Monday, August 25, 2014

From Prince Charming to Frog!

My Little Writing Project

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


Chapter Sixteen

‘Everyone falls in love with Mr. Wrong. He is the one who helps you appreciate your Mr. Right. Sometimes you have to go through numerous Mr. Wrong to finally find your Mr. Right. So, have you found your Mr. Wrong yet?’

5th September

After patiently waiting for Veer to make time for her for almost for a week, Mukti put her foot down.
“I don’t care! We are going out tonight. I will wait for you at Urban Pind. If you don’t come there by eight, I will never speak to you ever again. And I am not kidding this time.”
Veer had just laughed, proclaimed her adorable and promised to meet her there. He did keep his word and reached before Mukti. They were just walking up the stairs when Mukti saw someone familiar walking ahead.

“Oh, that’s Kshitij,” she said.
“Who is Kshitij?”
“He is my friend, Sonali’s boyfriend. I told you about him. He is the same guy from IIML, she met over the internet,” she explained trying to refresh Veer’s memory.
“What’s with you and your friends trying to find love on the internet?!” Veer joked.

Mukti glared at him, “For your information, everything is going fabulous between them, they are really happy together.”
“Wow! Your friend needs to get a wax more often!” Veer said. He was over 6ft tall and could see over Mukti’s head.
“Huh? That’s so rude,” Mukti exclaimed and stood on her tiptoes to get a better look. She saw Kshitij walking closely next to a short skinny guy wearing green plaid shorts, suspenders and loafers without socks and a trilby hat.

“That’s not Sonali, dumbo,” she said hitting Veer playfully on his arm, “Maybe he is out for dinner with some friend.”
Mukti and Veer walked to an empty booth by the stairs. Kshitij and the guy also sat down at another booth in a corner, diagonally opposite them. Mukti intentionally sat so as to have her back towards Kshitij.
I am so not in the mood to make small talk with Mr. IIML.
Veer, on the other hand, could see Kshitij and his friend perfectly. The guy was sitting next to Kshitij.

“Uh . . . sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s no friend,” Veer said after some time.
“What do you mean?” she asked suspiciously.
“Well, for starters, they are sitting too close together for guy friends. And I just saw Kshitij discreetly place his hand on the other guy’s skinny thigh,” he smiled at Mukti.
“Stop kidding around Veer. It is not funny,” Mukti said getting irritated.
“I am not joking,” he raised his eyebrows, “And now they are playing footsie under the table.”

Mukti turned to look and saw that Veer was indeed right. Kshitij was sitting next to the other guy laughing at something funny he might have said and gently stroking his arms. Mukti sat up straight wondering what she had seen. Priya’s statement – ‘I think he was staring at the waiter’ swam in front of her like a thought bubble.

Veer squinted a little and added, “Kshitij just whispered something naughty in his companion’s ear,” He let out a small whistle, “Someone is getting lucky tonight!” he said munching on some breadsticks.
Mukti stared at Veer scandalized with his observational skills, “how the hell do you know that he might get lucky? Can you read lips also?”
“Well, I do the same… hand on thigh, gentle caresses on the arm while whispering something naughty in the ear,” He said matter-of-factly and looked at Mukti.
Mukti raised her eyebrows.
“I meant I used to do that,” and added hastily, “with girls.”

Mukti continued staring at him.
“Now I don’t do all of that unless of course it is you, baby,” he winked.
“Very funny!” she turned her attention back to Kshitij and the girl. She saw the look on Kshitij’s face, the adoring way he was staring in that other guy’s eyes. Something she had not seen when he was with Sonali.

“Oh my God! What should I do? Should I tell Sonali?” and then muttered angrily, “I knew there was something different with that guy.”
“Sonali is your friend right?”
Mukti nodded.
“Then obviously you should tell her that her boyfriend is cheating on her with a guy. What are you waiting for?”
“What if she doesn’t believe me?”
“Then tell her to come here and see for herself,” he shrugged his shoulders casually.

Mukti called up Sonali and asked her to come to Urban Pind ASAP. As had become Sonali’s habit, she made some excuse. But when Mukti told her that Kshitij is here, Sonali picked up her bag and rushed out the door without even brushing her hair. She reached the restaurant in a record time. Mukti and Veer met her at the door only. They didn’t want Kshitij to leave before Sonali came. Mukti told Sonali everything and pointed in Kshitij’s direction. At first Sonali, didn’t believe her. She dismissed Mukti allegations as baseless but then when she saw Kshitij with the guy, her eyes welled up again. She saw the same dreamy look in his eyes when he held that guy that she had been dying to see for herself. But this time, they were not tears of disappointment or hurt. They were tears of anger. She wiped them and went towards Kshitij followed by Mukti and Veer.

Sonali tapped Kshitij on the shoulder. He looked up with a big smile on his face but as soon as he saw Sonali, the smile disappeared.
“Sonali” he whimpered.
“Hey Kshitij. How are you? Long time . . .”
“I am fine,” Kshitij didn’t know what to say, and then he added, “What are you doing here?”
“Kshitij have you forgotten your manners? No introductions?” she turned towards the guy and held her hand out, “Hi, I am Sonali. I am Kshitij’s girlfriend,” she said mustering her sweetest smile, stressing on the last word, “And you are…?” she kept smiling sweetly.

