On my 27th Birthday

I’m afraid I must write this quickly — before I get used to this, before Hyderabad and its roads, EFLU and its trees, its quiet corners become so remarkable that I cannot write about them anymore. So here goes.

At the pre-paid taxi kiosk in Hyderabad airport, the man with the lisp said eeeflu and corrected my efflu when I told him where I wanted to go. I took my slip and waited calmly near Healthy Bites. Goa has done me good, I thought. I started counting the number of ways I could get raped in only after I climbed into 4417 – my ride for the evening. But I stopped thinking about it because I was distracted by the driver’s good looks. When we left the airport, he was on his phone, arguing with his friend to book movie tickets at the PVR in Banjara Hills. I focused all my energy into paying attention to his delicious Telugu. I forgot Allu Arjun, I forgot Arundhati and I remembered how much I love listening to Telugu. Even the empty, stretching highway in the midst of nothingness and the occasional tall building couldn’t distract me. I continued to listen, praying he wouldn’t stop talking.

Within minutes, they had settled their ticket issue and he went back to driving and I went back to being the dog I become when I sit by the window.

A cracker burst somewhere and I saw the orange and the blue throwing their arms open in the air before falling down into a million little arms, and then dissolving into blackness.

I saw actor Nagarjuna on a billboard advertising Kalyan or some such jewellers and wondered how often he saw himself. Later, I imagined him in the back of his long, black car, returning from shooting abroad, sitting a little apart from his wife with nothing but 20 years of marriage in between them, mumbling something to her in the way Telugu men do — their lips barely moving and the words etching out of the corners of their mouth and forming little shapes of clouds and bells.

Little by little I saw Hyderabad from the window. The last time I came here, dad took us to Ramoji Film City, Charminar, and Golconda Fort. Everytime the guide who was showing us around called me Shahzaadi, my dad looked like he wanted to throw something at him.

What I saw tonight is a Hyderabad I didn’t see then or didn’t think to see then. Tonight I saw Hyderabad growing dramatically outside the airport into its Bawarchis and the Mustafa Sweet shops, and its Dulquer Biryani Take Aways. Then I saw it shrinking before we reached Secunderabad in its little Bata shops, and its charming Urdu on the walls. I watched with envy as the driver took sharp turns, avoiding a dozen dividers. The streets were quiet and the shops were busy. There were no addresses written on the shop boards. But then I saw Lakdikapool and remembered the big lake dad took us boating to.

When I entered EFLU, I knew I would like it immediately. N cursed when I told her how beautiful the campus is. She said that when she studied here, the campus was greener and freer.

My red bag, safely tucked under my right arm, I parted with the good looking driver. I saw students walking along the length of the narrow road, singing. I saw a girl laughing with a group of boys, I saw two North-eastern girls standing outside their hostels, wearing knee-length nighties, hugging their friends goodbye. As I made my way into Amrita Pritam Hostel for Women, I glanced at the notice board. One flyer announced the advancement of a Phonetics class. Another said ‘Students to be in their hostels by 11:00 PM’

I let out a silent whoppee and imagined studying here. I had picked out the classes I would take in 5 min, and had prepared my daily schedule in ten. In the lift, I made small talk with the warden. She looked happy when I told her I was from Bangalore. The lift opened and she took me to my room. The walls were white and the marble floor looked wider and brighter because of all the tube lights. She handed me my keys and I made friends with the blue key chain that said ROOM 223.

In the room , there are two tables and I pick the table closest to the balcony, obviously. I throw my bag on the bed, and check out the rest of the room. I already know which the geyser switch is and which lock on my door doesn’t work. I know that my side of the bed has a book shelf on top, which I am already learning to mind when I rise to get up. I am not even thinking about the roommate I may have to make polite conversation with tomorrow.

Sitting here, my legs stretched out, my laptop plugged to the socket on my left; I am already growing used to the noise the Maroon LG fridge is making in the corner.

When I told S and I about this on Whatsapp, I used more exclamations than I have in the past two years.