I just woke up from one of the best naps I've had in a long time. It was just about to storm when I settled down for my nap and when I woke up, it had finished storming. I'm not upset about missing the storm because I left my window open and when I woke up there was a lovely lot of water spray on my face. Kind of like astringent except nicer smelling without the sting. I like to think the storm influenced my sleep because I had a dream where it was raining and I was naked at a school reunion but no one seemed to notice because my mother was singing a song about Dogras really loudly and no one knew what a Dogra was.

As usual, I digress. I don't want to write about storms today. I want to write about sleep because sleep is a very wonderful, often unappreciated activity.

The benefits of sleep are numerous. Good skin, good hair, probably longevity of life (fact: people who sleep less than seven hours a day do not have as long a life span as people who sleep seven or more hours a day. I average about eleven to twelve hours a day, so I'm probably going to outlive all of you). There are also many forms of sleep.

 This occurs after a long period of sleeplessness. Reasons for sleeplessness could be exams, other forms of work, parties, unreasonable parents and room-mates, hyperactiveness and insanity.

The last two reasons are especially intriguing. My friend Tanvi has, since she was a little girl, refused to succumb to sleep which she has always regarded a mortal enemy. At sleepovers, I would be asleep by eleven thirty while she insisted on watching cricket till 4, sleeping till 5, talking to her boyfriend (who was obviously equally insane) till 7 and then rushing off to do some sort of volunteer work with the Nature Club. She'd be back by ten at which point I'd wake up and we'd have breakfast together. But it does sometimes catch up with her; occasionally she will lower her defences and sleep for a good eleven hours. Occasionally. This is because she is insane. My roommate, Meghana, is a hyperactive person. She will jump around and make strange sounds till the early hours of the morning and suddenly, fall flat where she is and sleep for the next twelve hours. And then she'll wake up and the jumping and loud noises will continue... I adore Meghana, I really do, but I love her best when she's in a state of hibernation. Although she does sometimes make strange noises even then.

Other creatures, like bears and squirrels and snakes, hibernate too. If nature supports this, then it can be nothing except beneficial.

The best part. You have power naps, which give you energy. I like taking power naps during exams. I set the alarm for half an hour later, then reset it and reset it once again. A good hour and a half of sleep and I am energised (and, until the last alarm goes off, smug because I know that I have extra time to sleep). This is why I usually get good grades. I study for an hour and sleep for two. My brain is constantly rejuvenated. My power nap gives me a powerful brain. Technically a power nap is supposed to be only fifteen minutes long, but only insane or hyperactive people can achieve that.

Naps can be taken at all hours of the day. My favourite time to nap is in the morning, between breakfast and lunch. I also like napping in the afternoon. And in the evening. It prevents boredom, especially if you have a creative brain which makes for interesting dreams.

 Napping also helps me lose weight. This is because I tend to eat when I'm bored. If I go to sleep instead, my problem is usually solved and I fit into my jeans again within a week.

They're versatile, naps are. You can nap in bed, on the sofa, in a cosy armchair, in class and in the backseat of a car. I'm told it's not advisable to nap if you're in the driver's seat. This happened to my uncle one night (by accident) and he rammed his car into a pole. He was okay, the car was not.

Like naps. In my opinion however, they have a couple of characteristics that distinguish them from naps: Naps can be taken anywhere, anytime. Siestas can only be taken after lunch. And they only count if you live in a relatively hot country like India, Mexico or Spain. You cannot take a siesta if you live in London; you must settle for naps.

Regular sleep
If you are a human being, this usually occurs at night. The average human being sleeps seven to nine hours a night. As discussed before, sleep has numerous benefits so as wonderful as naps are, there is nothing that really beats this form of sleep. A very wise person once said that there's no substitute for either work or sleep. I agree although I strongly believe that when work gets too daunting, the best cure is more sleep.

Permanent, dreamless sleep. Must be quite boring because of the lack of dreams so I believe we must sleep as much as possible while we're alive. This is also- as mentioned earlier- believed to postpone death. A win-win situation.

