Friday, May 30, 2014

The Easy Way Out... Or is it?

She adjusted her pallu before stepping out into the living room. As soon as she opened her bedroom door, the all-too-familiar wailing of her newborn son reached her ears. She frowned. Before she even had a chance to figure out what was wrong, her mother-in-law thrust the crying baby into her arms.
"He is hungry," she said, "go and feed him."
"But, I just fed him 15 minutes ago," she replied, a little annoyed, "maybe it's something else. Have you checked his nappy?"
"Yes, it is nothing else. He is hungry," she pushed her daughter-in-law inside her room muttering to herself, "I don't understand these new age mothers... Can't even feed their own babies."
She sat on the bed and took the baby in her arms. She stared at him as he suckled contently. Like other mothers, she didn't feel a spiritual connection. She didn't feel a rush of maternal warmth. She just felt uncomfortable and irritated and angry.

*

She tried on her old kurta and stared at herself in the mirror. As expected, it was couple of sizes too small. She took it off and tried another one... then another... then another... As the pile of clothes strewn across her bedroom floor increased, her patience decreased. She saw, from the corner of her eyes, her son putting a small coin into his mouth. Instead of running to him, she stood rooted to the spot... wishing for him to swallow it.
'It's all because of you,' she thought silently, 'you have ruined everything... my body, my career, my life.'
After a moment, the small boy spat the coin out and went about his play happily, oblivious of his mother's growing resentment towards him.
Seeing the coin at the floor, she felt a stab of disappointment. Almost instantly, her reaction shocked her. The thought of her wishing for his son's death scared her.
'I am the worst mother ever,' she sat down on the floor, disgusted with herself, and cried silently.

*

"I need to talk to you," she whispered to her husband.
"What now?" he asked, a little agitated.
"I think I need help. I don't feel so good. I get so angry at him and then there are these thoughts... these... these vile thoughts--" But, before she could explain her current state of mind, her husband cut her off.
"Don't start again. I know looking after a kid is hard work... and I know you are tired and a little overwhelmed, but everyone goes through this. Everyone raises kids yaar, you are not the first one. It's just a phase, you'll grow out of it. Relax and chill," he turned off the light and slept.
She sat motionless. She knew it was not a phase.

*

It was a hot afternoon. She wanted to take a nap but her son was in a playful mood. She indulged him for a while... singing songs, playing hide and seek, colouring with him... thinking he will get tired and sleep too. But, when hours ticked by and he still wouldn't lay down, she lost her cool. She threw him roughly on the bed and started patting his back, a little hard. The confused child started crying. The louder his wails, the more she got angry. Finally, fed up of his screams, she slapped him, right across the face. He shut up, stunned. With his hand on his reddening cheek and tears pooling on his eyelids, he stared at his mother.... the mother who just moments before was laughing with him, playing with him, singing songs with him. The look of betrayal and hurt and shock on her three year old son's innocent face broke her heart. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. She didn't know why she got so angry. She, for the life of her, couldn't fathom the reason behind her mood swings. She couldn't understand why he got on her nerves so much. She felt a tiny palm on her cheek. She removed her hands to see, her son looking at her with worried eyes.
"What happen? Mumma sad? Mumma hurt?" he inquired. Before she could say anything, he placed his hands on his ears, "sorry mumma. sleepy time."
Without another word, he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.
She couldn't stop herself. With tears streaming down her eyes, and her guilty conscience rearing it's ugly head once again... she hugged him tightly and wept bitterly.

*

 That night, after tucking her son into bed, she was standing all alone in the balcony staring at the cloudless sky dotted with million stars and a lone yet beautiful moon.
"I know your secret moon... you look so happy surrounded by all these stars but I know you are all alone. These stars, your so-called companions are millions of miles away. Just like me... i have all these people in my life - friends, family - but in reality, I am all alone too... just like you."
She sighed and looked back at her sleeping son and snoring husband.
"I hope one day, everyone would understand why I did what I did. I hope they realize that I had to do this for my son's safety, for his sanity, for his well-being."
She blew a kiss to her unaware family and jumped.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Moden Woman

'Have some butter,' Meera said pushing the butter dish towards her friend.
 

'No, no! I don't want it... as it is the paranthas have so much ghee!' Sia pressed a paper napkin on her stuffed parantha to soak up the extra ghee.
 

'C'mon once a while it doesn't matter. It is homemade, you'll like it.'
 

She placed a big dollop on her friend's plate.
 

'Homemade butter?! Who does that anymore? You should really move with the times, Meera. Leave these old-fashioned grehini type nuskhe for your grandmother.'
 

Meera just smiled.
 

'Don't mind but you should consider a makeover as well,' Sia said taking a tiny bite of the parantha.
 

 'Makeover? Why?' She asked adjusting the pallu of her chiffon sari, 'I think I look nice!'
 

'Nice? You look like a behenji! I guess somethings never change... you were like this in college too. I still remember your Kurta and jeans combo!' She laughed heartily.
 

'So what's wrong in that. I like wearing suits and sarees. You be happy with your couture pieces,' Meera said glancing at her friend's stylish dress.
 

Sia shrugged and took a sip from her glass of water, 'You are my friend and I just want you to be modern, like me.'
 

Before Meera could respond, Sia continued, 'Anyway, did you hear about Natasha?'
 

Meera shook her head, 'What about her?'
 

'She is a lesbian,' Sia whispered with her eyes wide open.
 

'And?' Meera asked, confused.
 

'Don't you find it disgusting? We had sleepovers with her!' She said making a face as if repulsed.
 

'What's disgusting about it? It's natural. It's her life. Let her decide if she wants to sleep with men or women,' Meera got up and started clearing the table.
 

