People die out of turn in this part of town. The children go before the parents. Sometimes it is from a simple, sudden thing like getting hit by a car while playing on the cramped, crowded roads. Other times it’s a sickness that wears their small lives down, a persistent cough, a fit that doesn’t pass, a worm infestation that takes over everything else, colonizing the body saying: this is ours. Either way, it happens a lot, the young go first.
Our side street has fewer families. Here, it’s mostly us ladies. We call ourselves the dream-makers while the neighborhood calls us something else. Shops lining the ground floor of our two-story building sell us the dream spirits – rum, whisky, vodka – that help weave our spells. The good stuff, they keep in the back behind a padlocked door, you need to have the money on the counter before they will get those bottles out.
It’s the cheap stuff tonight. I place the two bottles of oily dark rum on the table, unscrew one and pour some into a small bowl. The bowl goes on the puja stand, which holds small statues of goddesses that the girls have brought over the years – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali, Durga. By unspoken agreement it’s only ladies, the male gods wouldn’t understand. I light the lamp and say a small prayer.
I return to my mirror, add mascara, apply foundation. Us mature ladies need the expensive stuff, creams that pack into the lines and bury them, almost like they never happened. The crow’s feet though: the best I can do there is dot on a light color and try not to smile with my eyes.
On the phone, they said I needed to be ready by five (translation: low-budget early evening party, probably so that the wives don’t get suspicious. Men with company badges stashed deep into their pockets. A party with enough rum to hide the smell of my perfume).
The lines under the eyes though: the best I can do there is dot on a light color and try not to smile with my eyes.
A key in the door, a rattling. The lock sticks. Shantini walks in past me to her mirror, gives my reflection a short wave, her bag clanking with the unsexy sound of her tiffin box. Her hair is up in a fake-messy bun, and she is hobbling now after vainly walking two streets in her stilettos from the bus stop.
Girls don’t figure out for a while the need to keep their identities apart. A stripper on the stage is desired, on the road she is stalked and abused and catcalled. The rule is draw attention while dancing, disappear the rest of the time. Visible, invisible, that’s the magic trick of it. Shantini finds it hard to stop performing, it will tire her out.
I apply musky cologne as she sits down and grapples with her heel straps like they are ankle cuffs. She pulls her feet from the shoes and massages her swollen toes. Stripping off her top and bra, she walks around the room: on her is a bra-ghost, red, deep marks the cheap brassiere has left on her skin. Her breasts are lovely, as are her legs. Her face is okay. But youth is a kind of beauty and she can still get away with it, using lots of kohl to make those eyes look better, lip liner around thin lips. A bumpy nose customers forgive when the clothes come off.
I turn to her. ‘How’s my makeup?’ She gives me a hard, merciless gaze that feels like fluorescent lighting. I endure the stare of this (temporarily) pretty woman.
‘The lipstick color. A lighter one with that dress, maybe.’
I check the mirror, nod.
‘Loosen the hair around your temples. The hairdo makes your face look round.’
‘Good advice,’ I say, turning back to the mirror. But she’s not done and adds, ‘You need that much foundation?’
‘Hmm,’ I say, non-committal.
‘It’s just – it’s making you look older.’
‘That’s not the foundation, darling. That’s my face.’ I reapply lipstick, tease my hair out. But there’s only so much one can do against the twin bullies that are gravity and biology.
‘You know what I should do when I am too old to strip?’ I say, ‘Rob a bank. Old women are invisible, no one looks at us. When they ask witnesses later what I looked like, they won’t be able to describe me.’ I put on a young man’s voice. ‘ ‘Uh, I don’t know inspector! She looked like my mom.’ ’
Shantini laughs, which helps me forgive her.
The key rattles the lock again, the other girls come in. Anu, Maddy, Pia. They’ll paint their faces, change from jeans and t-shirts into dance outfits, switch their names to Apsara, Mohini, Parvati. These girls have got here in all kinds of ways: Maddy when she ran away from a father who beat bruises into her every evening, new purple over old purple. Anu’s younger brother was playing with a cigarette lighter under the bed and accidentally set their small house on fire. Their father died from the burns and their mother survived but was badly injured, unable to move very much (unhealed muscle below the skin, a doctor told them. A thing still smoldering). Pia came to Mumbai wanting to be an actress. She sees this shitty job as a stepping stone, and we haven’t been able to persuade her otherwise.
