One Indian Girl

by Chetan Bhagat

Hi all,

I can’t possibly thank everyone who has contributed to this book. Every woman who ever came into my life has played a part. You all know who you are, so in case I missed you out, like always—sorry.

The ones I would like to thank here are:

God, for giving me so much.

Shinie Antony, my editor, friend, guide. She’s been with me from the start and continues to be the first reader of all my books.

My readers, for blessing me with so much love. It is because of you that I get to do what I love—tell stories.

The hundred-odd women I interviewed for this book, including that Serbian DJ, the IndiGo flight attendants, the hotel staff wherever I stayed, the various people I met at my motivational talks, the co-passengers on planes. There was a phase when I discussed this book with every woman I came across. Thank you for opening up and sharing your innermost feelings. It made the book.

Alphabetically—Abha Bakaya, Aditi Prakash, Alisha Arora, Amit Agarwal, Angela Wang, Anubha Bang, Anusha Venkatachalam, Ayesha Raval, Avni Jhunjunwala, Bhakti Bhat, Ira Trivedi, Jessica Rosenberg, Karuna Suggu, Krishen Parmar, Kushaan Parikh, Meghna Rao, Michelle Shetty, Nibha Bhandari, Prateek Dhawan, Rachita Chauhan, Reema Parmar, Shalini Raghavan, Virali Panchamia, Vivita Relan, Zitin Dhawan—for all the inspiration, support and feedback at whatever point during the journey of this book, or even my life.

The editors at Rupa, for their relentless attempts to make the book better.

The salespersons at Rupa, the retailers who carry my books, the online delivery boy or girl who brings my books to my reader’s doorstep—thank you.

My critics. For helping me improve and keeping my ego down.

My mother Rekha Bhagat, the first woman in my life. Anusha Bhagat, my wife. Thanks.

My kids. For having a little less dad so there can be a little more author.

My extended family. Brother Ketan. In-laws. My cousins. Everyone who has ever loved me.

With that, it’s time for One Indian Girl.

Prologue

Some people are good at taking decisions. I am not one of them. Some people fall asleep quickly at night. I am not one of them either. It is 3 in the morning. I have tossed and turned in bed for two hours. I am to get married in fifteen hours. We have over 200 guests in the hotel, here to attend my grand destination wedding in Goa. I brought them here. Everyone is excited. After all, it is the first destination wedding in the Mehta family.

I am the bride. I should get my beauty sleep. I can’t. The last thing I care about right now is beauty. The only thing I care about is how to get out of this mess. Because, like it often happens to me, here I am in a situation where I don’t know what the fuck is going on.

1

‘What do you mean, not enough rooms?’ I said to Arijit Banerjee, the lobby manager of the Goa Marriott.

‘See, what I am trying to explain is. . .’ Arijit began in his modulated, courteous voice when mom cut him off.

‘It’s my daughter’s wedding. Are you going to shame us?’ she said, her volume loud enough to startle the rest of the reception staff.

‘No, ma’am. Just a shortage of twenty rooms. You booked a hundred. We had only promised eighty then. We hoped to give more but the chief minister had a function and. . .’

‘What do we tell our guests who have come all the way from America?’ mom said.

‘If I may suggest, there is another hotel two kilometres away,’ Arijit said.

‘We have to be together. You are going to ruin my daughter’s wedding for some sarkaari function?’ my mother said, bosom heaving, breath heavy—classic warning signs of an upcoming storm.

‘Mom, go sit with dad, please. I will sort this out,’ I said. Mom glared at me. How could I, the bride, do all this in the first place? I should be worried about my facials, not room allocations.

‘The boy’s side arrives in less than three hours. I can’t believe this,’ she muttered, walking to the sofa at the centre of the lobby. My father sat there along with Kamla bua, his elder sister. Other uncles and aunts occupied the remaining couches in the lobby—a Mehta takeover of the Marriott. My mother looked at my father, a level-two glare. It signified: ‘Will you ever take the initiative?’

My father shifted in his seat. I refocused on the lobby manager.

‘What can be done now, Arijit?’ I said. ‘My entire family is here.’

We had come on the morning flight from Delhi. The Gulatis, the boy’s side, would take off from Mumbai at 3 p.m. and land in Goa at 4. Twenty hired Innovas would bring them to the hotel by 5. I checked the time—2.30 p.m.

‘See, ma’am, we have set up a special desk for the Mehta–Gulati wedding,’ Arijit said. ‘We are doing the check-ins for your family now.’

He pointed to a makeshift counter at the far corner of the lobby where three female Marriott employees with permanent smiles sat. They welcomed everyone with folded hands. Each guest received a shell necklace, a set of key cards for the room, a map of the Marriott Goa property and a ‘wedding information booklet’. The booklet contained the entire programme for the week, including the time, venue and other details of the ceremonies.

‘My side will take fifty rooms. The Gulatis need fifty too,’ I said.

‘If you take fifty, ma’am, we will only have thirty left for them,’ Arijit said.

‘Where is Suraj?’ I said. Suraj was the owner of Moonshine Events, the event manager we had appointed for the wedding. ‘We will manage last minute’ is what he had told me.

‘At the airport,’ Arijit said.

My father ambled up to the reception desk. ‘Everything okay, beta?’

I explained the situation to him.

‘Thirty rooms! The Gulatis have 120 guests,’ my father said.

‘Exactly.’ I threw up my hands.

Mom and Kamla bua came to the reception as well. ‘I told Sudarshan also, why all this Goa business? Delhi has so many nice banquet halls and farmhouses. Seems like you have money to waste,’ Kamla bua said.

I wanted to retort but my mother gave me the Mother Look.

They are our guests, I reminded myself. I let out a huge breath.

‘How many from our side?’ my mother said.

‘Mehta family has 117 guests, ma’am,’ Arijit said, counting from his reservation sheets.

‘If we only have eighty, that is forty rooms for each side,’ I said. ‘Let’s reallocate. Stop the check-ins for the Mehtas right now.’