So Long, Chennai!

So I was supposed to write this about 3 months ago. But for various reasons, I never got around to it. Now I’m glad I didn’t, because as it turned out, it hadn’t been time yet. But now, it definitely is. I’m still trying to come to terms with the certainty of it, actually. As I’m writing this, I’m on a train, on the way back home and I’m definitely leaving Chennai, after living there for a little over three years.

That’s not really a long time per se, but if in those three years, so much happened that played a really huge role in making you who you are today, then you’d agree that it is a significant amount of time.

When I left home for college, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was definitely happy to leave. I wanted to be the ‘new girl in the city’ from ‘Wake Up Sid‘, one of my favorite movies. I wanted to explore the city, and know it like the back of my hand. I wanted to try out new things and meet new people. I wanted to become a cooler person. 

In three years, all that has happened, and so much more. I discovered my love for food, for starters. I learnt to bargain with auto-rickshaw drivers in Tamil. I went on numerous long, solitary walks. I learnt to cook my own food. I started a blog, But most importantly, I came to love this city, even more than my hometown.

In ‘Wake Up Sid’, the female lead pens an article describing her fondness for her city and narrates how she came to love the place because of one particular person (the male lead, obviously).

In my case, there’s no one single person, but a whole bunch of really, really awesome (I cannot stress that word enough) people who made me love Chennai. In fact, when I got to know earlier this week that I had to leave, the only thought that came to mind was how much I’d miss those people, despite the fact that leaving was the best possible thing that could happen to me then. Five days and a bunch of almost-breakdowns later, I’ve still not entirely gotten over it. I’m there, but not quite there, if you know what I mean.

So that’s why I’m depressed about leaving this place. Because of the friend who took me on spontaneous outings; the friend who left the city but remained my best friend; the friend who was always ready to go shopping and watch movies; the friend with whom I bonded over ‘Atlas Shrugged'; the friend who’s as socially awkward as I am; and all my roommates who made hostel home. All those people who listened to me, talked to me, put up with me, brought me home-cooked food, made me feel like I belong with them, made me happy and actually GOT me is the reason why saying Goodbye to this city was so damn hard.

They also made me realize that I suck at goodbyes. I know I’m supposed to smile heartily and wish them good luck and all that jazz, but I could barely stand looking at their faces. The best I could muster was a tight hug, a grimace and ‘OK, now leave.’. But I know it’s alright. They get it. 

There’s a lot to look forward to, but there’s also a lot to look back and be happy about. And in the end, I guess that’s all that matters, right?

That not-so-awkward moment when you realize you’re an introvert…

When I was young, I was the shyest kid around. As in, the kind of kid that would hang around her mom when surrounded with other people. The prospect of meeting other kids at a social gathering was just plain horrifying. I’d refuse to join them, preferring to watch from the sidelines. Unless there were only one or two other kids, in which case I’d go and talk to them, albeit only when encouraged by my mom. People around would try to coerce me into it, of course. Some would be nice about it, some would make fun of me. But I don’t remember budging, ever. I’d just stand there and take it with a grimace. When it came to meeting new people, I remember my mom often telling others that once I overcame the initial reluctance, I’d talk non-stop. That was true, actually. As a kid, if you get me started, I’d never shut up.

I started changing as I grew up. Most people do, I suppose. The process was slow, subtle and quite confusing. I wasn’t shy like I used to be, but I never talked in front of a lot of people unless absolutely necessary. I didn’t want to be labelled as the person who doesn’t talk much, although I couldn’t help it at all.On the other hand, people who knew me well sometimes had the opposite opinion. Hence, I never actually admitted to myself that I was an introvert. I guess I always knew it deep down, but I somehow convinced myself that I was probably somewhere in the middle. I guess that sounded safe.

And then, a couple of days back, I randomly decided to google ‘Signs that you are an introvert’. That was one of those moments when I felt like hitting myself on the head with a heavy book for being SO STUPID.  Because I’d never, ever read anything that described me that perfectly. For instance, the articles I came across explained most of the characteristics I possess, such as these :

1. I hate small talk. It’s excruciatingly mind numbing. You can tell me the story of your life, but DO NOT talk to me about the weather (Unless you’re a friend, of course).

2. There’s always an internal conversation with myself going on in my head unless I’m sleeping. Therefore, I never get bored when I’m by myself.

3. If I’m part of a group of more than four people at the most, I automatically go on mute. If I do say something out loud, I’ve probably been practicing it in my head for two minutes.

4. I prefer not to speak out in class, unless nobody else knows the answer.

5. If you’re a silent person yourself, I’d probably never become friends with you. Someone has to initiate the conversation, right?

