Earlier this year, my writer friend, Leah Zibulsky, invited me to one of her creative nonfiction readings on the lower east side. There were four, smart, sassy storytellers presenting that evening. As I heard Leah and her comrades share their dating stories at Dixon Place in NYC, I whispered to the woman on my left, “Damn, they’re so good.”
I write creative nonfiction too but they aren’t dating stories. They come from within but aren’t always about me and rarely intimate. The ease with which Leah mocked her ex-boyfriend or walked us through her dating life, I have so much respect for her transparency and craft. The honesty with which even the other readers shared their obsessive love stories, infidel indulgences, and heartbreaks, I was amazed. So unapologetic and such firecrackers.
I was determined; I had to find creative writing inspiration in an undiscovered place. A new voice and style. Spicier stories with an “I” voice. After all, I am Indian; spicy is in my blood…or so I thought.
After the reading got over, with my less than eight-hour old manicure (maybe there was a reason the manicurist had suggested “Bold and Beautiful” from the brand Essie), I pulled out the cell phone from my handbag and called up my husband.
“Babe, Leah was awesome. I am so proud of her.” I was pumped up like Bollywood Rocky (a name bestowed upon me by my trainer since I shimmy and punch at the same time).
“You had a good time?”
“I always have a good time.” I was beginning to get Leah-ized. “Have you had dinner?”
“Not yet. I just got home from the gym,” my husband spoke in his usual, calm voice.
“Great. I’ll go to West Village and pick us up some dinner.” Sweta Srivastava Vikram was going to be in charge and there was no stopping her.
“Are you sure? It’s raining.”
“I am waterproof.” As the words left my mouth, I realized the absurdity. But Sweta Srivastava Vikram was ready for some change.
On the subway ride back, I thought about what I was going to write in my dating article. Did I have advice to share? Nah. Was I interested in dating? NOPE. Happily married to the same man for many years. But I had to write this piece to feel closer to the third person Sweta Srivastava Vikram who had bellowed on the lower east side. I had to give voice to the woman who gives others a vent through her stories and poems. I had to calm the writer in me who thought she needed to find writing inspiration in a new place.
My mind, heightened by a glass of crappy Californian Pinot Noir at the reading on the lower east side, went to my college days…
When I was doing my first masters degree (Yes, I am of Indian heritage and collecting multiple degrees is in my DNA) in Pune, I had a comfortable and fun living arrangement. Three of us girls in a young, hip apartment building in a great neighborhood. One of my roommates was one of my best friends from college, Jaya Sharan. The other woman was Jaya’s classmate in her masters program. Most people in our apartment complex, comprising of several buildings, parks, and common area, were people in their early twenties.
Our neighbors on both sides were young boys and men. On one side were working professionals; on the other side were students. We became reasonable friends with these guys. Reasonable? We sometimes hung out in groups or went for movies.
One Sunday, one of the student boys, Jayesh, asked Jaya and me, “You want to go for a ride?”
Every Indian woman from my generation, who watched Bollywood growing up, has desired to sit behind a guy on the bike and sing a song or two. Does’’t matter who the guy is. Doesn’t matter whether you love him or not. It’s about narcissism at its best. As the engine roars, you bend backwards, away from the guy, and let your hair and dupatta caress your face. In this filmi moment, the man is just responsible for automobile movement; it’s the woman that matters.
In college, Jaya and I were the kind of girls, who after watching Bollywood blockbuster, “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge” decided to buy train tickets from Pune to Bangalore (we couldn’t afford Eurostar tickets and hop across Europe) in the hope that we would meet someone like Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan on the train. Yeah, my brother heard of the plan and gave us an earful. Clearly, Bollywood played a big role in our lives.
Jaya and I were still daydreaming when our neighbor, Jayesh, repeated his question. We responded in sync in a confusing high pitch, “Sure, ya, Jayesh.”
Jayesh understood our hesitation. “Roy and me and the two of you, we’ll go towards Khadakwasla.” I am sure Jayesh continued to say more but Jaya and I tuned him out after he uttered the K-word. By now, Jaya and I were in love (platonically, of course) with Jayesh and Roy—our friendly neighborhood boys who had offered to drive us to heaven.
Khadakwasla is where the Indian National Defense Academy is situated. It’s the first tri-service defense base. Yes, Khadakwasla produces warriors. But for 19-20 year old girls, it’s also the place to see/meet hottest of guys in town. Funnily, Jaya and I wouldn’t have done anything in Khadakwasla aside from ogle and collect juicy stories to share next day with our friends.
Ever heard of one blind leading the other? Or two clueless friends?
It wasn’t until our third roommate told us that that the outing with Jayesh and Roy was a double–date, did Jaya and I realize what the invite meant. Jayesh’s generous offer made sense—the long bike ride and lonely roads. The rascals were expecting a date?!
Hell no. Jaya and I had ironed our jeans because we were going to see military guys from a distance, not date our friendly-neighborhood boys.
“So sick ya.” Jaya groaned in Jayaesque way with stress on many syllables.
“I have a solution.”
“What?” Her lazy but curious tone echoed in the room.
Before either of us could think or say anything, there was a knock at the main door. It was Jayesh reminding us to meet him and Roy in the parking lot. While neither of us wanted to go out with these boys on a date, I felt awful canceling on them last minute just because we’d misunderstood their plans.
I ran to the refrigerator and brought two eggs. Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a planner and works best under organized environment. Last minute plans always create mayhem.
Even before Jaya could say something, I broke an egg in her hair and massaged it with my fingers like it was mousse. I repeated the act—but it was my hair this time. Jaya stared at me speechless as I tied a scarf around both our heads—like a bandana and then sprayed some deodorant to hide the stench of egg.
The stench in the streets of Pune made it easy for us to mask the smell of egg in our hair. And because women used to cover their hair and face with a scarf when riding a two-wheeler, thanks to dust, we didn’t look conspicuous at all.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram would have been amazing as an agent working for Secret Service, so I liked to believe.
Yes, we did go for a ride and unleash our scarves just as our neighbor boys tried to get cozy. Let’s just say that neither did we get to fulfill our Bollywood fantasy nor did the boys get anything romantic out of the afternoon. After that day none of us brought up the faux pas. We became their unofficial “bros.”
Coincidentally or was it dramatically that the train reached my subway stop in present day New York and pulled me out of my “dating stories” from college days. I walked up the subway stairs disappointed. I had no exes or dating stories to write about. I accepted that I had no spicy dating tales to share. The stability in my life made the writer in me unstable for a few moments until I reached home.
As soon as I opened the front door, I saw my husband sleep on the sofa. There was something so comforting about watching his otherwise annoying Patriots comforter wrapped around his legs. He had ordered spicy Thai shrimp curry for dinner for us, one of my favorite things to eat on rainy days, which I saw nicely placed on the kitchen counter. It was in that instant I knew the difference between spicy and bland. It was in that instant I understood every writer finds inspiration and stories in a different place—and, sometimes, that place is that of comfort and reliability. Sometimes, a writer just has to look at inspiration with a fresh perspective.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an Amazon bestselling author, Pushcart Prize nominated poet, award-winning writer, educator, columnist who has authored seven chapbooks of poetry, a novel, a nonfiction book, and a book-length collection of poetry. She lives in New York City with her husband. Follow her on Twitter: @swetavikram and facebook http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta
Find out more about Sweta on her website www.swetavikram.com