It's been an action-packed two days. Yesterday I managed to wake up a whole thirty-minutes earlier than usual in order to get a start on the day, because there was going to be a guest for lunch. As some of you may know, I VERY rarely have anyone over to the house because of the peculiar manner in which I live -- the carton-based decor, the minimalist style of hospitality (" ... I can offer you plain tea, Nescafe or hot water ..."), the deadlines which mean I don't like going out at night or having anyone over for dinner -- but this guest has been here before and seems to have survived the dismal setting of our chats, so I wasn't worried.
I've had a lot on my plate currently -- there are two books I'm working on (the DoubleTalk collection for Penguin and the illustrations for a book of three funny stories by me, for Puffin) -- and I also have been helping to get Billy Arjan Singh's book "A Tiger's Tale" published in time for an award-giving ceremony scheduled for the first week of March. In the midst of this, I've also been running a sort of minor line of greeting-cards, printed in silk-screen at my favourite print-shop-cum-photocopier, in Khan Market, called Punjab Store. So I'd just sent off my Boy Friday to K.M. with a CD of photographs for Billy's book and art-works for the cards, had a shower and was getting ready for my guest, when E's cell phone rang. I didn't catch it in time, and he was out of the house, without having taken his phone with him. When my cell phone rang too, a few minutes later, I guessed it had to be someone who was willing to talk to either of us.
My phone has an answering service -- and I've got the ring-cycle set so that it only rings twice before switching to the message-mode. I listened to see if there was a message -- and OH WOW! It was from E's good buddy Ian, calling from Delhi, having arrived UNANNOUNCED from Turkey that very morning (i.e., yesterday)! It's not possible to describe the vast range of stories, associations and amusements connected to Ian in the collective lives of Me and E, so I'll just mention here that (a)we've not seen him since 1997 and (b) we think of him as one of our favourite pals -- and I'm NOT using the royal plural, I really do mean that both E and I like him separately and perhaps even equally.
Even as I called back on the number from which he'd called -- a small guesthouse in Nizamuddin, i.e., barely 10 minutes from where we live -- the door bell rang and there was my lunch guest. Let me reiterate -- I am NOT a practiced hostess, so the idea of suddenly having two people in for lunch was quite a shock to my system, even aside from one of them literally dropping out of the Turkish void without warning and even though I don't cook, but have a Genie in the kitchen to whom I have only to murmur that there's an extra plate for lunch. But it was a happy shock in this case. Anyway, I sat my guest down, explaining that I was about to have someone else in for lunch, so we had best discuss whatever needed discussing right away before he came because once he was here, all other topics would be washed away in a tidal wave of catch-up communication ...
And so it came to pass. Fortunately my guest was able to ride along the swell of squeaks and shouts of delight which attended Ian's arrival. E, when he returned, was completely flabbergasted to find Ian in the house -- anyway, we spent the rest of the day talking up a storm -- the traveller was so tired, he said, after a 17 hour journey which normally takes only 4 that he really couldn't fall asleep. Nor do we have space for a live-in guest any more because I am using the second bed-room as my work-space. So anyway, we muddled out a situation -- Ian slept in the same room as E while I shifted into my workspace -- and then talked into the wee hours.
This morning once more I had an "early" start -- all right, I confess, this means I wake up at 8.30 instead of 9.45 -- because I had an appointment to go to the All India Radio studios to record a short story plus interview that they had set up some weeks ago. I'd got my story ready a couple of days ago -- an existing story, but unpublished except for a one-time magazine debut -- and was showered and shod when I glanced at my cell-phone: a message had arrived early in the morning. When I read it I saw that my niece, who has been pregnant for the past nine months had gone into labour at 3.00 a.m.
I messaged back -- there isn't all that much to say under such conditions -- just a general what-ho and to say I'd be out of contact for a couple of hours. But by eleven, a call came through -- yes! She'd delivered a big baby girl, all of 8 pounds and from my sister's account, INSTANTLY feisty, with her eyes open, big billowy cheeks and bad-tempered, by golly! MAITREYI is her name, and I must say I like it. Got a nice, double-edged, slightly mystical, interestingly unusual sound to it. Names have become rather dodgy things these days, in case some of you haven't noticed. Some parents seem to really trawl the outer reaches of the mythos to scrape up names that have never before seen the light of day, full of weird consonant-combinations and sneezy sounds. But Maitreyi? NICE! I like it.
It'll be a while before I see her (I'm not a baby-friendly person and tend to shy away for some years until they are walking around and able to discuss the comparative virtues of Tintin versus Asterix), but this doesn't mean that I'm not very glad and relieved for my niece. A whole new person in our family, wow! What a challenge.
The car from A.I.R. arrived half an hour late, and took 45 minutes to get to the studio which is out in the wilderness at the Western-most margin of Delhi. The strange thing about the boondocks in India is that they do literally look like boondocks. This studio is only a year and a half old, but it looks like a film set left over from Dr Zhivago -- the summer palace episode, adrift in this case, not in snow but dust. But the program director was a sweet lady, soft-spoken and warm. She took me in to meet my interviewer, a young PhD student called Shubhra Ray. I rather like Shubhra -- but this hardly surprising because it's VERY hard to dislike someone who has made one's (i.e., my) work part of her doctoral thesis! We've been in correspondence for a while though we've met only once before I think.
It was all quite painless. Shubhra had done her homework well and so all her questions were easy to answer, after which I read out my story -- and we were done! Only one fumble, and that was from me, while reading the story. It's a very short one, just under 2500 words, and about my favourite subject, i.e., our friendly neighbourhood apocalypse-to-be. The title I used for this reading was "THE INCIDENT" but in print I had called it "THE DESTROYERS". It's really not worth describing -- just your every day, standard issue doom and gloom, with a very tiny, barely noticeable lift at the end. I think most people will miss the lift altogether, in which case it'll just be doom and gloom, pass the mustard gas please.
Amazingly, this session dragged on till late in the afternoon -- and I only got home at 4.30 -- and found it awash in men: Ian, E, and our mutual Ladakhi friend, P (some day I may explain why I hide some identities and not others, but today is not that day). In my absence I discovered E and Ian had shifted my workspace around so that the bed had gone into the large central space in the house, once an elegant drawingroom -- the one that's filled from floor to ceiling with cartons and variegated junk ranging from old tyres to used porcupine quills -- and a large pile of dusty junk had taken its place. This was because Ian couldn't appreciate the quality of E's snoring and needed his own space.
It might be imagined that I was upset about this sudden turnabout but ... no, not me. I've been trying to root that bed out of my workspace for, ohhh ... seven years? And now it has come to pass, smoothly and without even my participation. I did NOT despair over the junk that had replaced the bed in my room and instead just rearranged it tastefully elsewhere in the house until ... ta-daaaaa! My space is now magically roomier and less cluttered.
And so it goes. It took most of the evening and some part of the night for the four of us to tire of discussing books, politics, the wretched state of the world and our plans for improving it (annihilating the human race was amongst the better schemes that came up for consideration). It is now 2.30 a.m. and I'm the only one left awake. No energy left for proof-reading this post, alas! I'm going to send it out onto the web in all its ungrammatical and misspelt glory.