There are many ways to ensure a good session of sleep. Minimum amounts of light and minimum amounts of noise are a must (although sometimes it does help to have soft music playing in the background). It's easier to sleep on clean sheets than dirty ones and to sink into a soft bed after a nice warm bath is one form of paradise on earth. Lots of pillows- I never sleep without less than two. Sometimes three. Sleeping with four pillows is just plain greedy. I generally don't like sleeping with stuffed toys or dolls- never did although I tried when I was younger because everyone used to- because then you end up sleeping on them and you spend the entire night with something sharp poking into your back (this can also be applied to other things when you're older).

There are few things more wonderful than waking up in the morning to darkness, silence, absolute stillness and cold pillows (if it's summer) or a warm duvet (if it's winter) and realising you can go back to sleep for as long as you want which, after a small and satisfied grunt, you usually do.

Sleep: it's a necessity, it's comfort and it's luxury. It's also free.



I don’t like birds. I don’t like them at all.

I don’t understand people who like birds. “Oh,” they coo, “birds are so sweet, birds are so pretty. Birds are the best fucking thing in this whole, wide, miserable world next to peanut butter.” Have they never noticed the beaks, so capable of gauging their eyeballs out? “Come here,” an innocent little girl says one day, to a relatively harmless looking Tweety. She picks Tweety up and holds Tweety in the palm of her hand, whispering sweet nothings to Tweety who obligingly pecks at her eyes and then takes a chunk out of her nose for good measure. A traumatising trip to the hospital follows while Tweety sits on its perch and warbles happily as the sun sets.

And then you have the wings. Oh sure, they’re as colourful as a Crayola set. A splash of deceiving beauty; indigos and scarlets and emeralds and gentle browns creating a dazzling canvas. But then the wings start flapping. Flap, flap, flap. Flapflapflap. All those feathers, so soft and innocent individually, turned into a single and threatening unit that can only cause trauma and pain. Have you ever had a bird fly over your head? Felt the feathers flap against your hair with that horrible thudding sort of noise - it’s the same sort of noise you hear when an innocent little puppy is run over by a bus. Whoosh and then a thud, and then a whoosh again as the bird/bus makes its escape. Have any of you bird lovers out there ever stopped to imagine what it would feel like if those wings brushed – no, I mean flapped – against your face leaving moulting feathers glued to your skin and your hair and your neck. This would probably make you slightly nervous because it’s only human to be nervous when you’re covered in feathers and then you’d probably start sweating from all the nervousness and then the feathers would stick to you. That’s right. They’d STICK TO YOU. Can you imagine anything more disgusting then being covered with feathers stuck to your skin with your own sweat acting as an adhesive?

The third thing I don’t like about birds are their legs. Why do they have such skinny, scaly legs? Like an anorexic who lives in Alaska and never uses moisturiser except ten thousand times more disgusting. They’re so brittle that if you touched one- not that anyone in their right mind would want to- it would break into little pieces and there you’d be, standing and gaping at twelve little pieces of scaly bird leg lying in your hand. The claws are also pretty creepy. When I was little, I sometimes used to imagine a bird leg dragging its way towards my bed before leaping into the air, performing a couple of somersaults and landing, claw first, into my wide open mouth. It’s the reason why I never sleep with my mouth open if I can help it. You never know what strange bird parts might land in it.

And finally, there’s bird poop. Bird poop actually comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a smelly drop of water that lands on your shoulder. At other times, it’s like the white of an egg, maybe with a bit of yolk thrown in. Then there’s hard bird poop, the sort you find on your car window on Monday mornings. A congealed mass of egg yolk (with a bit of green thrown in) gone wrong. Birds are really incredibly rude and inconsiderate about their bowel movements. I know most people think they can’t help it but if you ask me, the stupid creatures enjoy emptying their stuff on human beings and human possessions deliberately.  Why else would it land on your head and not on the pavement next to you? On the windshield of your moving car and not in the gutter where it belongs? Why does it usually land on you when you’re wearing a new and incredibly gorgeous dress and not an old hand me down t-shirt from your grandfather? Why on your way to school and never on your way back? The latter would enable you to come home quickly and have a shower and throw your clothes in the wash. The former means you have to go through six hours with bird poop on your shoulder before you can get rid of it. It also means all your friends will avoid you and you will become a social pariah, being forced to eat lunch alone. Even maths becomes more difficult than usual because it just isn’t possible to concentrate on logarithms when there’s a splotch of greenish yellow goo on your otherwise pristine white uniform. The worst thing about bird poop is that it can’t be avoided. If you come across dog poop on the road (or as is the case in Delhi, cow poop) you simply step around it. All you have to do is keep an eye trained on the ground you’re walking on. Now if you keep an eye trained on the sky, chances are the bird poop will land on your face. It’s a lose-lose situation.

