Forward ho.


Everywhere she goes, she smells the sunflowers.

The plastic chairs on gravel, dilapidated houses with musty books and familiar beds, bright lights and music that make her nauseous, tiny dhabas obscenely lit.

She desperately looks around for escape, but there is none, not even a tiny one, and the truth is, even if there was, she wouldn't take it.


The Arrival of Ringo Starr.

My mother was clearing out my grandparents' desk the other day, and found this story I'd written soon after Ringo Starr entered our lives. I was fifteen years old.

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted a dog.

Unfortunately, being blessed with a mother who has a heart of granite, I've never been successful in getting one. Last year however, she softened somewhat (must be because of age...I hear people get sentimental when they reach their mid forties) and on March 24th, 2006, Ringo Starr arrived.

He's a pug puppy, with big beady eyes and a squashed black face ad velvety soft ears and a curled up little tail. He's also slightly mad, which is why he fits in so well with out family.

The first time I saw him was when his owner brought him up to our flat in a tiny little basket. I glanced casually at the basket (you couldn't really see what was inside) but didn't really register anything. I was disappointed because the owner, Mr Sinha (a nondescript man but possessor of the largest mole I have ever seen till date...right on his nose!) hadn't seemed to bring the puppy with him.

Finally (my brain always does work exceptionally slow on Sundays) I realised what was in the basket. I deducted this, not from Mr Sinha whose English I couldn't really understand (not because I am retarded, but because it was so terrible), but from little scrabbly noises coming from inside it.

I tiptoed over to the basket, and opened it, and this little, tiny...thing (for want of a better word) scrambled out of it. He kept slipping and sliding all over our floor, looking absolutely proud of his horrendous sense of balance. My mother and I didn't exclaim over him. Not at first. We just stood there and stared.

We stared as he slid over to the wall and inspected it. Then he tried to walk through it. Having discovered that he couldn't, he snorted at it, and having told the wall exactly what he thought of it, he moved on to explore greener pastures...such as our carpet, which he promptly started chewing. He shredded up the carpet edge in under one minute, and then started on our dining table leg.

Mr Sinha, noticing our shell shocked expressions, said a hasty, "bhery good, bhery good...eggcellent, eggcellent...I am go-eeng, bye bye, bye bye."

He went.

The puppy (he hadn't been christened yet) now decided that my shoelace would be a good thing to chew on. So he chewed on it, his beady eyes looking up at my face suspiciously all the while. I bent down and gingerly patted him. He obligingly chewed my finger. I glanced up at my mother. She had a huge soppy smile plastered on her face.

She held out her arms, and the puppy tumbled into them.

He had come to stay.

The first time we fed him was an experience. I had to hold him down, while Mum gave him his dinner (milk mixed with some other bizarre yet apparently nourishing substance). It was obvious, as we watched him eat (or more appropriately, swim in) his dinner, that this was a dog, whose stomach would always take precedence over his heart. He ate so enthusiastically that milk kept going up his nose (pugs have a very squashed face) and after he was done, he started banging his paws on the floor, which was his (very ineffective) way of getting the milk of his nose.

Almost as if he was playing the drums.

Hence the name, Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr was the name of the Beatles' drummer. (If you don't know who the Beatles are, I advise you to go soak your head).

Of course, we didn't come up with it right away. We went through Sumo (because he looked a bit like a wrestler. Sumo wrestler, get it? Ha ha. No one else did either), Jughead (an obvious choice because of his appetite) and even King Kong (my mother's suggestion. I would never do that to a dog.)

Ringo Starr is now nine months old and thriving. So far he's chewed up every single carpet in the house, a couple of table legs, my grandmother's silver cabinet, all my socks, sixty six fingers, and forty toes. Not to mention a dozen ears. He has also boosted the sale of biscuit companies all over India. He's terrified of milk cans and cats and babies infuriate him. If he ever sees a lady in a salwaar kameez, he will promptly put his head up it, regardless of whether he knows her or not. When I take him down for a walk, he barks furiously at everything in sight, but if something dares to retaliate he hides behind my legs. He's not very graceful...he can walk without sliding all over the floor now, but unfortunately he has not been able to achieve that when he runs.

As I write this, he's sitting at my feet looking hopefully up at me.

It's 11:00 am right now.

Time for a biscuit as usual.

Funny, but when I read this, I sort of remembered what the fifteen year old me was like. Thought I'd forgotten, but in essentials, not much has changed. 


The Annual Recap.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?

i) Reached my 20's. (It feels so WEIRD.)
ii) Got my first paycheck. 
iii) Started using a cycle (goodbye, autos!) 
iv) At one point, I became something close to a pothead and even had my own drug dealer (a lady who owns a beauty parlour). That's over now though and I'm never repeating it again. 
v) Started something I've told only one person about, but it feels pretty special.
vi) Cooked a proper (and edible) meal.
vii) Dyed my hair. 
viii) A back arch. 
x) Started watching polo. Next year, I might play. 
xi) A couple of other things which I can't mention here.

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

Didn't keep my new years resolutions (surprise, surprise), but I am, as ever, undaunted by my own perpetual uselessness and I have made a couple for next year. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What countries did you visit?


6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

The usual inner peace (it just slips further away every year), and more travel, and an iphone that actually works.

7. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory and why?

Nothing really. It was a pretty forgettable year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably passing Hindi. 

