First Dates: A Not-So-Cool Twenty-Something’s Guide

What (not) to talk about on the first date

I date a lot. (Mum, if you’re reading this, a lot is an exaggeration) By this, I mean that in the past two years, I’ve gone out on at least one date with ten to fifteen people, ranging from friends of friends to complete strangers carefully curated from dating apps, or in one case, someone I’ve run into in a cafe. These have included coffee dates, dinners, movies, bookstore visits, poetry slams, cookouts, and aimless walks or drives around town.

Now if you’re smirking at the fact that I call this “dating a lot”, well, don’t read ahead. If you’re still here, good for you. If like me, you’re less than bothered about not having Angelina Jolie-esque looks, are “not here for hookups”, have only ever awkwardly danced at weddings, and swear by hot coffee instead of chilled beer, well there’s still a date for you somewhere. So, after you’ve crafted a bio, swiped left and right, and found a person you enjoy talking to, what next? Well, you need to meet them. (In a public place, please.)

You could choose not to, of course, but most of the time, a date turns out to be fun, interesting and a genuinely pleasant experience, very different than the perception created by a stream of Romedy Now movies and our very own Karan Johar. There possibly won’t be any love at first sight, or second, but let’s be honest- don’t we often go on dates only because we’re starved of human company? Treat your first date as an experience firmly rooted in the present, instead of the beginning of a pre-planned progression and you’re likely to end up with a smile and some food for thought. (Or just some food, which isn’t bad either.)

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about dating etiquette- who pays, where you meet, etc. What I’m going to talk about here, is what not to talk about. It’s not just the obvious taboos- sex, your ex, their ex, sex (I wonder why), your baggage, their baggage, etc. Apart from my own dates (most of which have been fantastic, thanks to some really intuitive people), the following points come out of significant work experience in eavesdropping on date conversations in cafes and restaurants (Writers are a shameless breed, it’s how we make our living.) –

  1. The Weather: A sentence or two on how hot it is getting is fine, but if they really wanted a blow-by-blow weather update, they’d rather have a chat with Siri or Cortana or whichever AI they prefer.

Overheard on a first date: “When I went to Gangtok, it was October and it was 11 degrees…” “No it couldn’t have been 11 because when I went I’d to use the fan, and it was 10.5 only in February and 9.2 in January…” and so on. Unless you’re both co-workers in the Met department, no. Actually, not even then.

2. Bodily Fluids: Puke stories are funny, but only with your best friends at 2 a.m. For a first date, it’s best to steer clear of any kind of…umm…discharges, and project a really clean image of yourself. If they’re meant to know all your (literally) dirty secrets, then save it for the fourth or fifth date, or maybe even for the actual relationship if it happens.

3. Distance, Time and Speed: Unless you’re a Math teacher, and they get turned on by quantitative details, it’s best not to sit down and compute in detail how long it took your date to get from their office to the cafe you’re sitting in, and whether they could have taken a route that is 650 meters shorter. Google Maps, bro.

4. The “What did you eat for *Insert previous meal* today?” conversation filler: Yes, I understand some awkward pauses are likely, but they don’t need to be filled by this question. Save it for the “sweatpants and farts” stage of the relationship. Ask them what cuisines they prefer, if you’re that into food.

5. Sartorial Discussions: In eight out of ten cases, if someone compliments what you’re wearing, it is a polite ice-breaker(the remaining two might imply that you’re out with a fashion designer). A simple Thank You works.

Narrating your entire sartorial history and the three possible options your tailor offered before making the blouse in this cut- err, no. Trying to be casual whilst saying “ Yeah, it’s from *Insert expensive brand*” doesn’t work either, unless they’re a brand snob and you’re playing it up. (In which case, more power to you.)

6. Obscure Relations: While most people steer clear of mentioning family troubles on a first or even a second date, a funny story about a distant relative can become significantly less funny if you’re spending ten minutes explaining how it’s your mother’s second cousin’s third-oldest grandchild. “No not that cousin, the other one who lives in Gujarat.” Details. Save them for married life, period.

At this point, if you’re an introvert bordering on ambivert and obsessively plan conversations in your heads before they happen, you might be looking really pissed off wondering which weird questions are actually allowed. Yes, contrary to what those other articles will tell you, you do have the right to ask some unconventional questions if you so please, but this comes with a disclaimer.