The guy looked at Sonali, then at Kshitij, “I don’t want to get into the middle of anything,” He got up to leave and then turned and said to Kshitij, “Call me when you have figured what do you want.” And with that he left.

“Sonali what is this? Why are you creating a scene here? He was just a friend?” he whispered urgently.
“Oh really? If he was just a friend, as you claim, why did your face turn white when you saw me? And why did your ‘friend’ leave when I said I am your girlfriend.” Sonali’s voice was getting louder with every word.

“We can talk about this in private.” He held her arm and try dragging her out.
Veer stepped in and put his hand on his shoulder, “I wouldn’t do that buddy.”
“Who is this guy?” he asked Sonali.
“He is a nice guy who respects women, unlike you!” she jerked off his hand from her arm.

“Will you stop shouting? What has got into you? What is the matter? I can’t have dinner with a friend anymore?”
“You have no time to return my calls and messages but you have time to have dinner with your so-called friends? And didn’t you say you were going on a business meeting?”
Kshitij started stammering, “Yeah . . . so that was a client only.”
“A couple of minutes back, he was a friend, now he is your client? Make up your mind!”
“Whoever he is, is none of your business!”
“It is my business, because he is with the father of my child!” Sonali yelled.

“What?!” Mukti and Kshitij asked simultaneously.
“Yes, I am pregnant damn it! I am pregnant. I have been trying to tell you for three weeks now, but you never have the time. You are always busy, but now you know. I am pregnant and it is yours!” she yelled at Kshitij. Mukti looked around. Everyone had stopped eating and was looking at the four of them.

Kshitij looked at Sonali like a lost puppy, but then his face hardened and he said, “It can’t be mine! We have never even had sex.” He said looking around making sure everybody heard him.
Sonali looked as if a bucket of cold water had fallen on her head.
“You don’t even remember? We did. Last month, at my house! After which you have been trying to avoid me and have stopped taking my calls.” She said shaking with anger.
“I am trying to avoid you because you don’t get a hint. Listen to me,” and he said slowly emphasizing every word, “I Am Not Interested in Sleeping with You! I am not attracted to you. Stop with your twisted attempts to get me into bed already.”

Sonali could feel a tear trickle down her cheek. She wiped it off, took a step toward Kshitij and whispered in his ears, “I know you remember everything and I know you are gay. What I don’t know is why are you are acting like a jerk instead of just coming out.” Sonali looked straight in his eyes, “Whatever be the reason, this sham that is your life is just pathetic.”

“You don’t know what it is like being me.” He said slowly, “You don’t know what it is like to be a homosexual in our society. I do. I know no one is going to accept me if I come out. I have to keep up this pretence. This is my curse.”

Sonali was astonished, “It’s not a curse. It’s natural. You are attracted to guys, plain and simple. What’s there to hide? Don’t you get tired of pretending?”
“What do you think? Of course I do. All the sneaking around and acting like I am attracted to girls is exhausting but I have no other option.”
“You do. Why don’t you come clean?”
“You have no idea what my life is, Okay?! So, stop pretending to care.”
“Why are you so defensive? I want to help you.”

“I don’t want your help. You were just one of the many countless girls I have to sleep with to keep up this charade. You mean nothing more to me than that.” He said arrogantly, “You can try and tell people that I am gay but no one is going to believe you.”
 Sonali was disgusted with his behaviour. She took another step towards him and slapped him right across the face as hard as she could.
“You are a pathetic,” and she walked off leaving behind a stunned Kshitij.
Mukti looked at Kshitij, “you should be ashamed of yourself, you asshole.” She rushed to follow Sonali. Veer accompanied her.
Mukti and Veer came running out of the restaurant. They looked around and saw Sonali sitting by the road with her head in her hands. Mukti went over and hugged her.
“I am not pregnant.” Sonali said.
“Oh thank god!” Mukti sighed with relief.
“Well, I don’t know. I might be.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? What the hell were you doing having sex without protection?!” She was glaring at Sonali.
Veer cleared his throat, “Mukti, we didn’t—“
Mukti stared fiercely at Veer and hissed, “Now is not the time.”

She turned her attention back to Sonali who had started crying silently.
Now is also not the time for a sermon.
She hugged Sonali and whispered softly, “Why don’t you get it checked?”
“I am scared, and now more so because I know what gender Mr. IIML prefers. How will I take care of a baby alone?!”
“Don’t worry. You are not alone. We are with you.” Mukti said stroking her hair gently.
Sonali hugged Mukti, “I want to go home.”
Mukti looked at Veer. ‘I’ll drop you guys.” He said, taking out his car keys.

Veer dropped them off at Sonali’s house and left the girls to figure out a plan of action together. Sonali, after changing into her shorts ordered for aloo parathas from the nearby dhaba. She gave Mukti a clean pair of pyjamas to change into as well. After settling comfortably, she told Mukti about the out-of-station trip and all that had happened since.

