Konica first noticed the woman with the Handycam from her hotel room window. The sun had risen a while back and the Kanchenjangha was still as freshly bloody as the vermillion on her parting. She had woken up at the crack of dawn and as the reluctant orb had dragged itself up to paint the tip of the mountain, Konica felt the thrill of a child who breaks a cherished vase but receives a forgiving kiss from the mother anyway.
Since she entered this hotel room with her five-day-old husband Amit the evening before, Konica was intermittently gripped by the indulgent guilt of a little girl who had broken her mother's favourite vase. The room was expensive, the toiletries on the bathroom racks so alien that Konica was sure they could never belong to her. Even the pristine sheets on their double bed smelt of many things that money could and could not buy. As she took in the room, even before setting down her imitation batik handbag on a side table or slipping the new wedding sandals off her feet, Konica thought it would not be fair to crumple that perfectly-made, princely bed with their unfamiliar lovemaking.
Before taking a shower, Konica had consulted Amit about operating the hair dryer mounted on the wall next to the shower stall. Amit tried to help her, manipulating buttons to hit on the right one to get the gadget buzzing. But, he could not tell her what kind of pressure on which button would make the dryer blow as hot as she desired.
'What's the point anyway, Koni? You are not going to use one back home. Dry your hair as you do every day,' he had suggested.
Catching their images on the nearly wall-sized mirror on the other end of the bathroom-Amit with a towel draped around his slightly distended waist and herself unsure in her new nightie-Konica had felt that stirring of guilt again. Only guilt, no pleasure. The guilt of people who were out of place but suffered the discomfort anyway, because doing otherwise would irreversibly tag them as 'outsiders.'
Even ordering dinner had been a long process involving comparing prices on the menu and settling for the least-expensive combination served in the room. The three-day, two-night package at Darjeeling was a wedding gift from Amit's married elder sister living in the US. The gift covered only breakfast and a government school-teacher like Amit had to watch his money.