The Forever Alone Sisters Chronicles: Adventure in Kalighat
Solo and I met in strained circumstances. It was the first day of college and we were milling about in the assembly room, being assigned our classes. I was standing in one corner, looking at my feet, trying generally to be invisible despite the conspicuous bandages on my wrists that my shirt tried to hide. It was an old shirt and I had to keep tugging the sleeves down to keep the bandages hidden. It was 2 weeks after our board exam results and I had tried to kill myself for the third time in my 16 year old life. Looking through my fringe, I saw her enter - a tall and gangly thing with a messy bob, wearing her regulation plaid skirt a couple of inches above her knee. But it was her face that gave me pause. Despite her glasses, it was one of the most striking I had ever seen, a rarity among Bengalis. I could see the heads of all the boys in the room turning to look at her in unison, jerked by the invisible strings tying them to her chest.
At least mine is bigger, I thought, hating her on sight. I knew her type, the pretty, popular girls whom everyone fawned over. My former best friend had been one of those and I was heartily sick of them. Most of it was jealousy, though. I was the fat and seriously weird girl who seemingly existed only for people’s amusement. I tried to blend further into the corner as she crossed the room, unaware of my existence.
After that day, however, she faded into the edges of my consciousness as one of the girls everyone either wanted or wanted to be, and whom I never actually talked to. It’s easy to ignore people when they flit about from social circle to social circle, while you are “one of the guys” in your group of losers. Of course by the end of the year, my mental illness would flare up so badly, I’d have to drop out of school, spend a year in and out of hospitals and generally put myself together again. My missing year changed a lot of things. When you look into the abyss of your own mind and see nothing but ghosts, you are never the same again. But I assumed a pattern of normalcy, finished school in itching impatience, and went off to Uni.
The day I entered the first year undergraduate classroom, I was confident things would be different. I was 2 sizes smaller, with pink highlights in my hair to match my pink babydoll t shirt. I felt sexy, I thought that finally, finally I would get to be like the girls I seethed at the sight of. I sat down on a bench next to three girls I had never seen in my life, looked around and saw a face I had almost forgotten by then. Solo. Looking as cool as one of the Burmese cats she resembled, in a pair of ripped jeans someone had scribbled on with markers, her hair longer than I remembered. She looked around, saw me and for the first time in my life, didn’t look through me. Her face burst into a grin I later would recognize as one of her patented fake smiles. I smiled, uncertain about what I was supposed to do. Thankfully a group of professors entered then, giving me a legitimate excuse to focus my attention away from her.
I kept seeing her around for the next few days, seldom in class and mostly around the bridge on the jheel where all the cool kids hung around and smoked weed. I was secretly envious - smoking weed had been an unrealized dream since I got into psychedelia 4 years ago. It was around those first couple of weeks that Solo and I had our first conversation. I think I was coming back from the Central Library when the people I was with decided to stop at the bridge. She was there, wearing a Pink Floyd tee; intrigued I asked her if she liked them and it turned out that they were her favourite band as well as mine. Later on, she told me that she had been high as a kite through the duration of the conversation, which explained its slightly strange nature.
“I really hate fake people!”, I remember exclaiming.
“I know, me too!”
“Do you think I am fake?”
“No, no not at all! Do you think I am fake?”
And so on.
The next day I asked her for a light when she was hanging out at the ledge. She gave me her box of matches, looking slightly bewildered. Later on, she would tell me that she didn’t know that such a studious little creature like me smoked. We shared a companionable fag together, and the next day we shared another. It turned out that she, like me, liked books and hated everyone. On the third day, I asked her if she knew anyone who had weed, and an epic friendship was born.
We got high and talked about the people we hated, the books we loved, the 60s rock gods we wanted to screw. We got stoned and put on makeup and took pictures of each other and I felt pretty for the first time in my life. We got fucked out of our skulls by Manipuri weed and Nepali weed and a hash called Ice that was so potent I almost burned the house down that day. We smoked up and went out in search of food, ending up in shabby, out of the way places, wolfing down enormous quantities of greasy, fried goodness. We shared our stories, marvelled at how similar our lives had been, commiserated, cried, laughed till we choked and called each other sisters.
A year passed and then another and one rainy monsoon evening, we found ourselves in my attic room, smoking some beautiful, dank shit. Cash was low and we had spent most of it on the weed, and the munchies had started to hit.
“What do you wanna have? Moshola Club again?”, I asked her as she preened in the mirror.
She paused, looked at her reflection and said, “No, I do NOT want to have Moshola Club. Fucked if I have Moshola Club, fuck you!”
“We don’t have money for anything else!”
“Fuck everything, I want that beautiful beef stroganoff from Mangio.”
I told her that Mangio would cost thousands of rupees, which we totally did not have and she handed me a joint and said “Smoke.” Ten minutes later, I was flying again and little animals were gnawing away at the insides of my stomach. “Foooood,” I moaned, ready to go find some stale biscuits from the kitchen.
Solo sat up unexpectedly, her mouth contorted in a Joker-like grin.
“I’ll tell you what to do, kitteh, I’ll tell you what we are going to do.”
“What?”, I mumbled.
“We,” she paused dramatically, “Are going to rob an ATM!”
