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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Being Mrs. Shome

This is my first attempt at writing a (not so) short story. I have some more ideas lined up next. Long back, I had read somewhere that the basic difference between a novel and a short story is that the later ends abruptly, and hence, leaves a lot of things unsaid, and 'shesh hoyeo jeno shesh hoy na', id est, doesn't end even after the end. Whatever. Here's for you to judge. I'll really appreciate your objective criticism.

I

306. She looked at the apartment number impatiently. Some things didn't come naturally to her. Waiting was the last thing she would learn she thought. She rang the bell again.

The highlights on her coiffure blended well with her persona. Tossed back carelessly- not so carelessly actually- she had the habit of brushing her hair as often as she could. She hated unruly things other than herself. Her make-up was minimal: just a thin black eyeliner and semi-nude lip gloss to accentuate her features. The expensive French perfume had a subtle lingering fragrance. But she wore the expression of a woman who knew that she was gorgeous and that people noticed her. She always let her smile appear lightly on her lips first, reach her eyes next and then broaden on her face. They called it the "billion dollar smile of the Iron Maiden" in the industry.

And yet, she knew that she was not always that attractive. Everything had been practiced to perfection throughout the years- even her smile. Worldly achievements had contributed to her overall sense of well-being and her pulchritude. Success is salubrious- she thought with a smile. And it was exactly then she realized that the door had been left ajar. She pushed it lightly with her French-manicured hands and walked in. And before she could turn back to close the entrance, someone pounced on her from her back.

II

Three hours later, she was lying beside him. She wanted more but she had to leave. Her husband Siddharth would be awaiting her and she didn't like to keep him awake till late. She looked sideways at the man sleeping in her arms. He had adonistic looks but didn't have much use for his brains. Nevertheless, she liked his tendency to give her surprises. Just like a little while ago when he was waiting for her, stark-naked in his apartment. As soon as she had walked in, he had pounced on her like a hungry animal and had carried her in his arms to the near-by sofa where they made love, and then on the carpet and then finally they ended up in the bathroom. He was always so eager to make love -almost like a prurient teenager. Eager to please, eager to touch, eager not to let her go. He could have been at least twelve years her junior. She didn't know exactly. She had never given it a serious thought.

She lit a cigarette while she walked towards the parking lot. It was dark and there was hardly another soul in the suburban residential complex. Perfect for her. She giggled at the thought of the media digging out this scoop. She could even imagine the headlines: Businesswoman of the year caught red-handed cheating on her husband. Iron Maiden's ironic turn of fate. Eyewitnesses confirm the existence of the much rumored love-nest of Geetanjali Roy... From here, it only got sleazier. She tossed the half burned cigarette and the entertaining thoughts out of the window and drove out towards a place she called home.

III

It had been fifteen years' since they had been married; Siddharth would still wait for her for dinner. He was told that she had late night meetings every third Thursday of the month to ascertain that every one in the organization was on the same page. He was very proud of her. He had known her six years before their marriage, and had seen her transform from a naive, young girl to a confident, complete woman that she was today.

He didn't mind being the Prince Consort though. All the page-3 parties they attended together evinced the fact that she had a colossal social presence. Reporters would herd up to her to have her opinion on the latest budget or some new tax law and its effect on the economy of the country. Sometimes, they would use words he didn't even understand. He was out and out a Literature guy. Business bored him. But she was an exponent in her field. How she managed the firm's differentiation even with its ceaseless expansion, how it resulted in acquiring the major chunk of market shares in industrial sales, and how she aggressively marketed the products was almost a folk-lore in the world of consumer goods. She always said to him: You have got to keep adding attributes to a product line Sidd. Don't let the customers wink or look away. They should always feel dazed by your innovation.

She followed the same principle in her personal life too- he knew. She was always rediscovering herself or adding attributes. She could speak five different languages fluently. She could play the violin and drive anyone to tears. Her oratory skills were veneered and her advice on business matters was one of the most precious things that money couldn't buy. A rival firm had tried to persuade her to leave her first employer once, even with the non-compete policies between them. She had refused those green bucks when she was only a young thing. Yes, he was proud of her.

