Even while I’m on the flight, I'm so excited I want to get up and jump around. We land finally, over half an hour late. The air is cool. It envelopes you, caresses you. It’s afternoon but the sun is soft and welcoming.
“I can’t believe it!” I say to the Guy as we walk towards the car. “I can’t believe we’re really here!”
Most pleasures, long anticipated and wished for, ultimately disappoint. My first day in Gurgaon did not.
On our way to the hotel our driver picks a fight with another driver and pulls down his window to exchange abuses and threatening gestures. I grin with amused delight. I have missed Delhi so much that even the traits that use to disgust seem somehow endearing, like the familiar habits of a loved one.
I gape like a villager at the flyovers, the big shiny new buildings. I recognise one building out of five and am thrilled. “They all look so ugly,” I confide happily to the Guy.
Later, I walk alone down the street of the malls. It had been so long since I had walked down the street like this. I live such a sheltered, protected life nowadays that I had begun to wonder if my memories of myself as an independent person were just an illusion. But as I step on the street and take my first few steps, my body settles itself into a somewhat aggressive stance, hands in pockets, feet a little apart, as if warning off hostile interlopers; and I walk with ease. It all feels so familiar, yet half-forgotten.
The air is exhilarating. The cold touches my nose, my ears, makes me feel alive. I want to gulp in lungfuls of this much missed air. There is dust and smoke, but even that feels welcome on my skin. I have an odd sensation of being at home.
I see some way away the name of the mall where I am to meet Aishwarya. I walk there, looking forward to exploring the large bookstore. There is some open space, and somewhere I can sit. I take out my notebook to pen down my feelings. I have one pen, and it is out of ink. I reckon it is good luck I am near a bookstore, and decide to go and buy a pen. I ask a guard, and he points me upstairs. I climb three floors, fail to find the door, and climb down again. I walk around the building and find the door, but it is closed. I have no idea why.
I walk to the next mall. Then the next. And the next.
Most of the shops are closed. I realise Tuesday is the wrong day to be out shopping. There are a few stores, selling gadgets and clothes and food. I buy a little gift for the Guy, but there’s nowhere I can buy a pen.
Finally, I find an Archies. I select two pens. I feel successful.
I walk back. It is nearly time to meet Aishwarya now. I settle into the café and wait for her.
She walks in and glances over me, looking around. I suppose I do not look like what she had expected to find. But there is no other woman sitting alone, so she looks back at me and comes over.
I had been nervous about this, about meeting someone I had only known through her blog. Someone who was much better read than I was, even though she was younger.
The first few moments are a little awkward. I don’t know what to say, but I want to learn more about her, so I ask. Where she works, what she does. And suddenly, the conversation flows. It doesn’t seem any more like we are meeting for the first time. We talk like friends.
An hour and a half pass easily. But her family is expecting her, and she has to leave.
I walk out of the café and walk down the street again. I am a little tired from walking, but yet this simple act makes me feel so strong again. I only spot one woman walking alone in all this time, but I am not intimidated. A few men stare at me, and I have to make sure I am not smiling back. It is hard, you see, to keep the smile off my face.
There are two malls in sight that I have not visited yet: two malls that had been around even when I had lived here. I have to walk around those again, to remember what it was like, how I had walked around here when I was truly alone.
But most of the stores are closed, and it is disappointing. I have to cross the street to get from one mall to the other, and it is scary, standing by the street while vehicles speed towards you, the bright lights nearly blinding you. I complete the crossing and almost laugh out loud at my success.
I explore another large store. There are lovely jackets and sweaters on display, but I barely need winter clothes where I live so I only look and pass on. Then I see something I can buy: underwear. I stuff some in a bag. I look at some dresses. I am tired, and find a chair to sit on. The Guy calls: he is joining me soon. I wait.
We go down to TGIF for dinner. I had looked at TGIF with curiosity all that time ago, never daring to venture within, knowing it was out of my means. We have a very nice meal, though it still feels beyond our means.
We find an auto and go back to our lovely hotel room, settling into the soft bed and drifting on into a deep sleep that we only awake from at past eight in the morning. The Guy and I had been sleeping apart for weeks: first because he was spending nights in the hospital, then because we gave up our bedroom to the GuyDad, hoping it would be more comfortable, and I was relegated to the guest bed. Waking up together in a large comfy bed is extremely nice.
We go downstairs for a very nice breakfast, and then settle down in the lobby with our laptops. Now I shall go to meet an old friend for lunch. For the rabidly antisocial person I usually am, this trip is going to be different. I have plans to meet a number of friends, old and new. Let’s see how it goes.
Written in the morning but not posted till evening because the hotel's internet connection is woefully patchy.