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not getting a first division end of second year. IT WILL BE RECTIFIED. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I've suffered a lot of injury since getting my cycle. I also battled through illness and emerged more or less unscathed, but in possession of an inhaler. FML. 

11. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

A, for battling a lot of set backs and attaching the prefix Captain to his name. And A.O., for being happy and content which in itself is a huge achievement. 

12. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

I can't say here.

13. Where did most of your money go?

Costa Coffee, probably. :/ 

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

Planned holidays which always fell through at the last moment thanks to landslides and other disasters. My internship which is just the most hilarious story ever but I can't talk about it here. 

15. What song will always remind you of 2011?

This Year by the Mountain Goats (because it goes like this: I WILL MAKE IT THROUGH THIS YEAR IF IT KILLS ME).

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

I'm not sad, but I was a lot happier this time last year. Oh well, highs and lows, they come and go. 

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

I wish I'd worked harder, travelled more, and been more careful with my possessions. 

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

Drunk texting. 

19. How will you be spending Christmas?

I'm going to eat a lot and wear a Christmas hat, and I'm going to spend it with family and friends, giving presents, and being happy. I might even ho-ho all day. And I'm going to bribe my friends with mulled wine and mince pies, trick them into coming over, and force them to play Christmas Articulate. 

20. Did you fall in love in 2011?

Haha. No. 

21. How many one night stands?


22. What was your favourite TV programme?

I watch them all on my laptop, and the only one I follow on a regular basis is How I Met Your Mother. I really like The IT Crowd though, and Black Books. 

23. What was the best book you read?


24. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Phish, I don't know where they've been all my life either. And I've realised that when I'm feeling all heartbroken and sorry for myself, I can always count on a certain trio to pull me out: Madonna, Adele, aaaaaand Leonard Cohen. 

25. What did you want and get?

The trouble was - and is - that I didn't, and don't, know what I want. 

26. What did you want and not get?

See above. 

27. What was your favourite film of this year?


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

I drank too much champagne, I made the mistake of letting my thirteen year old cousin into my party, I made the bigger mistake of introducing him to Vikram who fed him all sorts of dubious substances, and I turned 20. 

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

I think I just needed to get my act together this year, and I didn't. So that, and also maybe new shoes. 

30. What kept you sane?

Mawii, Mawii, Mawii. And Friend tried.

31. Who was the worst new person you met?

Didn't meet anyone particularly disastrous. 

32. Who was the best new person you met?

Shoi. :)

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learnt in 2011.

The most important: make the most of something good while it lasts, because it won't last always. And also (Mawii, this one is for you), good friends and hysterical laughter are irreplaceable. 

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

As usual, no. 

PS I JUST RE POSTED THIS SEVEN DIFFERENT TIMES TO MAKE THE GAPS EVEN BUT THEY JUST WON'T GET EVEN NO MATTER WHAT I DO. And I'm sure there are sticklers out there who are cringing over this like I am, but sorry, there is nothing I can bloody do. This bloody blogspot. I'll move to tumblr. 


You think it will be easy. It isnt man.



I don't know when it will happen,

or where. Perhaps it will happen,

on a hot afternoon, as streaks of sun

slice open our faces. Shadows of flies

dance their twisted trails on crimson coals.

Or maybe under a canopy of smoky skies,

sharp toothed sapphires striking down,

pelting gentle rolling waves of soft cotton.

As the sharp scents of cinnamon and

of something once forgotten, 

now remembered,

as these

race towards a waiting world. 


Approximately seven weeks left before I turn twenty one.

I'm feeling a little alarmed. Not because I think twenty one is old (I did when I was twelve, but what do twelve year olds know, right? Especially if the diary I kept back then is anything to go by), but because it's a reminder that I should by now be firmly entrenched in what vague voices call Life, and I don't think I am. Or if this is Life, whatever Life is and I'm using a capital L for a reason, then it's sort of - disappointing isn't the word - not enough. It's not enough.

Because when I look back, I see my life as one event after another, a series of sequences, of consequences, of oh-this-was-that-time-when-I-was-happy, and that-was-the-year-that-I-was-glad-to-leave-behind. That's the-thirteen-year-old-Trisha-being-an-idiot, and the seventeen-year-old-Trisha-not-being-an-idiot-but-not-being-much-else-really, and the nineteen –year- old –Trisha- being-a-fool-albeit-spectacularly.

Is there anything spectacular about foolishness?

Going through the motions. That's what I'm doing. Right now it's a sort of ho hum, just want to get term over with man, because the past few months have been crap, and want to go back home. And once I am home, it will be an oh my gosh, I'm having so much fun and Christmas in Calcutta is always so wonderful, but I'm worried I'll only feel that when I'm drunk. Anyway there's a reason I don't particularly want to go back to Calcutta right now, but let's not even go there because it's a stupid reason, and anyway I have better things to do than pay attention to it.

What things?


That's my problem.

Everything feels like a hand moving mindlessly, instinctively, to swat at alien fingers on my wrist: there is no real emotion, no real thought, because all of it will be replaced in five years by something new, or it will have died and not been replaced, or it will stay the same, and either way, I'll be no happier, no sadder, no different than what I already am.

Of course being the same sort of person through the years is something that is often looked up to, something that is applauded. I never understand why. How boring to to be the same, to have the same thoughts, the same reactions, the same points of view, through the years, at fifteen, at fifty. People should change, they should grow, they should have past selves and present selves and future selves, because what happens if you stay the same, and you know yourself inside out, you know what you're going to say, or what you're going to do, at any given moment, and then you just get bored of yourself. Like a stale marriage, except I don't think they've come up a way to divorce yourself, although by the looks of things, I'm sure they will soon.