6. Texting over calling, any day. Writing over speaking, as well.

7. If you want me to tell you anything about myself, you should probably start spilling first.

8. I like taking long walks by myself. Not that I mind company, though.

So after seeing stuff like that listed out, I finally have conclusive evidence that my oddities have a collective name, and it doesn’t have a negative connotation. Now, I can tell you that I’m an introvert without batting an eyelid. I can also tell you that it doesn’t mean I won’t be friends with you. I just enjoy my own company a lot.

Of course, getting to this point in life has involved a lot of socially awkward situations. For example, I still hang around my mom when we attend public functions. But by now, I’ve also learnt that it’s not entirely impossible to get over the awkwardness. How I try to do that, is another story.

 

 

Leave of Absence

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting you. But you know how it is. I’m in that phase of life, where you’ve just finished something big, and haven’t yet moved on to the next. To make things worse, you’re not entirely sure whether you’ll get to do what you really want to. In my case, I have no clue where I’ll be doing my Masters, now that I’ve graduated. And entrance tests aren’t really a cakewalk. Especially when they’re spread over two entire months. A whole summer of just studying. Woohoo.

Although, it’s not that bad. I do love Economics, after all. The only downside is the fact that I’m completely incapable of doing anything except eating, sleeping, studying (obviously), and watching Korean dramas when exams are going on. So that means a break from writing, pretty much.

So why am I writing now? Well, I’ll give you two reasons. One, I’ve exhausted my internet quota for the month, so I can’t stream any more dramas (Story of my life). Two, the website I stream from infected my laptop with virus (Scandalous, I know!). So here I am. Writing my leave of absence letter.

Hopefully, I’ll be back by July. And sometime around then, I’ll know where I’m going to spend the next two years. Fingers crossed. Until then, Adios!

Bicycles, Beaches and Good Food (Chapter 4)

Chapter 4: Food, Food and More Food

Le Dupleix is definitely one of the most serene restaurants I’ve ever been to. Located in a very quiet area, and surrounded by trees, it’s the place to go if you want to have a nice and peaceful meal. We realized that Le Dupleix would make a really good destination for a dinner date. Especially on Valentine’s day. Such a pity we’re all single, I tell you.

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By the time we reached there, we were pretty exhausted and sweaty. All I remember was plonking down on the extremely comfortable chair. Because of the awesome breakfast, none of us were particularly hungry, so eating (believe it or not) wasn’t much of a priority. So we ordered some really refreshing lime sodas (Iced tea, in C.’s case), and sat back, enjoying the atmosphere.

Looking back, I can’t really believe that we only ate so little, but that little was scrumptious, so I guess that makes up for it.

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Before our food arrived, P. and I spent quite a while referring to our map and discussing which direction to head in to reach the beach side. For about half of the duration, we were trying to figure out which side is east. “We have to go towards that side!” She pointed towards our back. “But the sun rises over there!” I pointed in the opposite direction. S. and C. were busy taking pictures.

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Our waitress was a really nice Canadian, who inquired whether we were staying the night at Le Dupleix. We shook our heads disappointedly and informed her about the Pre-Valentine weekend rush (Not that we would be able to afford the place otherwise, but still).  She raised her eyebrows and twisted her lips in such scorn at the phrase, which made all of our days.

From there, we headed to the promenade, the famed walkway flanked by the ocean. Well, we were actually heading for Promenade the Hotel, where we wanted to have dessert from. We cycled for a while (or walked, in C.’s case) along the neat walkway, passing some of the well-known landmarks, such as the French War memorial.

It was soothing to be inside the air conditioned restaurant after enduring the outside heat. We were also looking forward to some yummy and sweet dessert. The waiter, however, thought it appropriate to hand us the drinks menu. Once we corrected that mistake, and got the food menu, imagine our disappointment when we saw they had only about five options for desserts. Plus, we couldn’t just get up and leave now that we had sat down inside. So we settled for Tiramisu, although we had our doubts about how good it would turn out to be. Our suspicions were confirmed when it was served. It was just barely alright.

Regardless of the disappointing dessert, we hung around there a while longer, waiting for the sun to go down. Soon after, we left and roamed around for a while. P. and I made an attempt to teach C. how to ride a bicycle, and failed. Or more like C. gave up after two minutes. At some point, P. and S. initiated what seemed like an enthusiastic photo shoot on the walkway. I got bored, and promptly abandoned C. (with her permission, of course) to cycle towards the other end of the path (or to go off on my own adventure, as P. put it later). Once I was back, we sat down for a while watching the calm ocean. No better way to spend time, I tell you.

