It was October in 2001, I think, and the English department in my college decided to take their annual trip. We voted (although I was rooting for Goa) but Dharamshala won hands down. Although, maybe that's just because it was closer. And cheaper. I had never been to Dharamshala before, but all my friends from college were going, and it promised to be fun. It was also going to be the first time ever, we were smoking something other that cigarettes, and the little baggie of hashish was taken out and examined several times, before, paranoid, we hid it among tampons and shampoo.
Several sleepy girls clambered into the old bus, and of course, we were late starting. So, most people pulled out the chips and stuff they brought for the road. I attempted to sleep, but pretty soon, with the giggles, and with the picking where we were going to sit (we chose the very last seat, so that we were all together in one line, only it was also the bumpiest seat, so most of the ride was spent getting up and attempting to get someone to switch with us) I settled for dumping my backpack on my lap and smoking a cigarette, which I thought was so daring of me, seeing as the bus was still parked on campus, and technically, I was breaking rules. This was college for me, all about the rule breaking. I was very, very good all through school, and I realised sometime in class 12 that I had never done anything I shouldn't have. I had never bunked the entire day while pretending to go to school, I had never cheated on an exam, I had never made out with anyone on campus and though I tried to fit it all in in my last couple of months, meh, what with it being class twelve and all, I didn't want to bunk in case I missed any important classes, because the teachers were doing a lot of extra work. See, I told you I was good. Anyway. So college was all about being grown up and doing as I pleased, and that sort of went to my head a little bit. I skived off so many classes, that I wound up signing bonds--which in our very strict college, meant that I had to make up the attendance in the following year, or risk having to repeat a year. And they meant it too. They did that to a couple of chicks each year.
So, back to going to Dharamshala. And smoking endless cigarettes, shared when we started running out, drag by drag, till only the very burning tip was left which we sucked at, till we nearly blistered our lips. And finally falling asleep, when the drive got too long, in the way only women can, comfortably resting against each other, your friend not moving too much so they didn't disturb you. Plugging in your discman, which ran out of battery four hours later. And then finally, awake and bored already, trying to figure out how to pass the time. The bus had a cassette player and some of us fished into our very well-stocked bags and pulled out all sorts of stuff, the kinds of things that were popular then. Pink Floyd, Creed, lots and lots of the Doors, with that picture of Jim Morrisson that's everywhere, arms outstretched, beads around neck, so sexy that it's no wonder that most of the men I'm attracted to now, that any of us who went through the same stage together in college are attracted to now, look slightly, if not completely, out of it, with, sometimes, an additional curly crop thrown in. No beads though, thankfully, most twenty something men should not attempt beads. In fact, it was Pieces's surprise birthday party at Laidbackwaters this weekend, the first time she's been in Delhi for her birthday since college and her boyfriend flew in from Bombay to add to the festivities and he has, just to prove my point, very long, very curly hair. So there ya go. Q.E.D. Although sadly, none of them has ever held a candle to old Jim. Now that man was delectable. Mmmm.
Anyway, so this one girl pulled out this blue and white cassette out of her bag, and really it looked like one of those jazzy Indian devotional remixes that are so popular, but suddenly there was a flurry of excitement and someone went up to the front of the bus to give the conductor the tape and then everyone was singing very strangely and very out of tune and getting very excited and me and this one friend of mine who still seemed to have a sense of melody, looked at each other and rolled our eyes and "What the fuck is this, dude?" she asked the girl whose tape it was and she looked at us pityingly and said, "You haven't heard this? Everyone's heard Kandisa." "Well, not us," I said, "And can we listen to the U2 album now?" But everyone was too busy yelling "Alam, alam, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalaaaaaaaaaam!" to pay any attention to us. But finally the song finished and before they could go into any more tunelessness (and trust me, nothing is more tuneless than a busload of women) we, being fairly loud, shrill small people, threw mini-diva-type tantrums and I don't think anyone else had heard any of the other songs, so it wasn't that hard.
[An aside: What I don't remember is when Indian Ocean grew from being terrible to being brilliant. Oh, of course I realise it wasn't them, it was me, blah blah blah, but one moment I was making fun of the strange noises on their album the next I was chanting as loud as the next person when they came to play at our college festival. Quite odd. And I got their album for myself. AND now I make an effort to go for their concerts, as I did last night at the IIC festival, which really had the oldest Indian Ocean audience I have ever seen. And all sitting still! Old people are really strange. ]
Dharamshala was perhaps the most perfect place the English department could have picked. They let us pretty much do our own thing, which we did with a vengeance. Once we got to the hotel and all five of us decided to share a room, the hash was brought out and rolled according to instruction ("Break off a piece the size of the Nokia switch off button," said the provider) in a cigarette, which was all we knew how to roll in then. (Well, me still. But then after crazy tripping type experience in Goa which I will write about some day, as soon as my memory is less foggy, I stopped "doing drugs" completely. And looked disapproving when other people did. Which does not very much for my popularity). Once we smoked one and the other four lay giggly and still, I decided this hash was not very fun. Like, dude, it wasn't doing anything, you know? So, I took the next prerolled joint, while the others shovelled raw Wai Wai noodles into their faces and flamed/boomed/toked it, till I smoked nearly half of it, inhaling greedily, standing in the cold balcony. The others roused themselves and came to claim their share but by this time I was all wheeeeeeee! The joy! The funniness! I must've chugged three big bottles of water by the time they came back inside and I lay on the floor and laughed at them till my sides hurt. "I cahn't feel my thongue," I said (I think), sticking it out to look at it, "And my mouth is all fujjy. And you guys, I'm so hot." "So strip then," suggested one of them, stopping laughing for like three seconds. "You are so smart," I said, admiringly, and stood up in the middle of the bed, kicking off shawl and jacket and jeans and finally sweater, till I was standing there in socks and underwear and bouncing on the bed, marvelling at the joy that was my body and oooh (bounce) this is fun (bounce). We have pictures somewhere, of that evening (once I put my clothes back on, of course) and our eyes are bloodshot, and most of the pictures are out of focus, because everyone is so giggly and joyful, and there is much affection in the air until, as if on cue, we all tumbled into (separate! jeez, you guys have dirty minds!) beds and passed out happily. And so Dharamshala went on.
This weekend, at Laidbackwaters, Amulya and Iggy and I watched Pieces as she said hello to people and then we turned to each other and talked about our jobs and Amulya raised her glass, "Here's to us," she said, "Who would have thought in college we'd be doing something with our lives?"