Trring! “Hi, can I talk to Nishi?” says a suave voice from the other end. “Ya, this is Nishi,” I reply putting on my best tone.  Crisp Voice says, “Congratulations Nishi, you have won the Tata Nano food-quote contest. You are going to shoot a sequence on the show Highway on my Plate with Rocky and Mayur.”

Silence at my end. It has been characteristic of me to fall short of words when they are needed the most. “Hmm…what…er…”I rack my brains to place myself and the contest in a single frame.

As realization dawns, I exclaim, “Oh. My. God” (Janice-style).

Mr. Crisp Voice says, “Shall I go on?” I can sense he is smiling. Not indulgently though.

“So, the shoot is day after tomorrow. You will have to fly to Chennai tomorrow and then take a cab to Pondicherry the next morning.”

Silence at both ends. My protective anxious upbringing never allowed me to venture alone after dark, and here I am supposed to travel the length of the country, alone.

“Would you want to come?” he asks.

“Yes, of course.” Then as an afterthought, I ask him to give me some time to confirm.

Ten minutes, a few frantic phone calls, Google searches, and agitated discussion with mother later, I tell Crisp Voice that I am coming to Pondicherry and he can go ahead with the tickets. A good old friend from school, Nakul, posted in Chennai, promises to arrange for accommodation, which shouldn’t be a problem since he works in the hotel industry.

I am all set for my first journey alone, to a land I have never been to, whose language I can neither speak nor understand. Dad doesn’t approve. His kin don’t approve. The neighbour’s sister’s mother-in-law doesn’t approve. Even their cat doesn’t approve. I tell her I don’t approve the word ‘approve’.

So, this is how I found myself boarding the flight to Chennai one chilly December evening. Strangely somehow, I didn’t feel butterflies flutter in my stomach, which is usually the case with me at any first or second or tenth in my life. Stranger was the fact that I felt so awfully secure sleeping in that quiet hotel room in some obscure area of Chennai. I did not know who stayed in the other rooms; in all probability, they were vacant. I did not know what was behind the locked door that opened in my room. In my ignorance of what lay beyond, I felt insulated. I did not worry about waking up at 5 the next day and setting off from Chennai at 6 though I went to bed at 2 in the night. I did not feel afraid sitting in the cab with a driver I had met for the first time, on a road I was travelling on for the first time.

The coastline of Pondicherry

What I did worry about was how I’d tell him to pull over beside a highway inn if I wanted to lighten myself. I had mugged up a few Tamil sentences, only the minimum essentials, with the help of a friendly Tamilian auntie whom I meet on my morning walks. But the fresh Pondicherry breeze through the window blew them away. The only bit of Tamil I managed to say to the driver was:

“Anna, enike bathroom ponam” [Anna, I have to go to the bathroom—I think this is what it means]; which he did understand because he soon pulled over, but I seriously believe it was only the word ‘bathroom’ that he understood.

With Rocky and Mayur

Pondicherry was beautiful. Everything was either white or blue—the colonial buildings and the sea. And everything sparkled under the bright sunlight. I couldn’t believe it was freezing back in north India. French windows, Vietnamese cuisine, open-terraced cafes—the place seemed no more India than Red Indians are Indians (pardon me for the clichéd analogy, had been stuck for want of a better one, so…).

Rocky and Mayur, the two absolutely crazy and boisterous ‘young’ men, were a riot of back-thumping laughter. I was as impressed by their ability to come up with impromptu food-quotes and witty one-liners as with their ability to devour helpings after helpings of food. As is the case with me in unfamiliar surroundings, I lost all appetite, and could only nibble at pastries. Drat! I still see those rich creamy desserts in my dreams sometimes.

The half day I spent with them seemed so different to what my real world was back in Delhi. All mic-ed up, I shot the small sequence, amidst the scorching sun, the very blue (bluer than I have ever seen) sea, and two adorable gigantic men.

Coming back, though my late-night flight was a good two hours late, and the suited gent next to me ended up falling asleep on my shoulder, I was in high spirits. I had taken my first real journey—the ones with family (or even with friends) I never considered actual journeys—and I knew I was ready for more.

Nishi Jain

Nishi Jain spent some precious years of her life studying English literature, editing novels, and writing newspaper articles. Then one day, as she was sitting under a tree with no branches, a rotten pancake fell on her head from the window above and she had her Newtonian moment. From then on, all she does is eat pancakes, write, and profess fake love to pastry chefs.

Nishi Jain – who has written posts on WAH Blog.