Summer 2016: Part 1

Most people who know me well (and many who don't) are aware that I'm terrified of flying. It's one of my favourite drinking monologues - right up there with the loathing I have for birds. Anyway, so there it was, eight to ten hours on a plane looming ahead of me - just days after the France-Egypt aircraft disaster. But things are better now than they used to be on that front. I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder a couple of years ago (there, I finally said it) and apart from my daily medication, I've been prescribed a pill only meant for Emergencies. It is supposedly highly addictive - one of my exes used to abuse it heartily - but luckily I haven't taken to popping it left, right, and centre yet. I do, in fact, keep it aside for the aforementioned Emergencies. And, as far as I'm concerned, the state of my nerves when I'm on a plane does in fact constitute an Emergency. So I took a pill soon after I boarded and blissfully slept through most of the journey, only waking up for the usual plastic meal. And so, the hours went by very quickly, and before I knew it, we were circling over England.

I've travelled to England many times, and I have never ever landed in a sunny one. The first glimpse, after descending through grey clouds, as always been an equally grey sky, almost magnificent in its sheer dullness. But this time, the sky outside wasn't grey, oh no, it was a clear and cloudless blue, and the sun shimmered (gently - it was still England after all) on the patch-work of green below. It discomfited me, it didn't seem right, having a constant snatched away in an already inconstant world.

But why quibble. 

My uncle Niki (my mother's cousin - she has an army of them) was going to be picking me up at the airport. The plan was to have lunch together before he handed me over to Mawii. I always go to my mother's brother's house at College Road, so that was another change. But the change was, obviously, because Mawii and I were leaving for Portugal the next morning so I didn't complain about that. 

I'm very fond of Niki. He has made himself responsible, over the years, for introducing me to John Keats' house, and Charles Dickens', and Samuel Johnson's. We also share the same sense of humour, much to the dismay of many of our other family members. 

Anyway. So there I was, in familiar old Heathrow, and after god knows how many hours, my first priority was obviously a cigarette. I'm pretty sure all my family knows I smoke, but I don't in front of most of them. I definitely wasn't going to light up in front of Niki. So I barged up and down Heathrow, looking for the smoking rooms.

Except I couldn't find any.

So I went up to a red faced airport official and asked and he told me - in what I think was an unnecessarily hostile tone - that there are no smoking rooms in Heathrow.

Get your act together, England. 

So I sadly trudged towards Immigration and had the usual interview that always leaves me feeling like an unwanted brown asylum-seeker, let into the land of the White based on their sheer benevolence, and then I found my luggage, and then Niki found me. 

We boarded a train, a forty-minute journey into the city, but time went by very fast, because Niki and I spent it gossiping about the rest of the family. This is one of our favourite things to do. Niki always has scandalous things to tell me. 

For instance, I lived twenty-five years without knowing that one of my uncles was murdered. He was the token black sheep, I suppose, and a waste of space all around. He'd plonked himself on a friend, and he was apparently so irritating, that the friend's eighty year old father stabbed him to death.

"I don't really blame the old man," Niki told me, "It was very understandable. None of the family have ever held it against him. 

And then he told me another story, about one of his cousins. (Part of the army I mentioned earlier.) So this one is a bit, er, special. He likes to think he is the Prince of Purulia. Purulia is a district in Bengal, and it is where my grandmother and her many brothers and sisters were brought up. Purulia has no royal family, it has never had a royal family, and even if it did, I highly doubt they could ever have belonged to it, since my great-grandfather was a teacher. But this particular uncle has never let that stop him. He's even created a royal Purulia insignia for his car and uses it to park illegally all over Delhi. But he does have one thing in common with most princes: he's pretty useless in general. So many years ago, the family packed him off to London because they didn't know what else to do with him. Niki got him a place in university through a friend of his who was a professor there. A month after the cousin joined, the friend called. 

Professor friend: Niki, you dark horse. You never told me you're a prince!

Niki: ?

