Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Of Fools, Morons and Worse

You know those T-shirts that come with corny slogans on them? I feel like wearing one permanently. The slogan should be 'I'M WITH STUPID'. Before you start wondering who the flesh and blood reality of my metaphorical Stupid is, let me spare you the trouble. Its ME. And the worst part is, I can never dump me, so I'm stuck with Stupid for life.

You're wondering what brought on this bout of self appreciation? I lost my cellphone today.

It was a pretty ordinary phone, nothing fancy, no camera or MP3 player or ipod or...I dunno, all that other unnecessary stuff....inbuilt cars, dogs, jetplanes etc. You could call, you could text, and listen to annoying radio jockeys on the FM channels, that's about it. But it was pretty, pink, purple and white, and it had been with me for two years. So what, you ask. It was just an old phone, that too an outdated model, can be replaced soon (debatable, but I'll let that pass...see, the word 'soon' is less likely just now considering the recession in my finances). I'll tell you why the despair. You see, it was MINE, and I miss it. It was reassuring, it was my alarm clock which consistently failed to get me anywhere on time, it was my dose of trashy songs.

I still don't understand how I managed to lose it. One moment I was laughing at Hugh Grant on the big screen, the next moment I was going through the garbage bag at the theatre. Popcorn boxes soggy with spilt Coke...EW! No luck. Damn. I think I'm gonna go and have a good cry.

P.S.: - Hey, you. Hugh Grant. I don't care what they say, you've still got it.

P.P.S.: - In case you haven't already figured out exactly how accurate Orkut fortunes are, maybe this'll help. My fortune for today said,"You will inherit a large amount of money". Hah.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Women Who Never Learn

Let me tell you a story about two girls. One of them, the protagonist of this story (we'll call her L in the interests of protecting her privacy and keeping me safe from legal action) is a smart, pretty, popular girl, with great taste in clothes and music and books etc. The other one is a bespectacled, nondescript, reasonably intelligent wallflower with one quirk: she's a smartmouth. We'll call her S. No reason. I just like the letter S.

So, L and S both join a new school in the eleventh standard. They hit it off, and become friends, because, inspite of all the dissimilarities, they have quite a few things in common. They're both incurably romantic (every Wednesday there is a systematic rehashing of the latest Ally McBeal episode), and they have big dreams. S is also quite amazed by the fact that L cracks up at just about everything she says. Then they begin to travel home together. S discovers that L is just as strange as she herself is, when one day, while walking home, L begins to croon loudly, "STAND UP, STAND UP! Stand up for your rights". S keeps wondering whether they shocked the living daylights out of a nearby grasshopper or something. On one of these walks, L coyly reveals to S that her dearest fantasy (inspired by endless Mills & Boon romances) is to be a single mother, widowed preferably, who then falls in love with her darkly handsome, suave and secretly besotted boss. It is all S can do to not roll on the ground with laughter. This should have served as a hint of things to come, but neither of them were wise enough to realize it.

The two years in school pass, and the two of them are firm friends. L goes south, to study law, and S comes up north to (presumably) get her liberal education. L soon finds out that her boyfriend, who is studying to be a pastor, no less, has been cheating on her (choke, with sorrow/ laughter at the sheer irony...your choice). So she writes tearful letters to S, about how he was the only one etc. S frets and worries and writes back, but as usual, is unable to do anything more effective. Let me mention here, that in school, L had devised a dazzlingly brilliant plan to seduce this selfsame boyfriend, by doing a risque dance to 'Lady Marmalade', and S was the trial audience for the same (more comic than risque) dance performed atop a table in the Biology lab. Anyway, getting back, soon L decides to move on and get a life. S is happy till she discovers that L's idea of moving on is to get back together with that lying cheating organism. The inevitable breakup follows, not once but twice. L has a couple of minor flirtations in between, and S keeps sighing.

