in Vidyaranyapura, Bangalore is without doubt one of the outstanding temples of Bangalore. The temple is dedicated to goddess Kalika Durga Parameshwari.” (Contributed by Geetu Singh)
12) Watch a cricket game — Your Indian experience will not be complete without experiencing a live cricket game. I find the IPL (Indian Premiere League), the Twenty20 cricket championship league in India, to be an easier format to watch because it is shorter. This happens in the month of April and May.
13) Watch a Bharatanatyam dance performance — Bharatanatyam is a beautiful and colourful classical South Indian dance form that originated from the temples of Tamil Nadu. Read the newspapers for listings of performances in various parts of Bangalore.
14) Watch an ethnic Indian musical concert — I have once seen a concert of sitar and tabla masters at Chowdaiah Memorial Hall. If you love world music and when you hear this live from Indian musical geniuses, this could be a heavenly experience (at least that’s how I felt about it)
15) Get mehendi art applied on your hands — Ladies, you should experience this at least once in your life. One expat friend shared with me that having a mehendi is like falling in love with an Indian man. The first hour it’s applied, it’s not as clear. On the second and third day that’s when the colour gets more intense. It takes a long time to fade. The image stays in your mind even when it’s erased.
16) Attend an Indian wedding — First time I have been to an Indian wedding, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of people attending the wedding, where most of the guests were even unknown to the couple. Experience the colours, the flavours and the sounds which you can only have in an Indian wedding. I was told that a Punjabi wedding is the most festive of all.
17) Have an Ayurvedic massage — Though it’s supposedly therapeutic, I found this awfully oily. Two therapists worked on me vigorously with a boisterous Indian music in the background. I was so scared I would slip out of the leather-covered massage bed like a wet fish. It took me three days and six shampoos to totally wash out all the oil from my hair. The best and relaxing part was when they steamed me in that enclosed ayurvedic chair where only my head was sticking out. It’s an interesting experience.
18) Go to KR Market and check out the flower sale taking place early morning — Flowers here are unbelievably cheap being a wholesale market. It’s a visual feast if you are into photography.
19) Have dinner with an Indian family — The most satisfying Indian dining experience you can have is experiencing the hospitality of an Indian family. Eat like them with your bare hands. They are one of the most if not the most hospitable people in the world. They treat their guest as king or queen.
20) Visit one of the orphanages or grant a child’s wish — This is one of the most heartwarming and meaningful things you can experience in India. Play with the kids, read them a story, teach them English. Celebrate your birthday or eat with them. In December, participate in ExpatLife India’s initiative of granting a poor Indian child’s wish (http://expatlifeindia.com/wish.html). There are no exact words to describe the experience. The joy in your heart just overflows.
(If you have any questions on this topic, you may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org)
“I dread going to the FRRO. I was told they’re very slow, it’s difficult to get things done and they take bribes,” so quipped an expat friend of mine who was scheduled to go to the FRRO to extend her employment visa.
I told her that if you have a legal reason to be in India, your documents are complete and in order, you are paying your taxes on time and you abide with all the guidelines of the Indian government, there is no reason for you to have difficulty getting your visa renewed. In my more than six years of dealing with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), I have never paid them a single bribe, the immigration officers have always been very helpful to me and I would always get my visa done promptly. The people who get hassled are those who have questionable documents, are late in filing their papers and have no basic understanding of how things are done in India.
I have decided to write down some tips on how to work effectively with the FRRO. After reading this article, I hope this clears the misconceptions and helps you get your visa work done efficiently and promptly.
Be aware of the details and dates
As soon as you receive your Indian visa, take careful note of all the details written on it. When does it expire? Do you need to register at the FRRO within 14 days of arrival in India? Is it a single entry, double entry or multiple entry? Do you have to exit the country every 30 days? I have seen several expats go through stressful situations simply because they did not check these details in the first place. Last year, a French friend of mine was not allowed to exit Bangalore to spend Christmas with his family in Paris. He has overlooked that he was supposed to exit every 30 days and he had overstayed for 30 days! He created a scene at the airport and he was so scared. He had to make a vigil at the FRRO for two days to apply for his exit papers, and he had to pressure the French Embassy to help him get his exit permit approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi.
Plan your dates
If you intend to apply for an extension of your business, employment, student or dependent visa, you have to start preparing your documents one month before your expiry date. You cannot rely 100% on all the information you read from the Immigration website of India. They are not always updated. The laws and the rules of the Indian government keep changing and they are not able to update the website on time. Don’t call their office, they will not give you all the information you require over the phone. One month before your visa expiry date, go to the FRRO and ask for a complete list of all the documentary requirements. Go through the list and make sure you understand every item that is written there. If anything is unclear to you, ask the officer for clarification right there and then. Get a copy of their templates for certain documents like bonafide certificate for students, proof of annual income (for employment visa extension), etc. If you do not use their format, you will have to redo that document all over again.
Book the appointment online
There is a new procedure in the FRRO now that you have to register your details online and pre-book your appointment. (Go to http://indianfrro.gov.in/frro/menufrrodoc.jsp?t4g=4E12FAQO). Take note that the FRRO can only accept and attend to a limited number of applications in a day. With so many applications on queue, oftentimes, the available appointment date is later than the expiry date of your visa. You will then have to pay for the late penalty fee. To avoid this, book your appointment ahead of time so you get your desired appointment date.
