Chapter Ten - My Little Writing Project
To refresh your memory about previous chapters, or to know about My Little Writing Project, click here.
Inspiration is nothing but what you see, hear and feel around you. It’s up to you, how you mould what you visualize, how you perceive the world, into something coherent... right?
24th June 2012
After three days Mukti was almost ready with her character sketches and the first five chapters. She was amazed at herself that she had been able to complete it. However, Mukti being Mukti, still hadn’t been able to finish the synopsis. She was pondering over this when someone knocked on the door.
Who could it be?
She got up from her comfy mattress and opened the door. Priya was standing there with a furious expression on her face.
“Where the hell is your phone?!” she asked while walking into the house. She marched straight to where the phone was plugged in for charging. She picked it up.
“Why is your phone on silent?! I HAVE BEEN CALLING AND THERE ARE SOME,” she glanced at the screen, “. . . 15 missed calls!! Me and Sonali have gone mad trying to reach you! What the hell happened? Are you working on some top secret mission?!”
Mukti wanted to tell Priya the real reason she had been avoiding her specifically. She needed some space from her to be able to concentrate on her novel. She knew that if she spoke to Priya, she is bound to slip up and spill out what the book is about . . . And she was not ready for that.
I know you are the one who has made this possible and I am hiding this from you only but this is something I have to do. I hope you will understand.
“Nothing . . . you will be very happy to know that I have been working on the novel. I have a meeting with Prakash tomorrow and I have yet to complete the synopsis,” she said hoping Priya might get the hint and leave on her own.
“Wow! I see progress. I guess this Prakash guy is good for you! So, when do I get to see the novel,” Priya said moving towards the open laptop. Mukti rushed forward and closed it down.
“Uh . . . let me complete it then you can go through it.”
Mukti hadn’t yet figured out a way to break the news to her friends, especially Priya, about the concept behind her novel.
I will think of something. Priya has to understand. Anyway, no point thinking about it now, I will cross the bridge when I come to it.
“O-k-a-y . . . what’s with the secrecy? Is it about me and how I have been such a loyal friend to you over the years?” Priya asked with a poker face.
Oh . . . you have no idea!
“Yeah . . . you can say that. Anyway, has your new boss joined?” she asked changing the topic.
“Oh yes, he has. He is such a welcome change from Her Bitchiness. He is smart, funny, and very charming. He just is so adorable. He lets me take decisions, he asks for my advice, and he respects my thoughts. He treats me like an educated colleague and not like some PA or secretary, no offence to either. I have actually started looking forward to office now,” she was looking at something and yet at nothing. Mukti could identify the dreamy look on her face.
“I think someone is completely taken in by her boss,” Mukti said half-joking.
Priya started blushing and said rather forcefully, “What rubbish! I am not in love with him. He is my boss for crying out loud!” then, added in a small voice, “He is engaged anyway.”
“Oh my God! You are blushing! You like him, don’t you?!” Mukti asked incredulously.
“No I don’t. You are crazy.” Priya said trying to hide her embarrassment.
“Well, he is engaged so even if you do, forget it. He is your boss Priya!”
“I don’t like him. I mean I do, but just as a boss. Nothing more. I appreciate the fact that unlike my previous boss he values my opinions. It feels good to be applauded for your work. I like being validated at the professional front. My work is all that I have, you know,” she added a little sadly.
Mukti didn’t know what to say, so, she kept staring at Priya, trying to gauge what was storm was raging behind the smooth and calm façade. Finally after five minutes or so, Priya broke the silence, changing the topic, “Have you heard from Sonali?”
“Did you not just see my phone on silent with 15 missed calls?”
“Yeah . . . let me call her. Let’s go out for lunch. It’s been long,” said Priya and called Sonali.
After five rings when Priya was about to hang up, Sonali picked up.
“Hello?!” Sonali asked breathlessly.
“Who or what are you running from?” asked Priya putting the call on speaker.
“Nothing . . . nothing.” She took a deep breath, calming herself, “So, what happened?”
“Nothing happened. I was at Mukti’s and I thought let us all go out for lunch. Will you join us?”
“I am sorry, I can’t. I have plans,” she said.
“Plans? What plans? Don’t tell me you are going out with IIML again? Since you have started seeing him, we hardly get to meet. You are always busy with him?” Mukti said, a little angrily.