If you end up making ordinary, polite conversation, you’ll definitely have a peaceful first date, which is what most people want, and possibly even get a second one. If, however, like me, you’re not sure whether you’ll have a second one (for me it’s mostly because I’m never in one place that long) and if you have the unabashed directness of a four-year-old on roller skates, you can ask the weird ones. The disclaimer is that this will scare away some people. But not all people.

(If anyone, at all, is reading this and wants me to do a piece on potentially awkward questions you should try asking on a First Date, please leave a comment.)


Starry, Starry Night

it is only recently that i have realized that the lights of the world through tear-blurred eyes look like stars. do you think Vincent stood outside that night, wondering if he wanted to paint or die? i think he’d been at that crossroad many times before. haven’t a lot of us been? those nights when you sit, holding strings or pen or brush in one hand, that choice in the other. those nights when you barely manage to shake off the urge to do something that will leave you no further choices, and go create something that is lauded as beautiful, months or years later, by yourself if no one else. i go back and read my old writing sometimes, on such nights- not because it is a particular masterpiece, but because each of those works captures a choice, a faith that the younger me had, a faith that questions me even now, and makes me want to get up and take charge. and i know that some night, perhaps not far from now, i’ll read this, and to you, if you’re reading this, know that you went onward in faith. don’t break.

don’t break.


Writing would be so much more fun with a typewriter, she muses, scrolling down a set of pictures of a friend’s latest acquisition. It is a particularly captivating specimen in shining red and black. Those keys- she can already see, in her mind’s eye, the strings of words that will jump to the fore as their owner drums down on them. Plot-lines waiting since months will perhaps be inscribed in a matter of days. Maybe they’ll even last longer in people’s memories because of the old-fashioned medium used to draw them out. Somehow, that which belongs to the older generation – songs, buildings, relationships-tends to have a familiarity that defies an ending. She looks for it in everyday things- paper letters instead of emails, dried pressed flowers, fingers on fingers instead of Skype screens. But like everything else today, old familiar comfort is incredibly scarce and comes at a price she can barely afford. And so she backs off from the pictures of the shiny red typewriter, and goes back to the squished laptop keys. Because, honestly, it’s about the story. And any writing is better than none at all.



I’ve got this friend…

Today isn’t a particularly special day. It’s just a rather random Thursday that I’ve spent doodling in the memory of various people and the times I’ve lived with them, that I need no particular occasion to celebrate. So cheers to you, and us, and all that we’ve been through and the people we’ve become. I love you.

#inktober2017 #artistsoninstagram #doodlesofinstagram #doodle #drawing

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#inktober2017 #inktober #ink #artistsoninstagram #imwithyou #dandelions

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#inktober2017 #ink #artistsoninstagram #doodles #throwback #friendshipgoals

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Turn on the light

The lead vocalist asks us to raise our hands if we’re proud of who we are, as people and as artists.

And something suddenly unravels inside me, a tightness that’s been there for a while. And with a few other wavering hands, I raise mine up in the air and smile.


There’s a gentle drizzle. The accompanying breeze makes the yellow paper lanterns sway, as if in rhythm with the light strumming of the guitar and banjo down below. The drums weave a comfortable,solid presence as fifty-odd people, friends and strangers hum along. Music does this to people- it makes one body out of individuals, a body moving in seemingly eccentric patterns but with a wonderful coherence.

There is silence towards the end of the show as the performers play the opening bars to a song they have dedicated to survivors of depression. What amazes me is that it isn’t an awkward pause. In this audience, there are people who, in some odd way, understand, either first-hand or through their loved ones, what it is like to not want to get up at all, to not eat or bathe or write or paint for days, or to just do all of it in a frenzy until you’re not sure what you’re doing anymore. There are people for whom turning up to a live show like this is one of their greatest achievements this month- they might not have stepped out of home for weeks. There are also people who are lucky enough to be mostly non-depressed, even happy, and who take this moment to understand how that isn’t necessarily a “normal” every one is used to.

As I raise my hand, standing here in this city that I’ve been both non-depressed and depressed in before, it is because I am proud today- of myself, of being able to sing along, of showing up alone, of continuing to write even if it seems to be most ordinary on some days. It’s because I can now raise my hand without feeling weird about being happy about my own existence. And because I have done a lot of things in the past year, good, fun, somewhat crazy, mundane, only for myself, and have loved doing it. It’s because the rain, and the lights, and the songs have the ability to make the darkness beautiful and bearable. And so does my writing, and your art, and someone else’s strumming, or playing or mere existence.