I don’t think I was born with a fear of birds. Experiences over the years have simply changed my feelings from indifference to mild dislike to burning hatred, all tinged with a dollop of good old fashioned fear. 
It started off when I was really little and I used to come and visit my grandparents. They lived in a tall building – well, tall for Calcutta – on the tenth floor; our flat has its own terrace which leads to the building’s terrace. I used to go up there often in the evenings and stare at the big, dignified brown kites that used to perch themselves on the paraphets. I’d always make my grandfather come up with me because I was confident the kites would be too in awe of him to do anything to me. Which they were. As I grew older, I started venturing out there on my own. The kites that sat around on our terrace usually let me be but whenever I went to the big terrace outside, to throw water balloons at the boys playing cricket downstairs, there used to be a lot of kites flying in circles overhead. They usually do that at dusk. At first they let me alone but as time went by, they used to swoop lower and lower until one actually dared to brush against my head. I have never known such pure terror (except when I’m on a plane and it’s about to takeoff. Oh, and when I lost my teeth. But that’s neither here nor there). I was so scared, I nearly leaped over the paraphet trying to escape from it but I was too short which was a good thing because if I’d fallen eleven storeys I think I would have broken a lot more than my teeth. After that, I always took Pinky, our maid, up with me. She wasn’t scared of the kites but they seemed suitably in awe of her. They even stayed away from Bimala, another maid, although one occasionally swooped down to inspect her. She was very small and skinny. Quite easy to carry away but I don’t think she would have made a good meal (she didn’t bathe very often) and they seemed to sense this. Also she had a habit of screeching at them which alarmed them a bit and so they stayed away. I picked up this trick from her and one day, I went up on my own to try it out. Almost at once, three or four kites began to swoop down menacingly but I screeched really loudly. To make my performance even more effective, I ran around in circles with my hands curled into fists, waving them threateningly above my head. After I stopped, due to exhaustion, I noticed about six or seven kites sitting on the water tanks with their hooded eyes gleaming at me in a We’re-going-to-eat-your-eyes-and-tear-out-your-hair sort of way. I ran indoors as quickly as possible and only went up again if I had someone with me, or my grandmother’s umbrella. After my grandfather died, my mother and I moved to Kusum to live with my grandmother and even though I always go to the terrace with my friends, I never ever go out there alone. I know when I've been beaten. 

Now I come to the crows. When we moved in with my grandmother, my mother made me start walking to school and back because it’s only a ten minute walk from our home and also because she knows I hate walking and she used to enjoy seeing me suffer. During the course of these walks, a crow would occasionally fly by and I have to give those creatures a little bit of credit and admit that they didn’t do it on purpose; not initially. However, I’d always flinch a little because crows are the worst of all birds. Their eyes are beady, their beaks are like granite, their legs are indescribably gross and to make it worse, they’re black all over. So I’d always shudder a bit and duck, or hide behind a lamp post until the coast was clear. They soon realised this and what became an occasional bad experience became a constant nightmare. I started getting attacked by crows nearly everyday. I turned, from a reasonably normal human being, to a cowering, bird fearing, psychologically disturbed person. I’d often land up at school with bird poop on me. In fact, it got so bad that I began carrying toilet paper in my bag. One day, I was late for school, and I was running down the road. There were a group of at least fifteen crows on the pavement ahead of me eating pieces of bread that some half baked idiot had given them. I was running, running- still at some distance from them – and I was about to turn and cross the road, because to me, getting run over by a lorry is less scary than running through a gaggle of bread eating crows – when an inconsiderate moron honked his horn and in a moment that will forever be frozen in my mind, alongside the time that shark in Jaws 2 ate that boy who was trying to climb into a boat, they rose up in the air, one solid mass, and began to fly towards me. I am not ashamed to say that I screamed. I am slightly ashamed to say that I threw myself forward, face first, onto the pavement, with my arms around my head. I felt a nasty and dangerous breeze ruffle my hair as they flew away and when I cautiously sat up, I saw a line of cars which were filled with school girls (most of whom knew me) gaping, pointing and laughing at me. It was not a happy moment.

