Presenting chapter Two of My Little Writing Project.
For Chapter One, click here.
For Prologue, click here
‘Why do female bosses act like such a b***h while dealing with their fellow female subordinates? No concept of gender solidarity, I tell you!’
13th May 2012
13th May 2012
“She what?!” said Priya, turning the page, “What did she do? What happened to her?”
She looked at Mukti.
“Huh?” Mukti glanced up from her laptop at Priya. A tall, dusky girl with an enviable hourglass figure and doe-shaped black eyes lined with a generous dose of kajal was staring back at her. Mukti couldn’t help but frown at her best friend who was meticulously dressed at two in the afternoon on a Sunday.
“Why are you so dressed up on a Sunday?”
“Don’t change the topic,” responded Priya with mix of irritation and exasperation, “What happened to Amita, Mukti? In your novel? She looked around and then what? What did she see?”
“Oh… that! I don’t know yet. I haven’t had the time to think about it. I have been busy,” replied Mukti and got back to Facebook-ing, “You know Reena is getting married?”
“Facebook-ing is not being busy! And no, I did not. Who’s Reena by the way?!”
Mukti looked up once again, “That girl from school, in commerce. She sent me a wedding invite on Facebook. Apparently that’s the ‘in’ thing nowadays. Anyway, I was working on submitting articles for that new website I told you about. This is just a break from all the work I have been doing.”
Priya shut the screen of the laptop and looked at her childhood friend. When it came down to the two of them, she was the sensible one while Mukti, without a doubt, was the ‘drama queen’ who exaggerated everything. Priya was of the opinion that Mukti had verbal diarrhea that made her prone to give needless advice. However, heeding advicewas not something Mukti believed in or was even good at.
Mukti was lounging on her mattress wearing her usual faded pair of denims and a sleeveless kurti. Her dark brown hair was hanging loose and some strands were falling over her almond-shaped eyes. She started absent-mindedly chewing one of her nails. Priya could see annoyance written all over her oval face that still bore traces of puppy fat.
“What is this Mukti? This website thing was supposed to be a transitional job. You took it up so that you could have some income while you worked on your novel. And now look at you. You Facebook and tweet all the time and do these articles for some stupid websites that pay you peanuts. I don’t want you to settle for something way below your talents. This is the nth novel you have started and left in the middle. I—”
“I know that,” Mukti cut her off, “I know all of it. You don’t have to keep rubbing it in my face every time. Nobody asked you to read the unfinished novel. I am trying, okay. It’s not as easy as punching in numbers. It’s a creative process. It takes time. I can’t just get up and write anything.”
“But you are not even trying! This is such sub-standard stuff. I mean look at the names of the characters, Amita and Smita?! You need to give it some serious thought but you are online all the time. Just start taking it seriously otherwise—”
“Otherwise what? You are threatening me?!” Mukti asked with amusement.
“Oh forget it! Nobody can tell you anything,” Priya said angrily and turned her back on her.
Mukti took a long breath to calm herself down, “I am sorry.”
Priya turned slowly, “What did you say?”
Mukti smiled, “I said I am sorry. I know you are right. I would start taking it seriously. I promise.”
“This is your dream you know. I won’t get anything out of it.” A hint of a smile appeared on Priya’s lips as she added, “I’ll just be the best friend of a Booker prize winning author.”
“Ha! Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. I don’t have a book yet leave alone a Book-er prize.”
“And if you keep writing stuff like this,” Priya threw the papers in a dustbin, “you won’t get a book or a Bookerfor that matter. This one about Amita and Smita was bad. Pathetic, in fact… and the name of the town? Wonderland?! You might as well have named the protagonist Alice!”
“Well, I almost did!” Mukti giggled but one look at Priya and she sobered down, “I know. I was just busy writing about the website and this was just so you wouldn’t pester me for a couple of days, but I guess it didn’t work, huh?!”
“No, it did not. I, once again, say please start thinking about your life seriously.”
“Don’t nod your head like a schoolgirl. You make me feel like your teacher sometimes.”
“Okay, okay enough grilling for one day. You tell me what’s up with you? Where are you off to?” Mukti got up from her makeshift bed and went into the kitchen to get coffee.