IV

She walked stealthily into the living room, hoping against hope that he had gone to sleep. It wasn't really guilt. Repentance is a redundant emotion she always believed. She just didn't like him waiting for her, hungry. He would often cook something for her and she could always discern it among an assortment of other dishes. Even the most professional cook couldn't add the most important ingredient that Sidd always lavishly poured into a concoction: love.

It was eleven years ago when she had the miscarriage. They had married when she was twenty-seven and Sidd was thirty but she didn't want a baby until they were 'settled' in life. Sidd was a struggling writer back then, and he still was. She had tried to convince him to use her contacts to get his maiden novel published. But her negotiation skills faced paucity when it came to him. It is difficult to reason with someone who doesn't work for his own interest. He was adamant, he never resorted to recommendations. Not even from the 'love of his life', as he called her- 'the one' for him. He had scribbled a few poems here and there and got them published in newspapers, magazines and as coffee-table books. But he was waiting for a masterpiece - a novel he believed that would be a chef d'oeuvre, a tour de force that would make him immortal in the literary world. Unfortunately, the spark never kindled. 'Money is nothing but an impediment to creativity. And Geetu is doing so well. Maybe I need to face hardship for a while to provide impetus to my drying pen. I will ask her if she thinks it is a good idea to be away from her for a while' he thought to himself.

She saw him on his favorite reclining chair. They had it since the Adams. It looked horribly out of sync with the living room decor. But she knew that he loved it so much that he would never let go of it. She had tried to put the idea in his mind a few times, but he would simply say: "But I love it" as if it were justification enough. And he would make his face like a kid explaining something to his mother. That is what she adored about him. He was so simple, so unworldly, so child-like in his manners. She knew that he abhorred crowds, but he always accompanied her to parties and social gatherings loyally. The perfect couple. Essential for her public image and a source of frustration for the yellow page journalists who had been trying to get a loose end leading to a delicious scandal concerning her. He was her talisman. As long as he was around, nothing could touch her she felt. She was usually not superstitious, but her belief in him was almost blind and primal.

He addressed her without turning his head: 'You knew I'd be waiting for you love. You needn't have tip-toed.' He was so predictable. And he always knew it when she was in close proximity, almost like an ultra-sensitive radar. She smiled and walked towards him, held his head in her arms and kissed his ruffled hair. Then she stepped into their bedroom to change and get ready for dinner.

V

Post-dinner, Siddharth told Geetanjali about his new found idea. She disliked the very thought of it. She was so used to having him around that she could not think of life without him. It was almost a habit. Was it ever love? Or passion? It seemed like a long, long, long time ago when he had been on his knees and had proposed her for marriage. She was only a young girl then and she had felt like the happiest person in the world. She was so ecstatic that she had wept. Maybe the last time she had tears in her eyes. After that, life had been a whirlwind of activities : innumerable names, business contacts, launch of new products, strategic planning, business trips, meetings, meetings and more meetings ... She had lost count of the variety of professional duties she had most efficiently executed to reach where she was.

She had seen the market change; even the most loyal connections could turn hostile for trifle business reasons. But she had always thought a step ahead of her competition and a breach of trust meant death in the books of Geetanjali Roy. People knew her by her maiden name. She was earning the royalties on her several published works under the same title. Somehow, she didn't want to part with the name she was born with and had begun to love fiercely. Siddharth was very understanding in this matter. He never tried to impose his last name on her. Only when they were young and he'd get super-romantic, he'd call her "Mrs. Shome" and kiss her. She liked it that way. It was his exclusive right.

Siddharth pressed on the matter again before going to sleep, but she suggested: 'We'll talk about it tomorrow', hoping that he'd forget all about it the following day. In the morning, however, he kept urging her like a child keen on an idee fixe and she started wondering what to say. She stated , "Okay, we'll have to arrange for your stay first. I will let you know in the evening when I get back from work." Gleefully he bade her goodbye.

