Monday, April 28, 2014

Chapter Five - My Little Writing Project



To refresh your memory about previous chapters, or to know about My Little Writing Project, click here




‘Something you consider as baseless superstition could be my fact . . .  Something you believe to be true can be nothing more than a myth for me!’

24th May 2012

I am so dead!! Priya will definitely kill me!

Mukti tore the page from her diary on which she had been scribbling for the past hour and threw it on the floor which was already littered with numerous balled-up papers that lay reflecting her pale apartment light like misshapen Christmas baubles casting long brooding shadows. It was deathly silent except for a stray dog that yelped every now and then lending a menacing aura to the already ominous setting. She glanced gloomily at her open laptop screen, and an empty word document stared vacantly back at her. There were newspapers covering most of her mattress that Mukti had scanned anxiously in her last-ditch attempt to find something . . . anything that she could turn into a story idea. She was getting that desperate.

Mukti looked haggard and unkempt. Her hair was falling around her face in an unwashed mess. Her hands and fingers were cramped up from typing as well as writing but still she had nothing worthwhile to show the publisher.

She sat motionless, staring at nothing in particular, and willed her brain to come up with something. Suddenly she heard a loud beep. It was a few moments before she registered that the shrill electronic noise was her alarm. She picked up her phone. It was six in the morning. She realized that she hadn’t slept a wink the night before. She looked around at the mess that was her apartment and wanted to cry in a pitiful longing for her mother to tell her that all will be well and for her maid to clean up after her.

I need a change of scene. Maybe that might help.

She let out a long breath and cracked her knuckles, her body sore from sitting up all night. She decided to take a bath and then go for a morning walk. After a quick shower, she stepped out into the refreshing morning breeze and took in a lungful of cool air.

Oh! Damn. She hurried back inside and came out with her pepper spray.

You can never be too careful.

Even though Mukti lived in a posh locality with round the clock security and it was only seven in the morning, she never left home without her pepper spray. She had heard some instances of chain snatching in the neighborhood and had been extra cautious since. It also didn’t help that she lived in India’s rape capital and vigilance was her only friend when alone.                                                                                                                           

She put the pepper spray inside the pocket of her pajamas and started walking on the pavement. She could see the lane buzzing with activity.

Unlike my brain.

She walked around waving to the neighborhood aunties, stopping to chit-chat with few.

Maybe I might hear something worthwhile.

Mrs. Mehra and Mrs. Gupta were standing outside the latter’s sprawling mansion. In the morning sunlight, the solitaires on their fingers, necks and even noses were glittering brightly as to make Mukti blink involuntarily. 

“Hello,” she said politely, nodding to them and squinting from the glare of their diamonds.

“Helloji,” Mrs. Mehra responded smiling stiffly.

“How are you beta? All well?” asked Mrs. Gupta.

Mukti simply smiled and nodded.

“We were just talking about the recent hike in petrol prices. You are so lucky you work-from-home and don’t own a car, Mukti. The prices are through the roof.” said Mrs. Gupta.

“Yes, they are,” Mukti said. But, before she could say anything more, Mrs. Mehra chimed in with a taunt, “how come you are worrying about petrol prices, Sheila? Guptaji suffered some loss in business?”

Mrs. Gupta turned a light shade of red, “No, no, nothing like that! But still, you have to think about the monthly expenses,” and then as if to prove that all was well with Mr. Gupta and his export business, she added, “Corruption is on the rise, prices are increasing day-by-day, so many rapes are happening. I keep telling Rajesh, it is time to move to another country.”

“Absolutely right.” Mrs. Mehra, disappointed by the lack of gossip, looked at Mukti as another potential candidate to satiate her desire for scandal, “How is your writing going? When can we read your book? It’s been awful long that you are staying here alone. I thought by now you would have something to show for your stay? Do you even write anything or just party with those two girlfriends of yours? They came by a lot, don’t they?” She continued on without stopping for breath.

Mukti had the sudden urge to give Mrs. Mehra a piece of her mind, to explain to her that writing is no piece of cake, but she didn’t want to indulge her further, “I am working on a couple of things. I will let you know as something finalizes. Okay, I'll make a move now.”

She waved and walked ahead. She could hear the two women murmuring behind her back.