Sonali lowered her voice, “His name is Kshitij and that’s not true. I had already made plans to meet his friends. I can’t just not go at the last minute? You understand right?”
“Why are you whispering? Do not tell me he is there?”
“Yes, he is. I have to go. Bye,” and she hung up.
“I can’t believe she hung up on us!” Mukti was agitated, “She has time to meet his friends and not her own. That is the problem with girls these days. They just turn into these non-existent entities who have no life of their own. The guy’s friends are their friends. Whatever he wants to do, when he wants to do is done—“
“Ok ok ok … can you stop with the feminist lecture? Can we just go and eat. I am starving,” she said getting up.
“Yeah, let us go.” Mukti picked up her bag and they went out for lunch.
Lunch with Priya was as usual fun. However, Mukti had to take care not to talk excessively about her novel which was exhausting to say the least. She tried her best to keep the conversation about Priya and Sonali and succeeded somewhat. After coming back from it, Mukti was ninety percent sure that Priya was dangerously close to falling for her boss. Although she kept talking about him and ascertaining that he is engaged to someone else. Mukti just wished that Priya comes to her senses soon enough and stay away from messing her life once again. She picked up her laptop and logged into her mail and Facebook.
As had been her habit for the last couple of weeks, she went straight to Anurag’s profile. Even though she couldn’t see much but she could see his profile picture and some of his info. He had locked his friend’s list and she couldn’t see anything else. Anyway, she found comfort in the fact that he had not lied about his work and educational details. Another thing that she had access to was his profile picture. She spent many nights just looking at it and imagining their dates and how much fun they’ll have when they would finally meet. But, today her smile turned upside down when the picture leaded because he had changed it. This time, Anurag with his dogs was not grinning back at her, instead a girl who had her arms around Anurag’s neck was smoldering at her as if saying ‘stay away, he is mine!’
He has a girl friend! He has been lying to me all this while? I feel like such an idiot!! No I am not an idiot, he is an asshole!! I will not act like anything has happened. I will talk to him like I usually do and when he is completely unsuspecting, then I will strike!!
She checked her email and there was none from Anurag.
“yeah yeah, why will he mail now!” she said to no one in particular.
She tried to finish her synopsis, but couldn’t. She, again, had got stuck.
Writer’s block! Awful timing they have!
She tried her best to concentrate but couldn’t. There was so much going on in her mind. Now, when the time to show the synopsis was coming closer, she was plagued with so many doubts. What if her parents read it? What’ll they say? And her friends? What will be Priya’s reaction if she knew…! She didn’t know who to call, who to turn to. She felt all alone . . . In spite of the imaginary world she had created, all the fictional characters she had brought to life just hours before, she felt lonely in her own web of words. She felt as if she had alienated herself from everyone. She hesitated in calling those people – her two best friends – with whom she had shared every dirty little secret of her life . . . she couldn’t sum up the courage to dial the number and talk to her closest friends.
Am I doing something wrong?
She picked up her phone and scrolled down her contact list. Name after name came up of ex-colleagues, relatives, friends she had barely spoken to in decades.
I need to sort out my phone book.
She scrolled down for a while trying to find one name with whom she could share her woes, to whom she can voice out her doubts, who will understand her and tell her that what she is doing is not wrong. She wanted just one person who will listen without prejudice, who will try and understand what she is going through, who would not laugh at her behind her back, who might grasp the gravity of the situation, who might help her comprehend, who would get the bigger picture, who will aid her to be rid of her dilemma.
Her phonebook seemed worthless, just random names with arbitrary numbers who had no existence for her . . . who were expendable. She kept scrolling down till she reached one number. She had saved the number not under any name, but had defined it by their relation.
Mukti was very close to her mother and the realization that she hadn’t immediately thought of her, astonished Mukti a bit. Whenever she had been in a fix, she had always called her up and felt relieved. Her mother was always there to offer advice and pick her up whenever she fell.
Better late, than never.
Mukti dialled her home number. After couple of rings her mother picked up, “Hello?”
“Hi Ma,” Mukti said.
“Hi beta . . . how are you? How is your writing going?” she asked and Mukti could imagine a big smile on her mother’s face.