So here's my problem. I am not yet twenty one, although time will soon take care of that, I am reasonably happy, reasonably enthusiastic about the future, reasonably reasoning my way through this bloody Life thing, and I am completely and utterly dissatisfied.

It's like you're walking down a college corridor and you hear voices behind you and you can hear what they're saying and it sounds stupid so you roll your eyes contemptuously and then the next minute you catch sight of a familiar face and you feel a pleasant warmth light itself inside you because you're fond of that face, and at the same time you notice a patch of sun on the a red brick wall and you feel the back of your neck itching, just slightly, and while seeing and feeling all these different things, essentially, you're just distracted, unable to focus on any one thing, unable to get a grip, get a grasp.

But it's not like you're losing your balance, stumbling, tripping, falling, desperately trying to look for something to hold onto either.

That is the tragedy. 


The Trip That Wasn't: Part III

"Is it seven o'clock yet?" I asked, cracking an eye open.

Mawii rolled over and looked at her phone. "Damn." 


"It's ten in the morning,"

"So much for sight seeing," I murmured happily - I could see the sun streaming through our window, despite the faded green curtain, and I could tell it was going to be a hot day - and I closed my eyes again. 

"New plan," I said to Mawii, half an hour later, as we ate our breakfast. Hunger pangs had forced us out of bed in a way no 8.40 am class ever has. "We do lunch first. And then we go sight seeing." 

"Sounds good."

"It'll give us more energy anyway." 

"This really isn't sight seeing weather," said Mawii, a couple of hours later, as we were trudging our way to the metro station in the heat. 

I sighed, and looked down at my feet. Keep walking, keep walking. A terrible sight met my eyes (well, eye, I was still wearing only one contact lens) and I groaned. 

"WHAT?" Mawii spun around, probably thinking I'd stepped in cow poop. Our lane harbours the occasional cow which appears and vanishes without a trace (it would be too optimistic to think that someone turns them into beef), only occasionally leaving big lumps of feces for hapless people to step in. 

"I forgot to take my nail polish off." I was wearing sandals and I'd been picking at the nail polish on my toes the previous night (disgusting habit, I know, I know, my mother has told me a thousand times) and now half of it had gone, and half of it was there, and my feet looked terrible. 

"Just ignore it?" Said Mawii hopefully. 

"I can't go sight seeing with ugly toenails!" 

So then I walked past the metro station to the pharmacy, while Mawii sat outside the Exchange Store resignedly sipping a cold coffee, and bought nail polish remover and cotton wool and lip balm because the saleslady told me it would make my lips look luscious and who the hell doesn't want luscious lips? 

I joined Mawii outside the Exchange Store, and started rubbing frantically at my toenails, while passers by gave me curious looks. I ignored them. It comes with the territory. 

I finally got my toes looking clean (although depressingly colourless) and for extra measure, I'd luscious-ed my lips, and we finally got onto the metro, and away from the heat. 

"I could just sit here all day," I said, blissfully, leaning back and stretching my legs out, enjoying the air conditioning and the empty compartment. Of course, then we stopped at Kashmere Gate, and all of a sudden the metro was jam packed with frantic people and decayed people and smelly people, and suddenly life outside the metro began to look rosy again. 

We got to Big Chill eventually and asked for a table outside so we could smoke (you're allowed to smoke when you're on holiday). Because it was so hot, no one else was sitting outside, and so we were rushed past a line of people waiting to be seated in the air conditioned interior. They looked at us enviously. Ha ha, non smokers, ha ha. 

We'd both been exercising (or we intended to start, I'm not sure) and it was really very hot, so we skipped the pasta and had salads instead. Would've felt very healthy if it wasn't for the pack of cigarettes lying between us. 

"I can't believe we've turned into the kind of people who eat salad in restaurants," said Mawii sadly, when we were done. 

"I know. Dessert?" 

"It would be a crime not to have dessert." 

I don't remember what Mawii had, but I had the Belgian Chocolate shake, after two years, TWO years (the last time was when A.O. was in town and I scared the crap out of him by eating more than he did) and it was joy, it was heaven, it was all things miraculous and wonderful, and I'm not even exaggerating. And I didn't even feel guilty because I'd had salad for lunch.

We really didn't feel like moving after that, but we did move, all the way to Humayun's Tomb. We went to the ticket booth and gave the man forty rupees (Indians pay twenty each, foreigners pay a hundred something). The man looked at us suspiciously and asked us where we were from in Hindi. (Kidhar sei hai?")

This is an old trick, and it's been played on me before. So I replied in Hindi too, saying "Idhar sei." 

Unfortunately, he looked even more suspicious and said, "Dilli?"


He gave us our tickets and just as we were about to move away he said that we looked like we were from Japan. 

"I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU BUT I DO NOT LOOK FUCKING JAPANESE." I yelled at Mawii, much to the shock of a bunch of German tourists standing near by. They looked at me nervously. Oh well. At least they weren't Japanese. 

The guard who was standing at the entrance insisted on checking our id to check that we were nationals before tearing our tickets. I was itching for him to say, "Japan se?" so I could kick him, but he didn't, and in retrospect, I think it was a good thing. 

