My Little Writing Project
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Chapter Twenty One
‘Breaking a friendship’s sacred code – Sharing a secret you swore you will never do.’
The past ten days had passed in a blur. Mukti had locked herself in her house, had put her phone on silent and had even asked Veer to hide the modem to avoid temptation. She just wanted to complete the novel before the deadline. She worked on the novel tirelessly and, to her own amazement, finished it in a week. She was herself surprised how all the loose end just came together. The next couple of days were spent in editing. She was quite proud of herself actually. There were still two more days to go and was done with the writing part, the only thing left was to read it again and fine tune some bits. That night to celebrate, Veer took her out to Mainland China in GK II. They were seated at a corner table waiting for their food to come.
“When will you move in? I think after you submit the novel, then you would have some free time, right?”
Mukti had a sip of her water and decided to pester Veer a bit, “I think I will only move in with you if I manage to get a book deal.” They were laughing and joking with each other, when Veer held Mukti’s hand and pointed in the distance, “hey, isn’t that your friend’s boyfriend Shantanu?”
Mukti looked to where he was pointing, “My friends or their ex-boyfriends do have the tendency of landing up whenever we are out for…” she stopped short. She was shocked to see him walk holding her hand.
“His fiancé looks different. Very stylish in fact. It seems she has had a complete makeover.” Veer said sipping his drink.
“No, that’s not Shivani. That’s Priya. She is with Shantanu.” She said, confused.
“yeah right. Wait, what is she doing with Shantanu, I thought they decided to call it quits.”
“I thought so too.”
“you didn’t know about this.”
Mukti turned towards Veer, “look at my face. Does it look that I knew about this?”
“Do you want to go and talk to her?”
“No. I don’t. not right now.” She sat up straight and picked up the menu card.
I can’t believe she would blatantly lie to me!
They ate their dinner in silence. Mukti saw from the corner of her eye, Priya and Shantanu holding hands and laughing together. Mukti decided then and there not to confront Priya.
If she wants to tell me, she will. I am not going to ask her. Not now, not ever. I also want to see till when she can hide it.
Mukti didn’t know it yet but Priya had been hiding it for long time . . . Since the day she had come and told Mukti and Sonali that she had slept with him for the last time. Priya had never stopped seeing him; she had just stopped talking to them about him. Shantanu had not taken a transfer either. He was still her boss. Shivani had gone back and they had resumed from where they left off. Priya had once again forgotten, very conveniently, that Shivani existed. Everything was going fine but deep down inside, Priya was feeling guilty for keeping a secret from Mukti.
When Mukti and Veer were leaving the restaurant, Priya saw them as well. She ducked under the table pretending to pick up the napkin that fell from her lap. She was not ready for a confrontation yet. She needed time to prepare herself for the argument that she knew was inevitable.
Maybe it was the fear that Mukti had seen her already or maybe she was genuinely guilty for hiding something so important from her best friend . . . whatever the reason, it was strong enough for Priya to go and meet Mukti with the resolve to tell her the truth.
When she went there, Mukti was immersed in her novel. She had papers lying all around. She had a pen in her mouth and she was reading with great concentration. Priya could see Mukti’s eyes darting across the page. She kept staring at her for five minutes. When Mukti gave no sign of looking up and acknowledging her presence, Priya cleared her throat. Mukti looked like she was seeing Priya for the first time.
What the hell? I need to clear the papers! Priya can’t see them right now.
“How did you get inside?” Mukti said shuffling the papers together.
“I have an extra key, remember.” Priya said entering.
“oh . . . yeah. Why are you standing, come, sit down.” Mukti said putting the papers aside, “how have you been?”
“I’ve been fine.” Priya said picking up a paper and reading it, “Is this your novel?”
“Yeah.” Mukti said taking the paper from her hands.
“I can’t believe you have written a whole novel.” She looked up and Mukti noted that Priya was smiling.
“I can’t believe it too.” Mukti said.
“I can’t believe I haven’t even read a single line of it!” Priya looked up at Mukti, this time she wasn’t smiling.