Of course, so much time doing random stuff can only be compensated by more food. We parked our bicycles and entered our last restaurant of the day, Le Cafe. Now according to P., this was supposed to be a really good, and really crowded place. The last two times she’d been to Pondicherry, she’d come here to eat, and had left without having anything because the food hadn’t arrived by the time they had to board their bus.

We got our food, thankfully. But we sorely wished that P. had gotten hers the last time she came here, because then we’d have known that it wasn’t so great. For the first time in the day, we were disappointed by what we got to eat. Sigh.

Of course, our time at Le Cafe was still entertaining, because of certain events happening at the table behind us. Being an open air restaurant, the only thing that separated our tables from the road was a fence. A gentleman sitting behind us had thought it appropriate to jump over the fence and onto his seat, much to the chagrin of the management. This led to a tiff between the group and the managers, with the latter even asking them to leave without paying. The fence – jumping gentleman then decided to go have a private word with the authorities, and returned looking triumphant.

Now, why was this event of any consequence to us? Because according to S., the guy resembled Robert Downey Jr (Sighing and swooning in the background). Enough said.

So after some disappointing food and stolen glimpses at the Robert Downey Jr. lookalike (turned out he was bald under his cap! Who’d have thought that?), we headed to bicycle rental. Now that was a fun journey, with C. leading us in an auto rickshaw, and me, S. and P. following, in that order. P. almost got lost, interestingly. The next stop was the bus station. No more waiting this time thankfully. But we did get onto the wrong bus the first time. I’d expected that I’d be dead tired during the return journey, but surprisingly, I wasn’t. P. and I spent almost the entire time chatting like there was no tomorrow, while S. and C. fell asleep with S.’s head resting on the shoulder of C., whose mouth was wide open. I’d have loved to put up a picture of that, but C. would positively kill me. Although the return trip was longer, I found myself wishing that we wouldn’t get back anytime soon, but alas, all good things have to come to an end.

And thus, after almost three years of speculation, we finally went to Pondicherry and came back to tell the tale.

Bicycles, Beaches and Good Food (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: The Fall

Baker Street. Did you just think of 221 B? So did I. And guess what I found?

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Yep, only ‘221 B’ was missing from the name.

Despite being extremely hungry, we spent about fifteen minutes deciding what to eat, being spoilt for choice. Even then, the pancakes C. was craving for were absent. We settled for a variety of sandwiches, along with custard cake and mushroom Quiche. To put it simply, it was delicious. We were so full by the end of it, and keep in mind that me feeling full is no ordinary occurrence. Thanks to S.’s ritualistic habit of capturing every single dish on the table, we now have pictures to look at and sigh wistfully.

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Once breakfast was done, and we were done being self-obsessed (taking pictures of ourselves, I mean), we headed to Mission Street, where we were to rent bicycles from. It turned out to be a very long road, and we walked for quite a bit before we reached the place we were looking for. But as luck would have it, they had only one bicycle. ONE.

Apparently, there was only a single shop that rented bicycles in the area, contrary to what we’d been expecting. The plump old woman and a younger man who seemed to be the owners told us sympathetically that the rental of motor bikes was prohibited on weekends, and consequently, they’d run out of bicycles in the morning itself. We sure were a lucky bunch, weren’t we?

About fifteen minutes later, one more bicycle turned up. S. and I rented that and the one from before, and rode them around the place to find out other rental stores. The only thing that came out of that little detour was my realization that there was no way that C., who hadn’t been on a bicycle since third grade, would be able to ride one in such heavy traffic.

By the time S. and I got back, a third bicycle was being fixed up for our use. Now, they did have other cycles, but they were of the taller variety that men rode. S. and P., who are both taller than me, gave them a try and failed, since their feet barely touched the ground. I didn’t even stand a chance.

Finally, an hour after we’d reached the shop, we decided to take just the three bicycles. P. volunteered to take C. behind her, but failed miserably to balance the vehicle. S. gave it a shot next, and succeeded.

The bicycles and us.

The bicycles and us.

All was good, except for the fact that we didn’t have much of an idea about where exactly to go. We figured that we could head in the general direction of the beach and find a good place for lunch. And so we rode merrily through the quaint streets, passing old French style homes. Of course, we were sweating like pigs, given that the 12’o clock sun was blazing above us.

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They clearly have a thing for yellow walls.