I must say, Humayun's Tomb was incredibly disappointing. We climbed a flight of extremely steep stone stairs, which struck me as ironic considering the reason for Humayun's death, and reached the courtyard which was lovely - at first glance. There were a few tombs to one side, and I strolled over and examined them. They were unmarked. 

We walked around the courtyard a little - let me again reiterate that it was bloody hot - and the outside was quite nice, because it was all red stone and there was a lovely view of the gardens from all sides. The gardens were very well maintained, but the fountains and water holes were dry, or nearly dry.

Then we went inside. I reeled back as I stepped through the archway - there was a terrible smell there. I don't know what it was - probably from the construction work that was going on everywhere which really didn't help the atmosphere, let me tell you - but if I had to put a name to it, I'd say it smelt of decay. 

The tomb is in a large, shadowy, cool hall, but the thing is, it's the sort of room that should be empty and quiet for you to appreciate it, and there were people strolling in and out (which is only fair, I suppose) but they kept taking photographs and talking really loudly and the smell was terrible and there was drilling going on from all sides, and really, if I were Humayun, I'd be seriously annoyed. Also, there's no information about Humayun which is a pity because he was so interesting (though admittedly useless) - nothing that tells you about his reign, or how he died. 

We strolled into some of the ante chambers. The walls were all marked with graffiti. 

There were a few tombs there as well, but all unmarked. Nothing that told you about who lay under them, or why, or how, or when they'd been put there. And I didn't know and I wanted to know, and it was incredibly frustrating. 

After that, we went out (glad to get away from the smell and the noise) and we went down again, and strolled the perimeter of the building (the building itself is beautiful) and the gardens (also beautiful). 

Mawii brought her camera, but it wasn't working, so I walked around taking photos with my phone, because taking photos made me feel more like we were on a trip. 

I suppose everyone wants to leave their mark on history.

The courtyard.

Cute door and Mawii.

Humayun's Tomb in all its glory, baby.

Scenes from the gardens.

What the hall could have and should have felt like, but didn't.

We sat in the gardens for a while, and then decided to carry on to the Purana Quila. I have mixed feelings about Humayun's Tomb. I liked the Red Fort much more, because there's so much more to know there. And there are things to know about Humayun too, you just can't find it there.

So I said goodbye to the son of Babur, the same son, legend has it, whom Babur sacrificed his life for (according to legend, Humayun was very ill, Babur was distraught, he walked around Humayun's bed and begged for his life to be taken and his son's life to be spared and three days later, Humayun was hunky dory and the first Great Mughal was dead), the same son who lost Babur's kingdom and then won it back, only to promptly die (he fell down his library steps and broke his neck. Now do you see why the fact that you have to climb steep stairs to reach his resting place is ironic?), the son who fathered Akbar (general consensus seems to be that was Humayun's greatest achievement.)

We walked to the main road and saw an auto. The autowallah was a relatively harmless looking old man. We got into the auto and asked to be taken to Purana Quila. 

Apparently that was asking for too much.



People are just so nice, man.

I went to the convenience store behind the PG, and the man there - I fondly refer to him as Peter Pettigrew #1 (the story of Peter Pettigrew #2 shall be saved for later) - told me had a present for me.

"A present?" I said, surprised.

He opened the fridge where he keeps the soda and took a piece of chocolate, carefully wrapped, out.

"My friend got me a box from Thailand. I saved one for you. It's filled with wine."

"For me?" I was so touched, I nearly blubbered.

"Try it,"

And I did, and wine exploded in my mouth.


I gave him a thumbs up, talked a bit about Thailand, and, throwing will power to the wind, bought a pack of cigarettes. I  figured it was the least I could do.

What can I say? The world has its fair share of nasty people, but there are also those who surprise and delight and they matter so much more. 

The Trip That Wasn't: Part II

"Are we going to Agra this evening?" I said to Mawii, when we woke up the next morning.

"I suppose," said Mawii, putting a pillow over her face.

"Right!" I bounded out of bed, brushed my teeth, and opened our door to cross the garden to the main house to get some breakfast. I blinked. The sun was pouring down, the sky was impossibly blue, everything was still and oppressive and...hot.

It takes less than thirty seconds to cross the garden but I swear by the time I did, I was already sweating.

"That's it," I told Mawii, over Times Trends. "I'm not going to Agra."

Mawii looked relieved.

"But I really don't want to waste this weekend sitting in the PG," I continued, despondently stirring my coffee that comprises a pinch of coffee powder and a lot of milk and therefore isn't coffee at all but it sort of grows on you. "I want to do something."

Mawii was silent. She wanted to do something too.

"Why don't we have a weekend in Delhi?" I suggested after a moment (or maybe she suggested it, I don't remember, but I'm telling the story).

"Doing what?"

"We could go to nice places to eat, we could visit places we haven't been to yet. Like Humayun's Tomb and the Purana Quila."

Mawii brightened. "We could do that!"

And this was what we decided: it really was unbearably hot and it was already ten o'clock, so we'd watch a nice movie together that afternoon, a mindless romantic comedy, and then, in the evening when it got a bit cooler, we'd go to Dilli Haat and cheer ourselves up by buying out the place, and then we'd go to Hauz Khas village for dinner. And then, the next day, which was Sunday, we'd wake up really early in the morning before it got hot, and visit Humayun's Tomb and Purana Quila, and then have a nice lunch at Big Chill because the thought of cheesy pasta just then was inexplicably comforting.