Three years later, L falls in love, with a character that S finds rather hilarious, simply because of his purported 'royal' links. L is thrilled, and S smiles and hopes that things work out. She's actually surprised at how deeply involved L is, to the extent of even doing some very unnecessary things to assuage the boyfriend's ego (no, I shall not elaborate). But the problem is that the two belong to different faiths, and chances of a future are slim. S keeps telling L that she isn't the kind of person who can deal with casual affairs, and L keeps saying that she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it. S's visions of unhappy families and filmy elopements are laid to rest when the boyfriend proves to be the usual moron, and takes L for granted to the extent that she dumps him with no regrets. S thinks that L has finally wised up, but, well, no. L now enters into some kind of contraption called an 'open relationship'. S tells her a zillion times that she is not equipped to be in an open relationship, because she's still the kind of girl who wants a nice church wedding and well behaved children. She even argues that it can either be open, or it can be a relationship, it can't be both. But L carries on, S sighs some more, and inexorably, L ends up falling in love, again. Long conversations follow, where S is almost hysterical with sheer exasperation sometimes. Again, L decides its time to move on and she lands a great job, and talks to S about how there are other things in life besides love and stupid boys. S is reassured again, fool that she is, till L calls her up to tell her, "There's someone new...he's not goodlooking, for a change. But he's so funny". By now S has learned her lesson, and wisely sticks to the path of least resistance.

S sits down to think about L, about how such an incredibly smart person can do such amazingly stupid things. And then she wonders whether her own choice of a resolutely single (yawn) life is an alternative that is necessarily a better choice. She's still wondering.

P.S.: - This post is dedicated to one of my most cherished friendships, and a person who I love very much, inspite of her incredible foolishness. Be good, Lady Marmalade.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pak Conversations - VI / Hack! Splutter!

So the journey from Multan to Rawalpindi introduced me to the Pakistani version of the Rajdhani Express-- the Daewoo buses. This bus service is a part of the deal between the Pakistani government and Daewoo involving building these really amazing highways all across the country. Anyway, the buses were pretty plush, and I'd never seen a bus stewardess before. It was a rather interesting journey, beginning with prayers and a short speech welcoming all the passengers. The one in Urdu was easier to understand than the one in English, which was truly terrible. We were served chicken sandwiches which were actually quite good. I wish they'd better the standards of journey food in India. Sigh.

Getting back, these buses have radio and TV, but the TV is quite pointless unless you want something boring enough to put you to sleep quickly.So I thought some music would make the journey more pleasant, seeing as it was to last ten hours. I put the earphones on, and shook my head in disbelief. No, not here!! I couldn't have come so far away to be haunted by this spectre....no, anything but HIMESH! So, yes, radio was not an option, and I settled for sharing headphones with A and using her MP3 player. The consequences were rather hilarious. We each heard one half of 'California Dreamin'. Among other things, there were the regulation bawling babies (they are the same the world over), the police jeep waiting at Jhang where the bus stopped so that we could, ahem, use the facilities (may I add here that this stop was not exclusively for my benefit), and the stewardess telling us that the bus had never travelled so fast, as the road ahead was being cleared of traffic on our account. Sheesh. I also had to try very hard to not fall asleep, considering that gravity plays strange tricks on me when I fall asleep in a bus, and I really didn't want a bunch of normal people to have their psyches scarred forever with a view of the inside of my mouth. I didn't succeed, I must have slept for atleast eight hours. Thankfully, I woke up as soon as we approached the mountains. They were like a testament to time itself, layered in colours that were as solid as the rocks, and yet vibrant, bursting, beautiful inspite of being dry and bare. And I must say, I do take the most wonderful photos from inside moving vehicles. Pat(s) on my back.

On reaching Rawalpindi, we were wondering whether we should wait for our escorts to show up, as we'd been instructed to do by the cops in Multan. But we were tired and dirty, and in no mood to humour Pakistani intelligence. So we got into an ancient cab and left for Islamabad, all the while amusing ourselves at the thought of the hapless party that would have been sent to recieve us, and would now be frantic at the thought that they'd managed to lose five Indian women.