At some point, P. and I overtook S. I kind of had no option, given that my bicycle had bad brakes (and no bell). A car passed us in the opposite direction, and right after it disappeared from my view, I heard it run into the gravel on the sidewalk. Suddenly there was a loud, painful, female cry. I pulled the brakes and turned around immediately, dreading that the car had hit S. and C. But thankfully, the car was nowhere near them. S. and C. however, were sprawled on the ground. S. was crying out loud, trying to catch someone’s attention, so that they’d help her up. By the time I reached them, a few men had crossed the road to lift the vehicle and help them up.

C. was unhurt, but S. had badly bruised both her elbows and a knee. On top of that, the strap of her sandals was also damaged. The men who’d helped them left soon, after suggesting that we head to the general hospital nearby. C. sat down on the pavement to compose herself, and drank some water. P. was trying to fix S.’s sandals, telling her that there was no need to buy a new pair right now. I was just standing there, musing that this trip was turning out to be quite an eventful one. S. stood with her injured elbows held straight, and exclaimed, “Oh my God. These scars won’t go! What do I do now?!”

I raised my eyebrows and grinned. She was alright.

Meanwhile, an old lady appeared from inside the building in front of which we were standing, after hearing the ruckus we’d created. She initially advised us to the go the hospital, but after S. asserted that there was no need for that, she invited us inside. The first thing we noticed when we entered was an antique, big, machine. I didn’t find out what exactly the machine did, but we later learnt that they were an enterprise that created and sold paper craft products. The lady led us into an open hall, and gave us a first aid kit. S. sat down on a stool and P. immediately started working on her wounds, being a self-proclaimed first-aid expert (having treated herself in the past). C. stood nearby, apologizing profusely for causing the fall, and offering her hand for S. to hold in order to reduce the pain caused by the medicine. S. waved away her apologies (although we all knew that she would probably hang it over C.’s head for the rest of her life) and refused to hold her hand (which she reconsidered when P. actually began applying the medicine). Me being completely inexperienced in both getting hurt and treating hurt people, took a seat at a safe distance and watched. We all agreed that S. was quite a strong girl, bearing the pain and still joking about it.

Once we were done with dressing S.’s wounds and taking pictures of the wounded girl (duh!), we started conversing with the old lady, and a younger one that had entered later. They spoke to us about their work and products, and offered to open their showroom for us. We agreed, and looked around for a while at handmade paper folders, bookmarks, photo frames and the like. Cute stuff, in fact. Figuring that buying something would be the polite thing to do, since they’d help us, I got what I thought was a purple frog shaped bookmark (which turned out to be a clip, but what the hell), and P. got a photo frame with a monkey on it (she wanted to put a picture of S. in it).

By then, S. and C. were both well rested, and we decided to head outside. We asked the older lady suggestions for places to eat, and she recommended a restaurant that sold cheap Dosas and Idlis. Ha. South Indian cuisine from Pondicherry? No thank you, ma’am. So we cheerfully waved good bye to both of them and left.

S. and I exchanged bicycles, mine being more suitable for a wounded person, and C. had to resort to taking an auto rickshaw. She got into the auto first, and the rest of us followed the vehicle.

Where were we going? To Le Dupleix it was.

Stay tuned for more.

Bicycles, Beaches and Good Food (Chapter 2)

Chapter Two : The Bus Journey

The eagerly awaited day finally arrived. We hadn’t done much planning for the trip. We were supposed to talk about it the previous night, but out of nowhere, P. decided to go out for dinner with her friends. Of course, no planning can be done without P. By the time she returned, C. was asleep and S. and I were too tired to bother talking. So, as of then, the idea was to get up and leave as early as possible.

Usually being an early riser, I took upon myself the task of waking up P. and S. I woke up several times in the night, and went back to sleep after checking the time. The last time I remember doing this was at 3:45 am. ‘One more hour’, I told myself. before falling back onto my pillow.

The next thing I know, C.’s face was inches away from mine. “I was just checking if you’re up.” She told me. Then I realized that I’d slept through my alarm. Or switched it off in my sleep. I have no idea what actually happened.

Although it wasn’t exactly late, I still rushed to get ready. I had packed my backpack last night itself, so there wasn’t much to be done. I banged twice on P.’s door to wake her up, for which she later told me she’d felt like murdering me.

By around 5:45, we were all ready to go. It was pretty chilly, and C. and I wrapped shawls around ourselves. But nothing could beat the bright yellow scarf S. tied around her head, with her hair up in a bun. P. of course, was invincible to the cold.

And thus, we set off to the bus stop. P. went to the ATM from there, taking S. with her. C. disapproved of that. “We shouldn’t have let those two go together,” she told me. “Bad combination.” I agreed, but there was nothing to be done about it, so we took our seats at the bus stop.