She had always been proud of my writing, showing off that useless lifestyle magazine as if it was the Time or the New Yorker.
“I am good. Writing is also good . . . slow and steady. Actually there is some news.”
“News? Good or bad?”
“Right now it is nothing, just news . . . neither good nor bad.”
“Oh ho . . . alright, alright. What is it?” Mrs. Chopra asked getting impatient.
“Priya introduced me to this guy, he works in a publishing house. I am meeting him tomorrow to pitch my novel idea.” She said hurriedly.
Mrs. Chopra suddenly started chanting some mantras and said, “Don’t worry beta. It will work out fine. Man ka ho to achha, na ho to aur bhi achha. Remember?”
“Yes, ma. I do.”
Then after a small pause, Mukti said, “Actually ma, I am stuck. I don’t know how to proceed.”
“What is your novel about?”
Where to start? Should I tell her? Of course I should, if I can’t tell her then how will I tell Priya and Sonali? Let me see how ma reacts . . . it is bound to give me an idea of what to expect from others.
“Uh . . . ma, this is about me. I mean us. I mean me . . .”
“Why are you so confused? Tell me what the novel is about?” Mrs. Chopra asked.
Mukti took a deep breath.
“It is a story of a girl who is born to a well-to-do family, then her father faces a setback in business and how she reacts to the new circumstances around her. There are sub-plots of love, relationships and those of her friends.” she paused a little, formulating how to say what she intended to, “Uh . . . In fact I have used some qualities from people I know to create characters and I have also taken up some incidents from our life to construct the structure of a story.”
“So, am I a part of you novel?” Her mother asked animatedly.
“Not entirely but yeah, some parts of your personality are.”
“Hmm . . . But why do you sound so conflicted? What is the matter? You are not the usual coherent and concise Mukti I know. What is troubling you?”
Ma! Always figures out when something is wrong.
“You are right, there is something bothering me. Actually, there is one incidence that I want to highlight and that is related to Priya and one that concerns Sonali,” she paused.
When her mother didn’t say anything she continued, “I think just the thought that how everyone might react when it gets published is stopping me from progressing.”
Then she added hastily, “Maybe I am just thinking too much? Maybe it won’t even get published!”
“Stop with such depressing thoughts. See, I can only talk about myself. I won’t mind what you write. In fact I would like to read your thoughts on how you perceive me. But, I can’t say the same about others. I know Priya, she is a little private and possessive about her life. You do remember that blog incident? How furious she got. So, it is better that you take permission from her before writing anything about her life, however small. As far as Sonali is concerned, I don’t know her too well, but I would suggest still ask her as well. It is always better, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess so . . . anyway, how is papa and bhai?” She asked trying to change the topic. She knew her mother’s advice was the logical thing to do but it was not what she wanted to hear right now.
“Your father is busy doing something or the other on the internet and bhai is as usual neck deep in work. We hardly get to see him sometimes. I miss you, my darling. I am so happy for you. Everything will work out fine. I’ll pray for you.”
“Yeah, I miss you too. Let me get back to work and finish it off. Bye ma.”
“Bye beta. Tell me how it goes.”
Mukti hung up and sat motionless for a while. She looked up at her creaking fan revolving dully. Next, she glanced at the pile of books waiting solemnly for a home for themselves. There was pin-drop silence in her house while she could hear the raucous laughter from outside.
Kids playing no doubt.
She wanted to go down and play with them but she had more important things at hand. She read her unfinished synopsis again till the point where she was stuck, the situation regarding Priya. She had typed in the entire episode countless times and deleted it almost immediately.
Ma says I should tell Priya and Sonali, but she doesn’t know them well enough. I know Priya. Without thinking anything, she will jump to conclusions and create a fit. She will never let me use that episode.
She closed her eyes.
Am I betraying a friend using something that is very personal to her for my own gain? Am I being utterly selfish?
Her eyes popped open at this thought.
No, I am not being selfish. I am trying to write something convincingly. I am trying to create fiction using inspiration from facts. Isn’t this how every writer works? Taking inspiration from the world around her; finding muses in their acquaintances and friends? I am doing the same. I am not writing about Priya because what happened to her and how she reacted was scandalous but because I want to show that these things happen in our society. I am just using something that has happened to her and countless others as an example to showcase a bigger picture here?