'Natural?! It's not normal. No wonder she was so touchy feely all the time.'
 

Meera sighed audibly, 'I don't know what to say,' she simply said not wanting to fight.
 

'Well, you shouldn't be saying anything. You shouldn't be supporting her. She's a criminal. It's against the law to indulge in this... this... unnatural act!'
 

'It's her sexual orientation, it's natural. The 'law' is man-made. Nature can't be wrong but rules can be.'
 

'I can't believe you are defending that freak!'
 

'I can't believe you are calling our friend a freak.'
 

'I have unfriended her on facebook. Maybe I should delete you too!'
 

With that 'modern' Sia left, slamming the door behind her... leaving behind a stunned 'old-fashioned' Meera cradling dish with her homemade butter.

Who's modern and who's old-fashioned... you decide.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Girls' Night Out... Gossip, Dreams, and Drinks!



Chapter Eight - My Little Writing Project



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


 Girls’ night out is all about drinks and discussions, goofiness and gossip, dreams and desires, secrets and fetishes!

10th June 2012

Tick Tock, on the clock . . . But the party won’t stop . . .
“Stop it! Stop the damn party!” Mukti said in her sleep covering her face with a pillow.

Ooh, ooh, ooh . . .
 Finally, tired with the blaring ringtone, that she had changed recently, Mukti picked up her phone and said groggily, “Hello?”
 “Mukti! Rise and shine!” came Priya’s excited voice from the other end.
 “Priya? Why are you calling me now? What the hell happened last night? Why didn’t you call me back?” asked Mukti, getting up from her make-shift bed, “I needed you, you know,” she added dramatically.
“Nothing ya, got stuck in office. I have got great news by the way! My stupid bitch of a boss got transferred!! Yay!!” Priya almost yelled into her iPhone.
 “Wow . . . great! So now, you will hate your job a little less . . .  I hope. Good. I am happy for you!” Mukti replied rubbing her eyes.
 “Yeah… And my new boss is going to be a guy! I am so happy. Male bosses can be MCPs but they sure are easy to handle than female bosses. Women are always bitches to the other women subordinates. God knows why they can’t follow gender camaraderie. Instead they turn out to be a woman’s worst nightmare behind closed doors. Don’t we have enough to deal with, without our own kind turning on us? I --”
“Ok . . . ok . . . Germaine Greer, that’s enough!”
 “Gree . . . Who? Never mind, anyway, how was your date with Mr. Dreamy? How did you manage to get out? How boring was he?!” she enquired.
“Don’t ask,” said Mukti and sighed.

After giving Priya a detailed account of what happened the previous night, during which Priya kept muttering ‘I told you so’ and laughing to her heart’s content, Mukti hung up the phone and got down to work. She had two weeks to come up with an interesting idea for a book, a detailed synopsis, character sketches and first five chapters. So, naturally she logged into Facebook.
 There are still two weeks to go. Let me check who is up to what? Maybe I will get some idea. This is not a waste of my time, this is research.
 Mukti was just browsing through when she got a ping on her Gtalk from some Anurag to add him as her friend.
 Hmm . . . I don’t know any Anurag? Do I?
 She copied the name from the email id that was flashing on her screen and put it in the Facebook search box. A profile came up. It was locked but the profile picture was of a good looking guy playing with a dog.
 Aww . . .  sweet. Should I accept?
 She was just about to press add when the reasonable part of her brain reared its ugly head,
Obviously not Mukti! How can you even think about it? You don’t know him. He could be anyone? Rapist! Murderer! Crook! Creep! Just ignore him.
 Next, Sonali’s voice came in her ear - I met a guy online . . . he is from IIML . . .  You watch too much TV . . .
 Yes. Sonali is right. Maybe he is my Mr. Right. And what’s the harm in chatting with him once or twice. If he turns out a creep, I will block him. No big deal.
 And she pressed ignore.
 You should never appear too desperate. What does he think? I will just add him like that, no questions asked? No Mister Anurag, I am not like other girls.
 Instead, Mukti sent him a mail with a single line – Do I know you? If yes, kindly refresh my memory and if not, then I don’t talk to strangers.
 Minutes passed by and nothing happened. To Mukti’s surprise, she felt a little disappointed.
 Maybe I scared him away.

Mukti decided not to cry over the proverbial spilt milk and went about browsing Facebook. She searched for people she hadn’t seen since school, looked at their entire lives trying to figure out their antecedents. She glanced at her novel’s character sketches and dejected at its flat and uninspiring composition, began selecting random people and started reading their posts and  looked at all of their personal private pictures to try and formulate a character. It was a pointless exercise and she knew it, but for the lack of a better idea continued doing so.

The ringing of the doorbell reminded Mukti that dusk had fallen and a veil of darkness abnormal to a cheerful summer day had enshrouded her apartment.  She hastily shut down her laptop and opened the door to find a much styled Priya along with Sonali standing there tall in high heels.
“What are you guys doing here?” Mukti asked astonished.
“Well, since you had such a bad night yesterday, we thought let us take you out someplace nice. Get dressed, it’s a girls night out!” said an exuberant Sonali.
“Ok, but where do we go?”

                                                                                 ***
 An hour later, when Mukti was also primped up and in her lone pair of heels . . . all because of Sonali’s perseverance, the three girls, went to their favourite haunt, Urban Pind. They liked hanging out at the lounge mainly because it had great food and amazing drinks. It had the appropriate amount of lighting, not too dark that you can’t see anything neither too bright that you go blind. The music was also groovy and not loud enough to hamper a conversation. As usual, they went and sat at their regular table by the window. This feeling of habitual seating made Mukti feel like she was one from the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. gang sitting at their customary couch at Central Perk!