When I visit my hometown, at the other end of the country and two days by train, I meet girls who treat the place like a cage and will do anything to get to Mumbai. I shrug and tell them Mumbai is not worth the trouble, and of course, they don’t believe me.
What I envy of them is their innocence of alienation, the contempt of strangers, the dark loneliness that is like the tar of the city’s roads. Finally, I told them: you know how I know I am home? More than the smell of mustard seeds in the air and the yellow fields stretching out into the distance, I know I am home by the way people look at me. At home I am beautiful. In Mumbai I work hard at it, the paint on my face barely enough. I am just another immigrant here dancing for tips.
There is chatter and giggling as the girls settle in and only we can detect the politics of silence and exclusion in the room. Pia and Shantini are not speaking to each other over a brooch. The brooch was an inexpensive thing from the bazaar, a rhinestones-and-glue butterfly that went missing from Pia’s drawer two weeks ago. In a routine of mourning, she’d rummage for it and then twist and turn in her chair as she cried. (The girls cry before the eye makeup goes on – commerce and frugality is always the top concern, you only get a certain amount of mascara from the madam every year. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, mascara helps).
Pia would wander around the room, half naked with bloodshot eyes, sometimes even underpants-less, holding on to our arms and shoulders and asking if we’d seen her brooch. The same dramatic circle over and over.
And then finally one evening after fifteen whole days of her moaning, Shantini opened her bag, took out the brooch and tossed it at her. ‘I found it in my purse,’ she said, shrugging. ‘I forgot that I had borrowed it.’ It was an impossible lie, a taunt, and Pia’s eyes widened in rage. ‘How could you forget?’ she screamed at her, her hands forming into claws and ready to lunge.
‘I didn’t see it, it was at the bottom of my bag,’ Shantini said blithely, her eyes not wavering from Pia’s face. Her demeanor made all questions of ‘why’ redundant. She’d done it deliberately.
Pia trembled for a while, then spat on the floor and turned away.
The other girls and I still talk to Shantini – it’s probably safer to. We go on pretending love and affection because we must. We need to talk to each other because no one else will. I’m only surprised that she found Pia the weakest one and not me, with my softening arms and thinning hair.
Knocking on the door – the cake is here.
For us dancers, the Internet is the monster behind the stage and under the bed, directing our moves. Some new experimental porn gets released, some new gimmick – a customer sees a grainy video on his phone and wants it to happen.
Having to dance and then wriggle out of a sticky faux leather costume, a ceiling fan moving ineffectually above my head: the Internet.
Waving a large wooden spoon that I paddle the customer with, my hair pulled back in a severe bun: the Internet.
It’s instant nudity people want now, like the coffee in their offices.
More subtly, the Internet has ended people’s shame. A real pity because customers now feel comfortable talking about, and worse, wanting their most erotic memories replicated. One regular customer has me take a bath and then towel myself off for thirty minutes, because he’d spied on a neighbor doing the same thing when he was fourteen.
And cake. A stripper jumping out of a cake is something every other private party now asks for. The cake is from one of the shops downstairs, not really a cake – it’s cardboard and lots of icing. The cake is faking it too.
I lift the lid of the cake and peer in. It is just about big enough for me when my knees are squeezed under my chin.
How I hate that place.
The cake leaves in an omni van with me in the backseat. I’m wearing an unseasonal, too-warm sweater to hide my dress. It’s a bumpy ride through a blasted, bricked-out city. We pass a goat licking glue off the edges of a movie poster, cows determinedly chewing plastic. Everyone’s hungry here, running their fingernails along the edges of things. Each year the roads grow narrower this side of town, hemmed in by encroaching, illegal buildings even as highways come up elsewhere. The local municipality is too underfunded to care, and if they try they’re bullied away by the local goons.
Sometimes a trip in a vehicle takes you places not just literal. When I climbed into the van I felt like an adequately pretty woman, made up for a party. When I reach the hotel and glance at the side mirror, I recoil from my face, at the caked mascara, plastered foundation, the sweat on my upper lip. I look like the mother of a child who is tiring her out. My dress: the mesh design across my chest looks garish and ridiculous. I look like a whore in a discounted dress, when the whole point of the trick is to hide the truth.
‘I need to use the bathroom before I go in,’ I tell the men, Shashi and Atul, who are waiting to tuck me into the cake.