Guess they found their scandal. Mukti thought dryly.

Just a few paces later, she met Chhotu, a local errand boy, who in the mornings also walked dogs to make some quick cash.  He was dressed in a pair of shorts that were too long for him and a stained kurta. Today, he was walking Chauhans’ ferocious-looking German shepherd, Tiger.

“How’s you didi?” He asked as Mukti passed him. She had, at times, tried to teach him the English language but all in vain. She smiled at his broken accent, “I am good Chhotu. How ARE you?”

“Me fines,” He smiled his crooked but dimpled smile. Mukti sat down in front of the dog and played with him a little. He started licking her face that tickled Mukti and made her laugh.

“Tiger likes Didi,” Chhotu said. At that moment, Chauhan’s youngest son, Vikram came running behind them and started tugging at the leash repeatedly. “Give it to me. I want to walk him. He is my dog.” Chhotu resisted a little, “You small baba, Tiger big.” But as Vikram started hitting him harder, he let go of the leash. Tiger was not an adult yet but still he was almost twice the size of little Vikram. As soon as Chhotu’s grip slackened, Tiger was off with Vikram in tow followed by Chhotu trying desperately to catch hold of the errant dog and control the situation. The scene with a massive dog almost-dragging a small boy and being chased by a teen . . . looked so hilarious that Mukti couldn’t control herself and started laughing. Soon, she could feel tears pooling in on her lashes which made her stop abruptly. She wiped them off and stared back at her moist palm, feeling guilty of shedding tears of mirth when she should be grief-stricken at not being able to write. She thought she didn’t deserve to be happy right now . . .  she was not worthy of laughter. I should be depressed. I shouldn’t be laughing my heart out!

The thought sobered her up and she resumed her walk. At the next turn she ran into Mrs. Mathur. The bulky Mrs. Mathur was pacing outside her house in her nightgown. She scared Mukti a little as her face always had a perpetual frown. Mukti had never ever seen her smile.

“Has Neelu come today?” Mrs. Mathur asked Mukti without any preamble.
“Who?” Mukti asked confused.

“Neelu? Ghosh’s maid? Has she come?”

Mukti mumbled, “I don’t know,” that was incentive enough for Mrs. Mathur to begin her tirade against maids in general and Neelu in specific. “I don’t know what to do with her! She always does this. Always takes an off when guests are expected. Who will cook now? Who will wash all the dishes? Who will clean up the house? Who? Damn it? Who?!”

Mukti gulped, “I don’t know.”

Mrs. Mathur gave Mukti a dirty look and stormed back inside her house.

I always knew she didn’t like me.

Next, she met Indu Aunty who as usual started bitching about her in-laws. Mukti listened to her rant patiently, nodding along, and thinking whether she could use it in her novel.

If I am planning to write a screenplay for a daily soap, this might come in handy.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, she bid adieu to Indu Aunty and made her way to the park. She sat down on an empty bench. The park was in the middle of the colony and was surrounded by trees. There was a Peepal tree on one corner rumored of being haunted. Mukti scoffed at foolish beliefs but she wasn’t taking any chances today and since everyone kept away from that tree, Mukti did too.

All I need is a ghost to screw with my writing process . . . A ghost writer!

Mukti stopped short of laughing a congratulatory chuckle celebrating her wit when she realized that if it came down to it,  she just might have to employee someone else to write her book for her!

 An elderly couple was strolling leisurely in the sparsely populated park while a few kids played in the sand pit. Seems like the summer holidays have started. She looked at the kids playing with sand, without a care in the world. Falling and getting back up, just to fall again . . . as if the thrill lay in the falling. . . A mini adrenaline rush in the pits of their tiny stomachs.

But I just seem to be falling and falling and it’s no fun. When will I get up? What am I going to do with my life? I have been trying for three days and have come up with absolutely nothing.
She closed her eyes and rested her head back on the bench. Her phone pinged with a message from Priya enquiring about the progress of the novel. She decided to come clean and called her back.

“Hey. Good morning,” Priya said a little breathlessly.
“Hi.”
“So, how far along have you reached?” she asked putting on her shoe.
“Priya, I am . . .” Mukti hesitated.
“First you listen na, the meeting is fixed for next week at two in the afternoon at his office. I will text you the address later. I am really late. I have to go and meet Her Bitchiness. It’s kind of important. I’ll talk to you later. Happy writing. Bye,” she hung up.
Great!