“Oh, now I get the conversation about men being dogs that we had. Why didn’t you tell me then?”
“I just didn’t want you to say, I told you so.”
“Oh Sonali, I wouldn’t have said that. I am sorry.”
“It’s ok.” She sobbed.
“Does Priya know?”
“No one knows. Apart from you, Veer, Kshitij,” and then added with a sad smile, “and the people at the restaurant.” She suddenly started laughing heartily. Mukti looked at her scared. She placed her hand on Sonali’s shoulder tentatively, “are you alright?”

Sonali wiped tears from her eyes, “That’s why he didn’t want to sleep with me? Because he is gay and I thought he is different from other guys and wants to know me better before having sex! I am such a moron. I did a strip tease for him and he fell asleep!” Sonali covered her face with her hands.

“No, you are not a moron. You are just a girl who fell in love with a wrong guy.” She said smiling, “We all have, haven’t we?”
 “I don’t know. What will I do if I am pregnant?”
“We’ll go tomorrow, pick out a home pregnancy test and you can find out. Okay?”

Sonali nodded. Then, after a few minutes added, “Call Priya. Tell her to come here.”
“Are you sure? If you don’t want to, we can tell her later.”
“No, I want to. I don’t want her to feel left out. Call her and ask her to come over.”

Mukti called up Priya three times but she never picked up. Mukti thought she might have fallen asleep and stopped trying. If she just knew, what Priya was up to, she might have never stopped calling.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Her Daughter's Mother...

She was 23 years old. An expectant mother.
The father found out it was a girl and asked for an abortion.
She refused... The mother, always the protector.

She was 25 years old. A single mother.
The daughter was playing with her grandmother.
She was getting ready for her second job... The mother, always the nurturer.

She was 29 years old. Her daughter was 6.
She needed new shoes; the daughter, a Barbie.
She decided to get her shoes mended for the nth time... The mother, always the one to sacrifice.

She was 36 years old. Her daughter was 13.
She was saving up for the rent; the daughter wanted to go on a trip.
She drove her to the airport... The mother, always the giver.

She was 39 years old. Her daughter was 16.
"I hate you! You are never there!! I wish Dad was still with us!', the daughter screamed.
She sobbed silently... The mother, always lacking somewhere?

She was 42 years old. He was 30.
She was the single mother. He was the family friend.
She loved him. He loved her... Life was beautiful!

She was 19 years old. He was 30.
She was the pampered daughter. He was the family friend.
She loved him. He loved her mother... Life was complicated.

 When she found out, she sacrificed her love and silently stepped away... The mother, always the martyr!

She was 43. Her daughter was 20.
She brought love and happiness into her life.
She smiled as he slipped the ring onto her finger... The daughter, her mother's reflection!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Love and its Side-Effects!

My Little Writing Project

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


Chapter Fifteen

‘Is there something as a mutual break-up? Isn’t breaking up of a relation, as a rule, meant to be messy?’

27th August

 Life is like a complicated puzzle . . . a Rubik’s cube, if you please. Whenever you think that you have managed to get all your colours together, you turn it over and see that an errant blue is between all the yellow . . . And you have to start all over again.
She sat wondering about her life.
‘Everything was so wonderful,’ she believed that he was her knight in shining armour, ‘why wouldn’t I? We had the same interests, we both loved watching movies, listening to Rock music, enjoyed reading. We were a perfect fit.’
She thought harder about the time they had spent together.
‘But he had certain idiosyncrasies that bothered me always.’
She had found his peculiar tendency to disappear for days altogether, very odd. There were weeks when no one had a clue where he was at.
‘Not even me,’ she thought sadly. It did hurt her but nothing hurt her more than his emotional unavailability.

‘The times when he was lost in his own dream-world, unaware of anyone around him.’
She hated those moments when she would be sitting right next to him, chatting about her day, and he’ll be quiet and distanced.
‘Maybe lost, wandering in his imaginary world and I was obviously not special enough to be a part of it.’
She had voiced her disapproval numerous times but nothing had changed.
“I need my own space. Don’t try and tie me up. I am meant to fly,” he had said one day that left her all the more agitated.
“I never wanted to tie you down. I just wanted to fly with you,” she whispered to his photograph in her phone. But, he had chosen someone else to fly with.
‘Why did it have to be your her? Your ex?!’ she thought bitterly, ‘why not me?’

He had taken her ex-girlfriend, his supposed best friend, on one of those ‘alone’ times he so often craved.
‘You didn’t even know how much it hurt me. You were so oblivious to my pain.’ Her thoughts turned to his ex.
‘How many times had we fought over her? She was always coming between us, tearing us apart.’
But he never noticed. She deleted his picture angrily. She hated the easy camaraderie that they shared. She abhorred the way they touched each other with such familiarity as if aware of every mark, every scar.
‘I didn’t like it, not one bit. But you always assured me that there is nothing between you two. It was all in the past.’
She had believed him. But, when the time came to choose between her and the ex, he had--

Mukti read what she had written . . . again and again and then one more time. It doesn’t matter how hard she tried to forget, she still felt a pang of jealousy mingled with hurt and anger whenever she thought about it.
Mukti sat on her mattress and had placed the laptop in her lap. She had reached that part where she was writing about one of her protagonist’s relationship that mirrored her most serious relationships till date, the one with Sagar. The first guy she had walked up to and initiated a conversation with. She was thinking about how foolish she had been then, when her phone buzzed. She looked at the screen and smiled to herself.