The very next week – yes, that’s right, the very next week – I was walking back home with my friend Jayatri when I noticed a crow standing on the pavement. Despite a tiny quiver of fear, I decided to ignore it and keep walking because, I have to confess, it was on Jayatri’s side of the pavement. I was closer to the road. Now I swear to god I am not making the next part up. You can ask Jayatri for confirmation – as soon as we neared the crow, it deliberately hopped across the pavement, crossing Jayatri’s path and stood in front of me. It just stood there, on its two scaly legs, looking at me. I could see the challenge in its gaze and, knowing I was beaten, I meekly crossed over to the other side of the road.  

Sometimes, when I’m  sitting in my room, happily minding my own business, there’s a thud against my window. The glass pane vibrates. It could be a mini earthquake, or a flying saucer but it’s usually nothing more than a visually challenged, mentally retarded bird crashing into my window. I have to admit, it gives me malicious pleasure because it is, perhaps, the only time that I score one up on the birds.

But to give them their due, they won the war a long time ago. 


Where have the Manly Men gone?

My definition of a Manly Man is slightly different from my brother's. He believes a Manly Man is someone who can fart to the Mission Impossible theme song. That's not manly, that's disgusting.

Let's explore several areas that show the difference between Manly Men and Justin Timberlake :

1. Makeup: Manly Men do not wear makeup. No concealer, no eyeliner, no mascara and NO FUCKING NAILPOLISH. Who the hell wants to date someone who's going to steal your Mac brushes? And I don't want to discuss makeup a man, thank you very much, or have him take longer than me to get ready for a night out. That is just sad and wrong. 

2. Pedicures/Manicures/Waxing/Facials: This is also out. Now to be honest, most women do not have a problem with this. In fact, they actively encourage the men in their lives to go and sit glumly in parlours while their face is prodded with needles and their chest hair is ripped out. I'm not a huge fan of excessive chest hair but come on, have you seen Pierce Brosnan? His hottie quotient would be a lot lower if he plucked his eyebrows and waxed his chest. As for a man getting a facial- yes, his skin may look smooth and polished and pore free- but I don't think I'd be able to sleep with anyone who spent their Sundays with a mud pack on their face.

3. Presents: Manly Men do not give their girlfriends teddy bears and simpering cards with hearts and flowers and itty bitty purple butterflies on them (unless under extreme pressure because girlfriend is a freak). Manly Men give their girlfriends diamonds and sexy lingerie and helicopter rides over Cambodia.

4. Tears: I know I'm being slightly ridiculous now, and as a literature student I am fully aware about the construction of gender roles and how people are conditioned to fall in with stereotypes. Well sue me, I'm conditioned. If I ever see a man cry, I freeze. There's something so weak and defenceless about men who bawl. Kittens are weak and defenceless; Manly Men are not. Of course, a lot depends on the reason. If I saw a man crying because his mother died or because Keeles stopped making their beef sausages, I would understand. I have to admit however, that a man who cries because he fought with his girlfriend needs to butch up a bit. How the hell can a reasonably intelligent woman be attracted to someone who whimpers over the phone because she called him a few names during a heated argument? Answer: She can't.

5. Fixing things: Manly Men know how to fix things. They can change light bulbs and fiddle with car engines and fix leaky shower heads. This is why women keep men around. A man who can't fix things is not a Manly Man and therefore not useful and therefore, should be gotten rid of. It's quite simple really.

6. Hygiene: Manly Men are not necessarily slobs. They don't sit around, without showering for days on end, burping on beer. They brush their teeth, they use Old Spice and they do shampoo their hair. However, they draw the line at conditioner and flossing.