After ordering for some starters and a first round of drinks . . .  Cosmopolitan for Sonali, Scotch for Priya, and Mojito for Mukti, the gossip session began.
 “You guys should have come with me. I had a blast!” Sonali led with her Goa trip, “We stayed at this charming little cottage in Palolem right at the beach.”
 Mukti and Priya exchanged knowing glances. They knew what was coming on next.
 “I have never experienced Goa like this. We walked on the beach, sang songs, and partied till dawn . . . Loads of fun. Let me show you the pictures.” Sonali fished into her bag to get out her phone. “You know Kshitij can play the guitar as well.”
Priya pinched Mukti and gestured her to ask what they had been dying to know.
“So, did you sleep with him?” Mukti blurted out, “Priya wanted to know.” She pointed at Priya who was mortified with Mukti’s little betrayal.
“No, I did not.” She said hitting Mukti on her arm.
Sonali stopped fidgeting with her bag, “I know what you guys are thinking but no I did not sleep with him.”
“You are telling me that you went on an out-of-station trip with a guy who you claim to be in love with, stayed with him in a ‘charming little cottage’ alone and nothing happened? Looking at your track record, I find that hard to fathom? Do you believe her Priya?” Mukti turned and looked at Priya.
“You do believe me, don’t you?” Sonali stared at Priya too.
Priya glanced from Mukti to Sonali and then back again. To the other patrons of the lounge, she must have looked like a spectator witnessing a tennis match who is following the ball as one player hits it back to another and vice versa. Not a fan of confrontations, she decided it is better to stay out of it and keep mum. When the silence stretched a little longer than anticipated, Sonali saved her from her predicament, “Well, I am telling you we didn’t sleep together. In fact, he is the first guy that I have met after a long time who is chivalrous and doesn’t want to jump into bed with me. He wants to take out time to know the real me before we… you know...”
Mukti rolled her eyes, “Yeah right?!”
“I am serious Mukti. He said so himself. It was his idea to wait and get to know each other before we sleep together. Even when I was drunk and pretty much out, he didn’t take advantage of me. Instead, he left the room to avoid temptation. I am telling you he is a genuinely nice guy.”

Mukti stared at Sonali. This is certainly a first. Sonali was looking earnestly at both the other girls, eager for them to believe that she has, after many trial and errors, finally found a guy for keeps. Mukti glanced at Priya who shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly as if to say,
Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.
 “Well, in that case,” Mukti picked up her drink, “Cheers to you and Mr. IIML!”
Sonali laughed and clinked her glass with theirs, “He is The One ladies, I can feel it this time. He is The One.”

After taking a sip from their respective glasses, the conversation turned to Priya and the impending arrival of her new boss.
“So, it was a normal work day and Her Bitchiness called me into her office. I went in expecting a long job list to be handed over to me, as usual. Instead, I see her packing up her stuff.”
She paused and took a sip, “Naturally, I had heard rumors about her move but knew nothing concrete. So, when I see her packing, my heart rate increased in anticipation of hearing those three magical words – I have quit. Summoning all the fake concern I could, I asked her politely, ‘Are you moving to a bigger office?’ As if!”
“You are turning into a drama queen just like Mukti,” Sonali said, “Just get to the point, will you?” Sonali drawled on bored while munching on some nuts.
“Ssshhh . . .” Mukti silenced her, “Priya, continue.”
 “So she looks up at me and says, ‘No, I have been transferred to a different city.’ Not what I wanted to hear but still . . . I wanted to hug her, I wanted to do a cartwheel! At least, now she will leave me alone for good! However, I do pity the poor assistant who will have her as a boss now,” Priya said gorging down a whole kebab, “Then, she told me that some Shantanu will be joining in her place. A male boss, finally!”

“Great news! This calls for another toast!” The girls clinked their glasses together again.
“When is your new boss joining?” Mukti asked, “You know anything about him?”
“He will join by next week. And all I know is that he is a he. That’ll do for now.” Priya took a deep breath.
Sonali snickered, “What if he turns out like Mukti’s boss? You know, boring!”
Priya stifled a laugh.
“First, Prakash is not my boss and second, even if Priya’s boss is boring it doesn’t matter. It’s not as if Priya is going to date him? Priya has a strict no-mixing-business-with-pleasure policy, aren’t I right?” She said turning to Priya.
“Absolutely,” She gulped down her drink.

“Whatever,” Sonali replied, “I still can’t believe Mr. Dreamy was so boring that you had to create a fake crisis just to get out of a date with him!”
“Trust me. He was. He claimed that he was nervous and had never been on a date—”
“What?! He has NEVER been on a date?! How is that even possible?” Sonali exclaimed.
“I have no idea, but that’s what he said.”
“Wow. You do manage to attract some weird ones. First there was that guy who couldn’t talk in English and now Prakash, who didn’t want to talk at all!” The girls, including Mukti, laughed heartily.
“I do, don’t I?” replied Mukti. Sonali waved over the waiter and ordered for a second round of drinks along with some more starters.
“This,” Sonali picked up a fish kebab, “is Kshitij’s favourite. He loves fish.” She said munching on the kebab.
“How long do you think it will take Mr. IIML to fall in love with you?” Mukti asked.
“I don’t know. But what I do know is that he is a fitness freak. He has an amazing body.” Sonali moaned. Priya and Mukti raised their eyebrows.
“I saw him when he went for a swim, you naughty girls!” She added hastily.
“Did we say anything?” Mukti said with feigned innocence.
“Anyway, in Goa, he used to wake up at dawn and do yoga. Once I also saw him playing beach volleyball with some random guys he had met. He is such a friendly person, he was fooling around with one of them as if he had known him since forever. You know how guys are, falling over each other, punching playfully . . . That kind of thing.”