Excellent plan. At least we were doing something, we were taking initiative, we were being pro-active, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves. Alright, we were still feeling sorry for ourselves, but at least we were going to feel it while shopping and eating and absorbing History, instead of sitting around in our room drinking ourselves into a stupor.

So we watched Mama Mia that afternoon - and sang along with gusto if not finesse - and then we had a bath and we put on nice clothes, and slathered on eyeliner and a bit of lipstick and lots of mascara. Mawii looked beautiful, as always, and I looked quite attractive too although this was possibly because I had only one contact lens on (no way was I going to be wearing my glasses) and so when I looked in the mirror, my features were blurred and I couldn't see my nose properly. But why quibble.

And off we went to Dilli Haat.

We got out of the metro station and asked an auto driver where it was.

"There," he said, pointing towards it and heaving a sigh that seemed to imply he thought we were imbeciles.

"Where?" I said, squinting. I couldn't really see much. Just the sky, already fading to pink, and a few blurry shapes I assumed were cars, and other blurry shapes I assumed were people.

"I see it," said Mawii. "It's ten steps away."

She took me by the arm and guided me firmly. I closed the eye that didn't have a lens in it and that helped my vision. I also told myself that it made me look like a one eyed pirate. Lying to myself is what keeps me going.

"Oh look," I said, pointing to a couple of women in brightly coloured saris who were busy wrapping strands of people's hair in shiny ribbon. "I want to get that done." I was thinking of the time I got my hair braided in Bali, and how happy I'd been there, and I figured that getting strands of my hair wrapped in ribbon would bring me close to that happiness. I know. My logic bewilders even me sometimes.

I actually meant to get it done on the way out, but I made the mistake of making eye contact with one of the women while we were buying tickets to enter, and she strode determinedly up to me, wouldn't take no for an answer, insisted that by the time I came out all the hair wrappers (not braiders) would be gone, and that my life would lose all meaning if I went around with the hair I currently had.

So we mooched over to the low stone grey wall where the hair wrapping was going on. Mawii declined to get her hair done, I picked blue and purple ribbon (it was more like shiny string) for mine, and the woman started wrapping. She stood on the wall behind me, grabbed a chunk of my hair, twisted it, and then started twisting the paper around it, taking very good care to yank my hair as hard as possible. I don't want to be mean, but all this while she was bargaining with Mawii and the more Mawii insisted she bring down the price, the harder she tugged at my hair. After she'd done one lulu, Mawii took a picture and I decided to get only one more. Four, which I'd originally planned, was going to be too much. The lady accepted my decision with very bad grace, but I think she had quite a good time pulling at my roots so I'm sure all was not lost.

Look, you can see that my eye is rolling in pain.

Anyway, we went in after that, and it was already dark, and the Haat was looking lovely with all its colourful stalls and lanterns and faery lights (man, I love faery lights. They make me so happy) everywhere. Mawii made me swear that I wouldn't let her buy more than once piece of jewellery, but as it turns out, I was the one who went beserk.

I went to the first shoe stall I saw, tried on four different pairs of shoes, told the guy (who was already growing impatient because I kept saying, "Eesh. So ugly" to a pair, only to try them on two pairs later) I'd come back and buy a pair on my way out. A lie.

Mawii was roaming around all the jewellery stalls searching for rings because that girl is obsessed with rings. She bent over the displays intently, examining each piece with precision. I leaped in, bought the first necklace I saw, and leaped out again. I was also going around taking bad photos with my phone.

The chess sets really tempted me. They were so pretty. Luckily for my - well, my mother's - bank account, I realised just in time that I don't know how to play chess, so I refrained from buying one. But that didn't stop me from buying other things: shoes, that seriously look like slippers the Sultan of Turkey would wear, two heavy lead pencils (I bought one for Mawii but she said she'd used them before and they wrote badly and wouldn't take it. Ungrateful chit), a green patterned skirt (It took me fifteen minutes to choose between the green and a red one, and I actually held one against Mawii and the other against a mortified salesboy and well, the green looked good on even the salesboy so I figured it was a winner), the necklace, and - a pipe. I bought a pipe! Dark polished wood. It was beautiful. I spent ages looking for an ashtray, but couldn't find one, so I ended up buying a tiny little wooden coffee cup that matched the pipe (bada bing bada boom!) instead. 

"What are you going to do with a pipe?" said Mawii grumpily. She hadn't bought a single thing yet even though she'd been round to all the jewellery stalls at least twice. She was being too careful in my opinion. No point shopping for frivolous things if you're going to be careful. 

"I'm going to use it to quit smoking," I said proudly. 

"Come again?"

"I'll stop buying cigarettes and instead, whenever I feel like I'm about to die because my lungs feel too clean or whatever, I'm going to put a little tobacco in this pipe and light up." I didn't add that I thought I'd look extremely cool going around puffing away at it. 

The nice thing about Mawii is that she plays along with my idiotic notions, so apart from a brief snort, she didn't try to dissuade me. She also refrained from mentioning that I'd bought an ashtray (or at least an object I intended to use as an ashtray) which was a pointless purchase if I was going to quit smoking. Then again, she knows I lie to myself a lot, so perhaps she was just playing along. 


We finally left, me lugging three heavy bags, and Mawii empty handed. It was a turnaround, I can tell you. 

Then we headed to Hauz Khas village because Mawii had heard of a really nice restaurant there where you get South East Asian food and we both felt like eating with chopsticks. We got an auto to drop us off in the middle of a dark street. 

"Where is it?" I asked her.

"I'm not sure," Typical Mawii. 