Mukti looked back at the phone and decided to call Sonali. I really need to talk to someone. She was dialing her number when she remembered that Sonali would be working as well and might be on a flight to Mumbai. She wouldn’t be back for almost ten days as from Mumbai she was going to Goa directly with Kshitij.

Bloody Perfect!

She turned off her phone and crossed her arms across her chest. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I write? Everyone is going on with their lives and I am just stuck. I can see this opportunity slipping away from my hands. I can’t let that happen. She closed her eyes to rest for some time.

 In the descending darkness, she could see a murky path underneath her. She was walking on it looking around trying to make sense of where she was. In the distance she could make out a vague shape. As she inched closer, she realized it was a giant bookcase. A huge beautifully-carved wooden case filled with numerous books. She quickened her pace. She wanted to touch it, smell it, feel it. . .  she ached to run her fingers over the smoothly carved surface and caress the various engravings. She was getting closer. She inhaled the scent of freshly carved dark wood, the intoxicating aroma of old books. She took a long breath so as to fill herself with the musty scent. She touched tentatively the carvings of flowers and butterflies engraved intricately on it . . . the wood felt cool as ice underneath her wandering fingers. Mukti was close enough to realize that there was an empty space between the many books stacked neatly. There was space in this magnificent bookcase for one more book – hers. The idea made her giddy with excitement. She felt as if her heart would burst. She extended her hand to slide her book into place but her hands came up empty. She searched around frantically, but she had nothing with her. She noticed the bookcase had begun to recede in the background. She took a step towards it and the case slipped a little further behind. She realized with growing anxiety that it is moving farther and farther away from her. She shrieked, “NO!” and started running towards it but it continued to elude her until the darkness swallowed it whole.

Mukti woke up with a start. She looked from side to side. She was all alone in the park. The kids had wandered away back to their homes, the street had gone silent and the hustle-bustle of the morning had died down. She was breathing heavily. The sun shone with all its intensity and Mukti realized she was dripping with sweat. She got up from the bench grudgingly and made her way back to her apartment. She sat down on the floor hoping to rest her eyes for ten more minutes so as to shake off the dreadful dream she just had. After what seemed like mere seconds, she heard something. She couldn’t make out what it was. It was a piercing and loud sound and was coming after short gaps. She cleared her mind to try and relax . . . again she heard it. She concentrated and realized it was her doorbell. She opened her eyes and got up. Someone was banging her door and ringing her bell incessantly. She ran to open the door. It was Sonali still in her air-hostess’ uniform.

“Where have you been? I have been ringing your damn bell for fifteen minutes!” She said irritably.

“Have I been sleeping for ten days?!” Mukti said rubbing her eyes.

“What?” Sonali said entering the apartment dragging a massive suitcase behind her.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in Mumbai?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be writing?” Then looking around at the mess, she exclaimed, “Have you been robbed Mukti? What is all this?”

“I have been trying to write but I haven’t been able to.”

“Of course you can’t write. Look at all this mess.” She said looking around, “I’d help you tidy up but I don’t want to get my hands dirty. I have to go to work.” She smiled sweetly.

“Wasn’t your flight in the morning?”

“No, it is in the evening silly. Where are you lost these days?” she asked quizzically.

Evening?! What time is it?”

“It’s five thirty.”
“Oh God! I have been sleeping for six hours!” Mukti said chewing on her nails, “I have to work, I have been trying to finish a novel . . .”

“Yes, I know. Priya told me about the big meeting with a publisher. Congrats,” She hugged Mukti warmly. 

Mukti was lost in her own thoughts, “I can’t write. I have nothing to show him.”

“What do you mean you don’t have anything to show him? What is all this then?” she waved around at all the pages lying on the floor.

“This is all crap.”

“What have you been doing all these days?!”

“I told you I have been trying to write. I tried finishing the story I had already started but I couldn’t. I started writing something fresh, but I couldn’t come up with anything. Nothing seems to work. I am stuck! It is such a bad time to be suffering from writer’s block. I can’t believe only a week is left! What am I going to do?”

“Why don’t you take a break? You know, read a novel, and relax a little. Calm down maybe,” Sonali suggested.

 “I can’t relax! I have this big meeting . . .”

Sonali interrupted in between, “You should start with cleaning up your room,” then in a tiny whisper added, “all this mess is bad Feng Shui.”

“Maybe.” Mukti said picking up stray papers. She noticed Sonali’s suitcase, “I see you are all packed for your Goa vacation. You are still going?”

Sonali smiled, “You bet I am. I cannot wait for the sea, sand and sun.”

“I am sure you’ll have a lot of fun.”

“See, you have just started cleaning and you rhyme already. I am telling you, you need to be a little organized,” Sonali winked. “My room is always spic-n-span. My parents always told me – a cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind. I firmly believe that too. That is why I keep my room free from useless stuff and my mind from futile thoughts."

Mukti smiled a little, "I am so desperate right now that I will even try your idea and see if my uncluttered room is the key to me writing anything passable."

Sonali gave her the thumbs-up, “Okay I got to go. My flight leaves in a couple of hours. I just came over to say all the best.”

She kissed Mukti on the cheek and hugged her tightly, “Don’t worry. You’ll write something awesome.”

 Mukti hugged her back, “I hope so. You have fun.”

 “Will do.” She waved goodbye and left hauling her enormous suitcases behind her. Mukti looked around at the mess she had created in the past three days. “Feng Shui. Right! Desperate times call for desperate measures.”     
                                                                        *
It took her the better part of the evening to clean up her room after which she decided to indulge in a little luxury and pamper herself. She opened the still-boxed Chanel body & bath set her aunt had gifted on her last birthday and took a long cleansing shower to rid her off all the negativity of the past three days. After the rejuvenating bath, she sat down with her laptop with a big smile plastered on her face, confident that she will write the next great Indian novel.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Country For Women

After reading and listening to umpteen incidences of rape and sexual abuse, the mothers were angry, scared, disappointed, and felt hopeless.

The feminist told her daughter to be fearless and live the way she wants. She taught her self defence and encouraged her to wear whatever she wanted, go wherever she pleased. She wanted her to be the way she was - outgoing, extrovert, bubbly, trusting - she wanted her to party if she wished, stay late if she wanted... basically live her life on her own terms. She taught her to question and stand up for what is right. She instilled her to believe in herself and never let anyone put her down. She wanted her daughter to stand out from the crowd, to reach her true potential - uninhibited and strong. Knowingly, she gave her wings. She did everything that she thought was best for her.

The realist taught her daughter to be aloof and reserved. She turned her into an introvert, distrusting of strangers and relatives, of everyone and everything. She encouraged her to not meddle in other's affairs. She made her see the reality of the world and forced her to dress in a certain way, not stay out late, and always come home before sunset. She instilled in her a fear of authority, of going against the system. She taught her to go with the flow, to accept wordlessly the injustices of the society and adjust accordingly. She wanted her daughter to be just another face in the crowd, undetected and unremarkable. Unknowingly, she clipped her wings. She did everything she thought was best for her.

A decade passed... shrouded in a veil of fear.

One day both the daughters came home... their bodies battered and bruised, their clothes tattered, their souls shattered.

The feminist's daughter had been gang-raped while trying to stand up for what she believed to be right. Her self defence training was no match for the horde of crazed maniacal males who attacked her and ripped apart her dignity, thread by thread.

The realist's daughter was raped while she was walking back from school where she was a teacher. The afternoon sun, her shy nature, her Salwar-Kameez, her dupatta covered head bent low... nothing deterred the crazed maniacal males who forced her into a moving van and proceeded to break her, piece by piece.

The feminist and the realist sat down with their respective heads in their hands....where did they go wrong?








P.S. : I use the term 'realist' very loosely... for a lack of better term. If you would like to offer a substitute, please go ahead and mention it in the comments.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Little Writing Project - Chapter Four


For more information on My Little Writing Project and to read previous chapters click here.




“Is it just a temporary writer’s block or maybe I can’t write? Is it time to make a deal with the Devil?”

21st May 2012

‘Amita hadn’t spoken to Smita since she had returned from that fateful trip. In fact she had not told anyone about that night when she had seen . . . ‘

Mukti read what she had written and pressed the backspace button, furiously deleting everything she had typed since morning.

“AARRGGHHHH!!” she cried in frustration. She sat cross-legged on the floor with the blank word document opened in front of her, mocking her. The fan, creaking slowly overhead, did little to cool her in the sweltering May heat. A tiny drop of sweat travelled from her forehead and made its way across her face to fall on the keypad of the laptop. The sound of the fan coupled with the dripping sweat increased her annoyance. She got up and opened the door forcefully in her futile attempt to breathe in some fresh air.

Instead of going back to her novel, she opened her blog and started punching feverishly.

Has it ever happened to you that you can’t think? Whenever you decide to put pen to paper, you draw a blank? There is neither a single thought nor a single idea that promises to take you forward. It’s just a dead-end.           

She stopped typing and read what she wrote.

“I can’t even write a decent blog post now!” she said to no one in particular and banged the laptop shut irritably.

She decided to stop writing for a while and take a break. This time she chose watching TV over Facebooking and switched it on. After surfing channels for some time, she stopped at a movie channel which was playing ‘Shortcut to Happiness’ - a story of a writer who in a fit of jealousy and frustration made a deal with the Devil to surrender his soul to her in return for becoming a bestselling author.

In her irritable state, Mukti closed her eyes and yelled, “I will trade my soul to get into JK Rowling’s shoes right now!”

Silence.

Mukti peeked from behind closed eyelids. Seeing everything the same as before, she opened her eyes fully, “even the Devil doesn’t listen to me.”

“Who are you talking to?” asked Priya - a little amused, a little confused - who was standing in the open doorway.  

Mukti looked up at her with bored resignation. Over the last few weeks, she had made peace with the fact that Priya would pop in without prior intimation, “What are you doing here? How long have you been standing there?”

“When you were busy talking to the Devil,” Priya walked inside and switched off the TV, “the TV is so loud, how can you hear your thoughts in this noise.”

She looked around the room. It was in a mess, as usual, with a day old newspaper littering the floor. Mukti had hung her clothes to dry at the dresser. A couple of books were lying next to Mukti’s laptop along with three cups stained with leftover coffee. Priya turned up her nose at the old moldy smell. She fished into her bag and pulled out an expensive perfume. She decided to sacrifice few drops to make the room a little more breathable. In spite of the odor, Mukti’s studio was a cozy place to be. Priya liked spending time here.

She moved around the cups to make some space on the floor next to Mukti and sat down. She noticed the news item on the front page, “You read about that woman who was gang-raped and dumped at Nehru Place last Friday? It’s so close to where I live! So scary.”

Priya shuddered involuntarily.

“What’s new about rapes? They are in the news every other day. This country is going to the dogs I tell you! The newspaper is full of rapes and sexual assaults. All these rapists should be castrated in public!” Mukti replied, “Or better yet, after a long painful stint in the jailhouse, the police should tattoo ‘rapist’ on their foreheads and let them go. Let them try and get back to normal life after that!”

Priya, the non-violent one, just smiled. The girls sat in comfortable silence for a while before Priya remembered the reason for her abrupt lunchtime visit. She started shuffling a book, “You know I have some news for you.”

“What now? What did Ravi do?” Mukti, who was busy biting one of her nails, asked feigning fake interest.

“Nothing, sadly. But, that’s not why I am here. This is about you. I talked to a friend about her friend who works in a publishing company.”

She glanced sideways at Mukti who sat up straighter and was trying very hard not to smile.

Without saying another word, Priya got up and went into the kitchen. Mukti looked at her retreating back with an expression of confusion, excitement, bewilderment and followed her like a puppy tagging behind her owner. Priya stood near the refrigerator, leisurely sipping water.

“Well . . . ?” Mukti asked impatiently

“Well, she said she might be willing to talk to the publisher friend of hers if you can finish the first five chapters and show it to him,” Priya smiled at Mukti whose face was lit up like a house on Diwali!

Before the jumping and the yelling could begin, Priya quickly added, “But, I told her not to bother.”

Mukti’s face instantly fell like an inflated rubber balloon.

“What? Why?” she spluttered, “Why would you do that to me?!”

“Obviously between your oh-so-important work and equally important Facebook, you wouldn’t get time to finish five chapters in like . . .” Priya calculated on her fingers, “ten days.”

“Ten days?! You are damn right I can’t write five chapters in ten days! How do you expect me to come up with a whole novel idea in TEN days? That’s impossible.” Mukti slumped down on the floor with her head in her hands.

 “Well, if you logged out of Facebook for some time, you might finish them,” Priya said tentatively, “It is not impossible.”

She knew this was a touchy topic for Mukti but she also knew she had to try.

Mukti looked up at her, “You actually believe that I browse Facebook for fun? That I like wasting my time? That I left my job and decided to stay away from my family for Facebook?”

Priya didn’t say anything but Mukti could make out that she was trying very hard not to nod.

 “Priya, I genuinely want to become a writer. I want to publish a novel. But I can’t write. I can’t think. I have no story to tell. I have no characters to bring to life. I have nothing. Zilch. You look at all these unfinished manuscripts lying around and you assume that I am not working hard enough but the truth is that I am trying . . . very hard. But I just cannot think.”

Mukti got up and started pacing the room. “You don’t know how it feels to leave everything to become a writer and then not being able to write anything that is even half decent. You only see me browsing Facebook, or hiding behind the temporary part-time job… what you don’t see is how I feel when I read about my friends moving ahead in their lives. You don’t know what I go through every time when I read about people younger than me owning a car or a house while I am sitting here, saving every penny for a dream that might not ever come true!”

“Okay Mukti, you need to calm down. . .” Priya said moving towards her friend.

“Whenever I sit down to write I go blank. There are times when I have typed gibberish in the hopes that it would set the ball rolling, but it doesn’t. I have no inspiration and that is why I look at Facebook profiles of our friends and even random strangers. I am not a voyeur . . .”

Priya raised an eyebrow.

“Okay okay, I behave like a voyeur because I am looking for that one thread of inspiration that I can hold on to and build a story around.”

“So you look into people’s life for inspiration?” Priya was confused, “Let me get this straight, you browse Facebook so you can make people you know into characters of your novel? So, that you can turn their private affairs, public? That doesn’t sound very ethical.”

“First, if it’s on Facebook, it’s already public knowledge. And second, you are the one to talk about ethics?” It was Mukti’s turn to raise her eyebrows questioningly.

Priya turned ghostly pale, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” She finished the entire water bottle in one gulp.

“Really now? You want me to refresh your memory?” Mukti said sarcastically.

“We had decided we’ll never ever bring that up.” She was shaking slightly. The sight of a visibly disturbed Priya, almost on the verge of tears, sobered Mukti instantly and she realized she had gone too far, she had crossed the line, “I am sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I was just upset I guess. But from now on, these lips are sealed forever.” Mukti made a locking-the-lips-and-throwing-away-the-key gesture.

“Thank you. I don’t want to think about that… that… that episode ever again.”

“I know. It was a bad time. Just forget about it. I promise I’ll never talk about it again.”

Mukti gently patted Priya’s back to comfort her.                                                                                                 

“Now” Mukti began with renewed enthusiasm, “What about my novel? How will I write five chapters? I am going through a major writer’s block!”

“I don’t know. Do whatever you need to do because I have already asked my friend, her name is Arti by the way, and she in turn, has already talked to that publisher guy. If I tell her now that you need more time, he might get pissed. This opportunity might not come again. We can’t show attitude. I don’t want to take credit but I hope you do realize that this meeting is happening only because of my goodwill otherwise publishers do not meet first-time writers. In addition to your career, my reputation is also on the line.”

“I know what you mean. Okay, I will think of something. I will finish them. Please talk to her or him or whoever. Please fix up the appointment. I will do it. Please, please, please . . . pretty please . . .”

“Ok ok . . . I will tell her to confirm the appointment. But, if you are not ready by next week with five chapters and a synopsis of the whole book, then don’t expect me to help you anymore. Understood?”

“Totally! Oh God Priya . . . this has to work out! I will work my butt off. My dream has to come true.” Mukti said dancing around.

“It will,” Priya smiled, “and you might not even have to sell your soul.” She added quietly.

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