“Hello stranger.”
“Hey. What are you doing?” Veer asked. He was walking around his hotel inspecting the various areas.

“Nothing, trying to write.”
“What are you writing about?” and then added hurriedly, “Just a second, hold on.”
Mukti could hear Veer yelling some instructions on the other side. After a minute, he was back, “Sorry about that. These idiots need to be told every damn thing.”

“What happened?”
“Nothing. So, what are you writing?” he asked again.
Mukti contemplated whether she should tell Veer about Sagar or not?
We have just met. Isn’t it too early?
She decided to wait and instead tell him some story.
You have already slept with him and now are scared of telling him about your past?
She thought for a moment and decided to go with the truth.

“I was writing about the first guy I dated.”
Veer whistled, “Your first love?”
Mukti asked curiously, “You are not jealous?” His reaction was contrary to what she expected.

“As long as he is in your past, I have no problem. So, what are your writing about him?”
O-k-a-y! He is one secure guy.
“Well, I met him at a party and we became friends. He told me that he was already seeing someone but things were a little rocky with her. I had a huge crush on him but I still helped him work things out with his girlfriend,” Mukti began.

“Are you sure you were helping him? Or is that code for I-was-secretly-trying-to-break-them-apart?” he picked up a stray ball lying on the stairs and pocketed it.
“No! I sincerely wanted things to work out for him. Isn’t that what true love is about? Sacrificing your own happiness for the sake of those who you love?” she said dramatically.

“In that case, how very gallant of you?” Veer laughed.
“Anyway, despite my best intentions, they did break up.”
“Mission accomplished,” Veer fake-coughed.
“Do you want to listen or not?”
“Okay, okay. No more interruptions.”

“We started going out after around six months of his break-up,” she paused for Veer to say something but when he didn’t say anything, she continued on, “but, still he was very close with his ex and that was something that always bothered me. I never said that to him explicitly but whenever they would be laughing over a shared joke or discussing something I wasn’t a part off, it really pained me,” Mukti took a deep breath.

“So you broke up because he was friends with his ex?” Veer said trying to comprehend.
“Is this you not interrupting?”
“I am sorry I thought the story was over. Please continue by all means,” he bent down to play with a puppy that was being walked by a handler.

“In addition to his ‘friendship’ with his ex, there was also his absences.”
“Absences? As in? I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t understand them either. He would just switch off his phone and disappear. No one would know where he is. And after a couple of days he would be back as if nothing had happened,” Mukti had started chewing on her nails.
“Was he on drugs?”
Mukti laughed, “No, I don’t think so. He said and I quote, “I need time to think.” Think about what? I don’t know either.”
Mukti paused remembering about the first time he had pulled this stunt.
I was so scared when I couldn’t reach him for two days. All kinds of thoughts were going through my mind. It was horrible.

“Then one day, he disappeared and I found out that he has gone on a ‘self-discovery’ trip to Rishikesh,” she added after a pause, “and he had taken his ex along.”
Veer whistled again.

“That was it. When he was back, I gave him an ultimatum . . .  he had to choose, either her or me,” Mukti said. She could feel a lump rising in her throat. She cleared her throat.

“He chose her?” Veer asked.
“I still remember clearly, I had asked him to not call me till he had made a choice. I was so foolish,” she said shaking her head, “I thought he would obviously call me the next day and tell me that he was sorry.”

“He didn’t, did he?” Veer asked. She could make out that he was concerned.
“My final exams were going on and I kept waiting for his call. He didn’t call me the next day or the day after that.”
A tear trickled silently down her cheek as an image of her teenage self covered with books staring intently at her old worn-out Nokia phone flashed before her eyes. She wiped off her tear and smiled sardonically, “Instead he sent me a message.”

“That’s bad.” Veer said softly.
“That too after a week. He had written only six words - I don’t love you anymore. Sorry.”
She paused again. The same feeling of rejection enveloped her once again like a fanged python coiling around her, crushing her very bones.

“My final exams were going on and I, as a fool, for seven days thought about nothing else but him. I kept waiting for his call. I kept hoping that he would apologize and everything would be fine. But, what did I get in the end? A pathetic six word message. He didn’t even think that I merited a meeting or even a phone call. He broke up with me over a damn message!” she could feel her temper rising. She could feel herself breaking free from the stronghold of the python.

She laughed derisively, “You know I was so in love, I thought that message was one of his jokes that I don’t get! It was when he didn’t call that I realized that he was not joking. It took me almost a month to understand that he meant what he had sent. So foolish of me . . . I felt like such an idiot for loving him, for trusting him.”

