Dear Shalmi,

Thank you.

PS Look to the right.

Class Ten Literature Project with Special Emphasis on Class Ten.

When the play ended, I did my best to escape in case she accosted me, but just as I was about to scurry out into the street for a taxi, in spite of the relentless rain- even rain was nothing compared to her- I felt an umbrella prod me rudely in the back. My heart sank.

I turned to her with a polite smile and asked whether I could be of any assistance.

She beamed at me. “My daughter is really a big fan of yours, you know. I introduced her to your writing…I must say, it’s not nearly as sophisticated as Gerard’s, but it is quite charming. In parts,"

I glanced at the girl accompanying her and felt sorry for her. She was a washed out looking lady of about thirty years of age, though she seemed several years older. She had straw coloured hair, and faded blue eyes which looked as if they’d had their colour and vitality sucked out of them. She had, most unfortunately, inherited her mother’s large white teeth. She was extremely thin and weak looking…I suddenly envisioned a nightmarish childhood of too little to eat, because her parent was consuming all her meals.

“I’m so glad to meet you at last, sir. I love your books,” she said. Her voice, thin and weak and high pitched, resembled her person. She had none of her mother’s…let us call it, heavyweight…presence.

I was desperately looking for a chance to escape them. The rain had almost let up and just as I was on the verge of making my escape, she said it.

“How about a little dinner at Foyot’s? Just for old times’ sake!” Those teeth…those big white teeth flashed at me as she threw me a huge grin…but to me it seemed like a snarl. I stared transfixed at those teeth, feeling a familiar wave of horror wash over me. I had seen those teeth eat their way through salmon and caviare and peaches and champagne and ice cream, leaving me with an empty stomach and an empty wallet.

But I was spared. Her daughter smoothly interrupted here, and reminded her mother that she had promised to dine at Lord and Lady O’s that night.

Crestfallen, she looked at me and said she supposed that dinner would be impossible.

“How terribly disappointing…I would have loved to have taken you ladies to supper,” I lied smoothly. Inside I rejoiced in the fact that that fat old bag wouldn't be able to sink her teeth- those large white teeth- into my wallet. Not this time at least.

"But," she continued, with a little smirk, "I know my daughter would love to accompany you. Surely you wouldn't mind taking such a beautiful girl out to dinner, you naughty man!" I winced as she thoughtfully prodded my ribs with her umbrella. I looked at her daughter…with her faded hair and her faded eyes and her thin voice, and my heart sank as I saw her nod enthusiastically.

In a taxi some fifteen minutes later, I was telling myself that it couldn’t be so bad.

Though the daughter was so utterly emaciated, I scarcely believed her appetite would match her appearance. Not with such a mother. And after I'd gone through what I had with her mother, twenty years ago, I'd lost all faith in the delicacy of the female appetite. Even the washed out looking females.

Although we were both sitting in the same taxi, on the same wide seat, I had placed myself as far as I could from her. This was for several reasons. The first, and most irrelevant, was because she was her mother’s daughter. The second, was because she did not seem to have much control of the saliva emitting from her mouth when she spoke. She kept inching her way closer though, until I was pressed up against the car door. Wildly, I toyed with the idea of opening it and falling out but after a few seconds consideration, I decided that death was an extreme measure to take.

We pulled up at Foyot’s sooner rather than later, and ignoring the horrible memories of my last visit (I had not re-visited it since the time I took Her to lunch) I gallantly led her to a corner table.

Foyot’s hadn't changed much. Places like that never do. It was still the same expensive, luxurious and utterly pretentious restaurant it had always been. A waiter sidled up to us, and though he was not the same waiter who had waited on me previously, he had the same sly grin and knowing look in his eye.

Aha, his eyes seemed to say. You will be far less rich after this meal my friend, than you are at present.

I ordered a bottle of red wine for myself and asked her what she would like to drink.

“Water please, I'm not a big fan of alcohol” she said politely.

My liking for her suddenly increased, despite the gob of saliva that landed on my arm and I gave the waiter our order.

“As far as I recall, your mother doesn’t eat or drink much either,” I said, unable to resist this little barb.

“Only at luncheon,” she said, without a trace of humour in her eyes.

“I see,” I said, even though I didn’t.

The water came and so did the wine and I watched anxiously as she took a sip of her water. I half expected her to change her mind and suddenly decide on a bottle of champagne but she didn’t.

She just sipped the water and talked about the play we had seen.

“Are…are you quite sure you won’t have some wine?” I enquired anxiously.