I googled the name on my phone and got an address and we went around from person to person asking where the restaurant was. 

"Never heard of it," said a man, scratching his beard, when we asked him where the restaurant was. 

"It's at number 45?" I said. 

"Number what?"


Blank stare, and this was followed by many blank stares, so we decided to forgo the chopsticks and ended up at The Living Cafe (?) and it wasn't too bad at all. Dim lighting, lots of candles, dark wood, a very nice bar (we skipped the cocktails) and one of those menus where you kind of have to go, "Hm. I'll have this. Or should I have this? Or this, or this, or that? Alright, I've narrowed it down to this, this, and this. What do you think?" 

The food was delicious, and then we went to this tiny little terrace outside and had coffee there, with a cigarette (I'll quit tomorrow, I told Mawii) and by the end of it we were in a very good mood because mountains or no mountains, that's what shopping, good food, and people who don't get on your nerves even though you spend practically every waking moment of your existence with them, do to you: they put you in a good mood.

We were even humming on the way home. 

"Tomorrow," I told Mawii as we got into bed, "tomorrow we'll wake up at seven thirty and go sight seeing. We'll be tourists." 

"We'll be tourists." She agreed.

"First thing in the morning,"

"First thing in the morning." 

"It's going to be - "


Haha. Ha. 


The Trip That Wasn't: Part I

September 2011.

Mawii and I had been having a rough couple of months. Things in college hadn't been going all that great, and to be honest, nothing else had either. We'd both lost money because our PG seems to be harbouring a thief who knows exactly when we leave our room, even if it's just for ten minutes, and the exams had been a complete disaster (the only bright spot: we both passed Hindi), and there were a million other things going wrong, and nothing at all going right.

What we needed was a break and accordingly, we decided to give ourselves one.

What sort of break? A mountain getaway. Away from college, away from the city, away from familiar faces, away from the heat, away from it all. Invigorating air, that's what we needed, and lots of trees, and long walks, and maybe the occasional dancing stream and the odd cafe perched at the end of the world.

So, after a lot of deliberating (and googling) we decided on Naukuchiatal: the place with the nine sided lake, or something similar. It looked like something very close to Paradise.

The weekend we planned it though, our department decided to make its annual trip - to Dalhousie.

"Should we cancel Naukuchiatal and go to Dalhousie instead?" said Mawii, as we lay sprawled on our beds one hot afternoon, both staring blankly at the ceiling.

"Well, it is our last year of college." I conceded.

"Last class trip,"

"We probably won't see most of these people again,"

"Naomi's going."

"And Naomi never goes on trips. I'd like to go on a trip with Naomi."

"But then on the other hand, it won't just be Naomi."

"It will be lots of people."

"I'm kind of sick of people."

"Alright then. Where are we going?"

"Naukuchiatal, obviously."

We were proactive. We went to Connaught Place after college one afternoon. I googled Travel-Agencies-in-CP from my iPhone and felt very cool. I even looked at the map.

"Can you read this?" I asked Mawii, as we got out of the metro station.

"Sure. I can read maps."

Mawii looked at the map, a tiny little network of blue and red blurbs on my screen, interrupted by a long crack (one of the many results of my usual ham handedness).

"Where's the travel agency?"

A brief pause.

"Let's just walk around a bit, shall we?"

"Sounds good."

We walked with a purpose though, because Mawii had been to a travel agency in CP before and she vaguely remembered the direction. After a little asking around, and a lot of climbing over rubble, we found ourselves outside a travel agency (not the one she remembered but c'est la vie) and we walked in.

We were the only customers - I should have known. That should have warned me. The walls were plastered with photos of white Ambassadors. That should have been another warning.

"Naukuchiatal?" said the travel agent.

"Should we go by bus or by train?" said Mawii, adopting an efficient business like air, while I sat back and looked at her admiringly.

"Bus. Train. Both."

"Which is quicker?"

"Both quick. Both good." A beatific smile.

"Wouldn't it be quickest if we took a train?"

"Train...yes. Bus...hmm."

We settled on a bus. We booked our tickets, got them printed, handed over the money, got the details of our pick up point, and scarpered.

"This is good," I told Mawii. "This is really good."

"We've had such a bad time, things can only get better from this point on," She agreed.

How wrong we were.

I phoned my mother that night.

"We're going to Naukuchiatal."




"It's a place near Nainital, or in Nainital, in the state of Uttaranchal."




"It has a pretty lake," I added feebly.

"Are you two going alone?"

"Bo might come too."

"I don't like the thought of you girls travelling on your own."

"I have a Swiss knife with me. I can buy pepper spray too, if you want."

"What have I told you about being facetious?"

"Well, we've already got the tickets, and I'm sure it'll be safe. These places are always safe. Anyway it's only white people who get murdered on holiday and that's usually in Goa.We'll find a place to stay, and we'll walk a lot, and we'll visit the lake, and we'll communicate with nature. I've had a difficult term, I need to communicate with nature. It's not like anyone else has been communicating with me."

A disbelieving snort and then a grudging, "Make sure you call Anjali. She's from that area, she'll probably be able to recommend some places you two can stay."

I did call (my aunt) Anjali. The night before we were due to leave.

"Where are you going, love?"






"Haven't you seen the news?"

I hadn't been near a television set since leaving Calcutta in July so the answer was no.

"Thirty six people have been killed in landslides there this week!"

Goodbye Naukuchiatal.