It was quite dark, and the road was almost empty. There was no one else in the bus stop except for a stout old man. Not creepy at all.

A little while later, S. and P. were back, P. on a call with her father, asking him to transfer money to her account. Apparently, she’d swiped her debit card away to zero balance at dinner last night. Oh, joy.

Then, we waited. You see, there’s this thing about our bus stop. Only two kinds of buses stopped here: 29 C and 27 D. The exasperating part is, if you’re waiting for either one of them, only the other will arrive. Always. So today, numerous 27 D’s came and went as we stood waiting for our 29 C. The fat old guy was also waiting with us, weirdly enough.

It finally came. The journey from there to Thiruvanmiyur was a short one, and we spent it talking about random stuff. We were all pretty excited, and P. warned us that she might just randomly start smiling. I totally got that, having already done it a couple of times.

Right when we reached the Thriuvanmiyur bus stop, there was an air conditioned bus waiting to leave for Pondicherry. We scrambled in, only to realize that it was packed, and the air was stale with stuffiness. We got out immediately, despite the protests of the bus conductor that there were (non-existent) empty seats inside.

Once again, we waited, and waited. It was getting sunny, but before it got too bright, the Express bus to Pondicherry came at last. This one was also jam-packed, but it at least had open windows that guaranteed us fresh air. There were no empty seats at all, and we resorted to standing, leaning against the seats.

The situation brought to my mind the eternal question about travel in India. Where is everyone going? Every single train would be booked out months prior and single bus would be packed to the brim, with people even hanging out of the doors. This never failed to make the frustrated traveler ask, ‘Why can’t people just stay at home?’ But that never has an answer.

Even more people got on the bus after us, and among them was a rugged woman, who promptly sat down between our legs. We exchanged glances. Ooohkay.

The journey was supposed to be more than 2 hours long. We were hoping desperately that the bus would stop somewhere in the middle, and half of the passengers would get down. But as soon as we stared moving, most of them went to sleep or plugged in their earphones. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones heading to Pondy this morning.

And so we stood. It wasn’t so bad, actually. S. and C. were bickering like an old married couple about something or the other, and P. and I were laughing at them. Oh, I have to mention that the routine rows between S. and C. is one of the major sources of entertainment in our hostel. S. does everything in her power to irritate C., and C. does the only thing in her power- get irritated and yell at S. Since yelling wasn’t an option inside the bus, she resorted to rolling her eyes and informing the very amused P. and me that S. was putting on the show just for the sake of our entertainment. We sure didn’t mind.

The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, except for the squatting lady getting up and maneuvering around us for a fruitless search of seats, and us trying to satisfy our ever increasing hunger with bourbon biscuits. Incidentally, we managed to finally rest our bottoms about 45 minutes before we reached. Hallelujah.

The bus had moved into Pondicherry when I realized something. We had no idea where we were supposed to get down. Yep, that’s how prepared we were. The next few minutes were spent trying to figure out the bus stop closest to the restaurant we were planning to have breakfast at. We didn’t make much progress until the woman next to me offered to help us out. That’s when we got to know that we’d been pronouncing the name of the street wrong.

We followed the helpful lady’s instructions and got down at the last stop. I have to say, we looked like such TOURISTS. Backpacks, sunglasses, camera, umbrella; you name it, we had it. Auto Rickshaw drivers were bound to charge us a bomb going by our appearances. To get out of that, we brandished our best possible Tamil accents while bargaining with them. Surprisingly, it worked.

The icing on the cake was when after getting into the three wheeler, S. took off her loose pants to reveal shorts underneath. Yep, we were FINALLY in Pondicherry.

Read Chapter 3 here.

When someone sees the same people everyday, they wind up becoming a part of that person’s life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. – The Alchemist

Bicycles, Beaches and Good Food (Chapter 1)

Chapter One: The Plan

Pondicherry. One of the most popular tourist destinations in South India. An erstwhile French colony, still bearing fine remnants of its colonial past. Flanked by the Indian Ocean. And most importantly, around three to four hours away from Chennai, where I live. I believe the idea to go on a trip to Pondicherry was brought up in my hostel sometime in 2012. Of course, C. might have mentioned it to someone even before that, but the first time I heard about it was then. I was all up for it, of course. Even saved money and all. But then, like most plans, this one too fizzled out at some point of time. It just didn’t happen, and I don’t even remember why.