“You have been busy.”
“I can’t believe I don’t even know what your novel is about?”
“as I said, you have been busy.” Mukti got up and started walking towards the kitchen, “I am making coffee, you want some?”
While Mukti was in the kitchen, Priya picked up a couple of random papers lying under the dresser that misses Mukti’s eye and started reading them.
“I don’t want to go.” Krishna wailed.
“It’s Mumbai! How can you not go? I wish I could go in your place.” Devyani said.
“But I won’t know anyone. You know how difficult it is for me to make friends.” a tear gleamed on Krishna’s walnut-coloured cheek.
“You will make friends. Trust me. You will have so much fun that you’ll forget all about me.” Devyani pouted.
“That’s not possible. You are my best friend. I’ll never forget you.” Krishna hugged Devyani and the two girls stayed locked in each other’s embrace for a long time.
Priya smiled and turned to read another page.
“Devyani, I think I am in love.” Krishna gushed into the receiver. She was sitting in her hostel bed with massive books opened in front of her. she had a much-chewed pen in her mouth. The whole room was in a mess covered with books, dirty laundry, pizza boxes, and a massive heap of tea cups.
“what?! You have been there for only six months and you are already in love?! By the way I know who it is!” Devyani teased her best friend. She was lounging on her couch with a novel in her hand.
Krishna just giggled.
“It is Shekhar, right?” Devyani asked.
“How did you know?”
“Since you have landed in the hostel, he is the only one you talk about. Shekhar this and Shekhar that. It was not hard to guess.”
Krishna lie down on her bed and sighed deeply, “it feels so great to be loved. You know Shekhar is so charming! He takes such good care of me. I feel so blessed to have someone like him in my life.”
“I am very happy for you.” Devyani smiled picturing her friend walking hand in hand with the guy she loved into the moonlight.
Something stirred in Priya’s mind.
This conversation seems oddly familiar.
She hastily picked up another paper from the floor and started reading it.
“What is the matter Krishna? Why don’t you take my calls? You didn’t even tell me that you were coming back!” Devyani plopped on Krishna’s bed where she was lying with a sheet covering her face. Devyani shook Krishna, “What is the matter? Did you have a fight with Shekhar?”
Devyani heard Krishna sobbing. “Kris are you crying?” she went ahead and dragged the sheet off her sobbing friend. Krishna was indeed crying. Her eyes were red and swollen. She had a deep gash on one side of her face. Her lip was swelled up as well and had a cut on one side.
“What happened to you?” Devyani asked worried.
“I fell.” Krishna said looking away.
“No, you did not. Tell me what happened?” Devyani looked Krishna over. She saw that she had marks all over her arms as well. “Has your mom seen this?”
She just nodded her head.
“She believed that you fell?”
Krishna again nodded her head.
Devyani sighed and made Krishna face her, “Who did this to you?”
“No one.” Krishna mumbled.
“Was it Shekhar?”
Krishna shook her head but her eyes unwittingly filled with tears.
“I know it’s him. he hits you right? I knew it! Even though you disagreed, I knew what I heard was the sound of a slap. I knew that you were lying when you told me that you are stressed because of the course. It was all him all along, right? He beats you?”
Krishna got up from her bed and held Devyani’s hands, “You can’t tell anyone. Please. You can’t tell my parents.”
“What?! What are you saying?” Devyani said irritably.
“Devyani, he is trying to change. He has promised that he will not hit me ever again.”
“Devyani, he is trying to change. He has promised that he will not hit me ever again.”
“Are you crazy Krishna? Look at you! You are bruised all over and you are still defending him? you should file a complaint against him. wait; let me tell your parents.”
Krishna held her hand and made her stop. She looked at her with pleading eyes, “Devyani, he is the first guy who has ever shown any interest in me. I can’t drive him away.”
Devyani was getting agitated, “Do you hear yourself? Are you crazy? So, what? You will continue to get battered so that he doesn’t leave you?”
“He promised me he will change.”