Islamabad was reached quite quickly, on account of being only forty five minutes away from Pindi. Its rather like a pretty American suburb, with wide, clean avenues, pretty houses, and no poor people visible. I rather liked it, although its been called lifeless and boring. It was more a place that a homebody like me would enjoy living in. Of course, it is most essential to have noisy, riotous Pindi nearby, so that one can escape from sanity once in a while.

We reached P's residence. It was quiet, beautiful and most important, it was home, finally. We luxuriated in the bathroom, and the beds, and the heater, and the television, and we gorged in the kitchen (tea, nutella on toast, glorious chicken in manageable portions, glorious vegetables after a long period of parting, more of everything in general, except for T, who kept up her tradition of being functional with food). We finally had to roll ourselves out of the kitchen, and I discovered that my blog, and all other Indian ones, are inaccessible in Pakistan. Talk about irony. They do have that demon called Orkut, though.

P.S.: - I'm taking a hiatus from blogging for a while (meaning a week, tops). the reasons are as follows: -

1. I have to work on a book review on something about a second nuclear age by Colin Gray. As you can see, I haven't even begun. Blech.
2. I have to catch up on my reading. The list is, well, long. For this week, I'll restrain myself to three maybe.
3. There is a mountain of clothes to be washed and bed linen to be changed.
4. Why would you want to know about my extremely mundane chores?

Also, everybody who went to the Roger Waters concert tonight in Bombay, I hope you realize that you shouldn't have, coz I couldn't. Also, since more than two thirds of my bloodstream now consists of cough syrup, don't take me too seriously. That's it for now. Be good, boys and girls. Tata.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Love Me Do

So, yes, I know, how much more cliched can it get, writing a post about love on Valentine's Day of all days. I've lived through all of these single so far, and today is no different. And it isn't as though I'm really starry eyed about this entire concept. But today I woke up happy, and I was upbeat all day, listening to mushy numbers and generally being a complete sap. And then I went out for dinner with the sibling and a friend, and waited for half an hour as no tables were available. In that half hour I saw a lot of very badly dressed people, folks holding hands, giving each other flowers, looking like they were in love or desperately trying. And yet, the cynicism did not really reach me today.

I've been wondering for some time now, why it has become so inordinately difficult for us to be upfront about love. Why is it that Valentine's Day is allowed to mean either a vast marketing conspiracy of the Archies/ Hallmark conglomerates, or another day to do what you do everyday, but pay more money and wait in longer queues for it? If you're seeing someone you splurge on a fancy gift, an outfit and dinner, and if you're single you either crib about your singledom or smirk at the foolish twosomes who actually fall for silly things like these. Why is it that a basic enough need to be understood, to be a companion, to not be alone, has become so mired in attitudes and perceptions?

And then there are the ones who love, but will not let it be. They will resist, fight it to the last, because its somehow not a part of their plan. They never planned on being with someone, their family will disapprove, they have too much on their plate. Clarity, where on earth is clarity? If you love, and you're lucky enough to have that returned to you, then do you really think that somehow depriving yourself of it will make your family happy, or clean up your cluttered plate, or make your grand life plan a better success?

I'm a romantic and I don't want to help it. It isn't as if I haven't seen the downside of it, how can one not? I've seen the hurt, the devastation, the struggle to get out of bed every morning. But being comfortably numb is at best a stage, not a solution. Being an automaton isn't living, its better to be broken than to be untouched and lost in an eternity of wondering. Yes I know, I'm not really in a position to say that I understand the pain of it and so whatever I say is superfluous. Maybe it is. But it is essential for me to believe in the possibility of this, the chance that there are still people who aren't content to play it safe, who are ready to feel, however incredible the highs and terrible the lows entailed in that path are.