Sometimes, she had that odd feeling that he knew everything. He could always read her mind before, speak aloud what she was thinking. But over the years she had learned to keep a passive countenance. It was essential for her everyday dealings. Siddharth had given up trying long back. Or had he?

VI

Her cell phone beeped once and flashed Siddharth's number. She picked it in the middle of a presentation from a young chap she prided upon recruiting herself personally. She knew a winner when she saw one, and schooled properly, he could take her place when she finally retired.

A quivering voice gave a message in fragments which sounded like : Siddharth saab.. accident.. hospital She listened intently and suddenly her calm, composed attitude changed. In years, she felt a panic attack and feared that she might pass out. She excused herself from the meeting and asked someone else to preside over it and give her the reports later in the evening.

On reaching the hospital that Siddharth's driver had mentioned over the phone, she inquired about him at the help desk. Suddenly, a sense of loss was overshadowing her thought processes, "It's all too sudden.. all too unanticipated" and then she kept saying to herself: This isn't a time to feel weak Geetanjali Roy. .. Buck up Geetu.. buck up Mrs. Shome... and she felt surprised at having used the appellative. When was the last time she had thought herself to be the wife of Mr. Siddharth Shome? Not that she could remember.

However, things weren't as bad as she had feared and in a few days' time Siddharth was back home; though the doctors said that his broken bones would need some time to recover fully. Geetanjali had been working mostly from home lately and taken up to cooking one or two of his favorite dishes. She was making porridge today. Milk, sugar, vermicelli, walnuts, raisins, cardamom .. what was she missing? Saffron. He liked the tint it gave to the milk when she used to cook for him years ago. Hope he still liked it.

He was sitting upright on the bed, browsing through a poetry book he used to read to her sometimes when they had just married. She asked him to recite a piece for her, and he acceded with a smile. When he had finished , he asked: "Don't you have your Thursday meeting tonight?"
"Not anymore" she replied.

44 comments:

zoxcleb said...

i read it i read it....

Anand Sarolkar said...

Nice piece! couldn't help noticing the use of Bengali names :)

Sam said...

Loved it!!!
But, i have a question... does it always have to be such a jarring jolt to take someone to realise the importance of the other one in his/her life????? Why does it always have to be such??
Why does the sense of losing that person actually makes you sit upa dn take more of a notice of that other person??
Why do we take people for granted????

passer by said...

whoa.. write on like this and your maiden name would be proud of you..loved it.. was a geometric progression of thoughts..a novel kind of approach.. starting with a this isolated stand..getting wound up to a yarn and then woven to a canvass depicting a lot of emotions and boiling down to a important point..it was nice..the story kind of "called it quits on a high"

BTW..has the writer been able to keep her characters at at least an arms length?

intelligent_bacteria said...

I am no the best of the critics. All I can say I just loved reading it till the last word. your attention to details was very good and that made the characters come alive.Good work!

Aparna Kar said...

@intelligent_bacteria
Thank you so much ! I am so glad that you noticed. I hope I create more credible characters. :)

Aparna Kar said...

@passer by
Hee Hee. I don't know a Geetanjali Roy or Siddharth Shome i real life. But I guess the shades are derived from differents characters I have come across the years. In fact, a bit of it is a part of me too. The details on the taste in make-up at least ;)

Aparna Kar said...

@sam
No, it needn't be something as dramatic a 'jarring jolt', as u put it, to realize the importance of the other one in someone's life. It could be something more subtle. However, a sense of loss for a possession might remind you of the value sometimes- see what I mean?. Also, you are free to make your own interpretations but when you read between the lines you will feel that she was no less affectionate towards him. Only their marriage had lost its charm to habits and predictability, which she abhorred. Doesn't mean she gave more importance to the guy she was having an affair with. She just didn't realize that she was doing something wrong. Then again, who are we to decide. Maybe Siddharth really knew about it. Notice that he makes no reference to their current relation- only her professionalism and her ability to add attributes to herself.

Aparna Kar said...