As Priya continued to read, her eyes opened wide.
No, she didn’t!
She hurriedly picked up another page from the pile.
“What the hell is that now?” Devyani asked Krishna, “I know that you didn’t burn yourself while ironing. I know that’s a cigarette burn.”
Krishna continued to evade any questions regarding Shekhar until Devyani threatened to tell her parents. Finally Krishna broke down and narrated the entire story between sobs.
“Everything was going great in the beginning. I was so happy; it felt as if I was floating on air. He made me feel so special. Then one day while working on a project, he fell asleep in my room. The next morning when we woke up, he suggested that he doesn’t want to leave.” Krishna looked at Devyani with a sheepish grin, “I also didn’t want him to leave and we started living together.”
Devyani raised her eyebrows but decided to not interrupt Krishna.
“I was so happy, waking up seeing his face and going to bed with his protective arm around me. But, then after a while things started going wrong.”
“Why what happened?” Devyani asked hoping it was not what she thinking.
“We slept together.” Krishna almost whispered.
“What?!” Devyani was stunned. Her sweet innocent friend who, till Shekhar came along, had never even had a boyfriend had already slept with someone.
“I didn’t want to Devyani, I swear I didn’t. But he said that if I loved him, I would not stop him. I wanted to prove my love for him so I let him.”
“Oh God!” Mukti just sighed.
“It was so painful. I asked him to stop but he kept insisting that I’ll start enjoying soon. But I didn’t, I was so sore the next day that I couldn’t even walk properly.” Krishna was sobbing.
“Did you have sex with him again?” Devyani asked.
Krishna nodded and added hurriedly, “He hit me if I didn’t. But afterwards, he would apologize profusely and vowed to never do that again. He would promise every time that he will never force himself on me but he didn’t keep his word.”
Krishna wiped her tears, “slowly he became so possessive. Even if I talked to someone else, he’d get angry. You remember that day when I had come with a swollen eye; he had knocked me out with a punch because I had refused to sleep with him.”
“Kris you need to tell the authorities. You need to tell your parents.”
Krishna begged her to not to out her secret, “I only have him, I can’t lose him. I just can’t lose him. I love him, Devyani and I can’t live without him. He loves me too; it’s just that sometimes he loses his patience. He says he is working on it, but—“
Devyani’s eyes filled with tears looking at her smart and intelligent friend beseeching her to keep her secret. She hugged her tightly and promised to not tell anyone.
The more she read, the more furious Priya got. Angry tears welled up in her eyes. The resemblance was uncanny. She was Krishna and Shekhar was Mudit, her college boyfriend. Mukti had written about her past. She had written about Priya’s ordeal, what all she gone through at the hands of Mudit. She was going to divulge her secret. Priya’s hands were shaking with rage and betrayal.
How could you, Mukti? How could you? I trusted you. You promised. I can’t believe you would turn my life into a manuscript!
Another page flapped up against her leg and she picked it up to read as well.
Krishna was standing outside Devyani’s house. Her hair was hanging flaccidly covering her face. She was tensely fumbling with her shirt but her eyes looked straight at Devyani, unwavering. She muttered calmly, “I have punished him for what he did to me.”
These words transported Priya back to a cool December night when she was the one standing outside Mukti’s house shaking with nervous excitement. Like Krishna, she was also in a dishevelled state. Her hair were hanging loose and flapping in the cold winter air. She was anxiously playing with a loose end of her dupatta. In spite of the nip in the air, Priya was breaking out in a cold sweat. She couldn’t believe her plan had worked. All those weeks of planning had finally come through. She rang the bell twice. Finally Mukti came out.
“I have done it. I have punished Mudit. I have taken my revenge.” She said looking straight at Mukti with her stony gaze.
Mukti motioned her to keep quiet and dragged her inside her room discreetly. Once indoors, Mukti sat Priya down on her bed and asked her, “what do you mean you have punished him?”
“I have taken my revenge. He is in jail.” She said. Mukti noticed that Priya was trying to be calm but she had an edgy demeanour. She was tapping her foot restlessly and fumbling with her dupatta.
