Booker Prize-winning author Arvind Adiga describes Delhi as a city of class barriers and wild peacocks, where he learnt to want something more than his life. In Mint Lounge:
One Tamil businessman, the son of a famous babu, took pity on me.
“New Delhi is full of beautiful, sensitive Sikh women interested in painting and music. And they are stuck with these big hairy men drinking Royal Challenge. They’re all looking for south Indians to have affairs with, trust me.”
A portly Bengali public relations man told me the secret of his success: language lessons. Years ago, when the Indian economy opened up, he had figured out that Delhi would soon be full of lonely Swedish businesswomen looking for someone to talk to. His insight had paid off handsomely. “Keep away from Danish,” he said—he was learning that now. “Go for Finnish. Icelandic.”
I took my troubles to a woman; she got to the heart of the problem.
“Why don’t you have a car? You’ve got the money.”
I told her I had lived in New York for most of my adult life; I didn’t know how to drive.
“Then get a driver.”
I had been out of India for so many years that I was uncomfortable with having servants. I could not order people around.
“Then you can kiss your chances of getting laid in Delhi goodbye,” she said.
In late 2003, I was still paying taxes in America, so it horrified me that the US consulate was hosting a “Gallo drinking appreciation event” one evening on the lawns of the ITC Sheraton. What a waste of my tax money, I thought, walking past the people quaffing free Californian Chardonnay. Behind them, a pianist was playing old film tunes, and a slim short woman in a green dress was dancing around him.
The friend who had brought me there noticed my noticing her.
“Speak to her,” he said. “She’s into books.” He whispered: “Bengali.”
Noticing my reticence, he brought the woman over by the arm to where I stood.
I was 28 then; she looked a few years older. Almost as soon as we began talking she told me she had been divorced.
I was not sure about the cultural significance of this; did she not want me to make a pass at her?
To confuse me further, she added, “Twice divorced.”
Having no idea what she wanted me to say, I asked if she had read Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
No, but she had all his books at home. She lived in Greater Kailash-II. What was I doing after this?
The pianist left; the lights flickered. Gallo appreciation evening was over. People left the lawns.
Now came the dreaded part of the evening. When we got to the lobby of the hotel, I confessed: “I have no car.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, with a smile. “I have one.”
I met her four times. When I called for a fifth meeting, her secretary picked up the phone and said: “She is in Calcutta.”
The next time I called, she said: “She is in Bangalore.”
The next time the phone was not picked up. More: