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Are you young, single and ready to mingle?
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August 23, 2007
Single, lovable, slightly overweight and desperately looking for love?

Welcome to your life.

A book that is sure to have thousands of young unattached ladies heaving a collective sigh of relief, Almost Single is 29-year-old writer Advaita Kala's first novel.

In it, she twists life as she knows it into a work of fiction that is funny, touching and altogether delightful.

A young bachelorette living the modern life in Delhi, Aisha Bhatia is on the lookout for 'the One'. Between her mother's phone calls pestering her to settle down with a suitable boy, her job at the Grand Orchid Hotel as a guest relations manager and endless nights on the town with her two best friends, Aisha is on the lookout for love.

An exclusive excerpt from Almost Single:

Standing behind my desk at the Grand Orchid, I sometimes look at my colleagues and realize that we make quite a menagerie. There are the penguins -- read butlers -- whose coat-tails give flight to their rushed existence. Where's the fire, I intone irritably. I hate people running around in the lobby. It just conveys the wrong message to the guests, as though we don't quite have our act together. The key is 'deliberate haste' -- acting alike you are hurrying to fulfill your commitment to the guest, yet without displaying any undue anxiety or panic. I wish I could apply this axiom to my love life, but alas it never quite works that way. What I usually end up doing almost exclusively is rushing into everything and skinny-dipping in sleaze.

I look out beyond the doors of the lobby as I do on many a lazy afternoon, wishing to break free. There stands Mahinder Singh, the doorman, in his harem pants, turban and lofty moustache. He stands there twirling it distractedly and nodding in grim understanding as the mousy valet relates his latest anti-management woes. What is with these people? I think irritably. Why work in a place, which incites you to bitch all the time? And then I stop. Wait, why do I work here then?

Unanticipated insights are very disturbing, so I shift my gaze and rest it on Sneha, the new receptionist. Pretty as Barbie and as dumb as Ken. Wait, that's not nice. Ken wasn't really dumb, just dumb enough to be the perfect partner, and besides, he looked good. Hang on, I am digressing again, but Sneha really needs to up the intelligence. Quotient. I don't know how it's done at the ripe age of twenty-three but it has to happen. Just yesterday she checked a guest into an occupied room, and then batted her eyelids and told me that the other guest didn't mind! Didn't mind. She meant that he didn't say a word to her. He spent a good forty-five minutes with me dissing everything from the hotel, to the city, to the government.

And then I notice Karan standing beside her with his bags waiting to check out. I go over to say goodbye. In my purely professional capacity, of course.

'I was thinking of having a house-warming party. Nothing big, a few people from work and a few friends,' Karan says as I approach them.

'That's a great idea. When?' I dive straight into the conversation, giving Sneha the 'get about your work' officious look.

'Saturday night. I know it's short notice but I'm just going to get busier from here on. Do you think you can help me? Look, if you're busy...' He mistakes my silence for a refusal.

'Sure. I'll help,' I say quickly. I have to be careful. I don't want to sound over-enthusiastic. I am busy, but what the hell. The image of Tantalizing Tanya in a hausfrau apron, passing around the hors d'oeuvres, is way too disconcerting. Dammit! It is going to be me in that apron!

Later that week I am at Karan's new apartment going over the list of invitees. Lenny Kravitz's Ready for Love is playing in the background. A sign, you think? Okay, so the CD is on scramble and this is the eleventh track, not quite the stars lining up in my favour.

'What would you like to drink?'

'What do you have?'

'A lot. But how about we open a bottle of wine? There's this Chenin Blanc from Sula, looks interesting. Ever tried it?' He has discovered Sula on his own, I am so proud of him. Tried it? This stuff runs through my veins.

'Just a glass for me.'

'Always playing it safe, Aisha.' Karan winks.

You bet. I have worn my granny underwear tonight. Believe me, granny underwear is the chastity belt of our times. If one is ever in doubt of one's ability to control a potentially combustible situation, wear granny underwear. It's a very effective deterrent.

Karan has a stack of photographs on the coffee table. The most interesting one is of an older lady --ery Gucci Mama --n her second face-lift for sure. She has those amazingly arched eyebrows that give the face a perpetual look of surprise. Maybe a brow lift: Misha would know. I make a mental list of all the possible cosmetic work done on Gucci Mama. This can be a fun party game. We can blow the picture up and have people guess at all the cosmetic work; the one with the largest number of correct answers will be the winner. Gosh, I am clever!

'That's Mom.' And time stands still. Karan is behind me with the wine. Fortunately, he's missed the expression of utter guilt on my face.

'Oh, I thought she looked like you.' Excellent comeback.

