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.
“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.

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.

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