‘There is no time,’ they say definitively. This is a cheap motel apparently, the only place I can climb into the cake before they take it up to the restaurant is in the car basement. They stand side by side in case I decide to bolt in search of a restroom. I nod, acknowledging my defeat and they pull open the cake lid.
A phone rings. Both of them pat their pockets – Fingers is the hit playing in movie theatres right now and everyone has the same item song as their ringtone – before Atul pulls his phone out and answers it.
‘Right. Ok. Yeah. Yes. Sure.’ After those five iterations of ‘yes’ he hangs up and turns to Shashi, ignoring me. ‘We wait. There is one more girl coming.’
‘Two won’t fit in the cake.’
‘Let’s see who goes in when she comes.’
Time passes while we sweat, my makeup melting in the basement. Outside won’t be much better, but I go up the stairs to get away from the two of them, who have been looking me up and down like I am a speckled banana in the market.
I pace the street, smoking my third cigarette in fifteen minutes when a rickshaw pulls up with Shantini in it. She looks annoyed. ‘This was supposed to be my evening off.’
‘You know how it is. There’s no such thing as too many girls.’
I offer her the cigarette and she takes a long drag. ‘I’m not looking forward to this.’
‘At least they will be, when you step out of the cake,’ I say, as if it’s already been decided that it’ll be her inside that ghastly cardboard thing. ‘I am not sure how they’ll feel when they see me.’
Silence as she takes another drag. ‘You know your problem,’ she says although I haven’t asked, ‘it’s not your body. Your body is still kinda nice. Soft and curvy, Indian guys dig that. The problem is your eyes.’
I take the cigarette back. ‘Really.’
‘Yeah. Dead frogeyes. One hotel I visited had this glass frog up on the reception desk. Sleazier place than this even. The eyes of that frog were exactly like yours.’
‘I see.’ The ash gathers at the end of my cigarette.
‘Usually people get that sort of look when they’ve killed people. My aunt had it, for instance.’
She smirks when I turn to her. ‘I finally have your full attention, Ms. Frog Eyes.’
‘Call me that again and yours will be rolling under a car somewhere.’
‘Cool.’ She shrugs. ‘Yeah, my aunt murdered a bunch of people. I’ll tell you about it sometime.’
I look around. ‘We aren’t busy now.’
‘Hey!’ one of the guys shouts from the basement. ‘Party starting in fifteen minutes.’
I light another cigarette, take a drag and pass it to her. When she smokes I can see the ghosts of lines that will form around her lips and mouth. Her future saying hi.
‘My aunt – my mother’s older sister – started out the same as every other Muslim girl,’ Shantini says, ‘Hijab on her head, cooked a decent biryani. Suraiyya was pretty, although those black and white photos do flatter everyone. She married a man with twice her life experience, him crossing thirty. She got pregnant fast, and everyone hoped to see a boy. But after the son was born, she grew listless.’
‘There were no hospitals close by, just some old midwives and witch doctors with potions. So when the baby got hurt they had to travel six hours on a bullock cart to get him to a clinic. When they took him into emergency, the boy was already unconscious; he had bleeding in the brain. Suraiyya said she was rocking him and got distracted, and he fell on the ground. She hadn’t been sleeping much.’
‘He was alive, they treated him and sent them home. My mother says he was very sleepy after the accident, he would feed and doze off, months went by like that. And then it happened again. She dropped him.’
She takes another drag of my cigarette, blows smoke out in a steady stream. ‘You know what they say, once is never, twice is always? Well, after that the family wanted nothing to do with her. When those whispers around the kitchen table started up she disappeared.’
‘What happened to her son?’
‘The boy survived – he is my batty cousin, we call him Mickey Mouse. He’s an old guy with grey hair now. Sits in a corner murmuring, twining thread round his fingers. My mother taught him that string game cat’s cradle when he was little and that’s all he does.’
‘Ladies.’ The term used sarcastically. Shashi stands arms akimbo like a scolding uncle. ‘It’s cake time. ‘
‘Frog-eyes doesn’t want to be in the cake, so I’ll climb in,’ Shantini says, going down the basement.
I put my cigarette out under my gold-tinted heel and walk down. The two guys are picking her up – she looks lighter than a rag doll – to nestle her into the cake. ‘I’ll gouge your eyes out after you finish the story,’ I tell her.
