My Little Writing Project
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“Do we still judge a book by its cover? Is the packaging everything and the substance . . . nothing? Are looks everything? Can’t we, as a society, look beyond a person’s physical features?”
“It smells so wonderful, musty and fresh,” Priya said taking in the familiar scent of rain-soaked Earth. She was standing by the window in Mukti’s apartment and admiring the majestic Gulmohar across the street, standing tall in the faint yellowish glow of the street lamp.
It was a Tuesday and Priya had come over to Mukti’s apartment after her office for a cup of coffee and some chit-chat. When Mukti didn’t say anything for the next five minutes, Priya turned around to see Mukti lost in her own thoughts. She was sitting in her pyjamas, smiling to herself and twirling a strand of her hair absent-mindedly. Her coffee mug stood untouched in front of her.
“Why are you smiling like an idiot?” asked Priya suspiciously.
Mukti couldn’t stop grinning since yesterday. She was on cloud nine. She kept reminiscing about the time she had spent with Veer. The instances of the previous day and night kept flashing through her mind. She was not aware where she was at or even who was with her . . . she was still living in her dreamland with Rajveer by her side.
“Mukti? Mukti? Mukti!” Priya shook Mukti, “Are you all right? Is everything ok?” she sounded worried.
Mukti looked at Priya with a huge smile plastered on her face, “Everything is super,” she said and then, not wanting to hide her feelings, decided to tell Priya about Veer, “I want to share something with you.”
“What? Tell me . . .” Priya inched closer to Mukti.
“I met someone,” Mukti began.
“Again?! Where?” Priya raised her eyebrows.
The expression on Priya’s face made Mukti doubt her decision.
Should I tell her? I should, right? She will understand. She’ll be happy for me.
After deliberating internally for a while, Mukti made up her mind to tell Priya the whole story, right from the beginning.
“Uh . . . a couple of months ago, I got a mail from some guy. He sent it to me accidentally. So we got talking, and one thing led to another . . .” she mumbled.
“Wait, wait, wait . . . hold on! After giving Sonali that moral lecture on how it is not safe to trust people you meet online, you met some random guy through the internet? Sonali’s was still a guy who had seen her in person, yours was an accidental mail!”
“I know, I know . . . hear me out. I met him online and then after we spoke for around two months, he suggested we should meet . . .”
“How come I don’t know any of this?! This has been going on for two months?” Priya asked her eyes wide with surprise.
“Will you stop interrupting me?!” Mukti said a little irritated with the constant disruptions.
Priya pouted and nodded. Mukti explained the whole situation with Anurag and the fortuitous meeting with Rajveer. Priya listened patiently without saying anything. Mukti finished with a flourish and said, “So, this proves my theory that if you meet someone online, he is bound to be a creep or a jerk!”
“I am sure after this episode and the one involving a certain Mr. P, you are thinking about doing something regarding your Facebook account? Deleting it perhaps,” Priya propositioned.
“How did Facebook come into all of this? It was not my fault that Anurag turned out to be a hacker and as for Prakash . . .” She turned pensive, “I have to come up with something to dissuade him. He has called thrice today. Apparently, he was quite put off that I have started interacting with Nits instead of him.” Mukti said pacing the room.
“Hmm . . . you should. By the way, tell me about this Rajveer guy. What does he do?”
“Well, Veer is a pet-hotelier,” Then, seeing the confused expression on Priya’s face added, “He owns a hotel where he takes care of people’s pets when they are off on vacation,” Mukti explained.
“A pet-hotelier, really?! That’s quite innovative,” Priya said genuinely impressed.
The rest of the evening was spent in their girly talks with Mukti giggling like a schoolgirl and blushing ever so slightly while giving a detailed account of her previous night’s escapades to Priya. Listening to Mukti gushing about Rajveer, Priya also decided to share the intimate details of her kiss with Shantanu.
“What?! What in the world were you thinking?!” exclaimed Mukti, “Isn’t he engaged to be married?!”