Finally, since I've been listening to this song all day, its only fair that I subject you to it.

Isn't it strange, the way things can change,
The life that you lead turned on its head,
Suddenly someone means more than you fell for,
A house and its yard turns into home..
I'm sorry but I meant to say
Many things along the way
This one's for YOU..
Have I told you I ache..have I told you I ache..
Have I told you I ache...for YOU?
(Ache-James Carrington)

This one is for all the YOUs of this world, from all the MEs of the world, with lots of love. Happy Valentine's Day, and I hope it means something this time.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rainy Days

Delhi's in the grip of some really fine weather since yesterday. It has been pouring. Somebody up there has suddenly decided to like us. The younger sister is here with me for a week, and so I've been obliged to play the dutiful host, but I don't think I'm doing a very efficient job of it, considering that my natural impulse, whenever I see even a spot of rain, is to dive under the covers and go back to sleep. But, well, I have Friends. The kind who come to the university on a rainy Saturday to study, and then decide that making me fulfil my sisterly responsibilities is a better pursuit than higher education. I am, of course, talking about that intrepid soldier of fortune, Kitkat.

So she walks all over campus in the rain, comes to my hostel and determinedly knocks on the door at 9.30 in the morning. I wake up and stumble to the door, hoping that its just the benevolent roommate. Sigh. She breezes in, while I try to get back into bed, but then she pouts indignantly, "Aren't you even gonna give me a hug?" Of course, I go over to hug her, only to have my sleep-warmness destroyed by this rain-drenched deviant, who goes on to snigger, as usual.

Anyway, the point is, we decided to lunch out, but the autos decided to give the campus a miss. So we went to the gate in the bus, only to find that autos per se were not intended for our use that day. So we waited, waited and waited. Kitkat suddenly remarked that we should stand there looking cute, so that we'd get a lift. In less than five minutes after I had disdained her suggestion, a long black car pulled up, and the driver, a middle-aged man, gestured that we could get a lift from him. I, of course, goggled at him so hard that my eyes began to feel strained. We couldn't obviously take the risk of getting into a stranger's car, here in unsafe ol' Delhi, but Kitkat got her use out of it. She kept insisting that she and the little one had been innocent bystanders, and it was my incandescent charms that had made the guy (nice guy/sleazebag, take your pick, I still can't decide) stop for us. And worse, she labelled my very just indignation at her remarks under the horrible category of 'coyness'. The result of such mental trauma was that I got so drunk on chocolate at the neighbourhood Barista that for twenty minutes, all I could say was "so, so you think you can tell, heaven from hell..." etc.

After that we did our Valentine's Day shopping at the gruesomely pink Archie's outlet, the little one and I for the Other Sister, and Kitkat for her momma. We're sad, dull people, as you can see.

Anyway, we're all at Kitkat's Haryana abode right now, where she's feeding us and making fun of me. Good weekend. We're going shopping in a while. Did I say good weekend? I meant perfect.

Update: - Rule of thumb for perfect things-- never call them perfect till they're over. So we did go shopping, and it was not too bad. But the process of getting there reinforced my belief that buses in Haryana really hate me. The backdrop to this experience is the fact that not only did it rain today, there was actually hail for about twenty minutes. Anyway, the bus that we were on apparently thought it was the Ark, and the conductor thought that he was Noah himself. He was bodily working more and more people into an already bursting bus. Therefore, obviously, on our way out, we had to shove, nudge and push people who were shoving, nudging and pushing back with equal vim. A lady of indeterminate age made a bid for my seat while I was still in it, making me assume my indignant voice and say,"May I make my way out, if you please, lady?" at which she went "Tch tch beta..."....The nerve! Any way, we're back, and my advice is, do not move here if you don't own a car. May not sound very profound now, but one day when you're stuck inside a tiny tinpot bus, with the smell of wind (not the breezy kind, the oh-my-god-who did that kind) and with a million people dying to sit on your lap, you'll remember my wisdom.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pak Conversations - V

So, Multan.

