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.