I met Lavanya when I was 19 and then everyone else in the world through her. When we left college we still hung out a lot. It was 2001 and we drank a lot. We made friends with strangers. We left jobs after three days because we hated them. We carried small tubes of toothpaste in our rucksacks, brushed our teeth in the pub’s narrow loo and drove home on our spindly Lunas to opposite ends of the city.

One night Lavanya’s younger brother Akhil joined us at Vicky’s and we were surprised to find him good company. He was perfect. He was an insider so we didn’t have to behave ourselves. He was enough of a social animal to keep track of the goings and comings in Vicky’s. He knew which men we were into, who we had slept with, whom we had considered. Akhil was enough of an outsider to our lovely twosome that we could use him as audience when we wanted to be outrageous, when we wanted to rehash old stories that made only us laugh. How Velu the pub owner never drank but was in love with Ammini, the beautiful hard-drinking goddess who came in night after night for years. How, when I was crushing on Jerry I had managed to play it cool for weeks, only to lose it totally in the end. Bumping into Jerry outside the tiny loo, I looked up at him and mumbled: I’ve met your mother once.

Lavanya and I secretly speculated that Akhil was gay but it turned out eventually that he was not. We even tried to set him up a couple of times, I think. One night we made friends with an Australian boy, Darren, who was swarming with studs and had a Zapatista t-shirt. Akhil and Darren were all over each other. I have a hazy memory of standing outside Vicky’s after Velu the teetotaller pub owner had escorted us outside personally. Lavanya was looking for her bike keys and I was smoking. We had decided that Akhil would take Darren home because he was too drunk to go back to his PG. Akhil was giggling and leaning on Darren, who was taller by several feet. I saw Akhil trace Darren’s nipples through his thin Zapatista t-shirt.


The next day Lavanya called me whooping with laughter and crying alternately. She had sobered up on the dark way home, having lost Akhil and Darren several times for short worrying bursts. At home she had let them in quietly without waking her parents and fallen into her bed.


In the morning, her mother and father were very severe after the chaste and sober Darren had left. The previous night, while the siblings slept, Darren had woken up, stripped and for some inexplicable reason walked out of Akhil’s bedroom into the parents’. Hearing strange noises in their bathroom the parents woke to the astonishing sight of a stark naked white boy peeing lavishly into their commode.


We went to Vicky’s. And in the weeks that followed, Lavanya met someone. I met two someones. Akhil got laid. Darren got laid. Darren said he was bi. We introduced him to a boy we thought was gay. He wasn’t but his friend Somu was. Somu’s friend George was seeing my friend Nayana. Nayana slept with Akhil but only once. I stopped drinking.


Lavanya and Akhil and I went to Vicky’s. I met Tridip. We went to bad movies. He drove me to Yercaud. I bought him an expensive graphic novel. After three months we still had not slept with each other. I got mad and slept with Darren, who was still bi. Somu cooled off. Darren left. He wrote from Australia. Tridip and I slept with each other. He told me about his girlfriend. Akhil stopped drinking.


We went to Vicky’s. Akhil left early to study for the GREs. Lavanya and I drank slowly. It was hot and the beer tasted awful but it was all we could afford. I read aloud a conversation between Gerald Durrell and his brother about ouzo and how it tasted like goat piss. It made us laugh and we began carrying books to Vicky’s. Unlike us the mysterious reading boy came alone and never looked up from his book. He drank slowly and had his eye on his slow-blooming page. No one knew what he was reading each evening because the jacket never came into view.


We would read and do crosswords and slowly it became November. Akhil was writing his applications and sending them off. Darren wrote saying he was thinking of coming again and might bring his boyfriend.


But when he came, he came with a girl, a French girl. She spoke no English, Darren spoke no French but Akhil did, so he was the only one who talked to her. Lavanya and I watched from the outside and wondered. We did not ask but we wondered.


Tridip came back. He asked me whether I wanted to go to Coorg. Remember Yercaud? We would have fun again. What about his girlfriend? Ask him, said Lavanya, what about his girlfriend? I’m damned if I do, I said. We drove to Coorg. We came back. We stopped on the way back to look at pelicans. There were none yet but in the moonlight we kissed a lot. My mother saw my hicky and was in a rage. She shouted at me all week saying that my super-clean room was too dirty. I called Akhil to ask him about applications. I downloaded one and filled it half-heartedly and went to Vicky’s.


The French girl and Somu were having intense conversation. Somu was still not talking to me. Not since I had slept with Darren. I sat at another table but strained to overhear. They were talking about Vilas. Someone had slept with Vilas? I suffered while waiting for Lavanya, who was late that day. Anand came and sat at my table. I smiled a lot at him but kept messaging Lavanya under the table. Come, come, come quickly. This man is boring me when all I want to know is who fucked Vilas. Hot, hot Vilas. I typed the message, smiled at Anand and sent it to him accidentally instead of Lavanya. He left in a confused rage. When Lavanya came I had laughed so much I was exhausted.


I drank. She drank. One night she slept with Vilas. Hot, hot Vilas. Vilas died the next week on Kanakapura Road and she cried. I was sorry for a while but then I thought, what the hell. I was not allowed to cry when Tridip went away to his girlfriend. But hot, hot Vilas had fallen off his bike and died. And Lavanya did not want to drink any more. Still we went to Vicky’s. We smoked a lot. We pretended not be interested in who the French girl was doing.