We were a little worried about how much sightseeing we would actually get done, considering that our guide was as familiar with Multan as he would be with Amritsar probably. We were also a little apprehensive because the nuns had informed us that someone from the Intelligence Bureau had called the Convent the previous night, asking about our plans (worried, meaning, A and I were worried, T was concerned, R was apprehensive, and P was the aspen leaf trembling in the wind). Anyway, after another exceedingly polite breakfast, we set out to explore Multan with our inadequate guide and a little bit more helpful guidebook.

We were on our way to the Fort area of the city when we spotted THEM on motorbikes behind us. Two nondescript looking men who became conspicuous because they had to keep their eagle eyes fixed on us while appearing nonchalant and maneouvering their bikes. Not easy. Anyway, initially we thought it was amusing, and we even looked back and smiled at them. Big mistake. Suddenly they went ahead of us and stopped our car, asking if we were Indians etc. Then we learnt that the Multan Police and an official from the Intelligence Bureau were to be our guides for the day. In between, of course, P and R had almost gone apoplectic, and my stomach had started its usual wild savage dance. We composed ourselves, however, and reached the Fort area, where we met the five policemen(!!) who were to stay with us for as long as we were in Multan. VIP treatment is not all that its cracked up to be. But it is better than getting lost in a foreign country with a geographically challenged guide.

So, we first took a look at three dargahs at in the Fort area; the dargah of Shahrukh-e-alam, that of Bahaudddin Zakaria and that of Tabrez. At the risk of some part of the readership snoozing off, let me enlighten you. Multan is one of the seats of the Suhrawardy sect of Sufism, while Ajmer is the seat of the Chishti sect. The dargahs are splendid, with exquisite inlay work in lapis lazuli, a sea of shimmering blues. The cops ensured that we got free chadars, free memorabilia that we didn't really want anyway, and that we met two kinds of people--- one kind who overwhelmed us with their absolute sweetness (like the old man at the dargah of Tabrez who couldn't believe that people from THE OTHER SIDE had come to visit, like it was a testimony to the power of the saint himself, and the wizened old beggar who hid his outstretched hand behind his back when he learned that we were from India where all the other great saints rested...awwww) and the other kind who asked in surly tones why non-believers should be let into the dargahs, and gave us the chadars etc with pinched faces and hostile eyes. I didn't mind. It is a part of the baggage that history has handed down to us, and that we refuse to let go of so consistently. Perhaps it would be a bit too much to expect everyone to be able to forget all that and be pleasant. Oh, and the dargahs had their very own minstrels, and the most wonderful music.

The fun really began when the cops took us shopping. We first went to the Hussain Agahi Bazaar which is supposed to stretch over some 28 miles (or kilometres, I forget which). The thing is, they were very nice and courteous cops and all, but they still suffered from one problem--they were men. Hence they expected us to go into one shop and buy everything and be done with it. They discovered that five inveterate shoppers from India did not give up easily. Poor things. They began to tire after the first couple of shops, even as we were getting lost in a delightful array of cottons and silks. After about an hour of this, they shepherded us out of the bazaar to a shabby little restaurant called Multan Food City for lunch. Now the thing with eateries in Pakistan is that they serve chicken by the kilo, instead of by the plate, and one of their rotis equals three of ours. So we asked for a half plate of chicken and they gave us a whole chicken and a mountain of rotis. We started ploughing through, when cop # 1 started expounding on the virtues of Islam, and how a man could stay unwashed for 20 days, but if he said a certain verse of the Quran, he wouldn't stink. I mean, I was uncomfortable, not only because of the tremendous inappropriateness of the conversation but because I had a mad urge to laugh and start talking about deodorants. P was making polite noises and the rest of us were concentrating on getting the darned chicken down our throats without choking.