I frantically called Mawii who was at home and told her to check the news. She called me back equally frantic. The news was bad news (like it could be anything else). People were being swept away by landslides left, right, and centre. Swish, swoosh, and the sound of silence.

"We could go anyway," she said unenthusiastically.

"NO." I was adamant. I have no faith in Mawii's survival skills, and I have less faith in mine. The only reason I've made it this far is because of sheer dumb luck and I really wasn't trusting luck to do it for me this time round, at the rate things had been going. (There was an earthquake in Delhi last month and Mawii and I felt it and we both sat up in bed clutching each other and mumbling incoherent things, only gathering the wits to run outside long after the earthquake had stopped.) So no.

"Can we please just go somewhere else?" I asked.

"I'll go to CP tomorrow, cancel our tickets, and we'll go somewhere else," she promised.

But we couldn't go anywhere else. She called me the next morning - I was in class and ran out in the middle telling my professor it was an emergency which it totally was because my mental health was at stake - and she grimly told me that there were landslides in Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and basically all the nice mountainous areas we wanted to travel to. Rain everywhere.

Except of course in Delhi.

"Rajasthan? What about Rajasthan?" I said, clutching at whatever straws I could. Came up short as usual. We'd discussed the possibility of going to Rajasthan - Pushkar, perhaps? - and though it couldn't match up to the mountains, we comforted ourselves with the thought that we could spend the weekend riding camels. That's something, right? Camels?

"Everything to Rajasthan is already booked."

No camels then.

"AGRA!" I shouted in desperation. "WE'LL GO TO AGRA."

Mawii was not too keen on the idea of Agra, but it was still only Friday, and we could leave for Agra on Saturday evening and then return on Monday and perhaps we could even visit Fatehpur Sikhri. Also, my father had told me about Akbar's tomb which is on the way to Agra, and about how a ray of sunlight always falls on it, no matter what time of the day it is (not after the sun sets. Obviously). That didn't sound too bad. A ray of sunlight on the great Mughal's tomb was better than nothing at all.

But it was Friday and our class was leaving for Dalhousie that evening and we had nothing. Nothing. We could still go to Dalhousie but we didn't really want to.

"Tell you what. We'll dress up tonight, bring out those swishy little skirts and floaty little dresses and put on some lipstick and we'll go somewhere fancy for dinner - and maybe a couple of cocktails. Just the two of us," said Mawii.

I felt just a little less devastated at the sound of that plan.

And so that night, I had nice bath (a bucket bath, obviously, because it's too much to ask for, oh I don't know, a proper working shower in this bloody city) and I dried my hair and I even brushed it, and I'd laid out a little blue skirt, and I was in my towel, putting on one of my contact lenses, when it dropped. The contact lens. One minute it was in my palm, and the next minute, it had vanished. I scrabbled around on the floor, crawled under the bed, made Mawii fetch a torch and explored all the dark corners of our room, hoping against hope that it had bounced its way somewhere. Although contact lenses don't bounce. And then I stood in front of the mirror for twenty minutes, poking at my eyeball just in case it had disappeared up my eyelid. It hadn't - or if it had, it's still there.

That was really more than I could handle. It ended with me bawling on my bed, Mawii's arms around me, both of us feeling weighed down by darkness, despair, de-everything.

"Get into your pyjamas," Mawii told me, finally, "and order a pepperoni pizza. I'm going to go to Mocha to get us some dessert, because we deserve dessert, and then I'm going to come back, and I'm going to roll a joint, and then we're going to get stoned."

I cheered up a little.

And so that's how we spent the first night of the trip that didn't happen, the trip that didn't manifest, the trip that was a complete, er, washout. (Har har.)

Just as we were on the verge of passing out, Mawii got a text from Dhruv. Our class was still on the bus, stuck, stranded, because of - wait for it - landslides.

Perhaps we shouldn't have, but we chortled ourselves to sleep.


The story of a dream untold.

She always found it sort of embarrassing to admit she had dreams. In college, most of her friends didn’t talk about dreams – they were too busy crafting blueprints, reading assignments, drinking beer, finding love and losing it. Sometimes though, four or five of them would get together in the tiny little room she rented  above the busy marketplace. It would be quiet then, because it was after midnight, and even the market area, usually so crammed with college students with Kants and Hegels and Juliets swirling in their heads, and young men and women who’d just stepped foot into the real world, and beggars who’d known the real world since they’d been little children lurking outside coffee shops, and shopkeepers who could tell just how torn a money note had to be before it was deemed totally unacceptable, even this area, so crowded and spilling over with all these lives and the accompanying sounds, sights, and smells – it was quiet then. A couple of dimly lit street lamps cast the obligatory harsh orange light on silent streets, a few dogs dutifully curled up near gutters along with shapeless bundles that during the day were something close to human beings.

Anyway, they’d meet, about four or five of them, and they’d have a few beers and they’d light a few joints, and in between talking about all the regular stuff, they’d also sometimes lower their guards down, just enough to speak some sort of truth about themselves, about what they thought, about what they wanted. One night was the same as the other really; they were almost seamless, the way they wove into one another, marvellously forgettable and infinitely timeless.

Seven years later, she’s standing at the corner of a pavement, waiting for the signal to turn green so she can cross, and she is filled with a deep joy that can only be explained slowly, in bits and pieces, and for some reason, with the sun shining on her, so bright that she has to wear sunglasses although she always feels a bit of a fool in them, and her sleek mobile phone clutched tight in her sweaty hand, she remembers one of those nights, and all of a sudden, it is very clear, a photographic memory, even though she’s not sure whether it’s the result of many similar photographs coming together, or a single, brief snapshot, catching her unawares, as yet another taxi sails past her, and the light continues to remain stubbornly scarlet.

