"This is my question to you," she said. "How do you expect to change the world, lying there on that mattress with the stuffing spilling out, three burnt out joints (not right to the end because you got distracted) nestling each other by your elbow, your mind full of monkeys against poles and pigeon feathers falling out of windows like grotesque feathery waterfalls and crazy metal edged tops spinning around in patterns and not much else. How do you expect to change the world?"

"It's easy, man."

A tilt of the head, an inquiring look.

The tightening of eyes could be a clue to the shadows taking shape, but then again maybe not. It doesn't matter because the words are being spoken now, slowly, thoughtfully, drifting out and sunning themselves in patches on the faded wall.

"I'll get tired of the things I see eventually and leave my room to look for something new."

She doesn't say it because he won't believe her but it's so easy to get used to that room.



So much work. Such trying times, such despair.

Desk, books, overflowing ashtray, crumpled paper, beeping laptop. Typical.

Mawii goes one better. Her desk has half a bottle of Godfather rum standing proudly on it. She says she doesn't want to drink it but I know she's keeping it for an emergency. One neat gulp to see her through the fourth essay of the week.

One of the many reasons I admire her.

I have a bottle on my desk too but it's empty. I don't deal with pressure as well as she does. 



Having failed Hindi spectacularly last year, in order to avoid a repeat performance, I was forced by my mother to start tuition.

She's pretty much been persuading (nagging) me to start since the beginning of second year so this February, Mawii and I finally found a Hindi teacher through a friend of ours.

"Call him Masterji," said the friend.

So we called Masterji and got his address and, armed with a notebook and pen, we went across.

As we were entering, Mawii told me to be a little careful because Masterji was apparently a religious conservative. One of those saffron wearing Hindus, Mikhail had told her. Which just goes to show that Mikhail is prone to exaggeration because Masterji was not wearing saffron robes.

Just prayer beads.

Anyway, Masterji, an elderly man, was sitting on his bed when we entered and he held out his arms when he saw us. No, he didn't want a hug. He wanted to bless us. So I bowed my head and he waved his arms over it and then Mawii bowed her head and he waved his arms over it and then we sat down.

"What religion are you?" He asked us. "Christian?"

"Yes," said Mawii.


"No, Protestant."

"And you?" He said, turning to me.

I was confused. Normally if someone asks me what religion I am, I follow my father's advice and say I don't belong to any religion, but Mawii's words were still ringing in my head and I didn't want him to be shocked or give me a lecture on spirituality. Perhaps I was underestimating him, but I told him I was Hindu.

"Good, good," said he. "Of course, I teach everyone."

Good to know.

Then he asked us to take our Hindi text book out. Mawii and I didn't have a Hindi text book.

"You don't have a text book? How can I teach you if you don't have a text book?"

"We were hoping you'd teach us the alphabet first."

"No, no." A stern finger waggled itself in my face. "There is a book shop close by, to the (directions spoken in very fast Hindi). Go now. Have you understood?"

I hadn't but Mawii nodded so we went.

"Where is it?" I asked her as we stepped onto the road.

"I don't know," she said sheepishly.


"I was nervous."

Anyway, we found the shop eventually - well, Mawii did - but it was shut because apparently Monday is its day off. The one next to it didn't have Delhi University text books.

So we went back and told him there were no books.

"Never mind, never mind," said Masterji. "I'll give you dictation. Do you want tea?"

No, we did not want tea, so we sat down and took out our notebooks. He leaned over and peered at mine.

"You should write the name of the God you worship on top of the page to enable you to maximise your performance."

"Huh?" I looked at him, terrified.

"Ma Durga, maybe?" he probed gently.

I continued staring at him.


I didn't even know how to spell Saraswati in Hindi. Bengali, not a problem but it's pronounced slightly differently in Bengali. The Hindi has a 'w' which -

Never mind.

"Ma Kali?"

I could spell Kali. I must have looked slightly relieved because he asked me whether I'd ever been to the Kali temple in Calcutta.

"Yes," I lied. "When I was little."

"Did you like it?"

"Yes," I lied again. "Very much."

And then we finally got down to business.

"You are good," he told Mawii over and over again. "Very good. You will have no problem."

"You are poor," he told me over and over again. "But don't worry. I'll help you pass."

The hour passed quickly and when it was over, he told us to come again in a few days.

"Only if you're happy with the teaching," he said earnestly.

"Oh, we are," I assured him.

"If you're not..." he groped for the money we'd just handed him as part of our fees.

"No, no," said Mawii. "We understood everything, it was great."

"We'll come back again," I added.

He smiled at us, a beaming smile.

"Now, take my blessings because you must always take your Guruji's blessings. It will help you to master your exams and to get a man."

I bent down and touched his feet and he blessed me.

Anything to master my exams and get a man, right?