Meal over, the cops took us to one shoe shop and made us complete our buying from there. Imagine a city with atleast nine Bata stores and I didn't get to go to one. Then they took us to buy son halwa, which I think is overrated, and they had one entire case as a free sample, I think. There was some more shopping, believe it or not, but this isn't an inventory. Anyway, they took us back to the Convent, and very politely forbade us from leaving it at night. That night we had a very cosy little sitdown with the nuns, who had gotten us all gifts...they are so very kind. One of them was above 90, and had a memory disorder probably. She asked T when we were going back to India every fifteen minutes, and T patiently replied every single time. She was my clear favourite. One of the nuns was talking about how minorities face discrimination in Pakistan. She said that India was ready for freedom in 1947, but Pakistan was not. Its incredible how there is such a strong belief in Pakistan's separate existence before 1947, infact right through history.

Well, the next day, we made an early start and had our little motorcade taking us to the bus station. Some hapless car came between ours and the police van, and the furious gesticulation at the driver made a rather amusing picture. Anyway, we bade farewell to the cops and to Multan, and I won't pretend that I was too sorry to leave. Now i know what they mean about gilded cages, even the nicest ones.

P.S.: - You're walking, and its going to rain, and the dry leaves are rolling about, and its beautiful. Then the sun peeks out, just for a second, and there's a whole new kind of perfection. You're cold, you clutch your jacket closer, but its just an automatic reaction. Sometimes letting the chill winds touch you does a great deal of good work in taking off unnecessary loads from your mind. And then you think, "Why on earth did I let them worry me so?"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fear

I've finally gathered the courage. Now I will sit down and write up my CV. I need a job and its accoutrements, like money, and I need these things rather quickly. University will not shield me much longer, and the time will come to pay back my dues. Real fear. It is a sour feeling, like an unripe orange. Writing this stupid thing is one of the most profoundly depressing things I've done lately. I really have nothing to say, and that is sad. What do I write? Oh, hello, its me. I've only studied all my life, sometimes not too well. I cannot do anything, but will you please pay me pots of money anyway? Why do I want pots of money? Actually, that is rather personal. I'd rather not discuss it.

Let's look at an alternative scenario.
Interviewer (intimidating, handlebar moustache, bald) : - "SO!!! You want me to employ you, eh? What's your name?"
Me: - "My name? Erm.....ehehehe... Its on the tip of my tongue, really...begins with a Q, oh no, a W....something......".
Interviewer: - "You really need me to tell you if you've got the job or not? Lady, you don't remember your name!!! Do you remember the way you came in? That same route will lead you back outside. I'm telling you this so that you don't have to tax your little mind. Leave!"
Me: - "That's it! S! My name starts with S!"

Etc.

Oh lord, I don't have it in me to be an unemployed struggler. I'll cry myself blind in a week. Why, oh why, was I so bad at maths? Why did I get seduced by the liberal arts? Why didn't I study how to manage people without letting them know they were being managed, from some outrageously expensive college?

I have nightmares in colour these days....nightmares about being THE STUPID ONE WHO CANNOT MAKE COFFEE, or THE ONE WHOSE BRAIN IS ALWAYS ON VACATION, or THE ONE WHO'S POTTY, IN EVERY SENSE OF THE WORD. Oh my goodness, what if they make me wear T-shirts with these slogans on them?

I know what I'll do. I'm spitting in their coffees. Pthooey!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pak Conversations- IV

They say that grumpy and hormonal women do not happy posts write. Let's see.

We left Lahore the next morning, late again, but that wasn't really to be wondered at. When you have five women in a foreign country, grappling with such diverse crises as a constipated stomach due to a sudden dietary shift to almost exclusively meat proteins, to the fact that suddenly cramming all your clothes into that teeny little suitcase didn't seem quite so workable, it was a miracle that we managed to leave at all. I was jumpy and nervous, because I knew that this trip would expose my horrible secret, that forevermore, I would be known as the girl who used every single toilet at every opportunity, all over Pakistan. I had visions of secret intelligence files having records saying "11.14 am - S pees, AGAIN. We're sick of this assignment". Anyway, the journey had begun.

