Summer 2016: Part 7

One of my favourite memories from the trip is a day visit we made to go to a seaside town (naturally, I can't remember the name), a short train ride from Lisbon.

It was a long strip by the beach, filled with outdoor cafes and bars, all overlooking the sea.

And what a sea it was.

Seas are as different as people really.

Some are prettier than others. Some are mysterious and forbidding. Some are inviting, waiting for you to get to know them. Some are calm, nothing ruffles them. Some are volatile and unpredictable. Some don't give a shit. Some are full of shit.

This sea?

Well, why don't you see (haha) for yourself.

I know, right?

There really isn't much to write about this day, nothing particularly entertaining, but it stands out in my memory.

We plonked ourselves down at one of the cafes, facing the sea, and we drank wine and ate crisp salads and crusty baguettes. We sat there leisurely for nearly four hours, chatting, people-watching, just being.

Oh here's something.

To get to the ladies' room (which was also the men's room), you had to go into the cafe, climb the stairs, cross a sort of terrace passageway, and open a big industrial door with a key given to you by the landlord. The room was HUGE with loads of stalls, and lots of space in the window, and large windows, and white sinks lined up against the wall. Despite the light, there was something sinister about it. Large spaces are often sinister.

It was the perfect setting for a tourist to be murdered in.

I went into one of the stalls, freaking out because my imagination is truly weird sometimes and goes completely beyond my control, and though I'm perfectly aware of my irrationality, it doesn't make it any less real. So I sort of positioned myself with my phone as a weapon to hit someone if they were waiting outside the door, and with the key as a shameful substitute for a knife. I figured I could poke my potential murderer in the eye with it at the very least.

I didn't see any murderers, but I did see a drunk tourist brushing his teeth at one of the sinks. Even my imagination didn't allow me to picture him trying to kill me, so I placed the key next to him, avoided eye contact, and left.

I will skim over the rest of the day, because it won't interest you particularly.

Here's a funny incident that occurred once we were back in Lisbon though.

I really needed to go to the loo, so I went into one of the cafes by the station. I looked around and a man - presumably the owner - came up to me and said something in Portuguese.

"Um. Could I use the bathroom?" I asked.

He looked puzzled.

"The Ladies'?"

He continued to look puzzled.

And then I made that universal gesture, the one that nearly all humans understand, and showed him my little finger.

"Ah," he said, comprehension dawning. "You want to do this..."

And then he crouched slightly and made that other universal sound, that sssssing sound, but I took it in my stride and said, "yes, ssssss," and he pointed the way.

After that, I think we strolled around Lisbon for a bit. It's one of those places meant for strolling. We went back to our favourite cafe - you know, the one with the pigeons and the dogs - and had a glass of wine.

Yeah, that's about it.

Oh, but that's the thing about days like that.

'That's about it' is more than enough to satisfy.


Summer 2016: Part 6

I think it was the following day [i.e. more than a year ago] that we took a trip to Sintra to see Pena Palace.
Here it is.
A photo.

Wait, but this is a google photo! Why on earth would I put that up?



So the plan was to take the morning train to Sintra. We dutifully followed the plan. But Mawii and I were very irritated with each other by the time we were on our way. I think it started when I made her wait while I smoked a cigarette outside the station before boarding the train. She was worried we'd miss it or something and I was all, Mawii, relax, we won't miss it.

I know what you're thinking and you are wrong. We did not miss the train.


So she starting getting annoyed with me (in all fairness, I'm fairly annoying) and I started getting annoyed with her (because, if one is going to be equally fair, she can be goddamn anal sometimes). We got so annoyed with each other, we didn't even sit next to each other on the train.

Although, come to think of it, that might have been because we may have been just slightly late boarding. And there was no fixed seating - and it was a bank holiday weekend - so we had to make do with what we could get which wasn't much.

Sintra was packed with tourists. There were so many people milling around when we got out of the station, it felt like being back in India again. Minus the colour scheme.

Mawii marched on ahead, ignoring me.

I shuffled along, ignoring her, and eventually lost her in the crowd and ended up sulking near one of the bus stops.

Let her come and find me, I thought to myself.

But she didn't. And I know Mawii's moods,  I realised that she was capable of boarding the bus and leaving me behind, so I pushed my way through the crowd, muttering pardons and sorrys, and I finally found her standing in a queue at one of the bus stands.