Mukti placed a hand on hers, “What? You finally filed a FIR?”
Priya first glanced down at their hands placed on each other’s and then looked up at Mukti’s concerned face, “No. I did something better.”
“What did you do Priya? Just tell me already.” Mukti was getting panicked.
“I convinced him to steal our final exams question papers and then sent an anonymous tip to the Dean. They searched his hostel room and found the papers. He got arrested. He is in jail now. He might be locked up for seven years.” Priya said without a pause. Mukti saw panic flash through Priya’s eyes. Her jaw fell down with shock. Her head was buzzing with numerous questions.
“Didn’t he say that you were with him? How did you steal the papers?”Mukti asked. She had trouble believing that her friend was capable of something like that. “Explain in detail please.”
“I was fed up Mukti!” Priya said getting up from the bed and pacing the room, “I was sick and tired of the constant torture. He used to come up and demand sex whenever he pleased like it and if I refused he would beat the shit out of me!”
A silent tear trickled down her cheek, “Then one day, he brought some friend over and insisted I ‘service’ him.” she said with aversion.
Mukti’s eyes opened wide, “he did what?”
Priya’s head hung with shame. Mukti went and hugged her friend tightly.
Priya continued, “Since that day I was thinking of extracting revenge. I was lying low taking all his bull shit just waiting for an opportunity. Then, one day I heard the peons talking behind the cafeteria, about how the question papers would be locked up in the dean’s office two days before the exams. That’s when I hatched this plan.” There was an odd gleam in Priya’s eyes that scared Mukti. She had never seen this side of Priya. This facet of Priya’s personality was hidden deep below the surface that came to the forefront only when she was backed up against the wall.
Mukti urged Priya to continue, “But, how did you steal the key? What did you tell Mudit to persuade him to do this? Why didn’t he tell the authorities that you were also involved?”
Priya looked back at Mukti, “I decided to use Mudit’s character traits against him. He was always taunting me that I was a topper and didn’t have to study much, so when I heard the peons talking, I went and told him that he could be a topper too. Mukti, he had such desire to succeed that he didn’t even flinch when I told him that it would involve stealing the question papers.”
Priya sat down on the bed with a faraway look on her face, “The next day, he sat down with the peons for a drink. He was always a sweet-talker. He won-over the peons with his honey-laden words. They fell into his trap. The alcohol worked as a charm as well. Soon, they were dishing out all the staff gossip. After just one bottle, they told Mudit where the spare key to the Dean’s office is.”
“Didn’t they tell the police that you were an accomplice too?”
“Mudit is his own worst enemy. It was so easy to trick him. I pretended to take the lead but he couldn’t have that. I knew he wouldn’t let me be the leader. And as I told you he was getting increasing possessive, he didn’t want me to come in front of the lecherous drunk peons. They had no idea I was hiding behind. It worked out perfectly for me.”
Mukti was getting increasingly worried, and a little proud, of Priya’s conniving side, “Where was the spare key?”
“It was in the staff room. The next day, when the staff room was relatively empty we entered making some excuse. While I distracted the lone teacher, Mudit made the impression of the key on soap.” She paused, “That was also my idea. I was the innocent student clearing my doubts before an exam while Mudit was a student lounging around the staff room. Plus the idiot didn’t even wear gloves so the spare key had his prints.” Priya gave Mukti a small smile.
“The next part was easy. That night we sneaked into the dean’s office while the guard snored peacefully. We stole the papers that were stacked neatly in the closet, made copies from the dean’s copier. We placed the originals back at their place and sneaked out.”
“What about CCTVs? All hostels have them now!” Mukti was sure Priya would not have thought about that.
“The peons had told us that the CCTV in the dean’s corridor had not been working for a while now.” Priya held Mukti’s hands, “I am telling you Mukti, God was with me. he wanted me to do this. I am still amazed that how it all went so smoothly.”
“Okay. So, you tipped the dean later about the papers.” Priya nodded.