I can’t believe Priya would be so stupid as to get entangled in such a mess.
Priya, a little shocked with Mukti’s outburst, tried to explain her, the whole thing. “Shantanu is not in love with Shivani anymore. He said so himself that he is not attracted to her. He thinks that she is boring and a small-towner.”
When Mukti’s frown just deepened further, Priya added hastily, “Mukti, Shivani doesn’t understand him the way I do. We are so compatible. We understand each other,” She almost whispered, remembering their kiss fondly.
“Do you hear yourself? That poor girl sacrificed so much for this jerk and instead of being grateful to her; he is making out with someone else, behind her back . . . and even calling her names! And you, how can you do that to someone else?” Mukti was enraged.
Mukti went on with her diatribe. She was pacing the room and gesturing wildly. Priya heard everything calmly, all the while staring out the window at the Gulmohar. It had started to rain heavily accompanied by thunder and lightning. Every now and then, she could see a blazing white light flash across the sky accompanied by a loud booming noise.
“Are you even listening to me?” Mukti asked, after a minute breathing in big gulps of air.
Priya added softly, “How do you know Veer is not a jerk as well. Maybe he has another girl tucked up somewhere. At least I know Shantanu and it was just a kiss. You slept with some guy, you just met.”
Mukti, who had been pacing the room stopped, stunned. Priya’s words had hit home.
Oh my God, she is right! I don’t know anything about Veer.
She stared back at Priya who was resolutely looking at her.
But, this is not about me right now. This is about Priya and her attraction to an almost married man! I’ll think about Veer later.
Mukti cleared her head, “Don’t you drag Veer into it. First of all, this is not about me or him. This is about you. Secondly, even if Veer is engaged, which I think he is not, I don’t know about it, yet.”
Oh God! Please let him not be engaged.
“But, you do know about Shantanu. You know that he is engaged. Has he told you that he will leave his fiancé for you?”
Priya turned her eyes to the floor, tears pooling in her long dark lashes. She didn’t want to admit to Mukti that the same thought was plaguing her mind as well.
“Why don’t you understand? I have never felt anything like this before. You don’t know him as I do. I feel so alive when I am with him and I know he feels the same. I can see it in his eyes. They sparkle Mukti, every time he is around me. I know he loves me too,” she tried to defer Mukti’s thought process.
“That is not the answer to my question,” Mukti was not the one to be hoodwinked. She asked determinedly, “Has he said that he will leave his fiancé for you?”
Priya shifted her weight from one leg to another nervously. She really didn’t like confrontations.
“No. we haven’t talked about it yet,” she said hurriedly and turned to look outside.
“Haven’t talked about it?! You know you are setting yourself up for another heartache?! And for whom?! I have seen his Facebook profile. He is such an ordinary looking fellow,” Mukti inched closer to Priya, “He has a receding hairline and even a small paunch! He is absolutely not worth going through so much trouble for?” She went and hugged Priya from behind, “You are worthy of so much better. You don’t deserve a selfish ungrateful unsightly pig of a man with a beer belly,” she added lightly.
“Enough!” Priya broke away from Mukti’s hug. Mukti stared at Priya, dumbfounded.
“He is what I deserve Mukti. That unsightly pig, as you have put it, is the only kind of man that will ever fall in love with me. I am a realist. I know what and who, I am worth of,” Priya was enraged with Mukti’s easy dismissal of the man she was in love with.
“What are you talking about? This is not about your looks again, is it?” Mukti said resignedly. They have had a conversation about Priya’s notion of her beauty, or the lack of it, countless times before. Mukti added sympathetically, “You are beautiful. You are the epitome of perfect Indian beauty.”
Priya laughed a hollow laugh, “C’mon Mukti, Look at me! I am not gorgeous like Sonali or even pretty like you. I am a plain Jane . . . a dark ugly duckling. You might not see that but that’s how people perceive me and I know that,” she started sobbing softly.
“Priya . . .” Mukti hated seeing Priya cry.