We still didn't say anything to each other and when we got on the bus, that girl took the window-seat without apology or explanation.

That meant Mawii was Seriously Pissed Off, but so was I (the wordless occupation of the window-seat was the Last Straw) so I didn't care.

The castle is set on something that is too large to call a hill and too small to claim to be a mountain. It is surrounded by thick, dense forest. Both the castle and the forest are open to tourists. You can't, however, glimpse the castle from the drop-off point (which is a mountain path). You need to go into the forest to see it.

And, it goes without saying, you have to pay to enter the goddamn forest.

This is when I realised I didn't have enough money on me to enter. Not if I wanted to get back to Lisbon. I can't remember what happened, I think I'd left some notes behind at the B&B.

"I can't go in," I said to Mawii. "I think I left my cash behind at the B&B."

Obviously this is the point I expected her to lend me the money - feud or no feud - but instead she said, "okay, I'll meet you here in an hour."

And off she went.

In Mawii's defence, I found out later that she wasn't carrying enough cash for the both of us, but she was too annoyed with me to tell me then, so I called her many colourful names under my breath as I strolled down the path the bus had just brought me up on.

There was a cafe about a ten minutes away, tucked in on the side of the mountain. (Or hill.) I bought an Americano (even though I loathe them) because I couldn't afford the cappuccino. There was a little stoned-paved courtyard outside. I sat there and rolled a cigarette grumpily.

Time passed.

I took out a notebook and pen because it felt like the Right Time to Write Something.

Time passed.

It was not the Right Time to Write Something after all. I put the notebook back and rolled another cigarette.

Time continued to pass, as it tends to do.

A tiny robin - robins are the only birds, in my opinion, that are more or less okay - landed on my table and cocked its head at me enquiringly. I love the roundness of the robin, and the scarlet patch its chest.

Regardless, I hurriedly got up and left.

Robins might be more or less okay but I, evidently, am not.

It was more or less time to meet up with Mawii, so I headed back towards the entrance. I saw her looking for me, but - because I am extraordinarily childish and petty when I'm pissed off - I didn't go up to her.

Let her make more of an effort to find me, I thought.

Three minutes passed and the moron still hadn't managed to spot me, so I gave up and went across to her.

"It was beautiful," she said, in response to the obvious how-was-it.

"But I didn't go inside the palace," she said after a pause. "It was too expensive. I only saw the outside from the forest."

Boo fucking hoo. 

It turned out that the drop-off point was only a drop-off point, and not a pick-up point as most drop-off points are, so we started walking down the mountain (or hill) towards the town below. It was a good 2 km walk and we obviously made up along the way.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Mawii, you really pissed me off.

Mawii: I think you may have pissed me off more.

Me: Probably. I'm sorry. I don't want to be pissed off.

Mawii: Same here.

Me: Cool.

And then we were back to normal. That's what I love about my friendship with Mawii. There's so much affection, but no fuss. 

My memory is a little hazy, but I remember us walking around trying to find a place to drink and eat at. We found our way to a winding lane where there were plenty of shops selling all sorts of things for tourists to take back home, and I saw about five hundred things I wanted to pick up for my family and friends, but I didn't have the money. To be fair, if I did have the money, I would've probably turned my nose up at everything.

I could go on about the rest of the day, but the thing is, I've been going on about this trip for more than a year, and I'm quite fed up. I want to get to the end now. Here's a rough summary though.

- We walked a lot.

- We had a couple of drinks and a meal at a cheap pub.

- We found a grassy and abandoned park and spent a very peaceful half-an-hour there.

- We found a bus that took us to the station.

- We found the train that took us back to Lisbon.

- We found that Mawii's map wasn't as trustworthy as we thought, and we got lost on our way home.

- A twenty minute walk, therefore, turned into a ninety minute walk.

- We reached home and collapsed.

I am very tempted to be all, fuck the rest of the holiday, maybe I should write about something that is happening now, but I won't. I will continue to document this goddamn trip for the next three years if I have to.

Because, though the posts don't do it justice, it's one of those things you want to keep with you, however abysmal your manner of keeping it.


It's been almost a year since I went to goddamn Portugal.

Things I do not regret: the trip.

Things I regret: deciding to write about the trip.