“Didn’t Mudit tell them that you were with him the whole time?”
“No body believed him. I am a topper Mukti. I don’t need the papers to pass, but Mudit did. Plus the peons told them that it was only Mudit who had come up to them with alcohol. The teacher also testified that she had seen Mudit lounging around in the staff room where the key is kept.” Priya said.
Mukti racked her brain to ask her something else but she had no more doubts. She hadn’t till now, but after clearing all her doubts, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling broadly. “So, he is really in jail?”
“Yes. He is.” Priya was smiling too.
“But why didn’t you just tell the police that he was sexually abusing you?”
“Because,” Priya paused, “that would kill my parents. In our country, one way or the other, it is always the woman’s fault. If the news came out that I was sexually abused, somehow, I know it will all be labelled as my fault. I would be branded as characterless and what not. Instead of the victim, I’ll be written off as a desperate woman who was asking for it. I can’t let my parents go through it.”
She was pacing Mukti’s room. “ I knew I wanted to punish Mudit but I didn’t want the world to know what he is being punished for. I am sure he has understood by now for what crime he is behind bars.” Her eyes filled with tears again as the months of abuse flashed by her mind.
Priya hugged her friend, “You did the right thing. But, what if the truth comes out that you were behind it all? It’ll be a black mark on your life forever.” Mukti said kindly, concerned for her friend’s well being.
“That is why you have to promise me, you’ll never tell anyone. It is our secret. I don’t want anyone to know that I was raped. I don’t want anyone to find out that I was the mastermind behind Mudit’s imprisonment. I just want to forget about this chapter and move on with my life.”
Priya was shaking. Her forehead was covered with tiny beads of perspiration even in the chilly winter air.
“I promise. My lips are sealed forever.”
My lips are sealed forever.
The words echoed in Priya’s ears and tears came streaming down her face. She was numb. Her arm fell limply to her side and the page flew out of her hand. She didn’t even notice when Mukti offered her the cup.
“Priya?” Mukti shook her.
Instead of taking the mug, Priya stared acrimoniously at Mukti. The look on Priya’s face made Mukti freeze on the spot. Priya’s eyes were filled with anger, hurt and disappointment. At first Mukti, didn’t understand why Priya looked so mortified, but then she saw the papers lying around Priya’s feet and everything fell into place.
“Priya, I was about to tell you.” Mukti began.
“When? When it came out from the press?”
“no, before that. I was just . . .”
“you were just what, Mukti? You were just what?!” Priya was yelling.
“Listen, sit. Calm down. Have some water.” Mukti put the coffee mugs down and went close to Priya.
“Don’t touch me.” she jerked Mukti’s hands away from her, “ how could you?”
“It’s not what you think. Read the whole novel, you will understand.”
“What will I understand? That how you are using my life to become famous? All this is just a story for you, right?! A scandalised account of a poor ugly girl. Well, it happened to me!! the stuff with Mudit, that was personal! And you have dished out every little detail for everyone to read and pass judgement on! how can you be so insensitive?”
“How will they know it’s about you? It can be any girl?” Mukti tried to calm Priya down.
“well, our friends will know that it’s about me! my family will figure it out! How could you be so selfish!”
“I am not being selfish. I want the world to know that there are jerks like him out there that will play on your emotions and hurt you. That’s all. I am telling you, please read the whole thing before you get upset. It’s not about you. It is a highly fictionalised account of what happened to you.”
“You did this before also with that blog post and now this! You didn’t even tell me and wrote the whole damn thing! You were going to submit it without telling me weren’t you?”
“No, I was not. I was going to tell you tonight.”
“I can’t believe you hid something this important from me!”
“well, I am not the only with secrets.” Mukti was getting angry too.
“I know you saw me yesterday with Shantanu. That’s why I had come here.”
“why would you go out with him again? Why? Why did you lie to me?”
“Because I was scared! Okay! I was scared that you will not understand, that’s why I lied to you.”