@Anand Sarolkar
Sorry. Wrote down what came to my mmind first- Shome- Siddharth- Geetanjali- Roy in that order. I debated whether to put Sharma in her maiden name instead, but 'Roy' has three alphabets and so has 'Kar', and she shares her love for her maiden name with me :) Then again, what is in a name etc. The characters are not really empirical, but quite universal I believe.

Aparna Kar said...

@zoxcleb
Thank u so much for your time. We'll talk about sharing the royalties later ;P

Matangi Mawley said...

lovely!

sangram said...

excellent babe :)

Aditya said...

Very well written.

The characters were defined nicely, but am a touch surprised that the 'predictability abhorring' Geetanjali, kept a specific day for the rendezvous. I would not bet against the author herself :-), but am sure Siddharth was able to pick up, what she really wanted, but had convinced himself to let it be ...

If this was your first attempt, then you deserve a big applause. Good luck for the future!

p.s. What if Geetanjali would have said 'Not today' rather than 'Not anymore' at the end?

Aparna Kar said...

@Aditya
Interesting observations ! Since it was guised as a business meeting, it was more plausible to have a target date every month. There's no evidence that she did not meet him otherwise :P

This really is my maiden attempt. I wish I can etch deeper character sketches, even with the constraint of length. Maybe I need to get back to the art of reading again first.

Btw, 'not today' would have been an ambiguous end. I wanted her to decide her mind for good. :)

Aparna Kar said...

@sangram
:D

Aparna Kar said...

@Matangi Mawley
Thanks:)

Munmun said...

Loved it :) good job - you should really take writing even more seriously! :D

Aparna Kar said...

@munmun
Aah! Finally ! I was waiting for you to say it :D Btw, I am seriously considering to make wriitng my secondary career.:P Only, I still have a long way to go- And realms of pages to write on before I sleep. (Robert Frost-style;) ) I should be good in the next 15 years or so- what say? :D

Anonymous said...

Brilliant..

Geetanjali was well sketched..
Siddarth reminded me of someone who said writing is simillar to sitting on pot. You have to get rid of what is on your mind.


few points;

1) You can not ave it every thursday.
2) When you receive a phone like that . i dont think geetanjali would have been in senses to ask somone to take care of the meeting
better avoid describing that..
3) Why this happy ending syndrome..

Sam said...

Honestly!!!
The sense of losing!!!
Boredom... at times I wonder, what if our lives get riddled with such factors???

Aparna Kar said...

@Anonymous
1. It wasn't every Thursday. Every third Thursday of the month, and we suspect that she had other sporadic meetings too.
2. She was a competent woman. What she did was out of professional habit, more than clear rational thinking at that moment.
3. Not really. It's open to interpretations like one reader pointed out .. what if it was "not today" in stead of "not anymore"

I don't always subscribe to happy endings. But I believe I prefer Shakespearean comedies. Give them happiness wherever possible and hardship only if necessary.

Thanks for your opinion :)

Aparna Kar said...

@sam
Most of us wiser than that. We don't need such factors to make us treasure what we have. However, why is only Geetanjali held responsible? How much did Siddharth contribute to their relationship after a while? He was loyal. But was it enough? There was a certain disparity in matters of financial independence at least. Maybe he was conscious of it and wanted to stay away for a while- also as an effort to save their marriage. Who knows?

saikat said...

Appu as usual a brilliant masterpiece...but hmmm i would have gone with a sad ending...no longer an optimist u see :P ...maybe the first line repeated at the end.

but must say...start taking writing more seriously :) ... i wont mind a booker or pultizer winner as my best frnd u see :D

Munmun said...

I am sure you won't take that long - 15 years! :) You are a real writer material, trust me :)

Aparna Kar said...

Emperor clubbed This is something that fortunately didn't happen to her. This article from Wall Street Journal struck a chord today :D

Aparna Kar said...

@Munmun
Mucho Gracias. I trust you :)

Aparna Kar said...

@saikat
Interesting perception. It's not necessarily in her best interests not to go back to continue having rendezvous with air-head, but somehow I felt that she would want to rediscover the charm of a more mature relation rather than invest her time in a frivolous one, having faced with the possibility of a loss only recently.