Summer 2016: Part 5

Lisbon is three hours away from Porto by train. Mawii and I were pleasantly surprised to find that we got a discount on our tickets (applicable to anyone below 26…oh youth, you are slipping by, and I have such little time to take advantage of the discounts you have to offer). 

Predictably, I slept through the train journey, although I’d fully intended on keeping awake so I could see more of Portugal: nothing like trains for discovering a country. But it was not to be. 

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to Lisbon. Porto had been small, quaint, and colourful. I didn’t expect Lisbon to be like that. How wrong I was. Because I have never fallen in love with a city as quickly as I did with the Portuguese capital. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

We got off at the station and took a bus to where our Air B&B was. Mawii had her trusty map as usual, and she’d spoken to the owner.

“Look for a red church,” she said to me. 

I dutifully looked around for the red church. 

“I can’t see it,” I said. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?” 

“It’s next to you,” said Mawii patiently. 

And it was. 

We turned the corner and walked up a narrow cobbled street. The houses were just like the ones in Porto: bright, picturesque, with old-world charm and flower-baskets at the windows. The sun was warm, the wind was not, and it was all quite perfect. I’d been off the bus for just a few minutes, and the love affair was already taking root. 

The place where we were staying was wonderful too. It was an old house, tall and narrow, with a bright green door. Our host was a woman called Claudia. She was blonde hair and blue eyed and tall and well-built. She didn’t look Portuguese, she looked like she was from a Nordic country. 

“She’s from a Nordic country,” I whispered to Mawii.

“How do you know?”

“It’s obvious,” I said condescendingly. “Her ancestors were Vikings, I guarantee it. I know all about Vikings.”

It turned out she was from Brazil, and I don’t think the Vikings ever got there, but much of history is still unwritten and unknown. I pointed this out to Mawii, Mawii called me a fool, and we let it rest there. 

Anyway, we freshened up and decided to see what waited for us outside. 

I've already described the cobbled streets, the picturesque houses, the warm sun, so I'm just going to skip ahead to a little bar/cafe - more like a food truck with alcohol really - that stood in the middle of a big patch of garden. There were steep steps that led down to it directly from the pavement. There was a two-year-old trying to pull herself up those steps.

We avoided the child, and got ourselves two huge glasses of wine and a table.

Picture contentment, peacefulness, and a deep, slow sense of enjoyment. I could have had all these things.

But, as always, there is one obstacle that, more than anything else, prevents me from having what I deserve.

The fucking birds.

There were all these obese pigeons (had they recently migrated from America? Wouldn't put it past them) hopping around. And there was one that insisted on hopping around under the table. But not Mawii's side of the table, oh no. My side. Near my feet.

"Why don't you kick out at it?" said Mawii, after ten minutes of my squirming around and saying shoo and go away and leave me alone, in my most authoritative voice.

"Have you seen all the pigeons here? It's a goddamn army, Mawii," I said incredulously. "They'll all peck me to death."

Mawii sighed (I know I keep saying it, but she keeps doing it, and I'm being a mostly faithful narrator), and bent down.

"Shoo," she said.

The pigeon shooed.

Can all the various scientists who have uncovered at least some of the Universe's secrets explain that?

I think not.

We left after two glasses of wine, and I will once again skip the part where we walked around a lot, and get to The Square.

The Square was basically this, uh, square, that overlooked the river. It was teeming over with young people. They were all sitting around. Some of them were smoking what was definitely marijuana (I looked longingly at Mawii who shook her head very sternly), most of them were drinking beer (there was another food/beverage truck at the edge of the square). A couple of them were skate-boarding. Some of them were playing the guitar. It was, to use a phrase I despise, a chill scene, man. Mawii and I got ourselves a beer each and found a patch to sit on.

Now comes the good part.

The men.

Maybe I'm being politically incorrect, but I live in India, and your average man is rarely part of anything good.

I've never seen so many good looking men gathered in one spot. I put on my sunglasses and leched.

That's right. I leched at a crowd of good looking foreign men. It was amazing. It crossed my mind that I was doing what shady Indian men in Goa do (except they lech at the women - mostly), but I pushed that thought out of my mind, because it was so liberating, being the gazer instead of the object.

Naturally, none of them gazed back. (The girls equaled them in gorgeousness.)

One particularly beautiful man did come up to me, and I tried tossing my hair before realising it was too short to toss.