“Why didn’t you call him?”
Mukti sobered up a little, “Do you think after the uncouth way he decided to tell me that he is breaking up with me, I would ever want to talk to him again?! I have too much pride and self-respect for that Mr. S.”

Veer only said, “Hmm . . .”
They remained silent for a while. After some time, Veer cleared his throat, “so, that’s how your first love story ended.”
“Yes.” Mukti sighed.
Well not really. The idiot did send a very considerate mail.
“Tragic,” Veer answered.

Mukti was about to tell Veer about the mail, when she heard a loud yelp followed by a crashing sound.
“DAMN IT! WHO LET HIM OUT WITHOUT A LEASH?” Veer yelled at someone. He said to Mukti hurriedly, “I have to go. Some idiot let a Great Dane out without a leash and he is on a rampage. Talk to you later, bye.”
He hung up and Mukti smiled to herself. Job hassles.

On an impulse, she logged into Gmail and opened the mail that Sagar had sent, a couple of years before.
Obviously to purge himself of any guilt.
She read it patiently.

I know you would be pretty upset with me and you have full reason to be so too. But, you have to understand that whatever I did was for your own good. I was not good enough for you Mukti. You deserve someone who treats you well, who understands you. I was not that person.

Mukti sighed and braced herself to read the next part.
That part where he shows what a true moron he really is.

I know you think that what I did was wrong but it was not. I did what I thought was best for you. I wanted you to break up with me. And to reach that end, I chose all the means that I deemed fit. I acted aloof and detached. I pretended to flirt with my ex. I even sent you that message so that you might detest me. And I have remained incommunicado all these years because I wanted to make it easy for you to move on. Trust me Mukti, I did all this for you. If I had the option to go back in time and change everything, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was all part of a plan so that you hate me.
Why did you explain all this to me then? Why are you trying to come back into my life? Don’t you think that explaining all this defeats the purpose of your earlier actions.

Mukti had read and re-read this mail countless times. She knew what it said. What she didn’t understand till now was why did Sagar sent it when he did.

Now, since a lot of time has passed, I thought maybe you should know the truth, you should understand the reason behind my seemingly rude actions. I just hope now that you know why I did what I did, you would find it in your heart to hate me a little less.

This statement always managed to anger Mukti.

Me, me, me!! That’s all he is worried about. I wanted to break up, I was scared, I wanted you to hate me, I want you not to hate me! It was all about him! He never even asked how did you manage after the message? How did you feel about it? What did you want?

“There is one thing that I hate most and that is people making my decisions for me. I have a brain and I know how to use it, thank you very much. If you just had the courage to come up to me and tell me the truth. But, no . . . you chose to go the childish way and create this elaborate ruse, all to save your skin! You were absolutely selfish, Sagar!” She yelled back at the screen and shut it down angrily. She drank a glass of water to calm herself down.

How strange it is that even after almost a decade, I feel so strongly for him . . . Even if those are emotions of annoyance and irritation.

Her phone beeped and she saw that it was a text from Veer.
I just wanted to say, that guy was a jerk to let you go. His loss, my gain. And I am sorry for hanging up on you in a jiffy. Let’s go out tonight, get drunk and we can cuss him. ;)

She smiled to herself. She had realized that her anger at Sagar was slowly ebbing away and she knew that was because of Rajveer. He made her happy . . . the first guy to do that after Sagar.

It’s not that Mukti had not dated anyone since Sagar, she had but she always managed to find some quirk to stay away from them . . .  sometimes it was bad breath, sometimes it was the way they said a certain word and sometimes it was how their stomach flipped when they got nervous.

She smiled at the memory of her disastrous date with Prakash.
Veer is different than other guys. He somehow makes me feel safe.
Even though, she had been dating him for a little over a fortnight, she had managed to find out his quirk.
But, it’s not scary enough to keep me away from him though.

Mukti had realized that Veer was a workaholic and belonged to that tiny percentage of human population who actually loved their job!
I mean, who does? I have never, and I mean never, met anyone who loved his job as much as he does.

Veer had no shifts. He practically lived at his hotel. Mukti had been there a couple of times and had been astonished after seeing the opulence, to say the least.

A five star hotel for pets! Some people do have too much money!

She couldn’t believe that Veer’s PetCare was a thriving business and to think she had had no idea that there even was such a thing as a Pet hotel.

I felt so foolish. I thought it would be a two room structure where pets would be caged up till their owners came to redeem them again.

Instead she was astounded at how massive the hotel was. It was located in Mehrauli, near Qutab Minar. Spread over almost an acre, the hotel had expansive manicured grounds and a huge gleaming pool. The hotel, itself, was almost two storey high.

“I plan to expand it a little. Maybe add another floor, or develop it horizontally . . . I don’t know yet,” Veer said while giving her a tour of the property.
Inside, there was glossy marble flooring and a contemporary decor. Mukti noticed Hussain’s horses, similar to the one in Veer’s house, hanging behind the front desk. The lobby was beautiful with a lush sofa on one side. There was a table in the middle adorned with a centerpiece made from fresh flowers. Veer steered her towards one of the rooms and she was struck by the magnificence. The AC room had a tiny bed with satin sheets and plush pillows. There was a bejeweled designer water bowl in a corner. Veer explained that depending on the room’s occupants, the staff placed appropriate toys inside the room.