Professor friend: Now don't try to deny it. Your cousin told me he belongs to a royal family, and that you do too. 

Niki: ....

It took him a long time to convince her that he was, in fact, a commoner and quite happy to be one. His cousin has told her that most of the family denied it because they had Communist sympathies. 

Anyway, we went to a cafe, got a bite to eat, cheerfully tore most of the family to shreds, and caught the tube to London Bridge, where I was handed over to Mawii.

"I'll take care of her," Mawii said to my uncle. "She won't miss the flight, or get lost or anything."

"Well, you seem reliable," he said, looking relieved. 

I protested against this unfair assumption of my general incapableness, was unsurprisingly ignored, said goodbye to Niki, and then Mawii and I had a blessed cigarette before we went to her room on campus. It was tiny, but so cheerful and, because it's Mawii, incredibly neat. 

That's the one thing I always resented about Mawii in college. First thing in the morning and even though she's one of those people who are always half-asleep during the first hour after 'waking', she would still make her goddamn bed. And not in a half-assed sort of way. Properly. You have no clue how annoying it was. It made me feel so guilty when we left the room - her sheets folded, the bed-cover draped neatly, all creases smoothened, the pillows plumped, and then my bed next to hers: a heap of crumpled sheets covered in cigarette ash and books. It was almost incentive enough for me to make my own bed.

Anyway, by the time I reached Mawii, it was late afternoon. She'd gotten us tickets to see a play that evening: Dr. Faustus, starring Kit Harington - you know, the guy who plays Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. I'm not a Game of Thrones fan. I only watched the first couple of seasons and then I stopped because I couldn't handle everyone being killed, and I didn't care too much about Kit Harington either because I naturally thought of him as Jon Snow and Jon Snow was kind of a wuss from what I could remember. Anyway. So I wasn't excited about Kit Harington, but I was excited about the play because I love Dr. Faustus.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, jet-lag had struck and I was in zombie mode. But then Kit Harington came on stage and bloody hell, that man is so goddamn hot in real life. I woke up instantly. And he was also almost nearly naked for most of the play (though unfortunately not completely, unlike some of the cast, which I considered rather unfair). I didn't like the play though. Still, I only slept through some of it, not the entire thing, such was the appeal of Kit Harrington's six-pack.

We got home at about eleven and I crawled thankfully into bed, and fell instantly asleep. It seemed only ten minutes later, that Mawii was shaking me awake, shrieking that we were late. It was the ungodly hour of six or something similar and we had to catch a bus to take us to the airport. I can't remember the name right now, one of the little ones, a poor relative of Heathrow, I suppose. The bus stand was a fifteen minute walk away. Mawii had booked seats for us and if we missed the bus, we'd miss the plane, and therefore, miss Portugal. It was vital, therefore, that we didn't miss the bus.

Which is why, my first morning in London, saw me running down the colourless pavements, under the colourless sky, being bitten by a cold and sharp wind, my duffel bag banging against my hips and getting entangled in my legs, and my heart on the verge of falling out of my chest.

Mawii, unsympathetic as always, kept turning back to me and shouting, "YOU'RE SO SLOW, TRISH! HURRY UP!"

It was easy for her to say. She had a suitcase on wheels that she could just pull along. She wasn't tripping over her bag. She doesn't smoke as much as I do either.

After a period of intense suffering (on my part), we spied the bus we were supposed to be on.

"WE'RE GOING TO MISS IT!" Mawii shrieked, and we doubled the effort, running towards it (well, in my case, stumbling), waving our hands, and shouting.

We were the last passengers on the bus, and the ticket conductor made it a point to lecture us on our lack of punctuality.

"This bus was supposed to leave at 6.45," he said. "It is now 6.51. You're lucky that we're even here." 

The English are so fucking anal, man. 

Mawii apologised profusely, I did not, and we were on our way. 

When we got to the airport, I insisted on having a cigarette outside, because my experience at Heathrow taught me not to expect smoking rooms inside the airport. 