She was twenty one years old then, and like most twenty one year olds, she had the world at her feet. They all did, and they knew it, and the thought exhilarated them and terrified them and for the most part, they tried to bury it away because to contemplate it was frightening: too much was at stake, too much was unknown, and it was all too much, sometimes.

“Do you remember when you were little and you used to play that What-I-Want-To-Be-When-I-Grow-Up game?” A said, and though she hasn’t seen A in six years, she can recall her face as if she’d seen her just yesterday. Big trusting eyes (are they still trusting?), a sharp little nose. Pretty, unremarkable, earnest.

“Oh gawd,” drawled M, leaning back on her elbows: a graceless position to be in, but nothing M did could ever be graceless, because M was one of those people who are born to movement.

“I remember,” said C, eyes flushed with cheap wine. “I wanted to marry our electrician.”

A shout of laughter.

“Why?” She’d asked curiously, stubbing out vague memories of the time she was six years old and wanted to marry a carpenter.

“I don’t know,” said C, uncomfortablv. “He was cute. And he always made the lights come on. I guess I just liked the idea of being with someone who could make darkness disappear.”

There was a pause that very briefly threatened to grow serious before she snorted with laughter and soon they were all rolling around the bed and the floor, shrieking with mirth, and that was why she loved them, that was why they were different from all her other friends.

“What do you want to do now?” said M, stubbing out her cigarette and lighting another. She watched M’s face, its angles thrown into sharp relief against the feeble flickering of the flame.

Fine bone structure, dear.

“After college? I want to go to Oxford,” said C dreamily. “I want to go and read a lot and then I want to find a niche and learn all about it and think my own thoughts about it and then I want to write realms and realms of useless papers on it, and teach ‘em all to students...and I want a garden of my own that grows really nice roses.”

She could see C doing that: leading a quiet academic life, revolving around libraries and gardens, and silver rimmed glasses that lay forgotten on polished wooden tables, and she felt a pang of envy.

“Mine never changed. I wanted to write about war and soldiers when I was little and I still do, I guess.” A shot a secret look at M, and she didn’t understand it then and she’s not sure if she understands it now while crossing the road – the light has finally turned green – but either way, she reckons it isn’t important.

That had been the first time she’d heard about A wanting to be a war correspondent  and it surprised her because though she could see M doing it, A was the sort of person who just...well, she just sort of floated along, and it sounded terrible to her then, and it still sounds terrible to her now, but that didn’t make it any less true.

“I am going to scram to one of the biggest cities in the world,” said M, not drawling for once, but she suppressed a smile anyway because the thought of M not wanting to live in one-of-the-biggest-cities-in-the-world would have been as ludicrous as the thought of A traipsing around in the middle east or wherever wars happened, dusty and earnest, with a forgotten pen tucked behind her ear and a state of the art laptop swinging from her side. “And once I’m there, I’m going to get a job publishing – or in fashion, I just can’t choose, damn it – and I’m going to make a lot of money and marry someone incredibly handsome and ambitious, and have the perfect family, and deep down all the while, I’m going to be incredibly miserable.”

“Why would you want to be miserable?” asked C incredulously.

She saw the corners of M’s mouth turning up. A secret little smile. “Oh come on, you lot. Like I’d ever be happy if I couldn’t be miserable.”

Laughter filled the room – no stranger to it – once again.

“What about you? You’ve been surprisingly quiet, love.” C turned to her, drawing her in, which was a little odd – she can see it now, as she pauses briefly outside a clothing store to admire the red coat that warms the cold mannequin – because she was usually the sort of person who dove right into things. Or pretended to, anyway.

But they were talking about dreams.

They knew her well so she had to put up a good performance and the only way she could do that was by half convincing herself that she was about to tell the truth.

“I want...” she paused for a second, and took a deep drag of her cigarette. “I want to be a travel writer. I want to travel all over the world and I want to write about what I see – half funny, entirely forgettable stories that make people laugh, just then, when they’re reading it. And eventually, I want to meet the love of my life – maybe have children, maybe not – and keep travelling and exploring and...” she trailed away.

“That’s perfect for you,” said C enthusiastically, clapping her hands and forgetting she had a glass of cheap red wine in the left one. While they were all busy cleaning it up, and laughing hysterically at their own incompetence, M’s eyes met her own. M knew she was lying, and if ever eyes could talk, hers did then.

Pretend I’m telling the truth, don’t ever ask me, don’t ever probe, just play along.

M turned to look at A who was hiccupping uncharacteristically and her eyes crinkled with laughter. M, aggressive, untactful, full of curiosity, had somehow, incredibly, received her message. For a brief moment, she wondered if she’d been imagining it, but when M glanced her way again, she realised that she hadn’t, and felt a surge of overwhelming gratefulness.

And now it's seven years later and she's walking down the road in a city she's always wanted to live in - and now she is, she really is - and the sun is bright and the breeze is sharp enough to add colour to her colourless cheek, and her eyes are brighter than they have been in a very long time, her shoulders are mingling with other shoulders, her legs are becoming part of a world of legs, her future is being lost in other futures, and then she turns a corner - the light is dazzling - and she can't be seen anymore.