Btw, thanks for being an eternal sweetheart in this ever changing world :)

sandesh said...

yo great stuff Aparna...cheers!

candid diary said...

Hi, Aparna!
Please don't open the link given by jojosho and delete the comment.

candid diary said...

Loved it!!! Read your short story thrice (my lame excuse for the late comment :D).
Words, with their repetitive use, tend to lose their sharpness and potency. Writers find new words and start using them to rejuvenate their narratives. You live in the world of words, dream words, mug up words, worship words and probably eat words in alphabet soups. But I am also astonished to see the restrain shown by you in exploiting uncommon words. Well, frequent use of rare words is a weakness analogous to a lady sceptical of her beauty and studded with heavy jewellery from head to toe. Kudos.
I am an ardent fan and a tough critic of your writings and, so, let me provide an objective analysis. Your narrative is lucid, simply great but the plot in the story is so simple that it would not make a reader sit up. Am I reading too much of Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Sydney Sheldon and Frederick Forsyth? No. I was simply speculating your achievement with a great plot. I know, I know – you can only write about the things you have experienced. There again, you are not Geetanjali -not fully, though I find your pale shadow in her characterisation – and you have experienced her life vicariously. So, for your next story please start searching for a better plot speckled in the lives of your acquaintances and even, believe me, in newspapers. Anton Chekhov said, “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”. That glint of light on a broken glass and not the moon is a short story. I am sure you would find that glint of light.
Aha, do I hear you correctly? Yes, I may provide plots but with a heavy fee :D

Sam said...

need to know a lil more abt sid to comment on dat!!

Aparna Kar said...

@sam
Maybe u r right. Sidd's character got overshadowed by the alpha-female protagonist.

Sam said...

quite true... but then.. sid's character does lend a lot of color to geetanjali.
i mean, take a look at it this way, what if sid wasn't such a laid back guy?? what if he was a go-getter?? what if he was a possesive, romantic and passioante guy?? Would geetanjali still have been the same?? Did her thursday meetings ever had a chance then??
I wonder.... sometimes, you become what you do during a relationship because of your partner... more so in case of marriage!!!

Pixie said...

hi

:) im a regular reader of your blog and i think you would make an amazing contributor to this new ezine a bunch of my friends and i have started. its a collaborative effort between both pakistani and indian youngsters with common interests in highlighting amazing talent be it in writing, reporting or photography and providing people with a forum to showcase their work! id love to have you on board. im certain that in time we shall make something to be proud of.

the first few editions are out at
www.exnihilomagazine.wordpress.com

:) do check it out and contact me at demesne@gmail.com if interested at all!

id love to have you on board!
pixie

www.reflectiveintrospection.blogspot.com

Aparna Kar said...

@pixie
Oh, I'd love to join in and I am sure I'll be able to contribute something as soon as I get over with my mid sems tomorrow. :)

Aparna Kar said...

@sandesh
Thanks. Glad to see you around cheering me. Long time buddy !

Anonymous said...

a great effort, and surely you can do much better.

-Bad Wulf

Bubbles of FireWhiskey said...

great job... cant wait to read more off the stuff you pen down...

arnab said...

Finally managed to read the story. Great job! The first section sounded like you were trying too hard with all the obscure words, etc. But that's just my personal taste.

Your second book can even be a collection of short stories :-)

Aparna Kar said...

@arnab
Couldn't think of more popular words ..blame it on my paucity :)
But yeah- that's a good idea too. Will script a second short story sometime soon. Keep visiting :)

Aparna Kar said...

@bubbles
Thanks :) U make my day.. always:)

Aparna Kar said...

@bad wulf
There's always room for improvement, but I wouldn't want to change much of the framework coz it's my first :)

Aparna Kar said...

@candid
I wanted to do justice to your comment (hence this later reply :D)
I know what you mean: some great creators are known to have filled their work stations with newspaper clippings which often gave them ideas for sub-plots or strengthened their character sketches. I will try to work on the article you sent me. :) Thanks for your help.

Dawn said...

thts one of the better ones i read in long long time ....keep it up wonderful