“If he is a fitness freak, I am sure he goes to a gym . . . maybe you can join the same gym and pretend to run into him there? He will see that you have shared interests and voila! he falls in love with you!” Mukti suggested smiling proudly at her apparent stroke of genius.
“How will I figure out where he goes to the gym without asking him about it, Ms. Love Guru?!” Sonali asked confused.
“Facebook” Mukti said matter-of-factly annoyed at her friend’s obvious lack of any snooping prowess. She asked Sonali to log into her Facebook account and go through Kshitij’s profile methodically, “you will definitely find something there.”
“I wish I had my new boss’ full name. I would have searched him on Facebook too and seen how he is. I certainly deserve a good boss now, don’t you think? I have done my penance. I need to be rewarded now.” Priya was saying softly, as if talking to herself.
“You will. You said so yourself, male bosses are easy to handle. You remember I had that stern boss once, Mr. Khatri. He was so strict and a yeller but he couldn’t handle tears. A couple of drops, and he would mellow down instantly. If worse comes to worse, you do the same.” Mukti advised.
“There is one good result of your so-many job changes, you have handled and have experience with all kinds of bosses!” Smiled Priya.
“Yup, that’s true.”
“Why don’t you write about them? You know your experience working for any one of them? That is bound to make for an interesting read.” Priya offered.
“Hmm . . . I don’t know. Who would want to read that? Everyone has a horrible boss, why would you want to read about mine?”
“To find solace in the fact that we are not alone!” opined Priya.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Mukti said courteously but rejecting the idea without much ado.

Sonali who was still busy with her phone checking out Kshitij’s Facebook profile, oblivious to the conversation around her, suddenly looked up and said, “I can’t find his gym. This is stupid! Who posts about their gym on Facebook?!”
She threw the phone on the table that slid across and fell on the floor with a loud thud. Mukti’s heart skipped a beat looking at Sonali expensive iPhone falling to the floor.
“You have no idea what people post on Facebook! I have a friend who uses the check-in application every time she goes to a fancy restaurant. She clicks a picture of what she orders and posts it online.” Mukti bent down discreetly to pick up Sonali’s phone,
“For that matter, look at Prakash, he kept clicking our picture and posting it on Facebook and Twitter along with constantly updating his status. I mean he had nothing to say to me, someone who was sitting a couple of feet across from him, but had a lot to say to his 200 followers who he had never even met!”

Priya on a different tangent altogether whispered, “I have this picture of my boss, completely drunk and making out with a dealer. I think I should post it on Facebook.”
Sonali and Mukti’s head snapped into attention. Mukti’s eyes widened but Sonali laughed and said casually, “I never thought of you as the revenge types?”
Priya, realizing what she had said, suddenly became solemn. Mukti knew what Priya must be thinking . . . her past, what all she had gone through and what she had eventually done. She placed a hand on Priya’s lap meaningfully. Priya looked up at Mukti who nodded reaffirming her solidarity. Mukti could see the same dread in Priya’s eyes she had seen a couple of days ago when, in the heat of the moment, she had mentioned about her past deeds. Mukti noticed the same anxious shifty glance she had observed countless times before, whenever even a slight mention of what she had done in the past or anything related to it was made . . .  the terror of all her skeletons tumbling out. Mukti patted Priya’s lap discreetly and gestured her to have a sip of her drink to calm her nerves. Priya, in turned gulped down the entire drink in one go.
Sonali noticed the sudden shift in Priya’s otherwise cheerful disposition, “What happened? Did I say something wrong?”
Mukti answered, “Nothing, Priya just has had too much to drink.”
“Really? Priya has the highest capacity out of all three of us. We have just had a couple of drinks yet. You guys are hiding something. I can feel it.” Sonali responded.
“Why would we do that?”
“I don’t know—“ At that precise moment, Sonali’s phone started buzzing.
“I think your phone’s ringing.” Mukti peeped to see it was Kshitij. She silently thanked him for calling when he did. Sonali, in an instant forgetting all about Priya and her grave appearance excused herself and went out to take the call, smiling to herself.

“Priya, you need to calm yourself down. You can’t react like this every time anyone mentions the R word.”
“I don’t know. It just happens. I have no control over it. It is involuntarily,” Priya looked at Mukti, “plus I thought you told her.”
Mukti sighed, “Have I or have I not promised you that I would never tell anyone about it? I have right? Why don’t you believe me? It’s been almost five years since that happened and no one knows that it was actually you. So, you can relax. It is over and done with. Nothing bad can happen to you now.”

Priya just nodded her head, “I know.” They hugged awkwardly across the table.
Mukti smiled and called for another round of drinks. Sonali entered with a frown on her face.
“What happened?”
“That was Kshitij. He cancelled our date later this week.” She said slouching down on the couch.
“Why?”
“Apparently he is having a boys’ night out.”
Mukti smiled mischievously, “you know na what happens at Boys’ night out, right? Booze and girls.”
“Kshitij is not like that,” Sonali added quickly, “He never even glances at any other girl. He only has eyes for me.”
“Good for you!”
Another round of drinks, and the girls started getting a little tipsy. The conversation became more incoherent and disjointed. While Sonali was making her and Kshitij’s wedding plans, Priya was rambling about being made her bitchy boss’ boss and ordering her around. Unaware of all this, Mukti was dreaming about standing on a podium and receiving the Booker prize. It was only when their regular and trusted waiter told them that the kitchen is closed that they decided to crash down at Mukti’s place. They all stumbled into a cab and chatted about their respective future plans.
“I want  to get married to Kshitij seven times . . . I want to be a Hindu bride decked up in red, then I want a Muslim wedding, then an all-white Christian wedding . . .”
“I will make her do everything! Get coffee for me, take print-outs, and answer my phone . . . every damn thing!”
“I want this to work out. I want to see my novel in a bookstore. I want to see people picking up the copies and buying them.”