There will be bad days. But try and hold on long enough, and there will be good ones.

Listen to these guys (When Chai Met Toast) here:


When you ask me
to decipher jumbled-up words
From the day’s newspaper,
I take a moment,
To memorize the half-smile
On your face as you take
the black-and-white sheet back.
I keep looking for that smile
In the arms of lovers and
the eyes of friends,
and only sometimes
do I discover it,
in the bathroom mirror.

I write about everyone
except us, lest you should
One day find it and say,
like always, that you
do not understand,
even without reaching
the end.
Each line that you don’t read
Sets us back,
A little more,smothered
by layers of conversations
About lunches and dinners
And the weather.

I have dozens of
shushed stories stashed away
with my childhood, enough to last
the rest of your days; and still,
every time you read someone else,
I abandon mine and wish to be
them, instead.
My writing and I
are not quite the puzzles
you imagine-
I think
we could still figure out
all the garbled sentences
that have been scratching
our silences for too long,
if only we take
one jumbled-up word
at a time. You could still be
the best story I ever live.

Just As Sane (Harry/Luna Fanfic Oneshot)

*Character and Quote Credits- J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll.* *No attempt at copyright infringement. More like fan love.*


“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

“I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end.” she smiled as she turned towards the Great Hall.

Harry watched her skip along till the end of the corridor before he realised he was smiling too.

“Hey, Luna!”

“Yes?” she peeked back around the corner.

“Do you, I dunno, want to go get some dessert and eat it by the Lake?” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even know where the random thought had come from. But Luna’s face lit up, almost as if she’d suddenly spotted a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. She waved at him to hurry up as she continued to skip along the passageway, and Harry broke into a half-run to catch up with her, his heart light for the first time since Sirius’ death.

“Meet me near the Birch tree. And bring your cloak.” She murmured before going ahead into the Great Hall towards the Ravenclaw table. Harry followed more slowly, thankful for the fact that Ron, Hermione and the rest of his year-mates seemed to have finished and left already. He sat down next to Natalie McDonald at the Gryffindor table, half-expecting a glance of fear and disgust. Instead she gave him a respectful nod as she cleared some space for him, and then continued her conversation with her friends.

In between courses, Harry snuck a glance at Luna who looked as serene as ever as she held a conversation with two tiny first years who seemed to be worried about something. She must have felt his gaze because she flashed a half-smile in his general direction before patting the first-year girl’s shoulder and rising from the table with her plate of pudding. Harry gave her five minutes before he followed, summoning his Cloak from the dormitory just outside the Great Hall, idly wondering why the spell hadn’t worked when Hermione had tried it.

There was no one under the birch tree when he reached. He was wondering if Luna had gone back to her dormitory when he heard a giggle. “Well, hello there.” Harry looked up at the slim pair of legs dangling from a branch. He laughed again, wondering why it was suddenly so easy. “You remind me of the Cheshire Cat.” He exclaimed, before remembering that Luna was a Pureblood. “Well the Cheshire Cat is -”

“…a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’ll take that as a compliment. After all, we are all mad here.” She answered as she jumped down from the branch, landing nimbly without her pudding so much as wobbling.

“Wait, you read Muggle literature?” Harry was surprised.

“Yes. Alice was one of my favourite stories as a child- I made Mummy read the book every night. And after she died, I’d read it myself.” Luna stated matter-of-factly. Harry gazed out at the Black Lake, still unsure of how to behave around the concept of death.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh yes, it does. Some days, when the sun shines really brightly, or the first day of snow, or on days when I get a spell right on the first try, or on days when they hide all my stuff at the same time and I have nothing left to wear. I miss her.” She said simply, as she sat down under the tree with her legs crossed, her bluish grey eyes vacantly staring for a moment before they turned to him, twinkling. “But I still have so much left. Daddy, and this pudding, and Alice, and you, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville. I have friends now, don’t I, Harry ?” she looked up at him beaming.

Harry looked at her through his glasses, this being that was Luna Lovegood, not trusting his ability to speak in that moment. Instead he hung up the Cloak from a low-hanging branch like a canopy, making them invisible to everyone except each other, and sat down next to Luna. And they stayed there, for a very long time, staring at the stars shining on the surface of the Lake as they finished their pudding. And for the space of a few hours, at least, all was well.