One: The Inevitable High School AU (Meaning at Welham Girls After the 10th Boards, Because We’re Indian)
When Deepika turns up at Welham without having seen a single Hindi movie in her life, all the girls expect Sonam to rag on her. After all, Sonam is the one who turns up after every holiday with a new and salacious story of who is having an affair with whom and which flopshow producer approached her parents with the offer to make her a star at 16 like Karisma.
Instead, Sonam adopts Deepika, and says she is so happy to find a friend who doesn’t care about all that filmi nonsense, and no one cheers harder than her when Deepika wins every badminton match in the state and the north zone and then even makes it to the nationals.
Deepika doesn’t say too much. Other girls find her a bit stuck-up, but Sonam knows that it’s really that Deepika is being very careful. That she doesn’t want to risk saying something wrong. Sonam talks enough for the two of them anyway—she babbles her way through History and Pol Sci and then chatters her way out of trouble when Vibha Ma’am glares at them.
When the other girls rate the Welham Boys seniors on a scale of Govinda to John Abraham, Sonam laughs and tosses her hair and everyone assumes she has so many filmi boyfriends back in Mumbai that she doesn’t care to slum it. Sonam doesn’t bother to correct them. She goes over to the window, where Deepika has turned her back on the common room and is staring moodily out at the rain.
“Feeling cold?” she asks, because she knows how much Deepika hates this North Indian misty dampness.
“Feeling bored?” she asks, then, because she knows Deepika was listening to the boyfriend discussion even if she was pretending not to.
Sonam unwraps her shawl from around herself—it’s the phulkari one that her nani gave her when she was 15. She leans up against Deepika and folds her arms, along with the shawl, around the other girl’s stomach.
“So… do you have a boyfriend?” Sonam asks, finally, and when Deepika clicks her tongue derisively, she giggles at her own sense of relief.
“Me neither,” she confesses happily, and Deepika crosses her arms and links her fingers with Sonam’s as they watch the rain kiss the upturned leaves of the apricot trees outside.
Two: The Inevitable Coffeeshop AU (Except It’s a Chai ka Adda Because We’re Indian)
When Deepika steps off the train in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (at least, that’s what the sign says, even though everyone keeps calling it veetee) she thought she was used to crowds, after travelling unreserved from Bengaluru to Mumbai. She isn’t though, and she finds herself tearful two hours later, when she’s tried for the third time to get onto the local that is supposed to take her to Matunga and finds herself utterly unable to push her way in.
“Ey pori, chal majhya barobar,” says a woman who seems incomparably more mature and grown-up than her. (Later, they will find out that they are only two years apart in age, and later Deepika will actually understand the Marathi that gets hurled at her.) For now, Deepika clings to the other woman, and by the time they reach Matunga she has managed to explain, via the kindly interventions of the Telugu, Kannada and Hindi speaking co-passengers, how she doesn’t really have a place to go to, how she was planning to look for her mother’s cousin’s brother who had sent a postcard from Matunga once, how she left her village because there was this boy who would not, just would not take no for an answer. When she says the word ‘acid’ everyone sucks in a breath and clicks their tongue against their teeth and shakes their head and starts talking volubly about this other girl they know who had to deal with similar problems.
Saale haraamzade maaderchod halkat kameeney seems to be the general verdict, and by the time Deepika gets off the train at Bhandup with her rescuer, she has learned gaalis in five languages.
The other woman, it turns out, lives in a zhopadpatti in Bhandup and helps look after the family business. Which is a chai ka adda in a posh part of Andheri (it takes Deepika three months to orient herself to West and East of the train lines). Youngsters pull up at midnight and 1 am in fancy cars and fancier clothes and ask for ek cutting like their mumbaiyya accents will make them sound more one with the people. In the morning all the bais going into work and the watchmen coming off their shifts stop by for chai and a kharikh that Sonam picks up from a bakery in Kurla. That’s Sonam’s job—getting the monthly sugar and chai patti from the ration shop, picking up the kharikhs and biscoots, and flirting with the local pandu so that the weekly hafta doesn’t inflate according to his tobacco intake.
Deepika gets a job too, first packaging banana chips into plastic bags, and then helping to make them. She gets home first, so she starts cooking dinner before Sonam arrives, and the sound of the 8:45pm slow local is ingrained in her system. Deepika learns how to eat rotis with no rice afterwards, and Sonam develops a taste for sambar.
Once Deepika talked about being a burden on them, and Sonam just glared at her and said, “Do you think I am a burden on my parents because I am not married?”
The two of them run the house, and take care of Sonam’s parents, and the kids her brother abandoned when he left to go work for Ashraf Bhai, so Deepika doesn’t bring it up again.
At night, after dinner, the two of them spread out the gaddas on the floor, and when the kids have curled up with their grandparents on one side of the room, they sit together, shoulder-to-shoulder, on the other, and talk about their day, and the Ganpati puja coming up, and the kid’s school fees, and the new Katrina Kaif film, and hartal that might happen at Kala Ghoda.
Sometimes Deepika takes Sonam’s feet in her lap, and works the coconut oil deep into her cracked heels and aching calves.
Sometimes Sonam draws Deepika’s head into her lap, and croons a wordless tune as she presses against the other woman’s temples.
Sometimes they do not need to talk at all, and the rattle of the trains shakes one woman’s pallu and makes it tumble down like a kiss into the other woman’s lap.