“If it’s a dog, we place chew toys and if it’s a cat we have squeaky toys. Once, a client wanted a ball of yarn to be placed in his cat’s room!”
“People are so fussy when it comes to their pets.”
“You have no idea. Some clients even have specific music they want played when their precious pet is sleeping.”

Mukti raised her eyebrows.
“I swear I am not kidding.”
Mukti was impressed with all the tiny details Veer had taken care of. She was amazed at the thought behind it.
“We have segregated the sections according to age and temperament. So, there is a separate section for lazy animals and active ones. The older pets stay on the ground floor and the exuberant puppies stay in a different area. You know so they don’t disturb each other,” Veer said. Mukti noticed his eyes twinkled as he continued to share details of his business with her.

Veer took her to their play areas, “We have different areas for cats and dogs. Since canines are more active, there is a Gymboree gym kind of an area for them with tunnels and mazes. For our feline guests, we have created fake trees that they can climb on and scratch at to their hearts content. There is also an aquarium with colourful fish for them to see and admire,” he chuckled.
“Isn’t that cruel?” Mukti asked.
“I don’t think so.”

He took her to the hotel’s rambling grounds. Mukti could see many handlers bouncing along with dogs, playing catch with them or simply walking with the pets. In the distant she could see the pool where a couple of dogs were swimming and playing with a ball.
“This is amazing,” she let out a satisfying breath.
“You haven’t seen the amazing part yet,” he held her hand and guided her to a spacious room.

“This is our grooming section,” he said with a flourish. The room resembled a kind of a salon but with a difference. Mukti could see many dogs perched on tabletops and being washed and combed. Some were getting their fur styled and some were even getting their nails clipped.
Mukti squinted her eyes, “Is that dog getting his nails painted?”

“That’s a dogess and yeah.”
“Dogess?” Mukti asked raising her eyebrows.
“Oh, here we don’t call the female dog,” he whispered, “a bitch.”
Mukti couldn’t help but smile. “You are so cute.”

Veer grinned. “The cats have a similar area in a different section of the hotel.”
They were walking around the hotel when a tiny girl almost collided into Veer.
She looked up. Mukti noticed that everything about Geeta was small. From her eyes which were magnified by her round glasses to her mouth. She looked hapless. She was shaking her head and her long high ponytail was bouncing along as well. “Veer thank God you are here.”

Veer introduced her to Mukti as his Manager, “She is the one who is in charge when I am not around.” He said smiling fondly at her. Geeta blushed, gave Mukti a warm smile and turned her attention to Veer, “Mr. Shah had come with his Pomeranian again. He wants us to give him a facial.” 

“Facial? To a Pom?” He asked incredulously.
“Yes.” She nodded vigorously.
“How is that possible Geeta? It has a face full of hair.”
“That’s what I told him but he is adamant.”

“Where is he? Let me talk some sense into him.” he shrugged his shoulders and went with Geeta. Mukti wandered around the hotel taking in the amount of work gone into the whole concept. 

“Do you work here?” came a stern voice from behind her. Mukti turned to see a tall bald man standing with a cat in his hands.
“No, I don’t.” Mukti smiled and turned back to admiring the gardens.
“How dare they put out an old sheet for you Mr. Whiskers. I had specifically mentioned a new satin sheet for you. Don’t you worry, I will straighten out the problem.” He left muttering to himself. After a while Veer came back, puffing, with a Labrador by his side.

“Someone with a cat named Mr. Whiskers was looking for you. Something about a satin sheet--” Mukti suddenly said, “Isn’t he?” She took a step towards the dog.
“The one and only, Charlie.” Veer said patting the dog’s head. The dog was obediently sitting by Veer’s side, panting heavily and wagging its tail.

Mukti smiled, “May I?”
“By all means.”
Mukti stepped towards him, sat down in front of him and held out her hand, “Hi Charlie, I am Mukti.”
Charlie promptly placed his paw in her open hands. Mukti laughed heartily, “He is adorable.” She started playing with him, cuddling him and patting his head.
“I know” he said in between breaths, “What were you saying about a guest?”

“Oh yeah,” Mukti managed to get out despite being licked by Charlie all over, “A guy with a cat was looking for you. He was annoyed about some sheets.”
“Oh yeah, he found me. Can you believe he wants brand new satin sheets for Mr. Whiskers who is not even potty trained! Last time he ruined a sheet by pooping on it.”
“You can say that again.”
Mukti smiled, “As much as I love being kissed by Charlie, but I think we should leave. We’ll miss the movie otherwise?” She said getting up. Charlie ran to chase a ball that had come rolling in the lawn. Mukti smiled and stared moving towards the exit. Veer held her hand, “I am sorry, but can I take a rain check? There has been an emergency. A dog has swallowed a cat toy that was lying around. I need to be here.”