She nods towards the elevator. ‘Better get your nails out now, considering what’s waiting for us upstairs.’
‘We aren’t seeing anything we haven’t seen a hundred times before.’ Something shifts as we talk like this in front of the two men. Them struck dumb by our cynicism. But then she is inside the hole and Shashi puts the lid back on the cake, careful not to disturb the inedible cream.
We wait for the lift, which doesn’t budge from the second floor. ‘No way I am going to carry this thing up the stairs,’ Atul says. He trudges upstairs to scope the problem out, and in a few minutes, the number on the display shifts to 1, and G, and the lift is here with him inside. ‘Two ladies were holding it for someone. We had a small argument.’ He presses 6.
On the way up, the lift stops again at the second floor. They must have pressed up on purpose. It slides open and there are two women and one man, all heavyset, mouths downshifted and looking ready for a fight. But they see me in my strapless, cleavage-heavy outfit and makeup and big hair and you can see them tilt back on their heels as if I have an infection. I wait for the doors to start to close to simper at the man and say, ‘Nice seeing you again, sweetie.’
The doors shut and both Shashi and Atul burst out laughing. Shantini knocks at the cake lid: what? but we ignore her. On the sixth floor is the restaurant booked for the party, a dusty little place with two skinny, lonesome waiters who watch from a corner as the men wheel out the cake and deposit it in the center of the room. ‘We thought the customers had arrived,’ Shashi says. ‘They are on their way,’ one waiter replies, and goes to the switchboard and begins turning on the lights as if to emphasize his point. ‘Switch on the music too,’ I tell him, but he ignores me and Shashi has to repeat the request on his way out.
Atul is speaking to the manager, and before leaving comes up and says, ‘You will have to take a rickshaw back. We will be busy with another drop.’
Alone, I try and figure out how to manage my entrance. I can’t just be standing here when the men arrive. The music has come on and I sigh inwardly as the same song from the men’s phones buzzes through the speakers. It’s a new item song with the same old promises: ‘You drive me crazy, I’m in love, shake your hips at me all night,’ etc. It’s got Sharada Kapoor gyrating in the video, twenty-three years old with implants and well-oiled, untiring hips. Legs that go on forever. Hard to compete with.
The door on the left is for the kitchen staff but the one on the right leads to a dank corridor that ends in the loos. I wait there. The elevator is pinging, the men troop in.
The music goes on loud, the waiters switch off half the lights. I sashay in, careful with the bumps on the carpet. Twelve, thirteen men. Young enough that it might be a bachelor party. They see me and clap and whistle, and I show some leg and shed my top skirt to cheers. By the time the music ends I have also undone the top of my blouse, and my breasts bounce around happily with the tune. The rum moves fast, which is good. No customer as appreciative as a drunk customer. When the next song starts I knock at the side of the cake as planned, and Shantini bursts out of it in style, like a gymnast on TV, both her feet pulled up high. What athleticism, I might whistle myself. I take the opportunity to bolt back into the corridor and smoke another cigarette. I go back in for the next song. Several songs, a few full body shots and some discreet hand jobs later, the lights come on.
The men are drunk and doleful now. Shantini sits half-naked on the lap of the boy about to get married, who looks ready to weep. When she lifts her hand to stroke his hair he flinches minutely, shame starting to set in. The men talk not to us but each other. Even when they are directing words at us it’s actually meant for the friends around them.
The boy now starts weeping in earnest. Something about a girlfriend his parents won’t let him marry. His friends are assuring him of the prettiness of the bride arranged in her place. ‘Those bee-stung lips,’ one says.
Shantini gets off his lap and sidles on the seat next to me. I’ve covered up but she stays bare. We exchange glances, and I raise my eyebrows. She sighs. ‘Don’t you want to get back first?’
‘It’s rush hour,’ I say, ‘Let’s wait here until the traffic calms down.’ The waiters are nowhere in sight, and no one seems in a rush to shoo us away. Every once in a while one of the men turns and tracks his eyes over Shantini, they seem happy to have us here.
‘Since the family didn’t want her around, my aunt packed up and headed to Bombay’, Shantini picks up the story. Yasmeen, Shantini’s mother and Suraiyya’s younger sister, got word from her that she should come join her, but her parents refused and she remained in Allahabad while Suraiyya sent her letter after letter. The letters were full of typos, crossed out sentences and unfamiliar names without any introductions.