It came up again last year. But this time, things were different. It’s our final year of college, and our final year in Chennai, most probably. We just had to go to Pondicherry, even if it was just to step foot there and come back pronto. Things were also different because we had P. with us. P., the great one we were all secretly jealous of (we, meaning mainly C. and me), because her life was actually happening. Every time we found that P. and her roommate were staying out for the night, C. and I would look at each other, and at ourselves, walking around aimlessly in our pajamas, and sigh wistfully. Moving on from our boring lives, the advantage of having P. around was that she’d already been to Pondy a couple of times, and she was one of the most spontaneous and fun people around (I hope she won’t ever read this). So C. spent the early half of the year tagging behind P. and pestering her to take us there. She gladly agreed, and we decided to go sometime after the new semester started.

Meanwhile, my friends from college also wanted to go on a trip to Pondy. Now I was in trouble. There was no way I’d be able to afford two trips. And I was pretty sure that C. would kill me and drink my blood if I backed out. So I said no to my friends, to whom I never really apologized for that plan never working out. Hope y’all are not miffed, guys! *Puppy-face*

Anyway, the new semester started, and progressed. There wasn’t any talk of the trip, for some reason. Or at least I don’t really remember because I was busy with college. Winter holidays came and went. We had vaguely agreed upon a very convenient weekend right after the holidays, but once again, there was no talk of the trip when said weekend rolled around. C. was royally pissed at P.

The next few days witnessed a cat and mouse chase between P. and C., where the former tried to pacify the latter with sweet talk and hugs (a rarity for P., who hates being touchy-feely). The result was C.’s acceptance of P.’s apology with the air of someone resigned to her ill fate. P. promised to take C. to Pondy, but C. was simply not buying it. I, however, was given the task of setting a date for the trip. Any day after the 2nd of February, P. told me. She somehow made my task seem like the most important part of the plan, and claimed that “We’ll definitely go on whatever date Sree picks.”

So I tentatively chose the weekend after Feb 2nd, the dates being 8th and 9th. C. nodded and agreed, but barely masked her skepticism. I couldn’t blame her at all, being wary myself of P.’s enthusiasm.

Around the 1st of February, I cautiously asked C. if were going. She shrugged. We asked P., who said she’d asked D. (who’s from Pondicherry), to suggest reasonably priced hotels. C. and I were satisfied for the time being. But a couple of days passed, and there was no sign of any hotel being booked. We were also not sure of who all were going. We wanted N. to go with us, but she had a tendency to roam around and bug people when she was supposed to do her course work, and miss out on outings with the rest of us because she had a deadline to meet; which basically meant she couldn’t be counted until the last minute. S., on the other hand, had told us she was in, but we were also wary of her backing out at the 11th hour.

In an evening when the state of things seemed rather hopeless, and C. was particularly glum, I took her out to drink milkshakes. Sitting there, sipping our drinks, we decided to try emotional blackmail on P., via the hostel Whatsapp group. I came up with dialogues like ‘P.! We’re counting on you. Don’t let us down!’ However, much to our chagrin, the sleeping P. didn’t see our messages, and the conversation was redirected towards N. drinking S.’s milk. The next thing I saw, and I kid you not, was a photo of a grinning N. holding S.’s milk bottle. Seriously.

But there was still hope. Later in the night, C. and I hung around in P.’s room while she called up hotels to book rooms. Except, there were none available, for some weird reason. C. and I weren’t worried, though. This time, we didn’t have our hopes up, and the fact that P. was working on it was good enough for us.

The next day, P. came to us with the reason why all hotels were booked. It was the Pre – Valentine Weekend. Yes, you read that right. There is something called a ‘Pre-Valentine Weekend’ (I’ll never get tired to saying it out incredulously), and people supposedly flock to Pondy to spend it there. Couples are such a pain in the ass for single people, I tell you. Maybe I should scratch that line. People might mistake my distaste for envy.  Or even worse, desperation. Oh, well.

Since the possibility of staying over the weekend was ruled out, P. suggested that we make it a one day trip. Leave early in the morning on Saturday, get back by night. At this point, like I mentioned in the beginning, C., S., and I only had the intention of stepping foot there, so that we could proudly assert that we’d been to Pondicherry. We couldn’t even care even if we didn’t see the entire place. So, a one day trip it was.

Two days before the journey, C. and I decided to sit down and make a bucket list of things to do in our last two months of college. And what’s the first thing on our list? ‘Go to Pondicherry’, of course.

That way, we at least had the guarantee of striking out one thing on the list.

Read Chapter 2 here.