One day in January, when we had come back from Hampi and the stupid bead necklaces had already broken, Lavanya said: Bloody woman. Can’t speak a word of English. What is she saying to the guys?


I looked up at her, then at the French girl at a far-off table full of boys and laughed. I ordered us a pitcher and pepper pork. The next day Akhil came back having sent all his applications. He chatted up an art student called Shruti who had come to Vicky’s in an orange sari petticoat and strings of jasmine wound around two Princess Leia lumps on the sides of her stupid little head.


Darren came back from vipaasana full of metta for all of us. Anand forgave me for the bitchy SMS I had sent accidentally to him. He agreed that hot, hot Vilas’ death was a loss. We told Darren that we would pay for his drinks if he made a move on Anand. But Darren was not drinking anymore. All we could make Darren do was to go to the mysterious reading boy and ask him what he was reading. By the time Darren came back to our table he had forgotten the name of the book.


Velu was angry with his cousin Muthu. Velu’s mother wanted him to give Muthu a job at Vicky’s. Muthu liked playing football and had long hair. In his first week at Vicky’s he did not blink when we stole mugs. And sometimes a whole pitcher. Velu made him cut his hair. Muthu went out and got a design carved into the stubble on his scalp. Velu yelled at him.


We solved crosswords and were bored by Shruti in the sari petticoat. One day she told us that her year-end assignment, the big one, was going to be about death. Because she had lost a loved one. Hot, hot Vilas. Lavanya looked enraged. I looked at Akhil and was sure he was about to laugh. Lavanya looked at Akhil’s face and she laughed. We all laughed. Shruti in the sari petticoat cried. Akhil comforted her for her loss and slept with her.


We solved crosswords and were bored. Lavanya drew faces and moustaches over everything. She almost drew them over my applications but I took them away. The Iranian boy came but we were still bored. He didn’t find our jokes funny. He liked it when we both hit on him but would do nothing about it. He was scared of policemen. He tried to make Velu go to the gym with him. We saw him making eyes at the French girl and we were fed up to our teeth.


Lavanya was silent and I asked her what she was up to. At first she would not show me. Then she giggled. She had written our names on a piece of paper and was drawing lines.


Send him away, she SMSed me. I sent the Iranian boy to get cigarettes.


She wrote names all over. Lavanya, me, Akhil, Somu, Darren, Iranian Boy, Ammini, French girl, Jerry, Shruti in the saree petticoat, George, Nayana, Anand, Hot-hot Vilas, Tridip, Velu, Muthu…


She drew lines from name to name. He had slept with her. She had slept with him. And him. These two? Are you sure? Oh, don’t you remember? You never told me.


When the Iranian boy came back we shooed him away. Oh god, who sends these imbeciles who can’t speak English to India? Go back to the Revolution.


These two, I’m not sure. After the first year they didn’t have sex. Godpromise, four years they did not. How do I know why? I mean I know why. Shut up and join the dots.


In an hour the sheet was dark and we could barely see our names under the mess of criss-crossing lines. We looked in awe at the sex map. It crossed the country. It crossed continents. Every continent except South America. Well, Mexico … but not really. The sex almost-atlas. Sex marks the spot.


We ordered a pitcher and giggled when we saw Velu the teetotaller pub owner. Chaste Velu who had held hands with the unattainable hard-drinking goddess, once, in a Lido afternoon show. She was feeling generous, the afternoon before she got married to someone else. Chaste Velu would be so horrified to realise he was connected on the sex map to me or Lavanya or the Iranian boy.


George told us that Nayana was leaving for Korea to learn dance. How did they dance in Korea? Then Akhil got into two universities but got no schols. Tridip came back from San Francisco. He asked me whether I wanted to see pelicans. Darren went back to Australia. The French girl learnt photography. We went to Vicky’s.


Velu’s cousin Muthu quit his job. A cute, hard-drinking girl had got him a job in an event management company in Chennai. She liked his style, she said. Velu raged.


What we need is a website, said Lavanya.


For what, I asked.


For the sex map. Imagine how useful this would be if it was online?


How would it work, I wanted to know.


We would all sign up.


Who is we?


Everyone, said Lavanya.


Why would they?


It would be useful. When you met someone new you could go look them up and find out if they were lying about being single. You could find previous girlfriends and see whether he had good taste or bad taste.


No one would sign up, I said. What a lot of work for nothing. What would all the liars or cheaters do? Have a red light against their name?


Yeah, maybe you’re right, said Lavanya. Why would everyone sign up?


A man in a nehru topi rose from a table and began to hand out small mangoes. He was middle-aged and bearded and had a strange fluting voice. He came to each table and pronounced his judgement before deciding to give us mangoes. I like you, I don’t like you, no mangoes for you, more mangoes for you.


At the next table the Iranian boy was competing with the French girl in making smoke circles. Akhil wandered past, snatched some of our pepper pork and smiled at us. Lavanya looked at him walking away and said, ‘What will I do when he’s dead?’ I looked astonished. She changed the subject, but badly. Akhil darted back to report that the mysterious reading boy was reading The Celestine Prophecy. We groaned together.


So what happens on everyone’s map when someone is dead? Like hot, hot Vilas.


No one dies on the map, I decided. No one dies on the map, she agreed, and drew moustaches on the table.

First published here.