'Really? I'm told I look like my dad. My sister looks a lot like her. Sometimes people think they're sisters.' He laughs. I am stuck, no clever comeback this time.

'She's coming down next month. You'll meet her then.' Shoot, I begin to stress. I wonder how much Botox costs, or maybe some of that non-invasive surgery. Suddenly, I am painfully aware of the 'indentations' on my forehead. You won't put a brown bag over my head yet but age is creeping in.

Karan has a guest list of about twenty-five but it's always safer to keep a margin of ten for any 'friends of friends' --ead gatecrashers --ho come along. They inevitably waste no time at making themselves at home instead of the original invitees, but then, that's Delhi for you.

We decide on a barbecue. It involves a little bit of work but it's going to be a beautiful late November evening and Karan's apartment has a private terrace with a beautiful view of a park � a rarity in this concrete jungle. We arrange for a local restaurant to do the catering. Nic knows of a bootlegger who is to deliver the alcohol, the imported, genuine stuff. We call him and add the mixers too to his list. Thus, in the rested tradition of the modern world, we do some effective outsourcing and sit under the moonlight sipping wine.

It's fun organizing a party with you.' Karan observes.

'Well, all we need is my little diary of numbers. My philosophy is, why do something when someone else can do it better.'

'Clever girl� I'm always afraid that the food will run out.'

'Me too. I think I get that from my mom. Every time she threw a party, we ended up eating leftovers for the next five days.' On second thought, it probably had little to do with quantity. I seem to remember seeing my dad slip some of the food to our dog. Flashbacks are so dangerous, they can change your whole view of life.

Karan smiles and gets up to refill my glass. We sit there for a long time in companionable silence and watch the evening stretch into night. On the one hand, I want to find out where we are headed, and on the other, I am perfectly content to sit there and share some quiet time with him. We are spending more and more time together. He is good-looking man, and now here I am on his balcony, ready and waiting. Yet, he makes no moves. Granted, I am wearing granny underwear, but he has no means of knowing that. To the discerning eye, I am definitely presentable ('available' is too tracky a term) but I could be holding a placard that says, 'Kiss me, you fool'.

I need some sort of reaction from this man. Maybe I can start the 'I have to leave now' drama. It always works, and is a great way of figuring out what a guy has in mind. If he is interested in extending the evening, the 'stay a little longer' line will come into play. In this case, followed by 'let's move inside and listen to Lenny Kravitz and cuddle on the sofa, light a few candles...

'It's getting late and the mosquitoes are chewing me up,' Karan says, slapping his neck.

I am finally smacked out of my Mills-and-Boon-induced coma.

'Yes, it's getting late. I should be heading home.'

'I guess so. It's going to be a long day tomorrow. Thanks so much for helping out.' It looks like he knows exactly what is on his mind. Damn the mosquitoes, no, actually, damn him, why blame the poor little critters.

'No problem, anytime. I guess I'll see you tomorrow. Let me know if you need anything.'

'Will do. Let me walk you to the car.'

'Don't bother.' I smile sweetly. 'I'll be fine. You stay indoors, the mosquitoes may attack again.' I shut the door in his face.

I know then, exactly what he's getting for a house-warming present � mosquito repellant!

The moment I get home I deal my midnight bitching partner. (Misha is my early morning bitching partner.)

'Anushka,' I fume over the phone. She is dead asleep but I have to let off steam.

'What's happened? Everything okay? She mumbles.

'Everything is fine, just great. I don't know what he thinks I am!'

'I take it the evening with Karan did not go as planned,' she yawns.

'Stop yawning. I don't know what I've become. It's like I'm party planner, chief advisor, court jester and girl Friday all rolled into one.'

'Come on! No one can be the perfect!' Anushka laughs.

'No, really, this is serious. I sat there doing my best Angelina Jolie [Images] pout and this guy is the "p-i-t-t-s".'

'Look, the first kiss is the best, most spectacular, cloudburst moment in a relationship. It can't happen on cue. If it does, it's so trite, you know, boring. It has to happen when you least expect it,' Anushka explains wisely.

'Yeah, like the time the X and I were making out and Mamma Bhatia decided to leave a long message on the answering machine about my alleged weight gain.'

'It wasn't "alleged",' Anushka giggles.

'Your interest in trivial details is very annoying. Goodnight Anushka.'

'Good night, Princess. Just remember it's all in the kiss. So, if you're not ready to find out, just carry on waltzing.'

Does Anushka have a point? When will this dizzying waltz end? Maybe I am stepping on his toes? And then again, maybe it is he who is missing all the cues?

Excerpted from Almost Single by Advaita Kala, published by HarperCollins India, Rs 195, with the publisher's permission.

Illustration: Rajesh Karkera

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