Just One Night

They will always talk about how much effort a relationship takes. What they won’t tell you is that sometimes, one-night-stands are equally difficult. It is an act of courage to bare yourself for someone, and it is much more than merely your clothing. There is no such thing as “just sex”, even when one leaves emotions behind at the doorstep. Even if you don’t want to, you’ll end up noticing things- tattoos, bruises, laugh lines, underwear brands. You’ll end up carrying tiny pieces of them, like lint on overcoats- so small you might not even notice, until the next time you hold a glass of beer, or someone else’s hand, or smell their hair, or see them read a book.

Sometimes people don’t come out of one-night-stands unscathed, even if you leave right away. Do you know why? Because it is one of the rare phenomena that human beings indulge in without drawing up bundles of future contracts. Unlike a relationship, you know you will possibly never see this person again. And so, there you are, observing, innovating, planning on the go- figuring out what makes them click, teaching them what you like, suddenly discovering something new together that is unique just to the both of you, that you’ll possibly never use again with that person.

Isn’t that the kind of mindfulness in love everyone wishes to attain?


Ode to my Ideal Reader

All novels are really letters aimed at one person- Stephen King

It’s half past midnight and I’m breathing somewhat heavily, smiling in excitement. A thousand miles away, the man I love is quite likely in a similar state. We are hunched over our respective computer screens and contrary to popular expectation, our giddy delight stems not from a video call, but from the shared editing mode on Google docs, where we’ve spent the last hour fine-tuning his latest story. For some alien version of the FBI keeping tabs on us, this is a scenario repeated every few weeks, the only difference being that we take turns being the recipients of painstaking criticism.

Among the many gems of literary advice that Stephen King delivers, there is none that resonates more strongly with me than the concept of the Ideal Reader, IR for short. No matter how much we like to say that writing must, first and foremost, be for oneself, I don’t think any of us can deny that when we’re setting it out on paper, we imagine telling the story to certain people. Every character is intended to make them think, every pause imagines an intake of breath, every joke is written in the hope that they will find it funny. Indeed, as King mentions, he is extremely nervous while his IR, wife and fellow author Tabitha King, reads his first draft, waiting to see if she will laugh in the right places.

As a writer, most pieces that I write, albeit sprinkled generously with imagination, arise out real-life experiences and encounters. Each story, poem, essay is as such, a baby, if not one that I’ve birthed, definitely one that I am godparent or babysitter to. The concept of the Ideal Reader, hence, as mentioned by Kimberly Vargas, revolves greatly around the concept of trust. Your IR has to be someone you’d rely on to literally raise your baby and raise them well. And two years ago, I found mine.

Several authors might have their reservations about making a loved one their IR. Of course, the concerns are legitimate. A partner, close friend, sibling or parent has the ability to turn around the way you think about your own story, in both good ways and bad. Criticism, if you’re not up to receiving it, might seem unduly harsh when coming from someone who means so much to you. And often if they dislike certain parts of the story, you might be tempted to throw away the entire draft altogether and wallow in your misery. If this is how you work, it is definitely a safer option to stick to an anonymous reviewer, someone from the writing circles that you don’t interact with personally or a paid service online.

To quote Veronica Sicoe, “My ideal reader can be a total jackass sometimes too.” He is possibly the only person I know who will tell me outright when some thing is horribly written. But one of the best parts about having someone you love, who knows some of the most intimate stories of your life, as the IR, is that they know where you’re coming from and where you’re trying to take things. They will pick up the strands that are high quality but hopelessly tangled and show you exactly how to weave the masterpiece you dreamed of. In the same vein, they will also tell you when you’re letting a particularly grandiose idea take you away from your objective- showing people what your story is all about.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”- Neil Gaiman

Unless they’re writers.

So, what, one might ask, are the prerequisites of an IR? Well, as a minimum, nothing much other than the fact that they must enjoy reading your writing and be committed to telling you nothing but the truth. I’ve lucked out because I have an IR who is a writer, and he in turn will tell you the same (I hope). If you ever get blessed with this combination, you’ll realize that your work becomes tougher and easier simultaneously.

You get criticism worthy of Gordon Ramsay, pointed enough not merely to circle the mistake but rip apart exactly what doesn’t work. But you also get ideas on how to patch things up, and instances of why a certain plot point or character aspect doesn’t sound plausible, rather than a vague “Something seems off.” Which means that for both of us, our edit times get cut by half if not more. What I bring to the table in terms of grammar checks, he complements by pointing out the lapses in character development. And while it’s strictly not necessary that two writers be each other’s IRs, I find that, as of now it works rather well for us.

If only for the mutual backslapping two broke authors can occasionally indulge in.


For those writers who haven’t read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, please go and do it this week, irrespective of your personal opinion about the author. (No, I don’t get paid to state this here.)


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.)