Do it right the first time
Prepare your documents ahead of time, do it meticulously and thoroughly so your application gets approved on the same day of submission. Go through your checklist, make sure you have everything. I prepare three photocopies of all my documents, even if they only require one or two copies. Believe me, these extra copies will come in handy at some point. If this is not the first time you are applying for an extension visa, bring even your old documents with you. They sometimes ask for your old residence permit, your passport history of previous trips to India, etc. It’s best to have everything with you rather than travelling again from Indiranagar to your residence in Hebbal and back.
This is one virtue you need to develop and apply in almost everything that you do in India. I always tell my expat friends, “You have to accept what you can and cannot change in India. India will not adjust to you, you have to adjust to India.” It’s like banging your head against the wall if you react negatively to everything around you. Save that energy for more productive things. When you have an appointment with the FRRO, do not set any other appointment anywhere else that day. Expect that you might have to wait the whole day, and maybe even come back the next day. So instead of getting irritated, bring a book or bring your laptop and work online while you are waiting. Make the most out of the situation. Make friends with the other expats sitting beside you.
Smile, look helpless
Always smile and be friendly with all the officers. In case you encounter some problem with your papers, do not be hysterical or yell at the officer. The more you put your weight around, the more they will be uncooperative with you. Rather, say something like, “Sir, what do you think I should do? Can you please help me? Can you please advise me?” And I guarantee you 100%, they will help you. Like everyone else, they like to feel important and needed.
Know what you can and can’t do
You cannot extend a tourist visa. You cannot change your visa type without exiting India first. You need to go back to your home country and apply for a new visa if you want to change your purpose. Is there an exception to this rule? Only the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi can approve irregular requests like this. And that is not an easy thing to do.
Do not ask a local lawyer for advice
Do not waste your time and money by asking a local Indian lawyer about the nitty gritty of immigration guidelines. Chances are, they do not know. They will tell you something, but that’s not necessarily the best advice. A few expats I know have been given the wrong advice and they ended up doing the wrong thing. Unlike in the West where you have lawyers who specialise in immigration laws, it’s very rare that you find one in India. Just go to the FRRO. You will get all the information that you require there. If you or your company has the budget for it, there are a few relocation companies who specialise in this. But hiring them does not mean you will not sit down and wait at the FRRO. You will still have to wait. The only thing they can really help you with is prepare your documents accurately.
Start early, finish early
It is best to go to the FRRO as soon as they open. By noontime, you will probably be done by then. When you go there by midday, you will have to wait longer and by that time, the officers are not as cool-headed anymore.
Dealing with the Police
Ahh, this is my not-so-favourite part of the whole process. But you have to do this if you are extending your visa or you have overstayed in India. The police will personally come to your house to verify if you really live there and you are not doing any “illegal” activity in India. When they are feeling lazy and they see that you do not look like a terrorist or a drug dealer, they will just sign the papers and not bother to go to your residence anymore. There is a very interesting thing that some police officers would do before they release your police verification papers though. Here’s their typical script, “Oh, wow, your salary is very high. Can you please donate a ream of white papers to our police station? We need it for typing documents and it takes a long time for the government to release our request for office supplies.” Somebody even asked me to donate a computer. Nah, I have never donated anything. I just tell them I will come back the next day to drop the bond papers. I never did. That settles the issue. They will hint for bribe, but they will not coerce you.
Understand the principle of what they are looking for
They do not really read all your documents from cover to cover, but there are certain details that they are very particular with. They are particular about dates and numbers. Have you overstayed? Is your salary meeting the minimum requirement imposed by the government? Have you paid your taxes? Do you really live where you say you do? Are you really a student or are you illegally doing business in India and not paying taxes? Are you really in India for the purpose that you say you are here for? If you are clean and legit, applying for your visa will be a breeze.
Understanding their point of view
In all fairness, the FRRO is one government office where I see the officers work really hard from sunrise to sundown. It is a common scene there to have one or two expats yell at them for not getting their papers done fast or because the officers are asking them for so many documents. As I am a regular visitor in the FRRO, I have befriended some of the officers and this is what one of them has shared with me:
“Look at how many expats we have to deal with everyday compared with the number of immigration officers who are tasked to assist you. We are undermanned, and we hardly take a break so we can attend to all of you as much as possible. We cannot computerise everything because the directive from the higher office is for us to visually check if every document is proper. When something bad happens later on (like the notorious case of David Headley), every single officer who has ever signed or handled that expat’s document will be under fire. We are not as fast as the other countries but we are doing our best to improve our services and system every day. The process is slower especially for those who come unprepared and do not have the proper documents. When an Indian applies for a US visa, is it any easier? Your visa application can get disapproved and the US government is not required to give a reason for the disapproval. In India, even when your documents are incomplete, we talk to you and teach you how you can rectify it so you eventually get the visa. For so many years, several expats from the West have come with a ten-year multiple tourist visa and they were in India doing business or taking an employment without paying the Indian government any single rupee in taxes. It is only now that the Indian government is imposing stricter rules because we have realized this loophole in our immigration system.”
(Whatever the author has written here is based only on her own personal experience in dealing with the FRRO for more than six years of living in India. She has advised several expats on their visa concerns and has conducted some symposiums for expats on this subject matter. If you have any visa-related questions, you may contact her at email@example.com)