Yesterday was another surreal day in India. It started with a series of phone calls in the morning.
For about the last 6 weeks, I have intermittently received phone calls from some loony Indian man who professes to want to “make friends with me”. He phones from different phones each time he calls meaning I can’t block his number, so every now and then I hear his familiar pleading tones saying,
“Please madam, don’t hang up, I just want to make friend with you. Please madam, come and see me. I am an orphan.”
All very heartwrenching stuff, but not the most ideal basis from which to start a friendship. The conversation usually continues briefly with me asking him if he actually knows who I am (he doesn’t appear to), who he is (he seems equally ignorant of that), how he got my number (someone called Joe in Delhi gave it to him apparently. Who Joe? No idea, I know no Joe) or vaguely and not very enthusiastically asking him why he keeps calling and what he actually wants (similar lack of knowledge in that department also).
Yesterday, he played a blinder. Bored of his calls, I tried having a more fulsome conversation with him to find out exactly what was going on. He burbled something about wanting to look at me. Ok, so that sounds distinctly dodgy; at which point, I got uppity and, in my most Lady Bracknell tones, asked him if he thought it was entirely appropriate to be conducting such a conversation with an unknown lady, would he allow his sister to be spoken to like this etc etc. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I hung up decisively.
There was silence for about 15 minutes. Then, from a different number, he called back. His voice sounded less pleading and more determined this time.
“I want you to come and see me tomorrow,” he said firmly.
“No,” I said, equally firmly.
“Well, if you don’t come, I am going to kill your colleague. I know where you live, I know your address. I will come and find you.”
“Don’t be so ridiculous,” I said. “You know nothing about me. How do you imagine this line of conversation is going to make me want to be your friend?”
“Will you come tomorrow or not?”
Phone cut off again. I can’t believe I have a bloody loony stalker in India who, if I don’t make friends with him, is threatening to kill people. What can be going through his head?
About 20 minutes later the phone rings again with a different number but the same code. Obviously, the majority of people with whom I have a telephone relationship and whose friendships are not based on threat and extortion, have their numbers programmed in with their names. It was patently going to be my stalker.
“Hello,” I said amiably. “Are you ringing up to threaten to kill me again?”
“Til now I haven’t bothered you,” he said menacingly. “Til now.”
“Actually,” I pointed out, not unreasonably, “you have been a real pain in the arse.”
“You haven’t been bothered. Til Now,” he repeated.
Then he hung up.
That, so far, is the last I have heard from him. The numbers he is calling from are all in Coimbatore, which is about 12 hours away. I feel it is unlikely that he will carry out his threats. I wonder if he thinks I am someone else? Nothing like this ever happens to me in Cumbria. Which, I suppose, being quite a lot closer to home, is a good thing.
After this telephonic encounter with a stalker, there was a flag raising ceremony at RUHSA to mark Republic Day. Apparently, India became a Republic on 26th January 1951, 4 years after Independence, and after a flurry of local holidays, this is one of the few nationally celebrated days. We had a sweet gathering around the campus flagpole whilst a local figurehead, a woman who spends time fighting for women’s rights and ensuring that eligible people can get pensions and welfare as appropriate, raised the Indian flag, scattering petals on the heads of those watching. She made a good speech about fighting for rights and individuals doing their duty by society. She seemed to be one of the few politicians here who (a) doesn’t look like a fat frog (b) seems be consistent between what she says and what she does and (c) fights for the rights of the underdog instead of getting fatter and more frog-like by lining her own pockets.
Whilst listening to the singing and speeches, I noticed someone whom I thought was the wife of a friend of mine, with whom I had had dinner just before I went home for Christmas. Having not seen this woman since, I made a beeline for her, in order to tell her what a lovely time we’d had at her house. She seemed a bit puzzled at the attention I was paying her and even more puzzled when I thanked her profusely for dinner, saying how lovely her home was and what a nice family she had. She persisted in looking puzzled, and even a bit scared, but, knowing that most people have great difficulty following what I say, I reiterated everything louder and more slowly, adding that I was surprised Selvakumar (the aforementioned friend) hadn’t mentioned to her what a lovely time I’d had, I had especially asked him to. No, no he hadn’t said anything to her, she said, backing away slowly. Oh men, I tutted, they are so hopeless. She agreed, for lack of an alternative. After a few more fruitless minutes of platitudes, I eventually gave up trying to thank this ungracious person, who seemed most reluctant to accept any good wishes.