As I stood there, shivering in the cold, puffing away on the Classic Milds I'd brought all the way from India, I observed the other smokers and it struck me that we were a sorry looking bunch. Everyone was dark eyed and pale and badly dressed and for a moment, I felt a pang, realising that I belonged to a group of people who are increasingly socially ostracised, and whom, just then, looked like they ought to be. 

But then I realised that it was seven thirty in the morning, and no human being with any sense of decency has the right to look, er, decent when catching a flight at that time, so I cheered up and went inside. 

The plane was naturally worryingly small and fragile looking. I didn't take the pill because I was saving it for the flight back to India, and I foresaw two hours of nail-biting agony. But England's weather, its emphasis on punctuality, and its dearth of smoking rooms had worn me out, so I passed out instantly and slept through my fear. 

I was going to wake up in Portugal, on the holiday that I could only have dreamt about in college, with my mouth open and drool on my chin - a predictably inauspicious start. But that belongs to Part 2. 


Summer 2016: Preamble

 This to-be-written-about holiday happened months ago - in May/June. I haven't been writing - it feels like I've forgotten how to write - but I'm going to give it a shot anyway. 

The last time I took a trip similar to this one, it was the summer after my first year of college, and I was nineteen, carefree, and in the prime of my youth.

Okay, maybe not carefree – I have never been carefree, I’ve always made sure of that. And maybe not even in the prime of my youth either, because I’m not completely sure what prime-of-youth is, or whether I was ever actually in it. Maybe when I was ten or something.


I suppose it really started (the process, not the trip) when I went to Delhi last year to see Mawii before she traipsed off to King’s College, London, for her master’s degree. At some point one of us said, Oh, we should really make a Euro-trip happen next summer, and then the other one said, oh that would be amazing, I think it’s actually possible, and the conversation gets pretty predictable from there.

I mentioned it to my mother as early as December and by the time February rolled around, tickets to England and Portugal were being booked. Mawii and I – okay, Mawii – had decided that Portugal was the best option for several reasons, primarily financial, and I agreed. She was doing the research all by herself, poor girl, she just sent me pretty photos of Lisbon and Porto, and I was like, hell yeah, that’s fine, let’s do it.

But before actually doing it, there was the little matter of getting the visas (a worry for both my mother and Mawii, since it involved my being responsible and non-passive), and also getting leave from work.

I – having obviously learnt absolutely nothing during the course of my adult life – was not worried. How could there be a problem?

Which is a question I will never ask rhetorically again, because that was the source of all the problems that became the bane of my life during the next couple of months.

One of the problems was getting leave from work.

I was actually just about to go into detail. The subject matter alone is enough for three separate blog posts. But it just occurred to me that my boss might read this blog. I don’t think he does, but he’s aware it exists. (Ram, are you out there?) So I’m going to be wise and let it go.

Leaving that aside, there was the little matter of the visa – visas, I should say. Because I needed two. 

Two little hells rolled in one.

It took two weeks of solid maternal nagging for me to connect with my travel agent – incidentally, the same guy who got me my last UK visa for Christmas 2014. I remembered him. I didn’t want to connect. But I had no choice. I went across there on a Saturday. I’d pulled an all-nighter (vodka) and I was stressed (dealing with the hangover caused by vodka), and I was very upset (because of a terrible fight also caused by vodka.)

I am happy to report that I no longer drink vodka.

Anyway, so when I arrived, the travel agent put me on the balcony that adjoined his office. Not literally, obviously, he just told me to go sit there, and I did. For three hours. I didn’t actually get angry or anything, I was too zonked to even really react. But I would look at him with anguish every time he said, “Just twenty minutes more, Madam,” which was something he said many times. And then I would go back to mindless Facebooking.

The three hours took such a toll that when I finally sank into the seat in front of his desk, he looked alarmed and asked me if I was feeling alright.

