Dear reader,


I watched a Neil Gaiman masterclass recently where he said he gets himself to write by boring himself. To achieve that, Gaiman is typically in a cabin or a hotel room, insulated from the rest of the world. When you have nothing to do, the words will come, he says. Amit Shah insists they come in Hindi.


It’s on my mind as I write this from my grandmother’s house in Udupi, on my first visit since 2016. I spent several school vacations here, sometimes for as long as a month at a stretch, usually by myself – that is, the only other people around were adults. There’s a farm here, and in the summers, the fields would dry up and form mounds. They were important in my efforts to stay entertained. I had sticks that were shaped like rifles, and these lumps would explode satisfyingly when hurled like grenades – all you need to simulate entire battle sequences against evil.


In the monsoons, extending into September these days, the fields are lush. That’s what I arrived to last weekend, some peacocks unwittingly putting on a welcome dance performance. On Saturday, a 12-member deer herd traipsed across our front yard and into the woods. Local intel is there were 13 not long ago. One of the does has since fallen to the village’s pesky new member – a leopard. Some of my battle scenes happened in the woods back then, something that would be strictly out of the question now. A lot of my everyday life from Bangalore is out of the question too right now.


This is my first trip here by “myself” in possibly a decade, and I’d anticipated boredom. Only one corner of the house receives any mobile connectivity, and it’s been raining constantly, which means no walks either. My grandfather has only news on his TV. It’s really hard not to be bored if you come from the city. I thought it’d serve perfectly to take photos, read, catch up on sleep, and get some writing done.


I’m only eeking out this email in my last two hours over here. Some of my family took a last-minute option for an early return, and only in the silence of dusk after their departure have I managed to get my laptop out to write. I tried earlier in the weekend, and the screen opened onto an unfinished Photoshop edit of my friend. My friend, who is a woman, and whose appearance on screen had my grandmother excited and hurriedly running out of the room; an attempt to give us some privacy, no doubt. I can’t say she completely bought my snap attempt to justify why a woman’s photo was the first thing she saw. So, Tanya, if you’re reading this, I’m afraid you’re going to have to pick between marrying me or disappointing a sweet old lady.


It doesn’t take a lot to get me out of writing. Needless to say, I spent the rest of that afternoon being sucked into other distractions: whining kitten siblings, a Kannada newspaper report on Serena Williams’ Fashion Week appearance, my grandfather’s old film camera. If you’d dropped sticks in front of me, I might have turned them into rifles.


So one of the things I’ve learnt on this trip is what works for Gaiman doesn’t work for Shetty.


At the end of that thought, I can remember an evening from five years ago where the inverse would have been true as well. To travel back, you must picture Gaiman riding a scooter, lost in a narrow Bangalore backstreet. You must imagine him being too proud to stop and ask for directions, choosing instead to look into the rickshaw to his left, to try and ask the driver while they’re both still moving. Imagine the splat of metal meeting bumper fiber – Gaiman’s barged his scooter into a car.


At this point, the car stops, two men get out and head straight for Gaiman. They’re not short on aggression. What’s wrong with you, they bellow, are you even qualified to be on the road? Show us your license! Poor, young, intimidated Gaiman doesn’t know better than to actually hand them his license. They examine his details – his full name and his age – and they hold on to the card, all but extorting poor little Gaiman until he pays for the damage.


Had his surname been Shetty, however, this handing over the license situation would have worked out a lot differently. The men – both from Udupi and also Shettys – would have instantly toned down their aggression, felt sorry for the lad, and handed the card immediately back to him, sending him off with a pat on the shoulder and a harmless reprimand.


It remains the only time the mere appearance of my name was worth anything. But what works for Shetty doesn’t work for Gaiman.





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