“You don’t need to protect me. I know how I look. I even know how you and Sonali make fun of me behind my back for using fairness creams. I know everything,” her dark eyes were on Mukti, unswerving.
Mukti felt as if she had been caught. A conversation she had with Sonali, not long back, flashed in her mind. She said guiltily, “That’s not true. We don’t laugh at you. It’s just that we don’t understand your fascination with cosmetics and creams.”
“You just see me using fairness creams and cosmetics but what you haven’t seen are the years of torment I have gone through. Since the time I was a little girl, I have been stared at. I have had to endure mumbled comments and advices,” she smiled sarcastically, “You just see an always-groomed Priya, what you don’t see is how, till date, all my relatives and even neighbourhood aunties insist on imparting their knowledge about homemade remedies to get a fairer skin. You don’t know how embarrassing it is to listen to all their suggestions and implied hints that if I don’t have a fair complexion, no one will be interested in marrying me.”
Mukti was getting increasingly irritated with the whole fascination with fair skin that our society seemed to harbour, “All that talk is rubbish. You know they are talking nonsense! Why do you even listen to them? You don’t have to.”
“I have to, Mukti. I have to! I have seen the worry lines on my mom’s face and the frown on my dad’s whenever they browse through the matrimonial columns. I know how much grief I give them because I am dark-skinned,” Priya said spewing the last two words with disgust.
“All guys are not looking for fair-skinned girls. Those matrimonial ads are a scam and nothing else.” Mukti opined.
“Really? If that is the case then why hasn’t any guy ever shown a modicum of interest in me? You have known me since forever, when have I ever had a serious boyfriend? You had so many admirers, did I ever had even one? Huh? I was good in studies, I participated in sports, I won debates, heck I was even school president but still it all boiled down to the fact that I was not pretty.”
“That was school. Everybody is foolish and immature then.” Mukti sighed.
“Okay, let’s look at the current scenario. I have a MBA degree; I work at a prestigious post in a MNC. At 27, I have my own car and a 2BHK flat in Delhi, but before Shantanu, did I have any guy who was hanging by my every word? Did I have a man who was least bit interested in me?”
Priya raised her eyebrows. Mukti didn’t know what to say so she kept mum. Priya continued on, “Everyone, be it in school or college or even now, just sees my dark skin and maintains a one arm distance. All of these sayings - that beauty is skin deep - are nothing but bull shit! I know everyone judges me based on my complexion. That is why I started using fairness creams and cosmetics, in the first place.”
“That’s not the answer to anything.” Mukti interjected. Priya didn’t listen to her and went on, “I know you think I am addicted to them . . . what if I say I am? I admit I am addicted to them. These cosmetics, these fairness creams, these branded clothes . . . all of them are my ways to correct what nature has distorted.”
“Now, that’s a little extreme.” Mukti, again, tried to intersperse.
Priya was not in the mood to listen to her, “All of them are little rays of sunshine for me. I apply fairness cream with the faith that they will work. I apply make-up, wear expensive clothes from Chanel and Prada in the hope that they will make me desirable.” Priya was crying now. Mukti could see that her kajal had smudged and had mixed with her tears that were creating dark black lines across her dusky tone. She slid down on the floor. Mukti went towards her and hugged her,
“Priya complexion isn’t everything. There are more important things to look at than one’s physical features. What you are from inside is more important than how you are from the outside.” She wiped Priya’s tears.
Priya looked up at her, “Really?! Is that so? Then why didn’t I find anyone?” Priya countered.
“Because you have built a wall around you! You don’t let people enter; you don’t let people get close to you.” Mukti added wearily.