"My boss has to go to the salon to get her mani-pedi so I am stuck making a presentation on her behalf on a Sunday. And the best part is that I am not even supposed to be present at the meeting when she will give the presentation. That…” she stopped herself.
“…Bitch? She is just like one of my previous bosses. You remember that editor?” Mukti put down the tray on the floor and sat down cross-legged.
“Oh yeah. I remember how she used to keep all the gifts the PR people used to send for you.” Priya sat down on the mattress and picked up a coffee mug.
“That’s nothing. She used to treat me like her personal slave! I was supposed to get her a cup of coffee every morning! I had joined that magazine to see my name in print and she turned me into an errand girl. I did manage to get a few bylines and believe me it was such a high to know that people actually read what I wrote. But, those highs were so few and far between and not worth all the drama that came with it. Most of the time, I was just collating data, matching pictures or chasing the PR agencies for information,” Mukti took a sip of her coffee and added rolling her eyes, “When I was not running errands for my mistress that is.”
“You still had it easy. At least she did her job. My boss makes me do all her work and when it is time for a promotion, she responds and I quote—you still need to act like a team-player. I mean, when it’s time for appreciation, she will go ahead and take all the credit for something that I had done but when there is any complaint, she will push me under the bus. And I let her do that. What more of a team player can I be?”
“You know you should just quit. She is so horrible to you. It's better than being miserable all the time.”
“If I could, I would have done that in a heartbeat but you know I can’t. I have to pay off my education loan,” Priya responded finishing off her coffee, “Everyone doesn't have the luxury of working from home, you know.”
“You call this luxury?! I barely have any money left after paying the rent and shopping for groceries.”
“But at least you are your own boss and you could always ask your parents for help. You can pay them back later when you make it big in the literary world.”
“I don’t want to,” Mukti shrugged, “I want to do this on my own. I begged them to let me stay behind when they moved. I can't just tell them now that I am broke and I need help,” she added shaking her head, “I just can't.”
“You are crazy. They are your parents. They will understand.”
“Whatever. I don't want to talk about this. I am not asking my family for help… ever. Period.”
Priya’s phone beeped. She started rummaging around in her bag to figure out where her phone was. She finally found it and as she took it out, a half-used tube of a fairness cream tumbled out. Priya didn’t notice it as she was busy reading the text. However, Mukti did spot the tube. She picked it up and sighed audibly, “You are still using it?”
“What?” Priya turned to look at Mukti. She saw the tube in her hand and her eyes opened wide. She snatched it from Mukti’s hand and stuffed it back inside her bag.
“It works,” she said, a little defensively.
“No. It doesn't. You need to stop using these fairness creams. They do more harm than good.”
“Fine. I will stop using them when you delete your Facebook account. You have your guilty pleasures, I have mine.”
Before Mukti could even respond, Priya was up on her feet.
“Anyway, I have to go. That was a text from ‘Her Bitchiness’. She was asking about the presentation. Let me go and finish it,” she picked up her bag and walked towards the door, “you take care. Stop Facebooking and write better. I will call you soon. Bye.” With a little wave, Priya left.
Mukti got up and washed the coffee mugs. She cleared the kitchen, came out and settled herself comfortably on the floor. Mukti was living as a paying guest in Delhi in a cozy one bedroom studio apartment. Located in the posh locality of Saket, her apartment was technically part of a bigger one where a Bengali family resided. Mr. Ghosh, her landlord, owned the whole floor. He had converted two apartments into one and had cordoned off a room with a small storage area that he gave out on lease. That's where Mukti lived. She got her privacy, the rent wasn’t too much, and her family got the satisfaction that their daughter was in safe hands. It was situated on the first floor and faced eastwards. She had been woken up many a times from a drunken stupor after a gossip-filled, girls’ night-in, by the sunlight streaming in from the lone window. Mukti had turned the storage area into a kitchenette, separated from the rest of the room by a small dresser. She never had anything in the kitchen cabinets except endless supply of Maggi and coffee.
