Not having spent much time in the North myself, I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to spend a few days in Delhi last month to promote my novel. To nobody's surprise, those 'few days' in the capital have somehow stretched into a couple of weeks now, partly because I was down with some stomach trouble, and mostly because it meant I 'd have that much longer before getting back to the daily grind. The Mothership- bless her- fired off two warning texts to my phone before finally calling.
"Tharun," she says, "what do they want?"
"Who, Ma?" I ask, because it's 7 in the morning and I've just returned to the friend's home I'm crashing at from a party with seven hungover strangers.
"The Hindi People," she says, "what will it take to get you out of there?"
"What?" I try to clear my head, "Mom, I just got held up with book stuff here. I'll head back soon."
"Son," she whispers, "I don't know who they are or what they want, but you tell them your Ma's got skills, you hear? You tell them if they don't let you go, your Mommy will look for them, that I will find them, and I will kill them. You hear?"
I consider letting my Mother think I've been kidnapped by Hindi People for just a little longer; it'd be easier than telling her I've been putting off getting back to real life because breakups are hard and I'm in possession of half a brick of primo hashish that needs smoking before I can board a flight without fear of getting an anal probe.
"Ma," I say, "I'm not being kept here against my will. My stomach's all screwed. I think I've got Delhi Belly."
"That's good," she says, "speak only in code. "Delhi Belly"! Ha, I bet they're going crazy trying to figure that out!"
"No Ma, 'Delhi Belly' is a real thing," I say, "It's a stomach infection you get from drinking Delhi water or something."
"Good. Now keep using code, but what can you tell me about your location? I'm sure they blindfolded you, but did you happen to hear a train or a plane in the background?"
"The entire city is connected by train, Ma," I say, "and besides, I've not been kidnapped! I can't believe you've never heard of Delhi Belly. Google it. Aamir Khan even made a movie about it. You know it must be contemporary and traumatic and capable of reducing housewives across India to tears if Aamir Khan makes a movie about it."
The Mothership falls silent. Aamir Khan is one of the few Bollywood actors to hold his own in our household, partly because he made a couple of decent movies ten years ago and mainly because, as my mother put it, "I think his people have suffered enough, don't you?" She knows I wouldn't use the Khan's name in vain.
"So you're actually staying longer in Delhi off your own free will?" she asks.
"Bye, Ma," I say, "I love you."
Now as any man will tell you, you can't really look people in the eye after they've just heard you tell your mother you love her. So I put down the phone, make a face, and plant my gaze on a speck on the wall that's a good foot above the tallest person in the little group assembled around me. Though we've boarded up the windows, we can hear the day breaking outside, an angry milkman here, a furious automobile honk there. We haven't slept a wink all night but we've been in Delhi long enough to know we can't afford to waste daylight.
"Right, people," I say, "you know the drill. We're all hungry and this is part of the cultural experience, so no whining. And pick up anything you see that can be concealed in your clothes and can be used as a weapon."
There is a collective nod, and no audible Oedipus jokes. Deciding it's still early, I collect just the assault rifles from the corner and pass them around.
"Ok on the count of three," I say, "ladies, grab your pepper spray and tasers, and other assorted anti-rape devices. Guys, you've got your guns; lock and load. Let's go get some breakfast."
Icy Highs's Music Recco: Bhaag Bhaag DK Bose, Delhi Belly (2011)