“If I was pretty, someone would have tried harder to break that wall. No one did because I am not worth the effort, you see, as I am plain.” Priya said getting up. Mukti opened her mouth to say something but Priya didn’t let her, “But, Shantanu did. He broke that wall. He might not be a Greek god. He might be balding and fat but he is considerate and charming.” Priya smiled fondly, “He is smart and intelligent. He accepts me the way I am. He might not be good-looking but he is a nice guy.” She sniffed. Because she had been crying, her voice was increasing becoming nasally. Priya suddenly laughed sarcastically, as if remembering something, “And isn’t it ironical, here you are lecturing me that outward beauty is not important and two minutes ago, you were judging Shantanu based on his looks. You don’t even know him and you completely wrote him off as worthless.”
“What?! I am not criticizing him because he is ugly. I am judging him based on the fact that he is engaged and cheating on his girlfriend!” Mukti was annoyed at Priya’s proclamations. But, Priya was in no mood to listen to reason, “If looks were everything then you would have still been with Prakash.”
Where did Prakash come into all of this? And isn’t this what I have been trying to tell her, that looks aren’t everything? Oh God! My head is spinning!
Mukti smiled as she realized what Priya was trying to do, “I get it! You do know what you are doing is wrong that is why you are not even listening to my reasoning. Instead, you are turning it all on me! Why are your dragging me into this?”
Priya sighed loudly, “Because I am tired of your logics and reasoning. I am fed up of your inane need to give advice. You have this inherent craving to control the lives of people around you. Well news flash . . . Mukti! We are not characters in your novel. We are living breathing human beings who are capable of making their own decisions!” Priya was almost shouting now.
Mukti had never seen Priya behave like that. She was stunned into silence. She took a minute to grasp what Priya had said. This is nonsense. I am not like that. I don’t give needless advice. Priya is just angry. She doesn’t know what she is saying.
“You don’t mean that.” Mukti said shaking her head.
“I do. I mean every damn word. Look at your life . . . you were giving Sonali a moral sermon about meeting someone online and you did the exact same thing. Now also, you are criticizing me over a harmless little kiss when you have already slept with a guy you barely know. Why don’t you practice what you preach for a change?” Priya added viciously.
Mukti was taken aback. She just stood there as if turned into stone. Priya gave Mukti a long cold look, picked up her bag and stomped out, slamming the door behind her. Mukti kept staring at the floor. That’s what she thinks of me? Am I one of those people who insist others do what they think is right? I don’t force people to abide by my rules, do I?
‘Let’s make a night to remember . . .’
Mukti’s ringing phone brought her back to reality. She slumped over to her dresser where she had put the phone on charging. It was Prakash.
Oh! Damn it.
She composed herself. “Hey Prakash,” she said trying to sound normal.
“Hi Mukti. How are you? You sound a little sad,” he said.
“No, I am fine. You tell how is life?” And then before she could stop herself, she added, “Haven’t seen you in a while,” she bit her tongue.
Shit! Why did I have to say that!
“I was thinking the same thing. I have been out on your last few visits and Nita has appropriated all your time.”
“I know, but I like her company. She is fun to be around.”
What the hell am I saying?!
“Uh . . . not that I don’t like being with you.”
Bloody Hell! Shut up Mukti!
“Good, you feel that way. I was wondering let us meet up for lunch.”
Enough is enough I can’t lead on the poor guy. I have to tell him the truth.
“Listen, Prakash as long as it is a business lunch I don’t mind but if it’s a lunch ‘date’, then I am sorry but I won’t be able to come.”
“Why?” asked a crestfallen Prakash.
“I know you like me, and I like you too but only as a friend. I am . . .” after a pause she took a deep breath and added hurriedly, “still in love with my ex.”
Better than the truth right? I don’t want to break the poor guy’s heart.
“Yes. I am sorry, but I am still in love with him and it will be unfair on my part to get into something with you if I am not hundred percent sure.” She added feeling guilty already.
“I understand. I will wait for you.” And then added, “Till the time you are not comfortable interacting with me about your book, you can take Nita’s help on the same.”
“Thank you.” Mukti sighed with relief.
They chitchatted for sometime about the novel and its progress, said their goodbyes and hung up.
At least Prakash chapter is over. Now, on to the next one - Priya.