Mukti confused with the emergency, just nodded. “Okay.”
“Thank you.” He gave her a kiss on her cheek, “I’ve called for a cab. I’ll call you in the night.” He yelled while running away. Mukti sighed staring at his retreating back.
The story of my life.

She had that nagging feeling that she was having a relationship with Veer’s phone.

 Sometimes I feel I am having a long-distance relationship and then there are those days when I feel that you are married to the hotel and I am your mistress!

She frowned slightly at the word ‘mistress’.

Right now, someone else is in the danger of actually becoming one.

It had been a fortnight since they had fought. Neither Priya, nor Mukti had initiated a step towards reconciliation. Sonali had tried to ask Mukti about the apparent discord between them but Mukti had conveniently changed the topic. But, today, sitting alone Mukti missed Priya terribly.

The cold war has gone off for a long time already, it is time to act like the bigger person and end it.
Mukti dialled Priya’s number and waited for her to take the call.
I hope she answers and doesn’t disconnect after seeing my name.

Priya picked up after a couple of rings.
“Hey Priya. How are you? We didn’t get to speak after that altercation between us,” Mukti said trying to lighten the mood.
“Hello? Priya? You there?” Mukti asked.

She heard sobbing. Priya was sitting on the floor hugging her knees and crying quietly.
“Priya? Are you crying? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Priya said in between sobs, “Nothing happened.”
“Priya. I know you are crying. And I know something is the matter. Tell me what the problem is. Even if I can’t provide any solution, you will feel better once it is off your chest.”

“Shantanu . . .” she whispered.

I knew it had to be something related to him only!
“What did he do? What happened?”
“That day after I told you about our kiss, I had called him up and asked him to come over,” she continued, “he did and we were talking. One thing led to another and we . . .” after a pause she added, “slept together.”

Oh! God!
Mukti wanted to yell at Priya. But she composed herself and asked calmly, “Then? Has he said he will talk to his fiancé about what happened?”
“No. he has asked me not to tell anyone also.” Priya said choking back hot tears.
“What? Why? What does he mean not tell anyone?”
“It’s not what you think, he has asked me not to tell anyone in office, because he is technically my boss. Nobody knows that we are seeing each other.”

“How convenient! Why can’t you see what he is doing?” Mukti could feel her temper rising.
“He is not doing anything! He loves me too. He is just protecting me in the office. He said that. He doesn’t love his fiancé anymore. He wants to be with me.”
“Then why are you crying. Tell him to tell the truth to her and his parents. Then everything will be fine” Mukti was exasperated with Priya’s obvious unwillingness to acknowledge the truth.

 “He can’t leave her. I have told you before. Shivani will commit suicide if he doesn’t marry her.” Priya said stubbornly.
Mukti couldn’t hide her anger, “Then what the hell is he doing sleeping around with you?!”

“Because he loves me! He can’t help himself and neither can I.” Then added softly, “We are perfect for each other. We have the same interests, same ambitions . . . you know we can sit for hours just talking about anything and everything under the sun.”

“OK, for one moment, let us assume that he loves you too. Then why is he compromising? He is ruining four lives you know! Yours, his, that fiancé’s and the guy you might eventually get married to.” Mukti said hoping Priya would listen to reason.

“What does my future guy have anything to do with it when I can’t think of anyone else other than him?”
“Then tell him to start thinking of you too and do something. I am sure that girl also would not want to get married to someone who doesn’t love him.”
“I don’t know what she thinks, I don’t know what he thinks. I just know that we can’t live without each other, but I also know, my bad luck will eventually shine through and he will also leave one day like everyone else did before him.” She started crying inconsolably.

“Priya. Control yourself. Nothing will happen. Everything will work out. You just tell him to talk to his fiancé. Promise me that you will talk to him.”
Priya said yes feebly, mumbled something about someone on the door and hung up.

Mukti sat in silence for two minutes thinking about Priya and her predicament.
How is that she always manages to land herself in so much emotional trouble.
Mukti had no doubts that the guy had no intention of breaking up with his fiancé. He was just fooling around with Priya, having a nice time with her.
That asshole is having his cake and eating it too! I wish I meet him one day, I will break his head!
At that time, Veer called.
“Hey.” He said.
“You are not coming.” Mukti said. She hated these calls and she could always find out when he is making one of those I-am-stuck-at-work-I-am-sorry-I’ll-make-it-up-to-you calls. And this was one of those times.

“You don’t know that.” He said teasing her.
“Yes, I do. I know the tone. This means you are stuck at work and can’t make it . . .again!”
“Don’t get upset. I promise, I’ll . . .”
But Mukti interrupted him, “ . . . make it up to you. I know, I know. So, what is it this time?” she asked.

“Nothing, just an irritating client. The German Shepherd is adorable. Its owner not even half as much.  A stupid trainee, did some goof-up at the dog’s check-in so he is making my life hell. Sometimes I think, half of the time I am listening to all this bullshit because of these lazy asses who can’t get their act together. Even the dogs’ barking makes more sense than these BHM students.”