The apartment was furnished sparsely with just a dresser, a gas stove, a small fridge, an even smaller TV and a mattress. In one corner of the room, Mukti had created a library of sorts. She had lovingly stacked all the books, her only real indulgence, into neat little piles. For Mukti, the corner was nothing short of a hideaway—a gateway to a world of immense possibilities, of great romances, of mysterious adventures. When the real world didn’t make sense, she would step into this alternate one. For her, reading was voyeuristic. When she read something, she felt like she was taking a peek into the writer's mind, she was taking a glimpse into someone else's soul. She believed that when you read you take something from the words, the thoughts of the writer. It adds to your personality. You form new opinions, you experience new things. It broadens your world view. For her, reading and writing were intricately linked. Be it a small post, a short story or a novel... the writer bares oneself to strangers for them to scrutinize, understand or criticize. When one writes anything, one, inadvertently, pours a tiny portion of one’s soul into the piece. In addition to words; a writer’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions also flow out from the deep recesses of the mind to the paper. According to her, when you write you give something of yours and when you read, you gain a part from someone else. You can say, for her, reading helped to replenish oneself. And she needed this ‘refilling’ constantly. For this reason, the book corner and by extension her books were her priced possessions. All the books rendered the apartment with a musty smell that Mukti loved, but her friends didn’t. They had tried everything… getting scented candles, potpourri, and even tried to convince Mukti to give away her ever-growing stack of books, but nothing seemed to work. The apartment always smelled like an old library and Mukti loved that. She hoped that soon enough she would add another name to the pile—her own. Mukti didn’t own a bed yet. She had a mattress where she slept and spent most of her time. The walls were essentially bare and were painted a subtle off-white except for one. Mukti, on her own, had painted one wall a vibrant burgundy and covered it with pictures of her friends and family. Whenever she felt lonely or depressed, she would look at the photographs of her loved one, some candid captures and many posed ones. The picture wall offered her the much-needed solace, she often craved.
Her parents had recently moved in with her brother. Her father was retired and her brother had got a job in Bangalore. Mukti, at the time of the transfer, was in love with her job as a copywriter and with a certain someone else. She didn’t want to leave either of the two, and after much persuasions and tears and fights, she had managed to convince her parents that she can take care of herself. Now after nine months, the job was gone and so was the guy!
She smiled at the memory of her ex-boyfriend.
He couldn't even utter two sentences in English. He was such a moron, but such a cute moron he was!
She was just about to open her laptop when her phone rang. She looked at the phone's screen. It was Sonali.
“Hey,” she said.
“What's up? What are you doing? Want to go shopping? We can grab some lunch before. We can ask Priya too,” Sonali rushed off without even pausing for breath.
Sonali was standing in the balcony of her sixth-floor flat in gurgaon that she shared with two other air-hostesses. Her apartment was fully furnished with all the latest gadgets to boot. Blown-up photographs of Sonali adorned almost every wall of her room. Sonali was the perfect example of a natural beauty. Tall and slender, she looked breathtaking without even trying and she knew that. Her peaches-and-cream complexion complemented her jet black hair that she had cropped stylishly short. She was dressed in a comfortable worn-out lounge pants and a spaghetti top.
“Oh… Priya was just here. She is at work finishing some presentation.”
“She is working on a Sunday?” Sonali asked incredulously.
“Yes. So am I… And so do you most of the time.”
“Yes, I know but this Sunday I am free. Why are you guys working?” She whined. Mukti could sense the faux disappointment in her voice.
“Priya has to make a presentation for her boss and I have to start working on my novel.”
“Priya’s boss is such a bitch! She is always troubling her. Why doesn’t she just leave? I remember once she had told me that she wants to join an NGO.” Sonali wandered inside and flopped down on her massive bed.
"She used to say that in school too. But, now she has got quite used to her big fat paycheck and who can blame her for that! Plus she has to pay off her education loans. And if she quits her job who will buy all those fairness creams.”
Sonali started laughing, “I know. It's like a drug for her. I can’t believe she applies them three times a day! She is so smart but when it comes to her appearance she is one paranoid lady. I was shocked when I saw her bag at your house. Remember how we were watching DDLJ couple of months back and I accidentally knocked it over and everything came spilling out. It’s not a handbag; it’s a ‘Fair and Lovely’ booth!”