Their distinctive monologues continued on till they finally staggered into the dark apartment, giggling like schoolgirls. Throwing their high heels in any direction possible, the three girls stretched out on the floor in their expensive dresses and fell into a deep sleep dreaming about their individual future.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Music Box

He came and lay down on the bed. It had been a long day. As soon as he closed his eyes, he heard the all-too-familiar tune wafting through the adjacent room. He opened his eyes and sat up straighter.

'Enough is enough! I need to have a talk with her. This can't go on forever. She has to understand... she has to.'

He got up and started pacing the room, biting his nails - a nervous habit he had acquired in his childhood. He bit his cuticle and a silent curse escaped from his mouth. The hauntingly beautiful tune emanating into the room irritated him further.

After a minute or so, she entered the room wiping her hands on her night-dress. She looked up at him with questioning eyes, 'what's the matter with you? You haven't slept yet? You feeling okay?'

'Why do you do it?' He asked.

'What?! I don't understand...' she said getting under the covers.

'Why do you play the tune every night?'

'What tune? I am very tired, can you please not be so cryptic and say what you want to say,' She asked turning on the alarm in her phone.

'The tune from Mimi's music box? Why do you play it?'

She turned and looked at him, 'You know she can't sleep without it. It has been playing every night since she has been born. Why the sudden aversion? I thought you liked it. It's so soothing.'

He came and sat next to her. Taking her hand in his, he whispered softly, 'I know it has been hard for you. It's difficult for me too. But playing her music box wouldn't change the fact that she is not with us anymore. You have to accept that fact and move on... learn to live without her.'

She jerked her hand away, 'What are you talking about? Where would she go. I just tucked her in.'

'I have been patient all this while because I know you are heartbroken and I thought that this is your way of moving on but it is ridiculous. It does nothing but remind us of what we have lost. I can't take It anymore. So, just stop it!'

The last words came out a little more loudly, little more strongly than he intended. She looked disconcerted, confused. He took deep breaths to calm himself down. He didn't know why he was getting so angry. After all his wife was just playing a music box that their daughter loved so much.

He remembered he had got it for her when she has turned two... and for the next six months, she played it every night before going to sleep. He closed his eyes and saw her sitting cross-legged on the floor laughing hysterically and clapping her hands as she turned the key... and the same tune started playing again.

'I can't believe...!' he opened his eyes in frustration and stood up to go and drag his grieving wife back from their daughter's room... and throw away the box, if possible. But, he saw her sitting there just as she had been a moment before. She hadn't moved. She was also looking at the door as if the tune had caught her by surprise too. She looked at him horrified, 'look what you have done. All your yelling has woken her up. God! Sometimes I don't understand you.'

She gave him a dirty look, tore off the covers and ran out the room. He stood alone in the darkness, biting his nails furiously, listening to his wife's muffled voice uttering soothing words to comfort their crying dead daughter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Of Dates, Disappointments, and... Electra!




Chapter Seven - My Little Writing Project


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




'Either the hot guy is married, or he is gay and if he is neither, then he will be, without fail, boring! Where is that elusive brand of good-looking, charming, smart and successful guy? Is it too much to ask for?!'

9th June 2012

“You have to get me out of here. Call me back in exactly 10 minutes,” Mukti whispered in her phone, “And dare you say, I told you so! Bye.”

She was standing in a bathroom stall, little irritated and absolutely frazzled as things had not gone according to plan. In fact, they had gone wrong, horribly wrong.

Four hours earlier . . .

Mukti was dressing up for her date with Prakash. Priya was sitting on her mattress munching on some chips. She looked disapprovingly up at Mukti, “It is not a good idea to mix business with pleasure. I still think you shouldn’t go out with him. You need to keep this relationship strictly professional.”

“Says the woman with a massive crush on her co-worker,” Mukti sighed.

“Well, that’s different,” said Priya and then looking at Mukti’s raised eyebrows added hastily, “At least I am not acting on it.”

They have had this conversation innumerable times since Mukti had told Priya that she had agreed to go out with Prakash.

“Priya, I need this. I am tired of trying to write. I am tired of being locked up in the house and thinking about finishing the novel. You might think that working-from-home is nothing short of a perfect job but it isn’t. It tends to get very lonely sometimes. I need someone in my life.”

She turned back to look at herself in her bathroom mirror.

“Plus he is the perfect guy for me. He is smart, good looking, works as an editor, is good looking, has a nice smile” she paused to put on her earrings, “is good-looking.”

 “How do I look?” she asked pirouetting.

“You look good in borrowed clothes,” Priya smiled wryly, “and I must say I have done a good job with your face.”

Mukti was wearing Sonali’s not-too-sexy-but-sexy-enough-to-want-him-to-see-more-of-her red dress that she had borrowed when she was dating her now-ex boyfriend and had forgotten to return. Priya, grudgingly and after repeated requests, had done her make-up in such a way so it would seem that she is not wearing any and styled her hair to get that perfect just-got-out-of-bed look.

Mukti posed, “I do miss Sonali but I think you have been a decent substitute,” she smiled.

“Whatever,” Priya said getting up, “I am going home. I have to give final touches to a presentation.”

“You are working again on a Saturday?”

“Yes, I am,” Priya sighed and muttered one last time before walking out the door, “I still think this date is not a good idea.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mukti waved her bye.