The highways had three good things about them. They were actually wide, smooth roads, very comfortable. They were running through beautiful country, with the regulation yellow mustard fields. And the motion happily put us all to sleep, and sleep is always good. In between all the sleeping, there was an interlude where we went into a petrol pump so I could, sigh, use the facilities. At this point, A saw a camel pulling a cart full of firewood on the road. It being a Kodak moment, we had the camel on one side, and A running on the other side, screaming for the cart to stop. She finally got her picture, and two very confused Pakistani men had a story for that evening's friendly neighbourhood meeting.

The van rolled on, and we slept some more. And then we woke up to Harappa. She is something, she is. One of the world's first cities, relic to an experiment that we still haven't managed to perfect. I honestly think that the MCD guys could take lessons from the planning in Harappa. It is all that the history books say it is, and then some more. There is a desolation about it, it is absolutely quiet, but there seems to be a sense of expectancy even in that silence, as though she knows that evening will take away intruders like us and then the old friends will make their way back. I sometimes still have trouble believing that I was there, even with the pictures for proof. All my undergraduate history dreams are finally fulfilled...yay. On our way out, this group of picnickers, mostly women, asked us to join them for lunch. We were so surprised that we could only mumble a confused "No, thank you.". I wonder why friendliness takes us by surprise every time.

We got back on the road to Multan, and then we had ample occasion to regret turning down that lunch invite. It was past lunch time, there was a a collection of sundry dhabas for truckers all along the way, but we couldn't eat at these places because our guide didn't think they were 'proper', probably because they didn't have zenana sections. I really, really missed India at that point, missed the possibility of eating out in the open at a roadside dhaba. We kept driving, and thinking about food, and drooling, and cursing the guide's sense of propriety. Finally, at about six pm, we found a convenience store, and imagine how hungry we were to actually buy biscuits worth almost 400 rupees. Biscuits. And imagine how not amused we were when about ten minutes later, the guide and the driver sauntered off to line their stomachs with another one of those high protein, mostly meat meals. I'm convinced that our combined malevolence did some bad things to that man's digestive system later.

After driving for a couple of more hours, we finally reached Multan. It was late evening, and all through our drive, we saw ONE woman on the streets, riding pillion on a bike. ONE woman and SIX Bata stores. I've never been claustrophobic before, and we immediately covered our heads as some sort of safety measure. The pressure to conform, to be inconspicuous was so pressing that even our breathing must have become more muted. We were lost, maybe a little less lost than our guide. Somehow we blundered through the streets to the convent where we were to stay for the next two nights. Not only did this convent share its name with my alma mater in Shillong, it was also located in the cantonment area, where our visas expressly forbade us from going. And the place was so clearly different from Lahore that it succeeded in thoroughly discomfiting all of us. We had a quiet dinner with all the nuns, who were friendly, of course, but convent education makes one rather obsequious towards a woman of the cloth, and here there were about ten of them at the table, so imagine my state. I was stupid enough to eat an orange for dessert, so that everybody at the table was smiling politely, waiting for me to finish, and the darned orange wouldn't end. I surreptitiously passed some along to R, who was sitting next to me, saying, "Psst. Here. HELP!"

Believe it or not, eventually the orange was a thing of the past. We smiled, and smiled some more, and went to bed. It was the first time that we realised that we were in a different country, and sometimes things might get less than pleasant. I still slept soundly, because I always do, but a more sensitive person might have had troubled dreams.

P.S. Guess who's back? Its Kitkat! I'm so thrilled, so glad you're writing again. You were sorely missed, don't pull a vanishing act on faithful readers like me again, okay?
P.P.S. They are right. That was not a very happy post, but happiness grates against your skin when you're ill.