“It’s ok. Relax and calm down. Go, work. I’ll talk to you later.” Mukti said sighing audibly.
“You are not angry? I am really sorry.”
“No, I . . . well I am . . . a little bit. But I’ll be fine. It’s ok. It’ll take some time but I will get used to all the cancelling and change of plans.”
“You are a doll. A total sweetheart.” He gave her a kiss through the phone.
“That I don’t need some guy to tell me . . . now, go. Call me when you get free. I’ll wait for your call. Don’t forget, otherwise I’ll be very very angry.”
They said their byes and hung up.
Now what should I do.

Mukti paced here and there, flipped through the channels, read through The Midnight’s Children – a book that she had been trying to complete for almost three months now, ate Maggi. After a while, she picked up her phone to call Sonali.
Let me check what’s happening with her.
Sonali picked up after three rings.
“Hi Mukti. How are you?”
“I am fine. What’s up with you? You tend to disappear nowadays . . . this is not good!” she said jokingly.
“I am always here. You can make a little more effort and try to keep in touch.” She snapped back.
“Ok, ok, jeez don’t bite my head off, I was kidding, what happened?”
“Nothing. I am sorry, I am not in the best of moods.” Sonali said.
That’s spreading like wildfire!

“Why? What happened to you? Fought with IIML,” and correcting herself quickly, “I mean Kshitij? I am also upset, Veer cancelled on me again. And Priya,” then she stopped herself, she didn’t know if Priya had shared anything with Sonali yet.
“Priya . . . what happened to her?”
“Nothing. Office troubles.” Mukti lied.
“That’s better than guy troubles. Why did Veer cancel on you?”
“What else, his wife.”

“Thank you for making me deaf,” Mukti replied sarcastically. “And no, he is not married. By wife, I meant his hotel, his work.”
“Oh . . . I tell you these men are dogs! In the beginning, they give you too much attention, but when the girl says yes, then all their love just disappears! Poof! She becomes worthless for them. They don’t even spare a thought for her or her needs.  They start to ignore your calls, make excuses not to meet you and basically, they just sop caring!”

“Uh . . . dogs are very faithful, they will never ignore you.”
“Whose side are you on?!” Sonali shrieked.
Mukti placed the receiver further away from her ear, “First of all, stop yelling. I am in serious danger of going deaf and second, I am always on your side, tell me what has happened?”

“Sorry. And nothing has happened. I was just making an observation.” She said sullenly.
“Ok. Then how is Kshitij?”
“How are you?”
“O-k-a-y. Where are you flying off to next?”
“Day after.”
“You want to meet tomorrow for lunch or dinner or coffee?”
“I don’t know right now. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“Ok . . .”
Before Mukti could put up another question, Sonali said, “Listen Mukti, I have a headache. I am going to bed, ok. I’ll talk to you later.” And she hung up.

What is up with everybody!
Mukti wondered, but she had no way of knowing that Sonali did not have a headache and she had not gone to bed. Sonali was lying on her massive bed under her cosy comforter staring up at her slowly moving fan. The TV was blaring at full volume in the background but Sonali was lost in her own thoughts. She was biting her lower lip, a nervous habit she had picked up recently.  Why hasn’t he called yet?
She called Kshitij yet again and got no answer. She had lost count of how many messages she had sent him. Tears filled her eyes. She threw the comforter covering her and got up. She was wearing her favourite denim shorts with a tee. She pulled her hair into a high ponytail and walked slowly towards her balcony. The sky was overcast with heavy clouds as was usual during Monsoons. Dusk was falling and in the distance, she could see a row of two bright yellow headlights trudging along, as if tired.
Returning to their loved ones, no doubt.
She glanced again at her phone. No calls, no messages. She wondered what had gone wrong. How had it turned into this? What had gone wrong? Didn’t she do everything right?
 Everything was perfect a month back. They were having fun, going out, talking for hours on the phone. After they had come back from Neemrana, Sonali had devised another plan to get close to Kshitij.
How can you love someone and not want to touch them?
This time her little scheme had worked as a charm and they ended up in bed together.
 It was not as much fun as I hoped it would be but the first time is generally bad. It tends to get better.
But, instead of getting better, everything started going downhill. Kshitij started avoiding her. He was always busy either on some project or with his family. Sonali started sobbing.
Earlier, he always used to call before going to bed but now he is always too tired to talk. Earlier he used to instantly reply to my messages but now he was always busy in some urgent meetings. She had last met him almost ten days back and now for the last two days they hadn’t spoken. Kshitij had told her that he is going out-of-station for some meeting.

“He has time to log into Facebook and update his status and reply to other people but not to talk to me!” Sonali, full of frustration, said to no one in particular.

It had happened with her so often that she knew what will happen next but just didn’t want to think about it. Mukti’s words echoed in her head, ‘More often than not, you sleep with every guy you date. And after that, while you are making plans about moving in with him and wedding arrangements and picking out baby names, he is making plans to move on to another woman.’ No! Mukti is not right.
She wanted to believe that Kshitij was different, but all signs were the same as her previous experience. But this time, there was something different. Something that was just a hitch and Sonali hoped to God that it didn’t turn true.

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