After admiring herself, one last time in the mirror she sat down to wait for Prakash. It was almost seven pm, the prearranged time for their date. Mukti imagined him stepping out of a Mercedes or a BMW with a bouquet for her when she was rudely awakened from her daydream by a loud spluttering noise followed by a bike coming to a screeching halt outside. She went to the window to see whose bike was making such a racket. She had to squint her eyes to see in the darkness, but still couldn’t make out who or what it was.

Why can’t people get their vehicles fixed and help in preserving the environment. Why do people buy bikes anyway? So much pollution, air as well as sound!

The doorbell rang and Mukti rushed to open the door. She was happy to note that Prakash came at the appointed hour and looked as fresh as humanly possible. He was again wearing the blue denims but this time instead of a white shirt, he was wearing a pink one.

Hmm… Me likes.

He was punching something on his iPhone. He looked up and saw Mukti who smiled widely and braced herself for a compliment.

“How do you spell the name of your Apartment society? Is it Sapna or Sapnaa? I can’t seem to get the right spelling to tag?”

“Huh? Tag?”

“Yeah, on Facebook?” he said looking up.

We like Facebook, do we? We are so compatible!

Mukti smiled to herself and spelled out the name. He typed in and it was only after he successfully managed to tag his current location that he glanced up at Mukti.

“Wow! You look breathtaking.”

Okay here we go.

Mukti smiled, “Thank you.”

“Do you mind if I take a picture of us together?”

“No, not at all.”

He came and stood next to Mukti. He pointed the camera of his phone towards their faces, “Smile,” and click a selfie, and immediately got busy with his phone again.

“This will just take a minute, I am just uploading it on Facebook and twitter.”

And Priya thinks I am addicted to social networking sites.

“Shall we…?” he asked.

“Sure.”

Mukti fell into a step beside him envisaging a stylish car awaiting her. However, his choice of vehicle turned out to be a disappointment. Well, beginning of disappointments.

“Mukti meet Electra, my Vespa,” he said with an excitement befitting a child.

“You named your Scooty?” She muttered gawking at the scooty, “How sweet.”
She faked a smile and looked up.

God, this is not happening! A Scooty? Isn’t it for women or maybe children? He is a grown man for God sakes! If it absolutely had to be a two wheeler, it could at least have been a bike!

“Are we going on that? You see I am not dressed to sit on a scooty,” She waved at herself from head to toe.

“It will be fine. You can sit with both your legs on one side,” He said handing her the helmet.

You have got to be kidding me!  

Mukti took the helmet from his hand and fastened it around her face.  

There goes my picture-perfect hairstyle. 

 Prakash started the engine. Mukti’s head snapped up as she heard the same spluttering sound she had heard earlier which instead of fading away only kept getting stronger.

“Hop on,” Prakash smiled. Mukti gulped and went ahead to get onto the backseat of the scooty. She encountered one of the most embarrassing ten minutes of her life, where she tried to get on a scooty wearing a short skirt with all the grace and poise she could muster but failing miserably, nonetheless. Finally she managed to seat herself and thought the worst was surely over. But how wrong was she!

Once the scooty started, Mukti had her work cut out for her. From one hand she was holding on to Prakash and from the other she was pinning down her skirt which kept flapping up. Every ten minutes, she had to sit absolutely still and pull out stray hair from her eyes. In addition, Electra was not the silent types. After completing every kilometre, she kind of made the same spluttering sound accompanied by a lot of smoke which enveloped her and made her cough. She couldn’t hear a single word that Prakash was saying . . .  not that he was a talker . . . as the noise coming from Electra was being complemented by the honking of cars as well. It was the peak traffic time and everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere. Horns were blaring, tempers were rising as traffic was moving at a snail’s pace.

This is the worst ride ever!

The swiftness, or the lack off, of the rest of the traffic was not a concern for Electra as the scooty went at the speed of 20kmph only with even cycle rickshaws overtaking them. At a signal, when the scooty finally stopped, Mukti breathed a sigh of relief.  She looked around and saw that they had reached Greater Kailash (sector II).  

The only way he can redeem himself after what he has put me through is if we go to Mainland China. I am in the mood for some Chinese. Smoke House Grill would be a decent option as well.

Before Mukti could utter her preference for restaurants, Prakash said, “I know it is a little unconventional but driving a scooter reduces your carbon footprint and saves a lot of money that you would otherwise spend on petrol. I am doing my bit for the environment,” and then added as an afterthought, “and my pocket.” He turned around and winked.

You don’t say!

“And with the rising petrol prices, it does seem like a good choice,” Mukti added trying to be understanding.

“I have just switched to a Vespa a couple of months back. I love driving it. It’s better than the Honda City, I had earlier.” He beamed.

“It feels like we are driving in Rome,” Mukti replied full of sarcasm, which was, unfortunately, lost on Prakash. 

Why did he have to go green just before he met me!

The signal also turned green and once again Mukti’s ordeal began.

I wish I had an extra pair of hands
.
 They crossed the open roads of GK and entered the tiny cramped by-lanes of Kailash Colony. By now, it was eight pm and the road was filled with honking cars, irritated drivers and one much-hassled pillion rider, Mukti. Prakash, trying on a little dare-devilry, zoomed in from the tiny spaces between two cars. Mukti held onto him for dear life. She dare not move or even utter a word because she was scared that she would break Prakash’s concentration. After performing this ‘death-defying’ stunt, Electra was back to her usual pace. Mukti looked sideways and saw a cycle-rickshaw go past them. Inside a fat aunty was sitting, dressed up in a bejewelled sari and all decked up. She stared down at Mukti, condescendingly, from head to toe as if analyzing what she was wearing. Mukti saw her roll her eyes openly at the sight of her bare knees. Mukti frowned a little. The lady next looked directly at Mukti’s face and she took out a compact to retouch her make-up.