Although, when I first laid eyes on her, it seemed to me incredible that this gaunt lady had inherited her mother’s voracious appetite, it now caused me some concern. Sitting in Foyot’s with the memory of The Other Luncheon lying heavily on my mind, I found it difficult to believe that there was no twist somewhere. I half expected her, if not to eat everything in sight, order the most expensive dishes on the bill of fare, and waste them. Anything, simply anything, to empty my wallet. Surely the tendency to spend the money of helpless writers ran in the family.

From what I could see, it didn't.

Nonetheless I was nervous and jumpy throughout the meal, barely touching my filet mignon. I am sure she thought me a little unbalanced because I kept staring at her teeth…it was dreadful of me, but they seemed to hypnotise me somehow…I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling that they would suddenly start eating and eating and eating. But they didn’t.

But nothing of significance occurred. She ordered pea soup and then some salmon…that certainly brought back some memories! However, unlike her mother, she seemed content to stop at the salmon. I managed to press her into ordering a coffee. I did this, not because I found her company amusing…but because my theory of her childhood being bereft of food was reinforced and I was beginning to feel sorry for her. The poor thing obviously hadn't had the chance to eat growing up with a mother like that.

After coffee, the waiter brought the bill of fare over and I glanced at it and heaved a sigh of relief.

Not cheap, for it was Foyot’s after all, but in no way close to The Other Luncheon. I could easily afford it.

I reached into my shirt pocket and felt around for my wallet.

Then I checked my trouser pocket.

It wasn’t there either.

Calm down, I told myself, it’s there somewhere. It couldn’t not be there!

By this time, I was frantically pulling out the inner linen of all my pockets. I even got off my chair and crawled under the table, in case it had fallen down there somewhere. My companion was watching me in bewilderment.

I stood up slowly and surreptiously brushed some dirt of my shoulder. There was no point asking her for money- I am, if nothing else, a man with pride and principles. I don't believe in making women- however big their teeth are- pay. Besides, I could see she wasn't carrying a purse. Stupid woman.

“You know,” I said, glancing at my gold plated watch, “I’m still rather hungry, and it’s not very late. If you don’t mind…”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all…but weren’t you looking for something?”

“Nothing of significance,” I replied, slowly beckoning to the waiter to bring over the bill of fare.


It's winter in your sleepy city.

It's not that cold and Park Street isn't lit up with Christmas lights yet and you still use the fan at night but it's definitely winter.

The air doesn't chill or freeze but it cuts through your skin, with paper crispness and the winter smog sits heavily on the pink and gold dawn of the morning. Misty white clouds do not emerge when you breathe but breathing has becoming a little easier. The air is slightly fresher, slightly more pure even though it still isn't advisable to open your mouth too wide near traffic lights.

The flies have stopped buzzing near the Dhaba. Or maybe you don't notice them that much. Hot smells of fresh rolls waft through and mingle with the crispness and you hunger to taste the heat.

In the morning, the plants on your terrace look greener. The flowers look redder and bluer. They want to welcome winter too, you see. The sun isn't harsh any more- it doesn't sting, it bathes. It bathes you in a warm, soft glow and you want to curl up underneath with the sunshine on your face and inhale the freshness that can never be found in summer.

At night, the roads are a little emptier. The beggars are already bringing out their thick blankets, rolling themselves into little woollen balls under the moon. And wherever you go, you hear the drowsy hum of Christmas because Bengalis are, at heart, Englishmen.

The Christmas tree has grown tall, taller than last year and you begin to wonder how to bring it down. It isn't time to bring the decorations down yet but soon it will be and you will hang red and golden glass balls on the tree and break a few and when you finally crown it with the silver star, your heart will sing, even if you don't believe in Christ.

Kookie Jar will soon be adorned with wreathes and your mother will bring the first mince pies home. And you will hang up your school blazer without any regret because even though it was nice having that shiny silver pocket, it is nicer to know you can open your eyes to the gentle sun drifting in through your window and snuggle in deeper and warmer and go back to sleep.

A shower becomes a pleasure with hot steamy water pouring down on you and the minute you're out, you rush to put on your thick flannel robe to protect you from the- not really biting- nibbling cold.

And you bring your red carol book out and at night you play your favourite ones while your mother sings softly.

And the stars seem starrier and the moon smiles beatifically down on you because it is pleased.