“Priya, you are…”
Priya cut her off, “Don’t. don’t you say anything. I am not interested to listen. After this,” she threw the paper on the floor, “save it.”
Priya started walking towards the door.
She turned with tears streaming down her face, “I just wish that you will stop making an example out of my life. it’s been almost two decades that we know each other, but you still don’t understand me.” with that she walked out, leaving behind a stunned Mukti.
Mukti didn’t know what to do. she sat down on the floor.
What has happened to us? We can’t even talk without fighting anymore!
She started crying. everything flashed in front of her eyes.
Since the time Shantanu has come into the picture, everything has gone wrong.
She picked up her phone and dialled Veer, his phone was coming busy. She tried him a couple of times, but every time it was busy.
God knows who he is talking to.
Then, she dialled Sonali’s number.
“I have to talk to you.” She said in between sobs.
“Why do you want to talk to me, I thought I was a bimbo?”
“Isn’t that what you think? Isn’t that what you have written in the novel?” she said accusingly.
“Sonali, it’s not what you think. Priya has just read snippets. These characters have been modelled on you guys but they are not completely your personalities. You guys have much more to it than this.”
“Ok, but you still think I am a bimbo?”
“You are not. The character is. It’s a fictionalised account. The only similarity between you and Snigdha is that you both are air-hostesses, that’s it.”
“Mukti, I don’t know what to believe. Priya is with me. let us just be. we’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
Mukti kept staring at the phone. How had everything turned into such a mess. The novel, her dream, was breaking her friendships apart. all the moments spent together with Priya and Sonali came in front of her eyes and she started crying. she laid down on the floor and fell asleep amidst her own tears.
Mukti woke up with a buzzed head. Her whole body was aching especially her neck from sleeping on the floor. she got up and went to get a glass of water. She looked at the time, it was three in the morning. She checked her phone. One call and one message from Veer. None from Sonali or Priya. She didn’t know what to do. in a couple of hours Nits will be expecting that she send her manuscript. She decided to ask for some time.
But what if she doesn’t give it? What if she says she doesn’t want it after ten am?
She thought about a while and made up mind to talk to Nits directly instead of indulging in pointless speculation. She opened her laptop and typed a quick mail to Nits apologizing and asking for an extension. Surprisingly she got a reply.
Sweets, what is this? We are waiting for the manuscript? Why this delay?
Mukti noticed it was sent from her iphone. She looked at the watch again and called Nits.
“Hi Mukti. What happened? Saw your mail.”
“Nits, what are you doing awake at three in the morning?”
“You are also up but your voice tell me you are not having as much fun as me.”
Mukti could hear soft music in the background.
“Nits, where are you? Can we talk?”
“Well, it is not a good time. Wait, Punit, I’ll join you in a sec.” Mukti heard a giggle and then Nits was back, “Mukti, I have to go, someone is waiting for me. when can you submit the novel?”
“I don’t know… another month.”
“A month is a long time.” She suddenly got serious. “Punit, I said I’ll be back.” She said sternly. Mukti heard a door slam.
“Mukti, tell me what’s wrong. The last time we spoke your manuscript was almost finished, right? What happened suddenly?”
Mukti told her the whole thing.
“See, this is your personal matter but I will suggest that you urge your friends to read the whole novel and see for themselves that it’s not about them. And to tell you the truth, you should have asked them before hand… Mukti, please give me the novel only when you solve this thing. I don’t want any cases afterwards. And I will tell Prakash to add another clause in your contract, that if anyone sues the book for the characters and situations, you will handle it. The publishing house has no relation with it. Well, that will happen only when we decide to publish it, I am sure we’ll love it, by the way. Anyway, I hope that you will able to convince your friends. I can’t give you a month, I will give you a fortnight. Tell me after fifteen days, if you can submit it or not. Puni’s getting restless baby, I will talk to you later. ciao”
Mukti was stunned. fifteen days?! Will she be able to convince Priya and Sonali to let her publish? Will they sue her if she published?
I am sure they won’t sue me? they are my friends!