Is she trying to tell me something?

Mukti could feel sweat drip from her forehead, she used the back of her hand to wipe it off. When she tried to, for the nth time, straighten her skirt, she gaped with horror at the dust marks on her hand. She wanted to scream with frustration. She finally decided to ask Prakash where they were headed.

“Um . . . Prakash where are you taking me? We have been driving for a long time.”

“Not far now. We have almost reached, just five more minutes.”

Mukti looked around. She realised they were near Lajpat Nagar.

Lajpat nagar? On a date? Really now!

As promised, in the next five minutes, they reached their destination.  Prakash stopped Electra and motioned for Mukti to get down. Mukti climbed down awkwardly tripping slightly on her high heels.

Yeah, well, go green! But what about all the noise pollution, you moron! We haven’t been able to speak two words during this Godforsaken ride thanks to all the noise!

 She took off the helmet and glanced  at herself in the scooty’s rear-view mirror. Her meticulously styled hair was in a mess, her water-proof kajal had smudged beneath her eyes that made her look like a racoon and she had sweat spots underneath her arms! She tried to smoothen her hair  as much as she could but however hard she tried, they just didn’t co-operate. She finally gave up and took out a clutcher from her bag and tied them. She took a wet-wipe, thanked Priya silently for insisting she take it, and rubbed off the excess kajal.

Prakash came from behind “let’s go. This is my favourite joint,” he said leading the way. Mukti looked around trying to figure out where they were at. They were at Lajpat Nagar (Phase four). She could see Hotel Vikram nearby. Prakash was walking a little ahead of her fiddling with his phone again. He entered the hotel. Mukti hesitated a little at the entrance.

“Why are we going inside a hotel?” Mukti tried to remember if she had picked up her pepper spray. Prakash smiled.

Damn those dimples!

“I know how this looks. But trust me, this is perfectly safe.”

Trust you? Ha! Weren’t you the one who just brought me here on the back of a scooter named Electra? I should have listened to Priya.

Instead she said, “ok. I trust you. Let’s go,” and smiled wearily.

As soon as she entered the hotel, she started changing her mind. Unlike the facade, the place seemed elegant and classy. 

Maybe this place isn’t so bad. 

 Prakash led her into their in-house lounge, 1440. The lounge was dimly –lit. Mukti couldn’t figure out much. The first thing she noticed was soft instrumental melody that was playing in the background which was a welcome change from the loud blaring horns she had been listening to the past hour and a half. Her eyes finally adjusted to the dim lighting and she noticed that the place was done up artistically with a contemporary decor. The lounge also offered outside booths with plush sofas. However, there were not many people around. 

Maybe the place comes into its element around midnight.  

Mukti stumbled a little and held onto Prakash’s hand to steady herself and realised it was sweaty, too sweaty. He led her towards the outside dining area.

“It’s a little hot. Maybe we should sit inside only,” Mukti suggested.

“Outside is where all the fun is,” He said and guided her to an empty booth.

She braced herself and allowed to be seated. Prakash sat in front of her and smiled. Then, began a deafening round of silence. Prakash, smart, good-looking Prakash, didn’t say a single word for the next fifteen minutes. He just looked around and kept smiling, in between furiously typing on his phone. He clicked a picture of their booth and uploaded it on Twitter too. He was also doing this weird thing in which he sucked in his stomach after every five minutes or so.

What has happened to the cool, suave editor I had met in a coffee shop a few days back?! Who are you and what have you done to Prakash?  

She wanted to cry. She wanted to run off. She wanted to yell at him but, then she realised he is an editor at a publishing company. He might help turn her dream into reality. Thinking that, she decided to give him another chance.

“Are you okay? You haven’t said anything in like fifteen minutes,” She finally asked.

“I am fine. It’s just that I am really nervous. It has been a long time that I went on a date.”

Really? I couldn’t tell!

“There is nothing to be nervous about. I haven’t been out in quite some time too,” she smiled politely.

“You know I used to go out a lot. And I mean a lot. Parties, get together, raves everything. There was a time I used to hang around here till three in the morning. But then I realised what is the point of it all. So I stopped going out and drinking as well,” he added as an afterthought, “And I have a confession. When I said I haven’t been out with a girl in a long time, I meant at all . . .  I haven’t been on a date . . .”

“Like ever?” Mukti asked.

Prakash nodded.

“Prakash, are you gay?” Mukti asked to lighten the mood.

“I thought so too. But then some time back I realised I am not,” he said very seriously.

This was not the answer Mukti was expecting. She smiled tightly. There was silence in their booth once more. Mukti kept fidgeting with her fingers and Prakash did that stomach thingy. After some time, he excused himself and went to the bathroom. Mukti looked around. The lounge had started filling up and all around her people were laughing and joking.

And here I am, sitting with a gorgeous guy and having nothing to talk about!

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She couldn’t believe she was with a handsome man on the worst date of her life who seemed to prefer his phone to her. She didn’t know what to do.

 He is such a sad guy. Looks can be deceptive and first impressions are not always right! They correctly say, never judge a book by its cover! Should I give him another chance or should I just leave while he is in the bathroom? What the hell am I supposed to do!

Prakash came back and he was smiling.

He is so good-looking!

Mukti melted again and decided to give the evening and Prakash one more but final chance.  

It’s time to take matters in my own hands.

“So, how long have you been working? How did you get into publishing industry? You must meet interesting, and by interesting I mean eccentric, authors, ” she enquired about his job  thinking it would be filled with some  anecdotes about some random author throwing a fit or something.

“I have been working for 6 years. I got into it by chance, never planned on it. I haven’t met any eccentric ones yet.” Prakash again went quiet.