Yes, yes, I said weakly yet graciously. I feel alright.

He remembered me from last time too, or more accurately, he remembered my mother, because the second thing he said to me was, “We’ll get everything done at the earliest so your mother won’t get angry.”

I wish I could inspire that sort of fear in people.

Thanks to the previous trip, I actually already had most of the documents that were needed. The Embassy is a convenient five-minute walk away from the travel agent’s. So a couple of days later, he packed me off accompanied by one of his henchmen.

It was an extremely awkward walk. You can’t just ignore someone who’s escorting you somewhere, can you? So I desperately tried to make conversation – and, appropriately, since I was going to England, I plucked a subject that is much discussed there.

“It’s very hot today,” I commented.

“What’s Bangalore coming to?”

Silence. Obviously a question not worth responding to.

“Do you think it’s going to rain soon?”


After two minutes of re-grouping, I tried once more.

“They’re saying the monsoon – “

“We’re here.”

Thank god.

I don’t remember much of the passport interview. I do remember having to get passport photographs taken. I also remember the photographs being horrifying.

“I look horrible.” I said to the lady.

She gave me a tight lipped smile.

“Like a convict. I don’t suppose you can take another one?”


“Will they even recognise me at immigration?”

She looked me up and down in a manner I can only describe as insulting and said, “Yes.”

Okay then.

I’d applied for a UK visa as well as my Schengen visa. Like I said, I don’t remember much, so I’m guessing it all went relatively smoothly. Hurrah. I was done.

Unfortunately, when I reported back to the travel agent afterwards (he made me call my mother then and there to prove he’d done his part), I received the unpleasant news that I’d have to go back for a second interview to get my Portugal visa.

It was a minor hindrance at that point.

But it was going to be my downfall.

Sort of.


My UK visa was delivered to office a few days later. Now I had to go back to the travel agent with it, and whatever other papers I had, and set up the interview for my Portugal visa.

This is where something that was most definitely not my fault happened.

So the day I got it, I texted him saying, I’ve got it.


It took me about six frantic minutes to locate the new visa, since I already had a few expired ones there, and I sent him the photo.

GOOD. COME TODAY, he texted the next day.

I had to work late that day, and the day after, so I told him I’d come two days later.

I received an airy affirmative.

Back I went, with all my stuff, and the man had the audacity to tell me that I’d left it a bit late. He’d set the interview for Saturday.

“What do you mean by a bit late?”

“It will be fine. These things happen like that!” An airy click of the fingers.

The airy click of the fingers reassured me.

But by Saturday morning, I was feeling distinctly uneasy. My mother had been calling me incessantly, informing me in tones close to a shout, that there were only ten days left before I had to leave, and why couldn’t I get my act together, and why did I have to be so ‘casual’ about things – all the usual stuff.

“He said it’s OKAY,” I said repeatedly, but when I plonked myself down for the umpteenth time on the other side of his desk to collect the application form he’d filled for me, he said, “Hmm, left it a bit late.”

“WHAT!” I shrieked.

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” He said hastily, probably envisioning my mother’s voice ringing in his ears.
And off I went – on my own thankfully – to the Embassy.

It was a much longer wait this time, but after about an hour, I was standing in front of one of those people-behind-the-counters.

This was a lady-behind-the-counter.

She went through all my documents, checked everything, and then, just as I thought we were done, she said to me, “Ma’am, your application form is not valid.”

“What?” I said.

“The form has been filled out by hand. We only take computerised applications.”

“But this was done by a travel agent. A TRAVEL AGENT. It has to be valid.”

“Sorry,” she said, not sounding sorry at all.

“Listen, Ma’am. The application thing is the first thing I handed to you. You’ve been checking everything else for the past fifteen minutes. You could have told me that at the start.”

She gave me a shifty smile that anyone who’s familiar with Indian red-tape will instantly be able to visualise.

“Well, do I come back another day?”