7. Sport: Manly Men like sports. Once again, I know I am adopting gender stereotypes but please, give me a man who watches football over a man who watches America's Next Top Model any day. The ultimate Manly Man should also be good at sport, should be athletic. There is nothing sexier, in my opinion, then watching a toned and tanned (from being outdoors, not from spray) Manly Man, running around in shorts and kicking footballs into nets. Unless it's a Manly Man in swimming trunks that show off his chiselled torso while his biceps ripple as he ploughs his way through water. Mm.

8. Food: I like to see men eat. Men should eat. It's wrong when a man eats three tomatoes and half a head of lettuce for lunch. What does that say about his libido? I don't mean that men should keep gorging on pizzas and pies until they look like Henry VIII (who, by the way, was more of a Pig than a Manly Man) but it's nice to see a man enjoying a steak and a glass of beer. This also applies to women. Women who live on grapefruit are- but I shall save this rant for another time.

So where have all the Manly Men gone? You never see them anymore. Men are either too busy fussing over their hair products or sleeping and ditching every woman they can get their hands on. It's all very sad. One of my male friends is scared of cockroaches, another has a earring collection and there is of course, the infamous Man Whore Friend who is not Manly, just a whore. 

I really don't understand the current fascination with metrosexual men. I'd hate to be with someone prettier than myself; the damage to my already frail self esteem would be too much for me to cope with. It's sad because a lot of metrosexual men are actually quite good looking. But if you ask me, David Beckham, the ultimate metrosexual, looks his best when he's sweating on the football pitch, and not when he's wearing a sarong with his braided golden hair being gently ruffled by the wind. That should be left to Rapunzel who was a bloody useless female anyway. 



New Market.

Ishani dragged me off to New Market the other day to do some shopping. It sounded good at first because to me, shopping always sounds good as long as I'm not actually doing it just then. The morning we were supposed to go however, it was looking more painful than anything else. Walking around smelly New Market being touched on the legs by beggar kids (they seem to have a strange affinity for my legs) and being yelled at by shopkeepers and being jostled by coolies and choking on the stench of meat because I always happen to end up two feet away from the meat stalls whenever I go there.

So I phoned Ishani.

Me: Listen, are you sure New Market's a good idea today?

Ishani: *after a deadly pause worthy of Minnie* Why not?

Me: It's so sunny. We'll probably get heat stroke.

Ishani: It's mostly indoors.

Me: Yeah but we'll have to walk from the car to the market and that's always dangerous.

Ishani: *in a scary voice* Do you not want to go?

Me: No, no. Of course I want to go.

Ishani: *scarier voice* Don't you want to shop?

Me: Yes, yes. Of course I want to shop.

Ishani: Good. I'll come over to your place at three and we'll leave from there.

So she came over to my place at three and after a half hour's delay because I needed my nap, we left. As usual, there was a huge jam outside the entrance and there was a car behind us that constantly kept honking. I got out of the car, feeling very aggressive and independent and Delhi-ish, and the honking was annoying me so I went over to the car behind us and told the driver exactly what I thought of him and lectured him on noise pollution. He looked at me with his mouth open and I was feeling very triumphant since normally I'm unable to say boo to a goose (not that I've ever actually seen one; if I did, I'd probably run away) when Ishani tugged on my arm and hissed, "You fool. He wasn't the one honking."

We hurried away.

I followed Ishani dutifully through the streets, stopping whenever she stopped and looking at the clothes she looked at. They all looked quite horrible to me and she evidently shared my opinion because she harumphed and moved away. I trotted after her wishing I was at home in bed.

We finally entered New Market and I could be sentimental and describe how good it was to see the dirty, familiar place after so long but it wasn't. I don't like dirty places and even though I've been there hundreds of times, I keep getting lost so it's never familiar. We walked along aimlessly stopping at promising shops but not really finding anything. Ishani finally remembered this shop she'd been to a long time ago, which sold really nice dresses at very cheap prices. After making a couple of wrong turns, we finally got there. It was right next to the meat market. Just my luck.