And your sleepy old city- dirty and smelly and crowded- becomes just a little more beautiful and when you walk down the roads, at one with the freshness and crispness and the hum in the air, a scarf tugging at your neck, you feel a contented feeling inside you and it is that feeling, more than anything else, that whispers winter is here.


What I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas
Are my front two teeth
Not to turn black
Not to turn grey
But to stay
In my mouth
Falling out.

(As opposed to two Christmases ago)



I'm hiding under the bed and the springs are pressing down, flattening my hair and flattening my thoughts. I can hear screams- loud and piercing and wild and inside I am screaming too- more than they are- I just can't let it be heard.

Someone tries my door and my heart is in my mouth. I might throw it up any second. Will they go away- there's a horrible sound and suddenly the smoke is in my hair and my eyes and my throat and I see the feet walk in. They pace the room and I can't take it anymore. I shut my eyes but I haven't learnt how to shut my ears. The screams are louder and the glass shatters and the smoke is pouring into the pores of my skin and as stupid as it sounds, I really wish I'd had that chocolate cake for dessert. I pick up my phone to send a text. But to who? And what do I say? "I'm okay" is a lie and "I think I'm going to die" is too close to the truth. So I put it down again and close my eyes.

The feet are in the bathroom now and I hear the mirror crack. They've broken the mirror. Does this mean bad luck for them or does it mean bad luck for me? Or both of us? Maybe they'll be killed, which is bad luck for them, but they'd already have killed me first- bad luck for...

I slap myself. Mentally of course, because I don't have the energy to lift my hand. The smoke seems to have sapped it all out. I can't breathe very well either but I can hear my heart beat faster than a hummingbird. Does a hummingbird beat? It flitters, doesn't it?

Why am I thinking stupid things when I am about to die? The smoke has seeped through my skin now and it's mingled with my blood. I can taste it in my mouth. I close my eyes tighter because it makes me feel just a little more alive. I really don't want to die. What I wouldn't give to have a sip of lemon barley or to see the stars or to even breathe the fresh air. As fresh as it gets in Bombay.

The sea. Will I ever feel that piercing stinging breeze that only belongs to the sea and to nothing else? Will it hit my cheek, cutting it open, pouring into me, getting rid of the dust and the dirt and the death?

But I can't feel anything except smoke. And heat. The feet have gone now but I don't really care. My eyes are heavy and I can't breathe properly anymore. I can feel myself tumbling through the darkness.

Will I be in the newspapers tomorrow?



I remember the broad wooden steps. The broadest, woodenest steps I'd ever seen. Faint musty smell. High ceiling. As high as the sky. Forever and ever. I remember clutching mama's hand and climbing, climbing, climbing to where the spinning wheel was.

I remember blue desks. Blue chairs. Not green, not pink, not purple. Blue. I remember laughing at a girl who coloured outside the line. I always stayed within. I didn't think differently but I got a 'Very Good' in art and I was happy.

I remember carpets being spread out on the cold cement floor. Carpets vast and wide that stretched on forever and ever. We crawled and crawled, trying to get to the other end before we died of thirst and collapsed under the sun's harsh light. We slept on the carpet, eyes closed tightly against the demanding sun. The good girls always slept. The bad girls stood on the Blue Box.

I remember singing. The piano was on the other side of the wall and it took me a year to find it. Before that, I thought it was magic. The same magic that made sound in movies. Postman Pat. Ratatat. Magic. But then I found the piano. And the Music Faery sniffed a little sniff and flew away to look for the innocent.

I remember the long empty room where the sandboxes stood. I remember elbowing and shoving to get to the sand, not to make a castle or dig a hole but to let it run through my fingers, feeling the coarseness and warmth of each little grain.

I remember climbing the jungle gym. I thought I was climbing to the sky. Up up to where the clouds were. Higher and higher until a brat by the name of Tania Mirchandani brought me tumbling down.

I remember the fresh flowers on the teacher's table. I remember calling them Aunty, not Ma'am. Ma'am was still two years away and it was Aunty who sang with us and coloured with us and told us storied and made us stand on the Blue Box.

I remember leaving the little magical glade and going up stage to tell Ma'am Gangjee that my name was Trisha Dutt and I was in KG now.

The nurseries that they have now aren't magical. They are small and plastic and green and red and yellow. And the children don't know who the Music Faery is.


The Concert.