She mentioned things that Yasmeen had never heard before, like the Prohibition Act that made it difficult to license the buying or selling off alcohol in the city, and the Mafia. A man called Menon began to turn up in her letters. She’d met him, she wrote, while volunteering at a Muslim food camp. Shantini volunteered because she got a food parcel to take home at the end of the day. She saw Menon among the volunteers handing out the food although he was a Hindu. She’d heard of him already. His was the name people dropped when they got into trouble: ‘I know Menon,’ whether they did or didn’t.
Somehow she convinced Menon to give her a job. The ‘job’ in question was selling bootleg alcohol, she told Yasmeen. Menon had probably seen in Suraiyya a ruthlessness that would take her far. Distilling booze illegally was only one of several operations Menon had going, besides counterfeiting money and the protection rackets he ran all over the city.
It earned her cash, lots of it. It also got her safety: under Menon’s protection, she was shielded from the street gangs. She had to arrange the transportation from the dens that made the liquor, and in the early days she was frightened enough to only carry what she could hide under her burqa. Selling five to ten bottles a day. But apparently a young, large-eyed girl selling alcohol drew attention, and she began to get more business. The older customers gave her lectures about her safety and about transactions with strangers. They helped her negotiate with new customers. The younger men were protective. Everyone ‘so nice.’
Yasmeen read the letters – written with green ink on scented paper – with horrified disbelief, not knowing how much of this netherworld description was true. One thing was a fact however: bundles of money had started arriving with the letters. They bought a water heater for the winters and a scooter.
Yasmeen waited outside on Saturdays for the postman and the envelope with the green, clumsy handwriting. Reading them felt like her sister was beside her. Suraiyya would describe where she was (“ It’s going to rain, Yasmeen. Am leaning against the door, watching the boy deliver milk”, “Am sitting up on my lumpy mat at four in the morning, I can’t sleep, I am planning to buy one of those fancy spring mattresses”), and casually mention lovers that she grew charmed by and then soured on. One turned out to be a drunk, another married. One cheated on her, and before she threw him out she put holes in his condom packets and dipped them in chilli water. His and the girlfriend’s screams, Suraiyya heard, brought the neighbors to the door.
After a while, she was the target of a police sting. She had angered an older trader, and his wife, who hated her, had egged him to rat her out. Suraiyya complained that the woman had eyes like tiny watermelon seeds, and that she lined them with a lot of kohl, not knowing the basic rule that you have to line outside the eyes, not inside, else they look even smaller.
The only way to get out of jail time – which Suraiyya couldn’t bear, she had always liked comfort and the good things in life – was to become a police informant. They promised her 10% of whatever they took off the smugglers as a fee.
‘There were eight stations distilling alcohol,’ Suraiyya wrote, ‘I told the police about three stations owned by the men I hated most. I had one of my new boys fetch the merchant who’d tattled on me and take him to the distillery. He was arrested as well when the police turned up.’
Suraiyya had waited till each station had a big, fresh batch of bootleg alcohol bottled, so 10% of that was good money.
She was trading with the remaining stations and selling her alcohol but now the cops turned a blind eye. ‘I am a small ant in the system,’ she told the Inspector, ‘Let me take my tiny sugar grain, and I’ll lead you to the big stashes.’
Suraiyya also began mentioning men she had to ‘deal with’, and it took time for Yasmeen to divine that she was talking about getting them offed. Her strategy was to invite them for tea in the evenings and serve them a slow-acting poison that slurred their speech and made them sluggish. It also killed the gag reflex that would have let them throw up. They were dead by the next morning in their own beds, the connection to her not immediately obvious.
Then, a letter took a long time to come. Yasmeen waited outside the house that Saturday and the next. The second weekend the postman came down the street on his cycle, and for a moment it really did seem like he was going to stop at her house, the arc of his cycle moving towards the gate, but no, he veered at the last minute, passing through the street with nothing for her. She put her head in her lap but didn’t dare cry lest her Ammi and Appa demanded an explanation.
The next week aged her ten years. Suraiyya never missed writing for two weeks in a row. She sat outside that third Saturday morning filled with dread. The postman, if he came without a letter might as well be the undertaker himself, delivering the news through silence, through words withheld.