"May I have your lighter?" He said in a delicious accent that was either Spanish or Italian or Greek or...who cares, it was delicious.

I handed him the lighter and batted my eyelashes at him.

His lit his cigarette, said thank you, and went off, without a backward glance, to a girl who'd probably be a good candidate for a Wonder Woman audition. (I know there's already a Wonder Woman, but you know what I mean.)

Oh well. You can't have everything.

Half-an-hour passed. I was very comfortable, but my bladder wasn't.

I communicated my bladder's discomfort to Mawii, and we both looked around, but there wasn't any bathroom.

"Where are these people putting their beer?" I said to her incredulously.

Mawii very sensibly told me to go to the street and find a cafe, so I heaved myself up and went off. Lisbon is full of cafes. Some would say it has nothing but cafes. And I'd never needed a cafe so badly.

Naturally, I didn't find one.

What I did find was a tall house with an open door. Various signs informed me it was the home of a few small offices. Offices have bathrooms, I told myself. I crept up the carpeted stairs - if anyone asked me what I was doing there, I'd pretend I needed a travel agent (one of the offices). But no one did. I found the Ladies' Room, and my bladder found comfort, and it was all good.

Mawii told me I was a nut-job and I could have been arrested for trespassing, but when her bladder started feeling not-all-that-good, she decided to risk an arrest too. But no one caught her either. Which was fortunate for us, but not really for this blog post.

We had dinner at a restaurant, in a narrow alley. Its chairs and tables - like many eating places there - spilled out on the pavement and that is where we sat.

A leisurely meal, and then home.

Mawii, of course, followed the map and I followed Mawii. We didn't get lost even once.

Getting lost was going to come a few days later, and instead of leaving you with a cliff-hanger, I may as well tell you now that it destroyed our friendship.

Okay, just for a night. But still.


The Annual Recap.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

- Drank wine in Portugal with Mawii which I am putting here because it was always on my bucket list. Portugal, especially.
- Had my first film shoot, aaaand as a by-product, padded around my own suite in a white towelling robe before having a cold beer while soaking in a bubble bath in very expensive hotel. (Another bucket list dream ticked off.)
- Got addicted to something I am never ever (it doesn't even need a resolution) going back to.
- Bought myself a very expensive present.
Cannot talk about the other stuff, which include good things and not-so-good things and things I cannot remember.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No. But I did roll cigarettes some of the time. Next year.
1. Write more and, specifically, update this blog regularly. 
2. Control my temper. (Something I failed miserably at this past year.)
3. Stop being lazy.
4. I will not say yes to things I ought to say no to. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes and yes.

5. What countries did you visit?

England and Portugal. :)

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

A better temper.
A better immune system.
More action. (I am not talking about sex, I am talking about doing things I keep saying I'll do.)

7. What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory and why?

It's been an intense year, I'll remember much of it. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Not crawling under my bed and staying there. 
Not that I currently have a bed. 

Oh yes, and taking a risk. I'm usually averse to risks. 

Oh, and giving up marijuana and vodka. 


Me and a friend I call Shitface decided to go drinking. Plan B, Happy hours, weekday afternoon. We reach there around 2. 

We start drinking beer. 

At 7 pm, our waiter comes up to us and says: I don't do this, but I have to tell both of you that I have never, in my career, seen two people put away so much beer in one sitting and still seem so sober.


And neither of you have beer bellies. 

9. What was your biggest failure?

Making plans, and not following through.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Oh yes. 

11. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

No one's really. 

12. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The majority of the human population.

13. Where did most of your money go?


14. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The summer holiday.
And the risk mentioned earlier that I don't want to go into. 

15. What song will always remind you of 2016?

Nothing in particular. 

16. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

I don't know. I think whatever happiness I currently have is optimism for next year.

17. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Not sitting around doing nothing. 

18. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Sitting around doing nothing.

19. How will you be spending Christmas?

Christmas has come and gone. I was in Calcutta and it was the usual Christmas but it was okay, this time, not fabulous. 

20. Did you fall in love in 2015?


21. How many one night stands?


22. What was your favourite TV programme?

Suits, until it became crap. 

23. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot about contemporary India this year for a project I was working on - definitely a few of those. 

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?


25. What did you want and get?

Freelance work. 

26. What did you want and not get?

Stuff that would make this post seem fairly interesting.
(To be fair, this has been one of those years I'll remember, for better or for worse, but I can't actually talk about it.) 

