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The “Real India”? Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia building (Wibolsheim CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ten days, five cities. I’d never been to India before and I was captivated by the prospect of a book tour, not least because, finally, I thought I would have the chance to eat some real Indian food. Vast, varied, subtle, ancient, complex: in theory I knew what it could be, but had never really felt anything other than ignorant in the face of its European iterations. I wasn’t optimistic on the sightseeing front, as publicity tours tend to be heavily scheduled, but surely in between being asked impertinent questions by bored journalists we would have to eat?

“No, Lisa,” said Susannah the publicist on our first morning, as she spied my loaded plate. I’d gone straight for the “local” section of the international breakfast buffet, eschewing dim sum and sausages in favour of a chickpea dhal with chapatis and an intriguing green coconut relish. “No meat, no dairy, no sauces, no seafood. Philippa Gregory had a very nasty turn last year.”

Harry Styles, I share your pain. Even at my risible end of the fame spectrum, they need to keep the Talent healthy. If I wasn’t to get sick, I wasn’t to eat anything other than processed, sanitised ersatz European food in windowless, air-conditioned, ersatz European dining rooms. As our driver crawled through the endless, honking bottlenecks of Mumbai or Bangalore, I gazed yearningly at chai stands and street markets, sniffing sadly through the window for a whiff of freshly-ground masala above the odours of carbon monoxide and Lynx. In Pune I made a break for it, escaping for a wild 20 minutes in an auto, one of the the moped-rickshaws which pack the streets, but the traffic was so bad that Susannah captured me before I’d had the chance to scarf so much as a gulab jamun.

Fate intervened on my behalf in New Delhi, when Susannah herself was struck down after an unwise encounter with a croque monsieur. I proposed casually to the nice young girl from Bloomsbury India that we dine that evening “somewhere you go with your friends”.

“Brilliant. Pizza Express or TGI Friday’s?”

Awkwardly, I explained that I wanted to eat Indian food.

“Why? We’ve got Jamie’s Italian in the mall. That’s where I go when I step out with my girlfriends.”

The journey took an hour, even though the Vasant Kunj shopping complex was about 200 metres from our hotel. Talent doesn’t walk. On the way, the nice young girl told me about her boyfriend, who lived in Jaipur.

“Did you meet him through your family?” I asked squirmingly. She looked at me with a combination of incredulity and contempt. I had dressed for the evening in palazzo pants, a long-sleeved loose shirt and a pashmina, for cultural respectfulness and to keep off the icy breath of the ubiquitous air conditioning. She was in skinny jeans from TopShop and a crop top.

“No, obviously not. I met him on Tinder, like everyone does.”
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