It started with Anoushka Shankar who looked the same as she does in pictures except slimmer and smaller with more makeup. Mama started howling with laughter when I asked her if they were still tuning up, ten minutes into the show. But when the second movement started, it was obvious she was not tuning up. Her fingers were moving very very fast over the sitar- skimming, actually, and they were all a blur. By the time the fifth one started, I think a few people were wanting Jethro Tull onstage. One guy shouted, "we want Jethro Tull" and I felt really bad for her but she took the microphone, thanked him "for that" and said she'd play just one more. Then she played a really fast one and left most of the audience with their mouths hanging open and departed with namaskars.

And then Jethro Tull came onstage. And everyone's eyes were on Ian Anderson. I've never seen such energy or charisma before. He moved and made strange sounds with his mouth and if it was anyone else, they would have been committed, but since it was Anderson, the crowd shrieked and whooped and applauded. I've never heard the flute played like that- it seemed to have the power of the Pied Piper.

The best bit was when Anoushka Shankar joined them and they played together. Normally fusion makes me wince but this was breathtaking. My favourite was the last song where they played a Bach. A Bach. It was enough to make him grin smugly in his grave.

The only downside was that it was too long. There was a little too much of Anoushka Shankar in the beginning which was a little unfair because everyone had really come to see Jethro Tull. I felt so sleepy I almost nodded off despite the fact that Anderson was leaping from foot to foot onstage. But then, as I have been informed by almost everyone who knows me, I am a sad, pathetic freak when it comes to music and I do not know or appreciate anything. Also, there was a wannabe rocker sitting in front of me and he kept bobbing his head everywhere and pissing me off. He did subside after I poked him fiercely on his back. Varun and Vikram kept mimicking him and when they got bored of that, they sat and stared at me to make me feel self conscious and uncomfortable. It worked. And Auntie Nandini started up strange conversations with strange strangers. I came home cold and tired and hungry.

It was a good night.


Extract Pathetique.

I am sick of my life. I am happy but bored.
If I get a haircut- a really good haircut- will my life change?
Jayatri got a haircut and her life changed. Teesta keeps getting haircuts and her life is in constant motion. Another friend of mine, on the other hand, never gets haircuts and her life is staid and stale.
Have I discovered one of life's greatest secrets? Is there a direct relationship between haircuts and adventure?

I have not had a haircut for almost a year. No adventures either.


Remember the day I brought you home?

A little grey-gold rat with eyes that were black and sooty and curious. And the wet little nose that poked itself into corners and rubbed itself against my cheek, sending sharp slices of warmth into my heart.

I close my eyes and conjure up an image. Grey-gold rat with black eyes. Squashed face that I always referred to as a squashed cabbage leaf and you, not knowing you should look at me reproachfully, nibbled my toes instead. But the image in my mind isn't enough. It floats here and there and I reach out a hand to touch it but it breaks into a million pieces. I know the warmth and light once existed but I can't feel it anymore. I can't feel you anymore.

Little drummer dog, sleeping peacefully beneath the grass. Is the sock we tucked in next to you a warm reminder of how loved you were or can you not feel it? Do you dream under the wet earth, little drummer dog?
Our dreams went with you. Home became a house, cold and empty. We tried to replace you with television and beer and laughter that wasn't rich, laughter that didn't reach the very tips of our toes.

You became a dream. A dream that becomes more dreamlike as the sun set into the sky. The little jacket that you used to wear in the crisp cold of winter doesn't smell of you anymore. The little golden hairs that are still on it, aren't yours. Were you ever here, little drummer dog? Or were you an illusion? A little grey-gold being that swooped down for a moment and fled before we could hold you safely in our arms. One moment of laughter, one moment of warmth. Moments never last.

You may be a dream but you were a wonderful dream. When I'm in the shadows, I close my eyes and I think of your little black face and your soft ears and your warm, wet tongue and I tiptoe softly into the light.

I remember the day you went, little drummer dog. It looked like you were sleeping. We wrapped you up and put you in a little basket with your yellow squeaky fish- the one Mama gave you for Christmas- and the leash you used to strain against while barking at milk cans. And the sock- it belonged to a man you never knew but who I loved very much and in a way, it feels that you are both together, not under the ground but flying through the sky. I kept touching you that night, hoping you'd wake up, but you grew cold, so cold, and when we put you into the earth, I knew you'd sleep forever.

Are you sleeping now, my little drummer dog? Are you sleeping peacefully under the wet earth and grass and damp? Or have you run beyond, beyond the horizon and into the blinding light? You are my light. You are the dreams I dream at night. Elusive and untouchable, but reminding me I'm not alone.

The warmth in my heart that your coming put there, and your leaving didn't take away.