The Floating Man

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Credit : Cheri Lucas Rowland

He was floating like a log when I saw him. His arms and legs were spread out wide, and he looked as pale as a ghost. The only exceptions to the gaunt paleness were his black hair and black swimming trunks, both of which were half-submerged in water. His face wasn’t visible to me, so I couldn’t discern whether his eyes were open or not. My first thought when I saw him was ‘is he dead?’. Yes, I always tend to have very cheerful thoughts. I wanted to poke him and see if he would respond, but I couldn’t, since I’m as good a swimmer as an Ostrich and there weren’t any long pointed objects in my vicinity. But then again, it’s not like I could do much if he was dead. So I settled for sitting down on the damp riverside and watching him float.

He kept bobbing up and down ever so slightly, along with the flow of the river. It was relaxing to watch the periodic movement, actually. Quite soothing. The beautiful green mountains, the deep blue waters and the clear sky only added to the effect. He seemed to be a part of the natural landscape, like an aquatic animal. Perhaps he’s an amphibian, I mused. Maybe he sleeps in the water and spends time on land when awake. I wished I could do that as well. I made a mental note to learn swimming as soon as I got back. Which reminded me that I had to return soon. But I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay here with the floating man and the beautiful river, forever.

“Stay with me until eternity, Floating Man!” I shouted to him passionately. He seemed to twitch a bit. Or maybe it was the river. Or maybe he’s immobilized.Or maybe he’s actually dead.

In that case, you can spend eternity with him, I soothed myself. But do dead bodies float? How do I find out? I should google it. But wait. I don’t have my phone! How will I survive eternity without my phone?

Suddenly, the flow of the river was disrupted, making me forget that I was phoneless. The floating man was not floating anymore! He was swimming back to the shore with confident strokes. He got out of the river, shaking water off his head, and loudly exclaiming “Aah, that was relaxing!” I gaped at him.

He almost walked past without noticing me, but I couldn’t let him do that, could I?

“You!” I cried out, pointing an accusing finger at him. “You were supposed to spend the eternity with me, floating there!”

Now it was his turn to gape. We stared at each other for no less than two minutes in silence before realization dawned in his eyes.

“You’re the crazy girl who stares at people that come to swim in the river, aren’t you?”

My eyebrows twitched unpleasantly at the allegation. “Maybe. What’s it to you?”

He seemed amused. “I’ve always wanted to see you for myself. Just to see if you’re real.”

I perked up. “Oh, I am, I am! Do you want an autograph?”

At this, he started guffawing like a baboon and walked away. I pouted and turned back to the river. So much for spending the eternity with a floating man.

Oh, well. There are bound to be others, if I wait long enough.

Written in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge. 

A Tale of Honour and Duty

“Pierce me with a sword, but don’t poison me.” Zephyr’s father used to say. “There is no honour in dying without looking your enemy in the face. Being defeated by death, the biggest enemy of them all, without making a valiant effort, is the most horrible thing that could happen to a man.”

And yet, his father himself had been killed by poison; poison that he had served himself. The royal family, the council of ministers and the subjects merely watched from the sidelines as their beloved king immersed his days and nights in wine. He tumbled gracelessly from the royal chamber to the council meeting to royal court proceedings with goblet in hand and wine-bearer in toe. His eyes were perpetually bloodshot and his once-handsome face had bloated up like a pumpkin.

“He’s the King,” Zephyr’s mother, the Queen, told him. “He may do as he wishes.”

“But don’t you love him, mother?” Zephyr asked her. She looked away from him, and stared at the burning fireplace for a moment. Then she closed her eyes and replied.

“I love him with all my heart, as my duty entails.”

‘Duty’. That was the word that had been most to him throughout his life, after ‘Honour’. “It is your duty as the Crown Prince to learn the art of ruling, your highness.” The Prime minister had advised him before he commenced his education. He had wanted to learn painting, but instead he took lessons in sword craft, archery, horseback riding, and the history of great battles. While the King was drinking away to glory, the council of ministers took great pains to groom the Crown Prince. Zephyr had lessons without fail even when his father lied in his sickbed. He was practising sword craft when a guard brought him the news. The King had passed. He made to leave, but his master obstructed the way with his weapon. “Finish your lesson, my Prince. The enemy does not wait for you to mourn losses during battles.”

Exactly a week was spent mourning. Those who had whispered about the drunkard King now sang of his glory in the loudest and sweetest voices. Tears were shed and prayers were offered.

On the seventh day, Zephyr was crowned King, at the age of sixteen.

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It was in the following year that he met Rowena. She was accompanying her father, the Duke of Archfield, who was one of the noblemen invited for the royal feast celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his grandfather’s conquest of the Kingdom. Unlike the other young ladies, who vied for Zephyr’s attention, she preferred to be seated with a bunch of younger girls, entertaining them with her animated conversation.