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

A bunch of thrillers. 

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 25 and had the most epic party I have ever had which is saying something. 

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Being able to start over from the beginning. 

30. What kept you sane?
My medication.
Haha. Ha. 

31. Who was the worst new person you met?

No one!

32. Who was the best new person you met?


33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learnt in 2016.

Do NOT go with the flow.

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

As usual - no.



It was like seeing wild flowers, the untamed and unabashed ones. The ones with vivid and riotous colour and a form that is dance. The ones that are at their best, just after a storm. Richer, deeper, unbearably beautiful, after having feasted on rain and wet earth.

So you gathered them, wanting to carry not just their beauty, but that elusive something you couldn't, and can't, define. You brought them home, and arranged them, carelessly or carefully, and then, just as they seemed right, you realised they were wrong. And no, it was nothing to do with their having lost their wildness, nothing to do with them being tamed, none of the usual fallacies. It was something more unexpected: the realisation that they invaded your private, secret space. Flowers that couldn't be lived with. Familiarity breeds contempt, and you should never let it cross the threshold.


Summer 2016: Part 4

The first inkling I got that Livraria Lello wasn’t so much a bookshop as a tourist attraction was when I found myself standing in line to buy a ticket to enter. 

As we crossed the threshold, my heart sank. There were hordes, hosts, and herds of humans. If it weren't for the fact that they were mostly Caucasian, it could have easily been any given place in India.

I kept - through no fault of my own - bumping elbows with Europeans who all seemed to have a propensity for hissing at me. But the bookshop itself was very lovely - what I could see of it, over people's heads. I browsed round the ground floor for a bit, and then climbed the grand staircase to the first floor - narrowly avoiding a middle-aged couple and their selfie stick. Upstairs was as crowded. I looked at a few books: all too expensive for me to buy. Real bookshops let you pick books off the shelves and sit there and read for a bit, and then choose another book, and do some more reading. But both space and atmosphere were not conducive to that essential activity and so, after ten minutes, Mawii and I left. It was all so disappointing. 

“Let’s forget about it,” said Mawii. “We’ll walk to the river and have a drink somewhere and then cross over to visit the vineyards,”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said. 

We walked and walked (and believe me, my appreciation for my new sandals grew with each painless step I took), and we soon ended up by the railway station (probably one of the most beautiful station I’ve ever seen, from the outside at least). 

“If we keep walking straight,” said Mawii, consulting her map, “we’ll hit the river. But we can take that little street as well and it should get us there,”

I looked towards the street she was talking about - it was the sort of street you just have to walk down. We could just see its beginnings from where we stood, but that was enough to gauge the flower baskets and little shops and its general air of liveliness. 

“Let’s take it,” I said. 

Sometimes, the most ordinary things - in this case, strolling down a street - make you realise that you really are in a foreign land, because the ordinary is so different from what you’re used to. The street was decked with paper lanterns - they hung like little balloons over our heads. I regretted the fact that it wasn’t dark and that they weren’t lit; it would have been a fantastic sight. We had time and we meandered. I moved ahead of Mawii at some point, and I was gazing at a shop selling crystals when I heard her call my name. 

“What is it?” I asked turning. 

Her eyes were very wide. 

“A man just randomly came up to me and asked if I wanted weed.”

“Did you take it?” I said eagerly (and stupidly). 

“It was probably oregano or something so no I didn’t.”

“No one’s offered me weed yet,” I said in an injured tone. 

“I’m sure your time will come,” said Mawii, rolling her eyes. 

(It did.) 

We took a left up an intriguing looking lane. It was very steep, bordered by tall houses with minuscule doors. There was also a cycle workshop that we passed: the sign outside was made of a real cycle. That’s what I mean when I say people there take pains to make even the most banal things attractive or interesting. 

We eventually reached a sort of hill which was evidently a viewing point since there was a small tour group there as well. There, before us, lay the red roofs of Portugal, under an intensely blue sky. Beyond them was the river, with the bridge to the left. 

“It was built by the same guy who built the Eiffel Tower,” Mawii told me. And there was a faint resemblance to the old Eiffel in the way that bridge was wrought. 

We could see that once we left the viewing point, we needed to walk straight to reach the river and from there, turn left to get to the bridge. This is what we preceded to do. 