“No way I’m getting up, get the ATM people to come and give us the money,” I said. “Better still, ask them to buy some food with the money and bring it over.”
“ATM people are not going to do that!”, she said, lighting a cigarette. “Let me finish this fag, and then we can go rob the ATM near Arijita’s place.”
“How do you even propose to rob an ATM?,” I asked.
“I have a cunning plan,” she smiled calmly in a way that did nothing to reassure me.
10 minutes later we were climbing down the stairs, trying not to fall, gripping the bannisters with both our hands as we went “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” under our breaths. When we finally got downstairs, we clutched each other for support, panting. Potheads are terribly out-of-shape creatures even when they are sober.
As we walked out into the road, a car went by, honking at us. Caught in the glare of its headlights and jumping out of my skin at the sound of the horn, I stood on the side of the road, petrified. “Oh my god, it’s a monster from hell!” I screamed, “It’s coming to get me!” I unfroze as it drove away and started walking as fast as I could, bumping into people. Everywhere I looked, I could see eyes, eyes of people with whites as white as eggs, yellow as death or shot with blood red. “Rape eyes,” I thought, looking at the men and shuddering. They freaked me out when I was sober, and high as I was, the sight didn’t help. I walked on till I reached the bigger street and the traffic in front of me brought me to a standstill. Everything was so fast and blurry and shiny, shiny, so shiny. The taxis bright yellow with their red tail lights, and the cars an array of red - red flashing tail lights, red tail lights everywhere, red tail lights and yellow headlights, yellow headlights, white headlights, blue headlights, so many lights. I stood, transfixed with my mouth open.
A while later, I noticed Solo standing next to me, looking pretty much the same. “…Shiny” I muttered. “Uh-uh,” she agreed. An auto screeched to a stop in front of us. “Chetlaaa!”, the driver shrieked. Jolted into our senses, we remembered that we were originally headed for Chetla. We got in and it took off, speeding in an erratic zigzag, weaving around larger vehicles, honking at imaginary dangers and generally threatening to dislodge us in the middle of the road. So freaked out were we at being caught inside this noisy death trap that we completely disregarded the ATM when we reached it and let the autowalla drive on. Ten minutes later when he asked us where we wanted to get down, we had no idea where we were.
The place looked shady and seedy: mud underfoot and hovels around, ill-lit with naked street children running around. It gave me the creeps, and not just because we looked completely out of place there in our shorts and t-shirts, obviously bourgeois compared to the local inhabitants. I was convinced that I was going to get raped.
“Where the FUCK are we?”, Solo whispered in my ear.
“The red light area?”
“We’re going to get raped AND murdered kitteh, raped AND murdered,” she muttered as she shook her head.
“Let’s just run away,” I said, taking her arm and dragging her along. People stared at us as we stumbled along, I was sure that any moment they would band together and chase us down an alley and disembowel us.
“Kitteh, do you think they think we are prostitutes?”, I asked Solo.
“Just tell them Gaye haath daoar jonno akso taka,”* she replied, “you can make money, kitteh!”
“I don’t want to make money, I want to run away!”
The surroundings became shadier, and we got more and more paranoid. Half-dressed, dirty children ran past, people washed themselves at taps on the side of the road. The eyes bore into us. There was no question of asking anyone for directions - the very idea filled us with terror. I looked around, hoping to see something I recognized, anything familiar… and suddenly there was the tall temple spire of the crematorium towering above everything else. Oh thank fuck. We were saved.
I looked around and suddenly I was aware of being surrounded by the largest collection of weed paraphernalia I had ever seen in my life. Spread out on plastic sheets by the side of the road, and displayed proudly in front of little shops selling religious equipment were chillums, pipes and more chillums. Clay chillums painted in fantastic colours with gods on them, stone chillums, chillums made of horn, wood and anything else you could think of. Chillums a foot long, chillums 5 people could smoke out of. I was in rapture, despite my paranoia. In my still high state, I saw the colours flashing in front of my eyes, shimmering and blurring, hovering around the periphery of my vision, clanging in a riotous uproar under the bright yellow lights. I wanted them all - all the chillums, all the pipes, and put all the weed in the world in them and smoke it, but I was brought crashing to my senses by the sudden sight of a policeman hovering nearby. I panicked and looked around, ready to run, and a chill ran down my spine as he noticed us and began his approach. We stood there motionless, frozen into the spot by the bushy moustache and mud spattered boots of the basilisk. He came up to us and addressed us in broken English, asking us where we wanted to go.
Oh sweet, dear, blessed relief - judging by our attire, he had mistaken us for tourists! We answered back in our best “foreign” accents that yes, we were looking for the Kali Temple. It shouldn’t have worked, not in a million years, but it did. Free of the mustachioed basilisk’s clutches, we practically ran till we reached a street we recognized.
Back home, our highs and hunger were both gone. We sat back, made ourselves comfortable, rolled a joint and lit it. After a few drags, our stomachs started complaining.
“Moshola…Club…?”, I ventured.
“Yes, kitteh, Moshola Club,” Solo replied, “I’ll never say no to them again. Never ever again.”
* [Translation] It will cost you 100 Rupees to put your hands on my body.