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“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!”
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 likedspending 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 friendabout 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 whileI 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. Ihaveno inspiration and that is whyI look at Facebook profiles of our friends and even random strangers. I am not a voyeur . . .”
Priya raised an eyebrow.
“Okay okay, Ibehave 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 visiblydisturbed 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 GodPriya . . . 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.