Although, by the time we crawled towards the river, looking for the bridge didn’t seem as appealing as looking for a glass of crisp wine. I vaguely remember attempting to search for the bridge nonetheless, but it seemed to have disappeared. 

“I don’t understand,” said Mawii in despair, “it was right there. Wasn’t it right there?”

“It was right there,” I agreed. “But look, there’s a little restaurant right here which is more important.” 

Mawii conceded that it was indeed more important and we started walking towards it. A moment later, I was to have a near death experience. Mawii is the reason I am alive today. 

I have this tendency to blank out occasionally, to become completely oblivious to what’s going around me. It’s actually quite incredible. Here’s an example. It’s only happened to me thrice, the last time was about four years ago, when I was in college. I was standing in the garden of my PG and looking at a tree. I have no clue why, maybe it was flowering or something. And my brain stopped registering that I was standing, so my legs just crumpled under me, and I fell over. It wasn’t cramp or anything. I simply forgot I was standing and when you forget you’re standing, you fall, as it turns out. It’s very strange. For a long time, I hoped that it was a sign that the flame of genius burned within me, but I am twenty-five now, and I have finally accepted that it has nothing to do with genius and everything to do with being weird. 

I was walking on a tramline, and I suppose I was thinking about something or the other, because a tram was heading straight for me and though I was facing it, I didn’t see it, not even when it was a few feet away. The fact that something unusual had happened only dawned on me when Mawii shrieked, leaped towards me, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me away, just as it sped by. My mouth fell open. The tram’s occupants had their faces pressed against the windows, their mouths were hanging open too, some of them were pointing at me and saying things - presumably nothing flattering.

“How did you not see that?” Asked Mawii incredulously. 

“I don’t know,” I said, awed by my idiocy. 

“There are like fifty people in this city who think I’m a complete moron,” I added, after a reflective pause. 

“Well, they’re right,” snorted Mawii.

I nodded amiably. 

We’d sat ourselves down at a table outside the restaurant we’d seen. It overlooked the river. A waiter hurried up to us and suggested the Sangria. Mawii said she’d try it, I said I’d prefer a glass of white wine. 

“It’s very good Sangria,” he said persuasively. 

“I’m not a huge fan of Sangria,” I said. “All that fruit makes me nervous.” 

“I’ll put less fruit in for you, I’ll put just the right amount of fruit. It truly is excellent Sangria.” His earnestness was overwhelming but I refused to be overwhelmed. 

“No,” I said, smiling as charmingly as I could to offset the crime of refusing his Sangria. “I’ll stick to the wine.”

“Are you sure?” He said, sounding heartbroken. 

“I’m sure.”

His eyes glistened with what I suspect were tears so I kindly told him that maybe I’d order one after my glass of wine. It seemed to cheer him slightly: he blinked several times and managed a watery smile and when he walked away, he did not look like he was going to jump into the river after going off duty. So that was okay then. 

Our drinks arrived and I didn’t regret my decision: the wine was delicious. I took a sip of Mawii’s Sangria, it was pretty good, but nothing to get weepy over. 

We sat there for more than two hours, but I don’t think we had more than two drinks. And that is something that is remarkable about Europe’s drinking culture. You can sit in one place for hours, and whereas in Bangalore or Calcutta or even London, you’d get totally hammered, there, somehow, you find yourself drinking very slowly, making conversation, enjoying your surroundings: sophisticated drinking, as Mawii correctly pointed out. And there is alcohol everywhere, even more than London. The coffee shops serve alcohol. You can walk into a coffee shop at nine in the morning and order a beer instead of a coffee or tea. And yet, though I saw plenty of people sitting around, enjoying their drinks and making merry, I didn’t see any crude raucousness, or drunken stumbling. The drinking there is slow, it is peaceful, it is easygoing. It is delightful. 

A very good looking man was sitting on his own at a table near us. He didn’t have a laptop, or a book, or a phone out: just a beer that he was drinking contemplatively. Actually, good looking doesn’t cut it. He was more than that. He was superb. 

I put on my sunglasses (three hours old and already showing scratches) and, along with Mawii, indulged in some shady, shameless staring, worthy of my Indian brothers. 