Mukti sat upright.
I am right. I am not doing anything selfish, I am just using what has happened around me as motivation. I am not writing about Priya per se, I am just writing about an isolated incident that has happened with many other females I am sure.
She started typing.
There is no point in telling her now, maybe it won’t even get selected and then I never have to tell them.
After talking to her ma, Mukti had a way to go forward. Even though she didn’t take her advice, her mind was at rest. If her mother will not be ashamed to let her private things come to light, neither should Priya and Sonali. She completed the synopsis and saved the draft.
But as soon as she went to bed, the old thoughts and doubts returned. Her sleep was far from dreamless. Suddenly there was too much going inside her head. She kept tossing and turning the whole night . . . thinking about the fate of the novel, wondering what might happen when Priya and Sonali found out about the content, picturing Anurag and the girl in his profile picture tangled together and dreading facing Prakash again. Finally she fell asleep and after what seemed like all of ten minutes, she woke up agitated and bleary-eyed to the sound of her alarm.
She got dressed up in a haze and went to meet Prakash at his office. Mehta, Kumar and Roy publishing had swanky offices in Connaught Place. The huge building had many floors and glass exterior, the kinds you see in Gurgaon or in Hollywood movies.
Mukti always wanted to work in an office where you had time cards and automated doors. As Mukti entered the building, she found herself standing in a huge lobby. Beyond the hotel-styled lobby, she could see many cubicles where everyone was busy reading something, marking something or researching something.
She felt someone place their hand on her shoulder.
She turned around and saw Prakash, all six feet of his dimpled-self, standing there looking down at her adoringly. She felt a little something in the pit her stomach.
Damn those dimples!
“Hey Prakash. How are you?”
“I am good. Come let’s sit in my office.” He led her to the third floor.
“This is the fiction section, basically short stories, novellas and novels. We also publish in Hindi and other regional languages. That is on the next floor. This is for Indian fiction in English,” he was saying while he took her into a small office space overlooking the metro track.
She looked around. Even though the office was small it was classy. There was state of the art laptop and many pictures adorned the walls some had people laughing at each other and some were laughing at themselves. There was a wall-to-wall bookshelf and instantly the bibliophile in her did a little inward flip. She was drawn towards the bookcase.
“Do you need some time alone with them? Should I come back later” Prakash said finally.
Mukti came out of her trance and realized she had drifted away from Prakash towards the book shelf and was caressing the spine of one of the books lovingly as if cradling a child, “Sorry. It is just that I love books and can’t stop myself in their company.”
“I understand. That’s the case with me as well. I also love reading books. I wanted to publish my own novel but didn’t posses the writing talent, so publishing others’ was the next best thing,” he smiled.
Mukti realized when they were in a professional environment, he was not so bad. And he definitely didn’t do that creepy stomach thingy! They talked for sometime about irrelevant topics. All through which Mukti was wishing that they’ll get to the point. After half an hour, Prakash asked for the synopsis.
Here goes nothing!
She took out the prints, neatly folded and put in a brown paper bag, and placed it on the table.
“I have just one request.”
“Can you read it when I am not around? I mean I can go out and come back or something?”
He smiled, “It’s ok. You can sit here. As it is I have to discuss with my associate editor before making any decision. I will go and discuss with her. You be comfortable. Continue romancing the books.” He winked and walked off. Mukti was just thinking what she should do, when he peeped in and asked, “Do you want tea or coffee?”
“Hmm . . . coffee?”
“Sure. I’ll send one right away. See you in sometime.”
And he finally left. Mukti looked around. She walked towards the window to look at the world rushing ahead down below. She turned and was face to face with Prakash's desk. She sat down at the swirling chair and started spinning around. There was a knock on the door and Mukti heard someone clear his throat. She stopped spinning and saw that an office boy was looking at her incredulously with a tray of coffee in his hands.
“Uh . . . where should I keep this?” he asked without making any effort to move as if he had seen a ghost which might attack him if he moved.
“There . . . on the centre table is fine.” Mukti turned scarlet.
Great! Now the peon is going to think I am from some village or something.
