Novel Updates

So one fine Sunday, I was able to sort out the jalebis of my life and parcelled my novel to a few publication houses. I was Gung-ho initially but started getting cold feet the moment I inserted fresh crisp A4 sheets in the printer. I turned into Gollum and my twin personalities started fighting.

“It’s not good enough! Give it another reading!”

“Go on. Don’t listen to him. Don’t stop now.”

The good Gollum won and the button was finally hit, printouts taken and manuscripts couriered and e-mailed. It’s all done and the trepidation is nowhere near abatement. I will give it another 5-6 months and if I do not hear anything, I will drink my tears and move to the next lot of publishers.

Now as you all are the elite readers of this blog, it is my responsibility and privilege to give you a sneak peek into the creation of this story and how I went about it. This is how it happened –

  • The story is not entirely fiction. It is derived from reality but is tossed with fictional occurrences. Only the people who were involved can distinguish where one ends and the other begins. Two of them are dead.
  • The story is non-linear. It begins in 2002, then moves to 2064, then to 1930, 1984, 2003, 1952, 1965 and so on. The whole span of the tale is from 1930 to 2064. Baring the main thread, the story is derived from true events till the year 2002. It takes an entirely fictional turn after that. The story is set in Dalhousie and Delhi.
  • Since the story is non-linear, I was bound to make mistakes in the narrative if I was not cautious from the beginning. So, I maintained an excel sheet where I divided the whole timeline in decades (columns) and put major events for each of the characters (rows) in the respective columns with the exact year. This worked as a very helpful reference point for me. Even after all this, I tore off half of my mane writing the synopsis.
  • I gave up blogging to get myself disciplined and took almost a two-year break. It took me around 4-5 months for research before I began writing the book. A major chunk of the story happens in an era I have not seen. I relied on the stories told by my grandparents (which used to be very elaborate) and a lot of material I found online about how people lived in pre-independence India. I cherish those days of research because I found things I had no idea existed; I lived memories which were not mine.
  • Writing about the 50s, 60s and the 70s was a daunting task. I turned to my parents to fill me in. I had elaborate discussions with them about how people lived during those times, what they ate, what kind of movies they watched etc. I also read as much online material as I could find. Internet was a great help. I made elaborate notes.
  • The most painful experience was writing about the partition. I left it for the end. I finished writing the whole book and then went back to it. I saw a few documentaries and was left disturbed for days. What we learn in our school books can never prepare us for what happened that year. I felt completely helpless when I saw an old man crying remembering how his father beheaded his sister to save her. He said he could not forget the sound of the sword striking the flesh.
  • Finally after writing the first draft, I sent it to a few friends for review. Geet read it and liked the story. Poonam Sharma and Sonia Sundaram gave very positive feedback. After that I kept polishing the story for almost 8-9 months till I was completely satisfied with it.

So, that is how, ladies and gentlemen False Ceilings came into existence. I have sent it to a few publishers and the wait time is anywhere between 5-6 months. I will update you as soon as I hear something. And, so I leave you with a could-be-blurb of the story.

It was an enormous owl sitting on Shakuntala’s bedding that brought the bad news and changed her life. Years later, when the nerve ruptured in her brain, it was too late to share her secret. Her open eyes oscillated for seven days.

It wasn’t humans but dancing peacocks and steam engines guarding the horizon that elicited an emotion from Aaryan. He turned into a misanthrope when he was five.

Manohar was almost there when he gave up and crumpled like a detonated building. When he died, his grandson saw him flying because his legs were so thin.

Vinod liked female wrestling and lions hunting deer on Discovery. He had hunted for quails in the jungles of East Delhi and jumped into trams in Chandni Chowk. The adventures had to go on.

Meena sprinted like a horse and won prizes in racing competitions but no one wanted a bride who runs for a living. Marriage was fed into her as an escape to utopia that eventually choked her every dream. In the end, her coffin broke her into two.

Lipi could never make the almirah speak. The almirah had seen it all but it stood in a corner, hiding the secret in its false ceiling. And even after 127 years, the wooden radio still worked. She died listening to it.

Shakuntala, Aaryan, Manohar, Vinod, Meena and Lipi were bound by the secret for 130 years. The secret that devastated their lives as it travelled from Dalhousie to Delhi, as it travelled from 1940 to 2062.