She didn’t look up as he came down the street, but then he rang his cycle bell and held out a letter. Yes. The green ink, the overlarge cursive. The mafia madam with her schoolgirlish handwriting, lettering that made you think of ribbons and knee-length socks.
She was tearing it open before she even turned away from the gate, her mouth open in expectation as if ready to respond to Suraiyya’s written greeting: My dear sister.
‘My dear sister,’ Suraiyya wrote, her handwriting stiff and spiky with tension, ‘I am in trouble.’
Menon’s older brother had given her plenty of difficulty from the start. He took credit for her growing money intake and extorted more than his fair share, often turning up at her house and haranguing her for cash.
‘Suraiyya.’ He’d stand at her door and rub the fingers and thumb of his right hand together. ‘You know what I’m here for.’
‘But I already paid you.’
‘On Friday, for the week’s taking. Today is Monday. Give me a cut of the weekend haul.’
‘That’s due only Wednesday.’
‘Rule-change,’ he’d give her a peevish look, ‘This week it’s due today.’
She would sigh loudly: in this unable to help herself. Her man kept an eye on the door as she went into the bedroom and took out the cash from where she’d stashed it, beneath the wood of their one table. Slum houses came with a lack of hiding spots. Hollow tiles made sounds under your feet, most of the furniture was rickety and fell over easily. Everything was communal, people got offended if you wouldn’t let them stroll in and listen to your radio anytime they wanted. Everyone knew how often everyone else fucked. Or didn’t.
When she handed him the money he always smiled at her like he’d won it from her somehow. As if it had never been her money.
He did it week after week. One day Suraiyya asked him over for tea. ‘Come on Sunday,’ she said, giving him her best smile.
Shantini pauses. She has the attention of the whole room now, the men have abandoned their conversations. She stretches forward, still topless, and picks up the ‘80s style fishnet stockings she likes so much. She rolls them first up the right leg, then the left. They slide up like second skin.
‘I am better than them,’ Suraiyya wrote, ‘I am better at selling alcohol than all these men. No bootlegger can touch me. No khaki policeman can touch me. I deliver alcohol to the city’s biggest parties. And this bastard still thinks I am weak because I am a woman. So Yasmeen, I am going to give him my special tea.’
Suraiyya ended her letter the usual way, telling Yasmeen what she was doing: ‘I am standing near the stove, and I am going to seal this up while I wait for the milk to boil, and give it to my fellow to mail. So whatever happens, this letter will reach you.’
‘My mother told me that she sat for a long time with the letter in her lap, wondering if Suraiyya’s hand shook as she stirred her special powder in. How did she distinguish the cups of tea? Why would that man even agree to have tea with her? How was she sure he didn’t know of the poisonings? Surely in a thin-walled slum, the neighbors knew these things too.’
Shantini leans over and picks a shoe off the floor. She pulls her top on, and the short black skirt. She braids her hair and wraps it up in a bun. The silence draws out like a band of elastic stretched thin and one of the men goes, ‘And then what?’
‘Then, what? Then, my mother told me the rest. But I stop the story here.’
‘You can’t do that,’ the bachelor boy says, laughing like he is in on the joke.
Her eyes flick towards me for a second. ‘Yes, I can.’ She has to show them her tits, but she doesn’t have to finish the story.
She picks up her bag, which has the tips she’s earned this evening. ‘You’re leaving?’ they are incredulous, a couple of them rising slightly off their chairs. She stalks out as if her nakedness had never been. They turn to me as if I will know the rest. I remember too late, her cruelty.
The lift is stuck again on the second floor so I run downstairs, buttoning up my dress as I go. She’s waiting for me, and we walk together towards the rickshaws. The lights are out in the street – in these parts either blown out by teenage hooligans or the bulbs stolen by desperados. ‘I’ve learned some things while showing my breasts,’ she says to me. ‘That guy will want his old girlfriend all his life.’ She hasn’t changed out of her stilettos, but walks like she can outrun anyone.
devi yesodharan's work has been published in Cha, Hong Kong's literary journal, and the Montreal-based Soliloquies Anthology. She has worked as a speechwriter in the government and the private sector, and managed the communication campaigns for candidates in India’s state and national elections. In 2011 she was awarded the Chevening Gurukul Fellowship by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Her first novel, Empire, is forthcoming in October 2016. She lives and works in India.