“Unfortunately Ma’am, this is the last day you have. If you can come back within…” a glance at the clock, “…thirty minutes, we’ll manage.”

I wish I could describe the emotion that coursed through me. I can’t, but it was obviously extremely negative, to put it mildly. 

Calm, I told myself. Calm.

“But everything else is fine, right? All I need to do is just come back with the application?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Absolutely nothing else?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

I ran out of there, and started sprinting down the road, but then I realised I’m incapable of sprinting, and I slowed to a fast walk instead.

Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to go back to the agent, see if it was possible to get a computerised form, and return once more.

It would have daunted a lesser person, and I am a lesser person, ergo, I was daunted.

The fast walk changed to a regular walk. And, with the sun beating down on my head, the regular walk changed to a slow one.

I mean, it’s just Portugal. I told myself. Maybe it’s not meant to be. What’s the point? Maybe I should give up now and just go home. I already have the UK visa.

But then Mawii’s face, wearing an expression that she usually reserves only for me when I am being useless and an all-round lame-o, manifested in my mind. The slow walk picked up tempo. I couldn’t bring myself to reach presto yet, but I definitely wasn’t on andante.

“THIS FORM IS INVALID!” I yelled, bursting into the travel agent’s office. “HOW COULD YOU MAKE THIS MISTAKE?”

He and his henchmen looked up at me, startled.

As quick as I could, and as loudly as I could (there is obviously some part of my mother within me), I told him what happened.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said, turning and shouting something at one of the henchmen. “Ten minutes, just ten minutes. Plenty of time.”

To give him his due, I was out that door ten minutes later. And then back in the waiting room. Half an hour had passed, but I knew that they weren’t going to kick me up or close their counters, so I waited until my name was called.

As luck would have it, I got the same lady.

“HERE.” I said, shoving everything at her.

She meekly went through the documents.

“Ma’am –"


“You need another passport photo.”



I like to think that the look I gave her put terror into her heart because she said, “I’ll hold these for you. Just go down the corridor and get it taken.”

Back I went, to the same lady who’d taken my passport photo earlier. She remembered me.

“This is even worse than the earlier one,” I said, gazing down at the monstrosity that is apparently my face.

No comment.

“You sure it looks like me?”


I don’t know why I bother.

Back again to the visa room, and then another forty minutes of waiting for my biometric thing. The guy who took my thumb print on the machine thought I was an idiot because it wouldn’t register. He finally pushed my finger down so hard I yelped. He ignored the yelp and told me I could go.

The auto-driver I hailed, asked me for fifty rupees extra.

“Yes, okay, fine,” I said, sinking down into the seat.

He looked disappointed. Probably regretting that he hadn’t asked for a hundred.

The story doesn’t end there.

A week later, and I had about three or four days to go until I left for the UK. But there was no sign of the Portugal visa. And worrying – because the visa had to be approved in Delhi, and then dispatched back to Bangalore.

My mother wrote all-caps emails to the agent, to the Portugal embassy in Delhi, and marked me in all of them.

It turned out that there was a ‘power problem’ in Delhi, and all the computers at the Embassy had crashed.

The end result?

I had to postpone my UK tickets by a weekend. Thankfully, there had been a few days’ grace before Mawii and I were leaving for Portugal. With the new dates, I’d be leaving the morning after reaching London.

My mother blamed me, I blamed the travel agent, he blamed the power situation in Delhi. It was a vicious cycle.

In the end, after a particularly aggressive email from my mother, I got a call from a man in Delhi. The situation still hadn’t been resolved, he said. But they were making it a point to send me a hand-written visa as well as an accompanying letter explaining why it was hand-written – to show to the Portuguese authorities.

It is very strange indeed that someone took the trouble to actually call me. I put it down to my mother’s e-mails. The woman had ostensibly put the fear of god into an entire country. 

The handwritten visa came. And I left.

And so something that would have been a distant, almost unbelievable dream in college – going to Europe with Mawii – had, despite my best efforts, insisted on coming true.