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A Real Love Story: My entry for the Get Published contest – Message in a pen

Love always comes with a dressing of optimism. Pile of doubts and looming dreadful confrontations do not mar the optimistic fluttering hearts of lovers. The gang of ten was two concentric circles – eight of us as a surreptitious circumference around Saahil and Neelam.  We savored their melting. We were elated when their meetings multiplied, when their eyes oozed their enviable blissful future. I raised doubts at times in various octaves, sometimes guilty of vehemence because I was scared for them. The gang agreed that the gap was too wide to be filled up in our lifetime. Saahil belonged to a well-to-do scheduled caste family. Neelam’s parents were influential Jaat businessmen from Haryana. But Saahil and Neelam were sanguine, with a thick veil of love settled on their existence.

And then in the summer of 2007, a few weeks before the final examinations of our graduation, we witnessed something that shook our core. The violence with which reality hit us left all of us numb. Optimism was now an unrecognizable corpse buried deep within the soil of practicalities; the practicalities of staying alive. I had never thought that I would wait for Saahil in our hostel room with my heart ramming into my ribcage with a deafening ferocity. I imagined reporting him missing to the police and then identifying the pieces of his body. I imagined Neelam hanging from a ceiling fan, her battered body swinging slowly.

That year I understood that love has shades far darker than the ones our hearts allow us to comprehend. I saw it in Saahil’s watery eyes staring at nothingness. I saw it in Neelam’s bruised face when she came to write her exams.

This is their story without the proverbial The End and about how life went on.

The story of Saahil and Neelam has always stayed with me. I will not call it inspirational in a true Bollywood sense because it does not follow that trajectory. But it is inspirational because of the way it shaped up after the curtains fell and the ten of us went our ways. It is inspirational because life gave us a thousand reasons to smile after giving us a thousand reasons to cry.

The way we look at it, our definition of love is quite monochromatic. But when you go through the layers of your life, you begin to realize that our understanding of love is very similar to our understanding of the universe. Unimaginable dimensions of it will always remain unexplored and that is why our characterization of love being the warmth that spreads through our heart will always remain elementary. We forget what an important role the swinging pendulum and the change of seasons play in defining love. And this story always reminds me of that.

This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal andHarperCollins India.

[image from here]

Protected: A Bygone Life

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I love you too

First of all, my apologies to everyone for not being a very regular reader of the posts of all my buddies for quite some time now. The reason being that I have shifted base to a new place and my office is an (un)comfortable two hours drive from my home. So, I end up being in the lap of my bus for four precious hours everyday instead of being in that of my lap-top. I have to iron out my life but don’t know how.

Having said that, this post is a short story which was lying in my drafts from the past three months. Its being a while I had written one but this one popped one fine morning in my brain due to a cerebral short circuit. I started wondering on the silliness of it and then thought of bestowing the readers with it. 😛

The title of the post, of course, belongs to the short story. 😀

Here goes :

What started as a drizzle was now turning into a downpour. She was standing at the entrance of her office, forcing the umbrella to stay above her head and waiting for a cab to materialize amidst the shards of water breaking from the clouds. She saw a car approaching but it was not a cab. The black Mercedes stopped in front of her and she saw her image roll down with the window. What appeared from the other side was one of the most enchanting faces she had ever seen. He was smiling with one corner of his lips curled up and ending up in a deep dimple.

“May I help you? Can I drop you somewhere?”, he asked.

“No thanks. I will prefer going by a cab.”, she replied as her brain received a smack from her heart.

“You would be needing a boat after sometime. Don’t worry. Just hop in and I will drop you where ever you stay.”

She hesitated for a second but the dimple was at display again. She smiled back as she sat in the car and closed the door.

“Thanks.”, she said tersely.

“No trouble at all. I am Daniel.”, he shot back.

“Margaret.”, she smiled back.

He drove silently for a few minutes and then suddenly shot a glance at her.

“What?”, she asked.

“I can drop you at a place only if I know where the place is.”

“Oh!!! I am so sorry.”, she laughed back.

She told him the address and soon the car screeched at her doorstep after snaking through a few water clogged roads.

“Would you come in for a cup of coffee?”, she asked as she picked up her umbrella. She was smiling and she was not looking at him.

“Yeah sure. Its damn cold and coffee would certainly do me good.”, he said giving his dimpled smile again.

She felt a warmth in her heart. She looked at him and suddenly she couldn’t remove her eyes from his face. She just wanted to be near him. Just wanted to feel his warmth…

She unlocked the door of her apartment and asked him to come in as she switched on the lights. The apartment was spacious and very tastefully decorated with artifacts and paintings from across the globe.

“God!!! You are rich. Why don’t you have a car?”

“Thanks. I had one. I sold it last week. Got bored or it actually. I need to buy another one this weekend. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll bring the coffee.”, she said as she took his coat.

