Thursday, October 2, 2008

chapter 2: chang town

A short excerpt from chapter 2 of Jet City Woman:

I passed New Camp and stopped by the pavement that ran along the more deprived section of Chang town. The sweet-sour smell of chang—a fermented drink made by boiling barley, millet and rice—hung in the air. It was a smell I associated with rice beer in the villages of the north-east, an aroma not unlike that of champagne. Life from within the cramped houses had spilled out onto the pavement: charpoys, water buckets, chairs, children playing, women talking. I bought a packet of cigarettes from one of the tiny soft-drinks stalls on the pavement, and looked around as Naina stood by the bike. A young Tibetan couple, a group of monks in red robes and sneakers, two white women in shorts carrying backpacks—there was no sign of the Delhi Police PCR gypsys that patrolled the area at night.

We went through a gate and down a lane into New Camp. It was getting late, and most of the establishments were shut. Along the narrow main street, groups of well-dressed wiry young men and women and stout middle-aged men were playing carrom under hanging light shades. They shot us hostile stares as I drove slowly past. I turned into one of the alleys that led off the main street; it was dark, and we could smell cooking and hear music and family noises from within the buildings on either side. Beyond where the buildings ended were the black waters of the Yamuna.

‘Is this the place?’ Naina said as I stopped at the end of the alley under a lighted signboard. Hotel Shangri-La. She had zipped up her track jacket and gathered up her hair with a hairband.
‘Yes, this is it.’
But Shangri-La would be closing shortly, a man with a drooping moustache told us at the reception, and there was no beer or any alcohol available.
‘So that’s it then,’ Naina said as I drove back towards the main street.
‘We’re not giving up so easy,’ I said. ‘Or do you want to get back to the party? Karma’s got wine.’
‘Screw the party. I can have wine later.’

I found her recklessness attractive. We tried a few more places without any luck, before coming across one that was half-open, at a dank end of the main street. The teenaged boy inside said we could get cold beer. Naina lit a cigarette under the signboard with the faded words Dolma Restaurant while I locked my bike. Make sure you score, Bashan had said, but what I really wanted was more to drink. Every man—and woman—an island; the drink assuaged the pain.

We crept in past the half-shut folding grille; windows with dirty frosted glass panes and a door with peeling red paint led into a room with eight four-seater tables and a modified 500cc Enfield motorcycle. The muscular teenaged boy in jeans and biker boots slouched at a table at the far corner, watching an NBA game on a portable television set placed on the counter. The place was empty. Why was it still open?

We took a table near the front door, and I sat with my back against the wall so I could see the front and back entrances. There was another door directly opposite to me, facing Naina’s back, and beside it was the motorcycle—a massive purple machine with curved handlebars and a leather seat with studs and fringes. I looked at my watch: fifteen to eleven; twelve would be a good time to leave.

‘This place can be creepy, don’t you think?’ Naina said.
‘I know. That’s what makes it interesting. Could be something out of Greeneland.’
‘Greenland?’ Her eyebrows knotted. I could see she wore no makeup.
‘Greene–land. G-R-E-E-N-E. There was a British novelist called Graham Greene who wrote about places like these, shabby, seedy, on the edge.’
‘Might have heard of him,’ she said with a shrug. ‘I hardly read books. But I love magazines.’
‘Magazines? You mean like India Today, Outlook, that sort of stuff?’
‘No, not those magazines, no. Vogue, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar. Fashion magazines.’
‘Oh, I see.’ I had a vision of her barsati decorated with ads from those magazines. Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton.
‘What? You don’t think they’re good magazines?’
‘No, I didn’t say that. They’re good magazines. I’ve seen some of them.’

‘They teach me a lot,’ she said solemnly, unzipping her track jacket. The mud-coloured singlet beneath showed me her collarbones, the swell of her bra-less breasts. Strange, to have landed here from the party, with someone like her. The Tibetan boy finally sauntered over to us, and I asked him for two bottles of cold beer, and a plate of chilli beef, or rather chilli buff(alo)—we were still in Delhi.


. said...

I relished the book 'Jet City Woman' and for once in along time, it dint take me more than a full week to accomplish the task. The transition between humor and pathos and that from Delhi to the northeast and vice versa is something that was effortlessly done. Arent you writing anything new?

Ankush Saikia said...

hi shisir, thanks for your comments. you've obviously read the book with care. interesting blog you have about what surrounds us everyday, and good pix too. i'm trying to get started on something...but having a full-time job doesn't help! nice to know you have a book on the way. oh and by the way, mr. biswas is a favourite of mine too!

Anonymous said...

Well Written...looking forward to ur next Novel

Ankush Saikia said...

thank you ... my second book, 'spotting veron and other stories' is now out from Rupa & co.