I let the man put my suitcase on his scooter, and then I got on. I’m the kind of person who always wears a seatbelt in the car. There, I didn’t have so much as a helmet, and I’d never even been on a scooter before. I’d probably never been on a two-wheeler before. He drove us through a gap in the wall onto a humble street, full of streetside stalls on two sides that seemed to be selling cloth. I recalled seeing a street like that when we’d crossed the river on the day I arrived, on our way to the hotel. My rescuer and I started talking, but I don’t remember in what language. I told him where I was from and what I came to do, and he must’ve misunderstood, because he took me to one of the Symbiosis campuses. I explained where I wanted to go, and he turned ’round and drove on. You can see the Marriott rising into the night sky from far away in Pune. He took me to the crossroad where the hotel stood on the other side. I thanked him, and walked away. I was close to where the socials were to be – a place called ‘Tales and Spirits’.
I turned down a quiet lane and came to it after some walking. It was a comfortable-looking place, and I’d walked right in. I was greeted by a few (more or less) familiar faces at the table nearest the door, when a waitress (?) gently asked me outside and stamped my wrist, after verifying my name from a register.
Seated at the table, a bearded man who’d been in the International Press asked me why I still looked so formal. Of course I hadn’t changed since the MUN had ended. Sooner or later, we got around to the food, which was unlimited for those registered, like us. I’m not being paid to say this, but it was superb. Let me just check their menu online to titillate you fine folks. There were jalapeno and mozzarella cigars, pizza, penne pasta, cakes that I can’t name and wish I could describe, and more. If it weren’t so expensive I’d think about going there again sometime.
The toilets/bathrooms/lavatories/washrooms were behind a sort of hidden door, which blended with the wainscoting (if you can call it that). Behind it, in the short corridor outside the two rooms, I found Pusheen and a couple of her friends. I exchanged a few words, and then, resting my arm on a wall and with swagger, I asked, ‘So, whatchoo doing later tonight?’
As I’ve said, I’m often under several layers of irony. I hope I was then. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to lie to yourself, not to mention to other people. I want to believe I was joking, but was I being completely ironic?
Her tall friend pointed out that what I’d said was creepy, and coming up to me (he might have been a foot taller), asked me the same question. I was quick to say that I was joking, and politely left.
Not many people came to the socials. My friends from earlier didn’t. One of my roommates was at my table, though, I think. As a matter of fact, I think I met him later, in Kolkata, but I can’t be sure. The owner of the restaurant was also a Bengali, and I managed to slip in a word, ‘Bhalo’ (Good), to his smiling face as he was passing. Goodbyes were said in due course, and we stepped out, ready to leave. Then Messy and Co. showed up in an auto. Dressed casually, Messy explained that they’d taken it easy at the hotel; it was 11 o’ clock then. Too bad for them, the party was over. The Secretary-General, ever the perfect gentleman, easily took charge when I helplessly gave him my phone – he told the cab driver where to go, and with his help, I was soon on my way.
I let my friend know I was coming, and sat back in the car, watching nighttime Pune going by. It’s more or less how you expect a metropolitan Indian city to look like at night. I was certainly charmed. The drive took much longer than we thought, and even with my map, I had to ask my friend for help for the last leg of the journey. I tried to get him to talk to the driver like a helpless fool again, but he told me where to go, and I managed. He was there to pick me up.
What else can I say? It felt like home. He’d cooked something for me, but I said I’d eaten. He gave me a place to sleep and a shower to bathe in. All I could do (and this was more a help to me than to him, I think) was give him the leftover butter and pickles from my train ride. We stayed up chatting till four in the morning about remotely controlled vehicles and Assassin’s Creed – at one point, I couldn’t help pointing out how geeky it was.
I’m normally not a late sleeper, but that night was an exception. I turned in around dawn, and probably slept better than I had for days.