I actually stood in front of the meat stalls for a while, a little dazed, because it was the first time I'd ever seen a real live dead cow hanging from the ceiling. Like, you could make out it was a cow. It didn't have any skin or hair or a tail or udders and it resembled a chunk of raw, red meat but it was definitely cow shaped. For a brief moment, I thought of the poor animal- alive and well, not too long ago- walking the streets of Calcutta, brushing away flies with its tail and mooing happily when it was time for dinner. For a brief moment, I thought of becoming vegetarian. But then I thought of Bouchi's beef steaks and changed my mind.

I probably would have gone on standing there for a while but Ishani (who has evidently been picking up tips on how to bully me from Minnie) dragged me away to this little stall nearby. It did have dresses, lots of dresses, and some of them actually looked wearable. They were dirt cheap too. Of course, the trouble was we couldn't try them on. Now this is okay for someone who is tall and thin like Ishani and who would look good dressed in a sack, but it is not okay for someone like me. Still, I rummaged through things and in five minutes, I'd chosen what I wanted. A summery white dress and a summery white top. Both very white, both very summery. Sure to look nice in photographs. You know, the ones you'll look at years later and say, "Mmm...I remember that summer. That summer when I was nineteen. That summer when I was nineteen and wearing a lovely white floaty dress."

I had to wait another half an hour for Ishani to make up her mind between a black and white dress and another black and white dress. She finally chose the nicer of the two and we left. By this time, it was raining. There are gaps in the New Market ceiling and we could see the sky which was dark grey and gloomy and very monsoonish. My mother called shrieking about how it was cyclonic weather and that we should get ourselves home immediately. I told her to stop exaggerating and hung up. We stopped to buy a table cloth (don't ask) and went to one of the entrances/exits which, like all the entrances/exits, was crowded with stranded shoppers eebaba-ing about the rain.

We looked out. It was cyclonic weather.

Anyway, since Ishani and I are both wild and free spirited, we decided we'd walk a bit in the rain until we caught a cab. We were trying to make our way out when Ishani accidentally bumped against a woman who dropped her mobile. The cover fell off and so naturally, the phone switched itself off and she thought it was broken and started screeching and grabbed Ishani by the shirt, telling her that she couldn't go anywhere until the phone was fixed.

A man took the phone from her, put its cover back on, switched it on and handed it to the woman. The phone was fixed.

This did not please the woman however and she kept screaming. She had a very loud, shrill voice. Ishani silently mouthed 'help' to me and the woman caught that and started screaming some more. What did we think of ourselves, she wanted to know. Did we think we were better than everyone else because we wore pants and talked in English?

I failed to see what this had to do with the phone- which was fixed- and pointed this out to her. It did not go down well. Her voice went louder and shriller and everyone around was staring from her to us. I then curtly told her (all this was in Bangla) that her phone was fixed and it wasn't my friend's fault and even though we were wearing pants, we weren't screaming like fishwives.

This did not go down very well either and the screaming went on and on and suddenly Ishani yelled, "Gadha Mohila!", grabbed my arm and we ran out into the rain. I would have given anything to see that woman's face though. Gadha Mohila. Haha.

We laughed about it, not even caring that we were getting completely soaked and there were no cabs around, and we cheerfully walked in the rain, past the shops filled with hoards of people staring at the mad girls who were going to catch Noo-monia from getting wet in the brishti. Halfway to Park Street, an auto with a nice Chinese lady in it, stopped to pick us up and dropped us off at a cab. I thought this was very nice of them, and fondly compared the unworldliness of Calcutta to grasping, heartless Delhi, when the autowallah demanded twelve bucks. Oh well. It was a nice feeling while it lasted.

We then tried to get a cab but all of them were charging extra because of the rain. We finally found one driven by an old Sardarji who only charged us fifty so we got in and trundled home in style. We paid him a little extra because if we'd gone by the metre, it would definitely been more.

And then we came back home absolutely dripping. I tried on the floaty white top and I looked very pregnant. Then I tried on the floaty white dress. It may have potential. I only look slightly pregnant in it and I think it gives me a calm, serene Virgin Mary kind of aura.

Then we went to see my school's production of The Phantom of the Opera.

That was a disaster of another kind.