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Together again

After blogging as Mrs Funnybones, Twinkle Khanna has become a topselling author with her debut novel set in a Kerala health spa called Shanthamaaya. An extract

Jay must have already told Lalit that I was in Shanthamaaya because he didn’t look surprised to see me. He smiled, a wide, gummy smile, and pulled me towards him for an unrequired hug, saying, ‘Anshu, you haven’t changed at all, still look like Bipasha Basu’s younger sister!’

This was something he had said each time we bumped into each other, though the only thing I had in common with that sex siren was our dusky skin tones. Uncle Octopus is how my sister referred to Lalit after meeting him at a few family gatherings. His proclivity towards running his hands liberally over all the ladies during greetings and group photographs was rather well known.

‘Jay finally convinced me to come here. He guarantees that they will fix me up!’ Jay laughed ingratiatingly. ‘Lalit, you don’t need anybody to fix you up if even half of what I hear about your post-divorce escapades is true.’

There was a weary-looking young man standing next to Lalit. ‘And have you met this chap? I had to share the car from the airport here with him, Vivaan Dalvi,’ Lalit said. ‘You have heard of the company Sundara na, oils, soap and cream, all the things you women get conned into buying, all his.’

He turned to Vivaan. ‘Your work crisis must involve people coming up to you and saying, “We were trying to make the moisturizer smell like jasmine but big tragedy, sirji, it is now smelling of roses!’ Vivaan shrugged with an affable smile that belied the dark circles under his sunken eyes.

He was lean, with the quintessential beard that millennials seem to sport these days, and a lot taller than my ex-husband, who was now vigorously shaking his hand in the manner of a politician canvassing for votes. ‘Yes, Lalit, I am nothing more than a snake oil salesman!’ ‘See, Vivaan thinks he is a punny, funny guy!’ said Lalit cackling like he was the host of Comedy Nights with Kapil and we the cross-dressing sidekicks.

Leaving Shalini aiming her finest simpering smiles at Lalit, I walked towards the group of newcomers. Names were thrown, so swiftly that I struggled to catch them all. An older woman, Madhu Rao, with immaculate red lipstick, who was accompanied by Babaji, her personal-guru-cum-soothsayer.

Pam, a travel blogger, deeply tanned and all the way from London, who I had seen at lunch as well, taking pictures of a crumbling statue adjacent to the pond, calling out to her companion, ‘Glenda darling, have a look at this, it’s terribly charming!’

They had set up two large tables in the front garden for dinner. Lanterns hung from tree boughs, wind chimes tinkled from others. There were dinner napkins, rolled and tied with jute rope and white flowers, place cards with our first names written in blue ink.

I walked around the table, looking for my seat, and discovered that I had been placed opposite Lalit, with Jay seated between Shalini and me. Age had taught me that life was often about finding the simplest way to solve even the most complicated problems. I found one. My place card clenched in my hand, I surreptitiously switched it with Anil’s, so I was seated next to Jenna, at the other table.

Gleaming brass plates with little bowls of beans mixed with grated coconut and boiled okra were placed before us. Pam, sitting opposite me, was asking questions, one after another, as if she was conducting a rapid-fire quiz. She and Glenda were touring India, reviewing holistic centres for their travel blog.

They had already been to the Wildflower Spa in Shimla and Ananda in the Himalayas. ‘You can drink beer and even Coke there, what do you get here?’ ‘Ghee and only ghee,’ I said, ‘as you will discover tomorrow.’ As we finished our dinner, Anil walked over to our table and began complaining to Javed. ‘I am going to tell them at the reception that I want to sit with you for meals and not to shuffle us around.’

‘I didn’t know you would miss me so quickly,’ Javed laughed. ‘Very heartening after all these years.’ ‘Stop being sarcastic! I am already in a bad mood as it is. That woman,’ Anil said pointing in Shalini’s direction, ‘she is very irritating.’

Apparently Shalini had asked Anil if Javed and he were a couple.

‘When I said yes, she asked me, “So which one of you is the girl?”

Is this anything to ask? So stupid!’

‘So what did you say?’

‘What is there to say, Javed, that yes I have a secret vagina! I said that it’s a silly question and then she says, “No, I meant are you a top or a bottom?” How can you ask someone these things when you barely know them? Her husband tried to change the topic but she just went on and on. Javed, don’t you dare leave me alone with those people again.’

I looked over at their table. Jay was standing by the table trying to talk to Lalit while his child-bride was tugging at his arm repeatedly.

…..

The Prince Restaurant and Bar had eight aluminum tables, rickety chairs and the best South Indian coffee, or so I had been told by Shanthamaaya residents over the years. Coffee addicts may travel halfway across the planet for a cure but often just cannot give up their daily dose.

A fifteen-minute walk from Shanthamaaya’s sanctified gates, the Prince was also the only place that offered, along with cheap beer and fried prawns, the possibility of your phone connecting with the world at large.

It was not uncommon to see us ‘ghosts’, as I called my white-clad fellow members of the dysfunctional dosha club, walking up and down that stretch of the road or sitting around the Prince’s dented tables, ordering bottles of water as our admittance fee. Every afternoon, just after lunch, when the sun was blazing and sensible animals were scurrying for shade, I would put on a straw hat and walk to the Prince.

I would dutifully switch on my phone and within minutes, as if she had wrapped her umbilical cord around my phone and was waiting for an electric tug, Mummy would call.

Today she began with, ‘Anshu, your Instagram now says, “Brilliant at daydreaming — lousy at cooking!”’ ‘Yes, I know, Mummy!’

‘Tell me something, beta, if I have a little paunch should I wear a bikini or cover it up in a one-piece?’

‘I guess, wear the swimsuit?’ I replied, wondering why my mother had suddenly started asking me for tips on bathing suits.

She said, ‘Yes! That is exactly what I am saying. Why tell people you can’t cook? Just like with a big stomach, cover up your defects, Anshu! There is no need to reveal everything to everyone.’

Some families put out advertisements in newspapers, some distribute pictures. My mother, I suspected, had lately been using my Instagram page to showcase my attributes to prospective mothers-in-law at Khar Gymkhana, who were presumably looking for suitable wives for their long in the tooth, deranged or divorced sons.

As my mother prattled on, I was surprised to spot Pam and Glenda peering at their phones under the Prince’s tattered awning. Vivaan was also sitting at another table in the corner. Exchanging pleasantries after the yoga class this morning, I had found him amiable enough, so when he raised a cup of coffee as a silent greeting and waved me over, I bid Mummy a hasty goodbye and walked towards him.

‘You have already discovered this secret gem, Vivaan! It took me two trips before I even knew we could leave the gates!’ I said and sat down across him, ordering myself a bottle of room temperature Bisleri water.

Vivaan had a steady gaze, the kind of eyes that you wanted to glance away from because they seemed to see more than you wanted to divulge. He looked at me rather sheepishly and said, ‘I wish I could take the credit, but Jay told all of us about it this morning.’

Indicating his cup of coffee, he asked, ‘You won’t have some?’ as the aroma wafted towards me. I shook my head. ‘I don’t here. At home I drink four cups of black coffee a day,’ I said, ‘only gave it up when —’ and I abruptly stopped.

A silence that was about to turn awkward was broken when Pam pulled out a half-empty bottle of Pinot Grigio from her white satchel and topped up two glasses with the white wine. Her voice was already slurring as she loudly proclaimed, ‘This is the real detox for the soul!’ and then immediately began complaining to her friend about the price of avocados at Tesco.

Twinkle Khanna is the highest selling woman author of 2018 in India according to Nielsen BookScan