“True. I think she doesn’t need them but would she listen to me? No! She can be so stubborn at times.”
“Honestly, when you told me about her addiction in college, I never believed that someone could have this kind of a secret fetish. But when I met her I realized what you meant. I think she has very low self-esteem, don’t you?”
Mukti nodded along.
“I think she is kind of a paradox. She is so focused and smart in her professional life and such a mess in her personal. She was the one who gave me the idea to work from home but when it comes to her personal life, she makes horrible decisions. That’s where we come in the picture. We are her voice of reason for all matters of the heart.”
“By we, you mean you, right? You are the self-proclaimed agony aunt of the group. What did they call you in college? The self-styled love guru,” Sonali burst out laughing.
“Okay okay. That’s enough" Mukti tried to change the topic, "By the way, when is your next flight?”
“Still a couple of days away,” she replied. Then remembering why she had called in the first place, she asked Mukti, “Why are you working on a weekend? You don’t have a stuffy boss breathing down your neck.”
“I have. Her name is Priya,” she smiled.
“I want to go shopping,” Sonali whined again.
Mukti didn’t want to admit to Sonali that she was broke and had no money for shopping. It was just the second week of the month and she had already spent all her money on rent and groceries. She was waiting for her next pay that was due in a couple of days from a small freelancing project.
She stalled, “You know what the best decision of my life was? Leaving my job.”
“Which one?” Sonali drawled on bored checking out her manicure, “The editorial one or the call centre one? Or the events one? Oh and what was that last one? Hmm…” she added, “Copywriting? And why are we suddenly talking about your jobs?”
“That’s not funny. I meant the last one. If I hadn’t left it when I did, I would not have had the time to write my novel.”
“Yes. I still don't understand why do you suddenly realize that, but I agree it was the best decision of your life. Now let us celebrate that decision by some shopping and some nice food. What do you say? My treat.”
“No, thanks. I’ll pass. I have to work.”
“You can be such a bore.” Sonali said.
“You can be such a baby!”
“Yeah well, you can be such an old lady—Oh got a call waiting. Ciao.” With that she hung up without waiting for a response.
Mukti shook her head and smiled. Sonali was always like this, a little impetuous with a devil-may-care attitude. Mukti attributed this to her upbringing. Sonali had had a very protective childhood. Being the only sister of three elder brothers, she was pampered to the core. Her brothers strove to fulfill her every wish even before she uttered it. She was the one who had the latest gadgets, fashionable designer wear and branded accessories in her burgeoning closet… Mostly gifts from her family or from her very many boyfriends. Mukti, at times, envied Sonali’s extravagant lifestyle but she knew Sonali had a kind and generous heart, and was ever-willing to share her spoils. Sonali played the part of a flaky bimbo to the T. In reality, she was anything but. Men were always falling hopelessly in love with her beauty-with-no-brains act and she enjoyed twirling them around her little finger. Both of them had been college classmates. Mukti had learned early on in their friendship that the persona of a dumb blonde that Sonali portrayed was just a facade to make her life a little easier but the truth was that she was a smart and clever woman who kept everyone around her fooled.
As always, catching this train of thought, Mukti stepped into the world of her dreams and took a walk amidst her past memories. With a blank document open on her laptop, she thought about her first meeting with Sonali in the college campus. She remembered how huge her campus was… Nice and big and spacious.
With all those secret passageways and doors that opened to weird-shaped classrooms.
She chuckled at the memory. She had always thought it looked like a castle from one of the fantasy books.
Like Hogwarts from Harry Potter.
She liked Harry Potter.
I LOVE Harry Potter.
She was amazed with the imagination of J.K. Rowling. She wished she could write like her too. Write a best-selling novel one day. Write. Novel. Focus Mukti! Come back to reality.
It had been almost nine months and Mukti had not yet finished even three chapters to send for a review. It was not that she didn’t devote time to it…she did, plenty. But, that time was always interspersed with some daydreaming, some chats, some Facebooking, some Twitter, some TV, some food etc. which meant that she had numerous manuscripts just lying around waiting to be completed. There were some about romance, some comic capers, some thrillers and some murder mysteries, but all had the same fate—no ending.