“Can I come in the kitchen? If you don’t mind.”, He asked when she was halfway across the hall.

“Sure.”, She looked back and smiled at him.

He sat at the small dining table in the kitchen and watched her make coffee. Soon she was staring at the droplets of rain slashing across the kitchen window, lost in thoughts, smiling. Suddenly he got up and stood behind her, with his hands on her shoulders, squeezing them lightly. Then he moved one of his hand over hers and cupped her slender fingers.

“My husband might be at home anytime.”, she said.

A lightening bolt flashed across the window as she said this. His grip loosened instantaneously. He went to the drawing room, picked his coat and left the house. She stood in the kitchen and laughed.

* * *

The bell rang a few minutes later. She opened the door.

“Hi hon. How are you doing?”. It was her husband.

“Great. How was your day?” , she said flashing one of her sparkling smiles which her husband really loved.

“I was thinking about you all day long.” He said as he took her in his arms and kissed her.

“What!!! Aren’t you tired?”, she asked knowing very well what was about to come.

“Not yet. But maybe, I will be in an hour.”, He said as he smiled and picked her in his arms and moved towards the bedroom.

* * *

When she woke up in the morning, her husband was already up, fixing breakfast in the kitchen. She showered quickly and entered the kitchen.

“Breakfast is served.”, her husband said as he presented her with scrambled eggs, fruits, juice and bread.

“Thank you so much dear. What would I do without you.”, she said kissing him.

They ate the breakfast, chatting happily and later he went to drop her at the office in his car. As she got out of the car, he caught hold of her hand.

“What?”, she said turning around and laughing.

“It was fun last night. Wasn’t it?”

“Yes it was. But come to think of it, what the hell were we doing?”, she said as she laughed out loud.

“Just remembering the first night we met. Come on, its been exactly five years yesterday. What’s wrong in being a little playful?”, he said as he entangled his fingers into hers.

“Yes, but five years ago, you didn’t turn around and leave and I was not married.”, she said and winked. He looked at her for a few moments, playing with her fingers. Then he pulled her into the car.

“You are the best wife I could have asked for. I love you, Margaret.”

“I love you too, Daniel”, she whispered slowly in his ear as she hugged him and looked at the diamond ring on her finger, which he gave her last night. There were tears of happiness in her eyes.

She waved her husband goodbye as he drove away in his black Mercedes, giving her another one of his infectious, dimpled smiles.

Valentine valium

 

I couldn’t believe she did this and that too a day before Valentine’s Day. Its one thing to watch all this happen in movies and its another thing to watch this happen to yourself. My girlfriend dumped me, and with what elan! There wasn’t an iota of shame on her face when she came to meet me afterwards. The mere thought of knowing a person capable of so much treachery and malevolence was giving me the creeps. Did I actually know her? Or was I just pretending? The other guy was better well of, was of her community and moreover chosen by her parents. So many positive reasons which landed me in a trash can. I was sitting at the Connaught Place metro station waiting for my train to ISBT. A train just arrived but my thoughts were so scattered that by the time I collected them, the train was gone. I stared aimlessly at the taillights as the train snaked away. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was so emotionally drained that I could have done anything to get rid of the void in my heart. Five minutes later, the next train arrived. This time, as the doors swooshed open, I pushed myself inside. The train was chock-a-block with people. I got hold of a dangling handle and threw my bag on the floor. I started tapping my feet as the train tunneled through dark hollow pipes inside the earth. A few seconds later, I heard a sound. It was the kind of sound people make when they are really irritated by something. I turned and saw a girl standing next to me. I couldn’t see her face but she was clearly bugged by the continuous tapping of my feet. I stopped it. I got down at ISBT to take the connecting train to Rohini, where I lived.

*     *     *

I couldn’t believe he did this. I had pursued this relationship with all my heart, but everything flew out of the window when I saw Rahul with that…aarrhgghh…I don’t even want to take her name. Not only were they dancing in that wretched pub like two snakes entangled to each other but were also doing something inexplicable. I stormed inside and hit her on the head and then I did something I would never do again. I kicked Rahul between his legs. I could hear his scream even after I stormed out of the pub. I wanted to cry but my anger was holding me back. I wandered here and there for sometime. Then I sat in the Inner Circle park and wrote my diary before I realised that I had to get back before my roommate sleeps, otherwise it wouldn’t take something less than a lightening bolt to wake her up. I entered the Connaught Place metro station where I took the ticket to Delhi University. I had gone to CP from college to meet Rahul in that pub. I missed two trains as I was deep in thoughts staring at the yellow line which the passengers were not supposed to cross before the train stops…the line which nobody cared about. I got into the train and caught hold of a handle somehow. I threw the bag on the floor. As the train started, I noticed a guy standing next to me who was tapping his feet like a maniac. In a few seconds this tapping got to my nerves and I made a sound. It stopped immediately. Finally the guy got off at ISBT.