Today I went to the library to return some books and there sitting behind the counter, looking a tiny bit apprehensive at my entrance, sat the librarian. Not Selvakumar’s wife. The librarian. I’ve seen her lots of times, sitting in exactly the same place. I have never been to her house. I have never met her family. We have never even eaten a meal together. In fact, I have only ever exchanged the briefest of greetings over a library book with her.
I brazened it out.
“Did you have a lovely day yesterday,” I said breezily.
“Yes,” she said, nervously.
“Good,” I boomed heartily. “I thought it was lovely too.”
I made a swift exit, giggling feebly to myself.
After the first two episodes of the day, I should have known better than to go into Vellore, as history proves that most Ridiculous Days have three Ridiculous Episodes in them, but Justine and I wanted to do a couple of things in town, so off we went.
Justine is a great lass and I enjoy her company a lot, but she can be a slight liability, having, as she does, a familiar and casual relationship with any kind of alcohol. Unbeknownst to me (initially), she had a water bottle which I thought contained water, but which in fact contained a ¼ bottle of vodka. I did wonder why, whilst we were wandering around the shops in Vellore, she was loudly demanding we find samosas, with which she developed an immovable fixation.
After a couple of hours, we were both getting increasingly crotchety with each other and I was ready to go home. We were wandering aimlessly towards the bus station, when a rickshaw with a grinning driver slid in front of us. It was Pandian, my fiance. I greeted him with more enthusiasm than was probably seemly, but I was a bit relieved to see someone who appeared to be sober. We chatted for a while and then he asked us to go for a coffee. Quite enjoying his company by this stage, I agreed and off we went.
On the way he picked up a friend of his who looked about 12, wore impossibly tight jeans and sported a quiff of architectural proportions, but who owned the rickshaw Pandian drove. We ended up, essentially, on a double date, starting with dinner and continuing with a Tamil movie.
The evening was going quite well. Justine had perked up, temporarily forgetting her obsession with samosas, and Pandian and friend were good company. It was clear that he was hoping for some sort of return for his attentions, but I was good naturedly ignoring his hopeful, lustful glances. In truth, I was quite enjoying the attention, and he was doing great, until he asked me if I slept well. I replied that, owing to the fact that I now had three mattresses, I did sleep very well. I didn’t mean that, he said, I meant, you’re so fat, how do you sleep? After a resounding slap to the head (his) our relations remained frosty for several hours until, after the film (completely incomprehensible) he allowed me to drive his auto all the way home, a good 30 km.
Obviously, he did it to give him an excuse to put his arm around me whilst driving, claiming that there wasn’t enough room on the seat and he had to hang onto me. After a few kilometres, he squeezed me and after a few more he laid his head on my shoulders.
“Enough of that,” I said sharply, “or I’ll drive into the ditch at a great speed.” The squeezing ceased and I could feel the palpable disappointment, especially in light of what was going on in the back.
Justine, by now a further half bottle ahead of herself in the vodka stakes and reunited with her samosa obsession, was cosying up to the friend (who’s name we never learnt, or if we did, we forgot) and, between suspicious slurping noises, was giving us a running commentary on various portions of his anatomy, trying to dispel the myth viciously started in a report on condom sizes for Indian men by the BBC. (I am not sure precisely what was being slurped over, I was concentrating on the road ahead and the hands behind, but Justine assured me later that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounded, she’s just not that type of girl.)
All this served to increase Pandian’s expectations, despite the fact that he knew I was not in the same accommodating state as Justine and I had already slapped his hands away a couple of times. Actually, I almost felt sorry for him. He gets the fatty who doesn’t put out and doesn’t get drunk either to enable him to take advantage of vodka-induced willingness.
In the end, he acted like a perfect gentleman. We arrive back safely, I pay over the odds to try and minimise hope for alternative forms of payment and he and friend leave - me to sleep and Justine to stagger around the campus waking various people up in her unrelenting quest for samosas.
Today of course, I feel fine and have great fun laughing at Justine who feels far from fine; plus, I have the added enjoyment of relating her nocturnal activities, about which she is completely amnesic, back to her with great relish.