After we were done, we went for a walk alongside the river. There were plenty of wine bars with tables and chairs spilling outdoors, and different kinds of music, intermingling and mellow, and quaint little shops selling cork magnets and bags and belts and hats. Portugal is the world’s biggest exporter of cork. I found a beautiful cork belt, and the minute I saw it, I knew Amar would love it. But it was so expensive, so expensive. I stood there for about ten minutes debating whether to buy it or not, and then recklessly put the money down and went off with it. 

We continued walking along the river bank, and by sheer accident, found that goddamn bridge. But we decided not to cross it, mainly because there was a very pretty looking wine bar that looked infinitely more interesting. We went in, and I’m glad we did, because I discovered white wine port. I didn’t even know white port existed. It was extremely expensive, but Mawii, already sympathetic to my recent purchase, bought me a drink as well as herself. That port was so good. It was like dessert wine, really, but less heavy. 

We had a second glass and I was feeling slightly light-headed. I was also very worried about the belt. I took out my wallet and did some calculations.

“Mawii,” I said, after a pause. “If I skip dinner tonight, and breakfast and lunch tomorrow, I’ll still be short of a couple of Euros.”

“Couple of Euros for what?”

“To get to Lisbon tomorrow,”

We looked at each other in silence. 

“I could always just stay here,” I said, breaking it. “Throw away my passport. Become an illegal refugee.”

“What’s the point of buying the belt for Amar then?” Said Mawii. “It’s not like you’ll be able to give it to him, and the belt is the reason you’ll have to be a refugee in the first place.”

“Good point,” I conceded.

Another pause. 

“You know what you have to do, right?” Said Mawii. 

“No, no, no,” I said desperately. “I’m useless at buying presents. This is something he’s going to love.”

“Either way he’s not going to see it because you won’t be able to afford to get back home,”

I sighed and told her to wait there for me, and then I darted out of the bar. I sprinted down the bank, desperately hoping I’d recognise the shop I’d bought the belt from (there were many and they all looked similar). I did. 

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I said to the proprietress. “I bought this belt from you half an hour ago, do you remember?”

“Yes,” She said suspiciously. Experience had obviously taught her this was not going to be a welcome conversation. 

“The thing is,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I can’t afford it. I thought I could, but I can’t. And I’m a tourist here and I have to go to Lisbon tomorrow, but unless you take this and give me my money back, I won’t be able to go to Lisbon.”

She looked very disapproving. 

“Please, Ma’am. I’m so so sorry.” 

Thank god I’d drunk the wine because without it, I’d never have been able to squeeze a couple of tears out. Those tears are what saved me. She melted visibly and told me it was alright (“be careful next time though”) and she took the belt and gave me my money back. 

As I sprinted back to Mawii, I shed a few more tears. This was for three reasons. The first was because a part of me really did feel terrible that I couldn’t give Amar a present he would have really loved. The second was because of sheer relief. And the third was because of the sharp cold wind that was blowing in from the river and stinging my eyes. 

I was glad to get back to the warmth of the bar. 

We wisely decided not to have a third glass of wine and decided to go and get dinner. It was about nine by then, and the sky was getting ready for nightfall. There was a particular restaurant that we wanted to go to, Mawii had marked it out on the map, so naturally we walked around for about an hour attempting to find it. When we did find it, it was very crowded, and there was another restaurant next to it that looked quieter and more appealing. So we went in for some hot soup. We were both exhausted by then. The thought of a long walk home was daunting, but it’s not like we had a choice. 

We followed Mawii’s map home, which basically meant we spent forty minutes walking around in circles before finally asking a police-officer how to get back. It turned out we were just a ten minute walk away from where we were staying. 

I wisely refrained from referring to the map which had proven to be more unhelpful than otherwise. I had already learnt that Mawii is a map nazi. She refuses to ask for directions (I am amazed that she condescended to ask the policeman; she must have been seriously exhausted), she throws a tantrum if you tentatively suggest asking for directions, and then she throws the map at you and tells you to read it. (This didn’t happen that day, but it would happen soon.) 

Anyway, we finally managed getting back, and we crawled thankfully into bed. 

A single day in Porto and it felt like three days rolled into one. I’d experienced physical agony, moderate disappointment, intense peace and contentment, riotous happiness, and a sense of wonder. All these experiences were very tiring - experiences usually are - and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Also, the next day was going to take me to Lisbon, so I suppose my subconscious realised I needed all the rest I could get.