He nodded his head, moved cautiously, placed the tray on the table and rushed out without turning back. Something about this scene seemed really funny to Mukti and she burst out laughing. She was just staring at the screen of the laptop and her laughter died suddenly. Her mouth popped open and she turned pale. She got up and picked up her phone lying on the coffee table and dialled Priya’s number.
“You won’t believe what I just saw?!” Mukti said before any kind of preamble.
“Mukti? What happened?!” Priya asked sounding concerned, “Are you ok?”
“Prakash has my picture on his desktop!” she almost yelled.
“What?! How is that possible? Have you given him your pictures?”
“Yes, I have. I go on distributing pictures to random strangers or to people I have just gone out on one date.” Mukti replied sarcastically, “obviously I haven’t given him my pictures!”
“Don’t get mad at me! I don’t have your picture as my desktop background.”
“I will see if he has others also.”
She said and walked with determination towards the laptop. She snooped around and found a folder named Mukti. She opened it and there were many of her pictures. She was wondering from where he could have got all these pictures when suddenly she remembered.
“Oh. My. God!!”
“What? What? What?! What happened? Has he morphed them into porn?!” Priya asked.
“Eww! No! Geez Priya where do you come up with such stuff?! I just realized from where he has got all these pictures.”
“Where? Did he break into your house and stole them? Or has he had you followed?”
But Mukti wasn’t listening, “He copied pictures from my Facebook account,” she said in a small voice.
“What? What did you say?”
“I said, he copied them from my Facebook account. He had sent me a Facebook request during our dinner date and I accepted. Apparently he has copied almost all of them and pasted them in his folder here.”
“I hate to say this but I told you not to use that damned site too much.”
“How is this my fault? How was I to know that a person YOU introduced me to will turn out to be a psycho?!”
“Oh I am sorry for thinking about you . . . for trying to help you.”
“I am not saying that. I added him when I thought he was a cute smart guy, not before I find out he is some crazed psycho stalker person!”
“Calm down. If you look at it, it’s not such a big deal. I mean how does it matter if your pictures are on Facebook or on his desktop? He is just looking at them? You should be flattered.”
“Are you crazy?! It is a big deal. I don’t like this guy and he has my picture as his desktop background so he obviously likes me. This is not a good situation. If things work out, he will be my editor! How will I work with him?”
“That’s what I am saying. You have to work with him so it is better if you don’t make a big deal out of it. I mean you can’t confront him, you are snooping around. You shouldn’t even be aware of this technically.”
“You are right. So I should pretend as nothing happened?”
“Yes, for the time being.”
“I don’t want to lead him on,” Mukti heard footsteps so she quickly said bye, came and sat at the couch and picked up the coffee mug.
Prakash walked in, dimples et al. Mukti looked up at him and smiled nervously.
“So…?” she asked.
“Nita, my associate editor, loved it,” he said smiling.
Mukti jumped from the couch and hugged Prakash, “Oh my god! Really?”
“Yes, but hold on. There are still many things that need to be sorted out. She liked it on the first read. But, before we confirm anything, you need to submit the whole book. All the chapters, with a beginning, middle and end. After going through the whole book only, the deal can be finalized.”
“Oh. So I got excited over nothing?” Mukti said her excitement ebbing down a notch.
“Nno, it is not over nothing. Most of the manuscripts we receive don’t even pass this first litmus test. Nita is very particular what goes through her. She loved your writing style, she was not too happy with certain points such as some characters stands, but that can be taken care of at a later stage. First we, me included, want to see how you handle the characters and the various situations that you have outlined in the synopsis. If put together right, this has the potential of becoming a bestselling feminist thriller.”
“I will do my best. When do I need to submit it, the finished novel I mean?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Uh . . . could you give me a date? I have realized that I work best under deadlines,” Mukti said.
“Umm . . . if you want a date, then how about 20th of September? You would have comfortable three months to work on it. Or why don’t you start writing, and then give me an idea in a couple of weeks or so. Then we can fix up on a date. How does that sound?”
“Sounds fine,” Mukti said getting up, “I will keep you posted on the developments. And thank you so much for helping me,” she said smiling.
“No worries. Call me when you reach home, maybe we can plan out to meet somewhere . . . you know last time, our date was cut short.”
SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!
“uh . . . yeah, let’s plan something. I have to go now, bye. Speak to you soon,” And she rushed off.