*     *     *

As I entered my home, I told mom that I was not hungry and went to my room. I threw the bag on the bed and sat on the chair and held my head in my hands. Somehow, the feeling has not sunk in yet. Nishita had the guts to give me a parting card which I had not opened yet. I unzipped my bag to take out the card. What came in my hand was a red diary. I fumbled the bag for the card but everything which came in my hand was alien. This was not my bag!! Where did I lose it? In the train? At the station? I opened the diary and to my relief found an address on the first page. The bag belonged to someone named Akriti Chauhan who dwelled in Kamala Nagar. Maybe she had my bag. I decided to go to her home first thing in the morning. As I was about to flip the diary back in the bag, I had in impulse to open and read it. I turned to the last page. A few lines were hastily jotted there :

Dear Diary,

What happened with me today was something I had never imagined would happen and that too a day before Valentine’s Day. I had so much faith in my love. It all shattered in a few seconds. What had I done to deserve this? I loved Rahul with all my heart but today I kicked him. I KICKED HIM!!!!! When will this pain go? I want to cry. Oh God!!! Please let me cry.

I stared at the diary for a few moments. I kept on touching the word “faith”, as if trying to feel the word. Then suddenly I slammed it shut.

The next day I reached Delhi University by metro and then took a rickshaw to Kamala Nagar. My heart went acrid when I eyed the couples roaming around me, completely drenched in love and celebrating Valentine’s Day. I reached Akriti’s apartment completely dejected and rang the bell. A girl opened the door and for a second I was dumbstruck. She was gorgeous. For a second I completely forgot Nishita. I was staring at her with my mouth open.

“Yes?”, she asked.

“Are you Akriti?”. I asked as I came to my senses.

“Yes.”

“I have your bag. I think you have mine.” I said as I took off the bag from my shoulder and gave it to her.

*     *     * 

When I reached my apartment my flatmate was, thankfully, awake. I told her that I was not hungry and went to my room. I splashed some cold water on my face but my cheeks were still burning. I sat on the bed for sometime, staring at the ceiling fan and then opened my bag to write my diary. What came in my hand was a card. The bag was not mine. Where was my bag?? Oh GOD!!! My diary was inside it!! Someone will read it!! I emptied the contents of the bag on my bed but was not able to find an address. Cursing my fate, I opened the card. It was addressed to a guy named Mukul. The girl who wrote the card was Nishita. It said :

Dear Mukul,

I am so sorry for whatever happened but both of us have to understand this. We can’t be together. Mom and Dad have found a match for me. You have to let me go. I can’t let my parents down. Please understand.

Nishita.

I stared at the card for a long time. Tonight, I was not the only one whose heart was broken.

The next morning, the bell rang and as I opened the door, I saw the most handsome guy I have ever seen, standing at my door. For a second I completely forgot Rahul.

“Yes?” I said with great difficulty.

“Are you Akriti?”. He asked.

“Yes”.

“I have your bag. I think you have mine.” He said as he took off the bag from his shoulder and gave it to me.

“Oh yes. Please come inside.”

He moved inside and sat on the sofa. I brought his bag from inside and gave it to him.

“By the way, I read the card.”

“I read the diary.”

For a second both of us stared at each other. Then we smiled.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He said.

“Same to you.”

I asked him if he was alright and then he told me about his broken relationship. I don’t know why but I too poured my heart in front of him. We realized that our bags must have exchanged in the train. He was that irritating foot tapper. We went to Barista and talked till the evening. I never felt that I was talking to a stranger. I told him that my Valentine’s Day was not as bad as I had expected. I found a friend. We exchanged numbers before he left. As I moved towards my apartment I wondered what destiny had in store for me. My heart was such an amalgam of pain and happiness that it was hard to express an emotion. Maybe…Rahul was never meant for me. Maybe…

*     *     *

Akriti never felt like a stranger. We talked like long lost friends. Somehow the fact that we were going through the same emotions helped us to connect. She told me about Rahul. Her story was as shocking as mine, if I may call it that. She was really sweet and we promised to meet again. My heart was not acerbic anymore. As I moved towards the station after saying goodbye to her, I felt very light. There was pain but there was happiness also. Mixed emotions, as they call it. I had started to realise that maybe Nishita was never meant for me. Maybe…

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