Mukti racked her brains for a topic to start a conversation.

“What about your family? Any brothers or sisters?”

“No. None.”

“Where did you study from?”
“I completed my schooling from DPS and then did my graduation from Hansraj College. After that I pursued a course in journalism from IIMC.”

Mukti sighed inaudibly. I feel like I am taking his interview.

“Excuse me? I have to use the washroom. Why don’t you order something for yourself.” He said getting up.

“Okay. What will you have?”

“Just water.”

Mukti nodded. She waved over a waiter and ordered for a Mojito. What I really need are tequila shots! She decided to talk about her various jobs when Prakash came out next. That ought to take another hour at least! Prakash came back, sat facing Mukti and looked around.

“Let me tell you about my jobs. I have had three career changes so far.”

“Career changes?”

“Yes. Let me see . . .” Mukti said trying to remember, “I have been a journalist, an events co-ordinator and a copywriter. Yes, that’s about it.” she smiled.

“That’s a lot.”

“Well, right after college, I worked for a small publication house. They had a lifestyle magazine which was not very popular. I joined because I wanted to see my name in print, plus I was young and foolish.” She smiled.

The waiter arrived with her drink and his water. They placed the order for starters. Mukti continued on once the waiter left their table.

“My boss at that organisation was uh . . .  very unreasonable. Have you read The Devil wears Prada?” she asked taking a sip of her drink.

He nodded.

“she was like my very own Miranda Priestly. Complete bitch. It was because of her that I left that job. I then joined an events management company in GK (II). I loved it there. I was into planning, co-ordinating and executing events, conferences and sometimes weddings too. That was a fun job in the beginning but eventually I got bored. I mean how many conferences can you co-ordinate. After a point it all seemed so mundane. The same hotels, the same vendors, the same demands from the clients. I got fed up so I left.”

Prakash nodded and again excused himself to go to the bathroom.

What is this?! He seems to have a bladder of a new born baby.

When he came back, Mukti asked feigning concern, “Are you all right? Is everything okay?”

“Yes, yes. Everything is fine. Why wouldn’t it be.”

Maybe because you have spent more time in the washroom or with your phone than you have with me?

Their starters arrived. Just as Mukti was about to cut into a chicken kebab, Prakash stopped her. He positioned it in the little light that was available and clicked a picture of the platter.

Oh dear Lord! They ate in silence. Finally Prakash spoke up, “Do you have a Facebook account and a twitter handle?”

“Yes. I do.”

Mukti gave him his details and within seconds she got a friend request and a now-following-you notification. That was fast. Mukti accepted his request and followed him back on twitter. As they waited for their main course, Mukti talked about her last job, working as a copywriter at an Ad agency.

“It was fun but I couldn’t write according to the brief. I like to write but I can’t work around a deadline.”

Prakash looked up from his phone. Mukti realized she had made a faux pas. She hurriedly added, “I meant then I couldn’t write according to a deadline, now I can. I absolutely can.” 

She sipped her drink, “Don’t you worry I will get you a synopsis and five chapters by next week.”

Prakash didn’t say anything and just smiled back. Mukti thinking of a new topic to talk about sipped her drink in silence. What kind of parties you attended?! Where you induced sleep with your company?! She decided to finally ask about the parties. But he gave no response and went to the loo again. Mukti got fed up and looked at her watch. It was just ten pm.   

We have been together only for three hours out of which almost an hour was spent commuting here! It seems like a lot more. T

his time when Prakash came back from the loo, she excused herself, went to the washroom and called Priya. It was then that she had asked her to call back and get her out of the predicament that was this date. She came back and sat down. As expected, Prakash was busy with his phone. After ten minutes of silence, her phone rang. 

Thank God! She picked up hurriedly, “Hello?”

“Hey Mukti . . . I am back!”

Sonali? Well, you will have to do!

“What? How? Oh God! Don’t worry, I’ll be right there! Yeah . . . I am on my way. Bye” she hung up and looked at Prakash with a pained expression.“I am sorry Prakash, but I have to go. That was my friend, Sonali. She is really sick and wants me to come ASAP. We would do this some other time.” She said getting up. Then as a consideration added, “I had loads of fun.”

“But we haven’t even had dinner yet! At least let me drop you home.” He got up too.

“Oh God NO! I mean, it is okay. I will take an auto. I will call you about the appointment, okay? Bye.” She said and rushed off. Once down and in an auto, she called up Sonali.

“hey Sonali! How was Goa?”

“What the hell were you talking about? Where are you?” asked Sonali.

“nothing ya. I was on a date. Not a very nice date. It was pretty boring. So I had called Priya to bail me out. She didn’t call but you did. So I pretended that you were not well to come out of it.”

“was this with the same publisher guy? The indecent proposal one?” Sonali asked mischievously.

“yes the very same. I am sure Priya told you. Anyway, enough about me. How was your Goa trip?” Mukti asked, hoping for the best and preparing herself to hear the worst.

In spite of Mukti and Priya’s advice on not going. Sonali had gone ahead. Mukti didn’t know yet, but Sonali had fun too and had fallen in love with the beaches, the sun, the sea, the flea market, and Kshitij, the IIML guy.

“it was great. And Kshitij and his friends were perfect gentlemen like I told you they would be. So there.”

Thank god!

“You are telling the truth right? Nothing happened?” asked Mukti.

“Obviously something happened. I don’t kiss and tell!” Sonali said between giggles.

“that is fine. But nothing happened beyond that, right? You guys didn’t sleep together?”

“No, we did not . . . yet.”

“you are impossible. You know that, don’t you.” Mukti smiled in spite of herself and listened patiently to Sonali’s animated account of her Goa trip on the long auto ride back home.

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