He, of course, had noticed her the moment she stepped into the hall. The fiery auburn ringlets that framed her face and the subtle smile that adorned it were quite hard to miss, in his opinion. He told her this when they were dancing together at the ball that followed the feast. She looked up into his eyes and beamed with blushing cheeks. At that moment, he knew that he wanted no one else to be his Queen.

Zephyr refrained from expressing his wish to her then and there, but he conveyed it to her in one of the numerous letters they exchanged afterwards. Her reply was quite unexpected.

“Your wish for me to become your Queen is the most pleasing gift any woman can ever receive, your majesty. However, the dangers that come with it are not so enticing. Dukes and Counts in the kingdom, and emperors of foreign lands are aware that their new King is but a boy. Usurpers and traitors are lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment. Tell me, your highness. Is it your wish for me to resign myself to the fate of becoming a young widow?”

Rowena’s insinuations against his loyal subjects had enraged Zephyr so much (but not as much as the fact that she had called him a boy), that he refused to reply to her. But her fears came true two months later when word reached the capital that an army led by a little less than half of his own vassals called for rebellion against his reign. They claimed that Zephyr’s grandfather had done great injustice by usurping the throne of the rightful King. They wished to take it back from the sixteen year old boy and return it to the true heir. The rebels’ army was fast advancing towards the capital.

Several of the noblemen who remained loyal to Zephyr visited him at the palace to proclaim their support. Rowena’s father was among them. Once again, he was accompanied by his daughter. Before they left, Zephyr met her in private.

“Wait for me, my lady.” He knelt before her and kissed her hand. “When I return victorious from battle, we shall get married.” She merely gave him a sad smile, the meaning of which he was unable to fathom. Neither did he give much thought to it, for soon he had to leave for war with the royal army.

The war was bloody, and lasted nine years.

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Zephyr was seated alone in his chamber. He was tired. He was twenty five, but felt like forty. More than his body, it was his mind that had suffered due to the war. Every time he closed his eyes, red was all he could see.

His squire entered the chamber, carrying his dinner on a golden tray. The man placed it in front of him, and stepped back. Zephyr could hear the festivities going on in the other wing, inside the hall. They were having a feast to celebrate victory in the war. He had declined to join, choosing to retire to his privacy instead. He was not in any mood to celebrate, especially with people whose loyalty he wasn’t entirely sure of. Throughout the past nine years, many of his allies had shifted sides, and some from the opposing forces had joined him. It was all a game of politics.

Hearing the jovial noises from the hall brought to him memories of the last celebratory feast he had attended before the war. He remembered the girl with auburn hair.

“Send word to the Duke of Archfield,” He instructed his squire. “That I seek the hand of his daughter, Rowena. Or is he allied to the rebels now?” He added as an afterthought.

The squire’s face lost colour. “Your highness, the Duke of Archfield remains loyal to you. However, Lady Rowena eloped with a common man two years ago.”

Zephyr stared blankly at the man for a moment, and then he burst out laughing. He laughed at himself, for foolishly believing that she would wait for him. Rowena had never wanted to be the Queen. She had always been the kind of girl who would be happier being the wife of a humble farmer, or perhaps a baker.

He now realized the meaning of her sad smile. She had known that he was not fighting for honour or duty. He had gone to battle to prove himself to the world, and to boost his ego. He had never really loved Rowena. He merely wanted a beautiful Queen.

Zephyr dismissed the squire, who now looked positively terrified, with a casual wave of his hand, before starting on his meal. The food was tasteless, as usual. The war had stolen his appetite. Every single morsel tasted the same to him now. Wine, of course, was a different story. He was finally beginning to understand his father.

The food lay forgotten as he consumed more and more of the intoxicating drink. It seemed to taste better than usual today. He relished the burning sensation in his throat as the liquid flowed down. The burn seemed to follow its path. In the matter of a few seconds, his entire body was burning and searing with white, hot pain. His eyes widened in realization, and he clutched his throat. He gripped it tightly at first and then relaxed slowly, getting used to the ever increasing agony with some difficulty.

They had failed to defeat him on the battlefield, so they decided to stab him from the back, though not with a sword. They did not and would not know that he welcomed death more than anything else now.

He lay back in his chair, and remembered the words of his father.

“Pierce me with a sword, but don’t poison me.”

“Forgive me, father.” He murmured as he felt himself slip away. “I never truly cared about honour or duty, and neither did you.”

(Inspired by Game of Thrones)