I remember when I decided to translate my short story ‘Knotted’ to a novel, it sounded like an incredible task. How can a 12-15 page story become a full-blown novel. I took up the challenge head-on, but then the task became intimidating. I remember that for two months I was only jotting down points and making character sketches. Anshuman, Reva and Siddharth were already there but then their backgrounds and conflicts had to be sketched out better. Detailing Anshuman and Siddharth was not difficult, it was Reva the woman who gave me the toughest time. I realised then how difficult a task I have chosen for myself. Reva is the backbone of the story and to get her moods and mentality on paper, project the ambivalence of the character but still maintain the dignity of it was challenging. But I believe Reva’s character has come out really well. ‘An Unequal Harmony…’ couldn’t have been true to its name had the melody of the relations between Reva & Anshuman and Reva & Siddharth been harmonious, yet maintaining its characteristic discord.
At the same time, I felt I cannot write a novel only on these three characters – I am not sure how veritable that thought was, but I felt like that. So, I had to work on bringing in the other characters, rendering something unique to each of them and tying them to thread of the story. At the same time, I got distracted with my work and short films and the novel was put on back-burner.
Yet, there was something in the story or in a connection with it that whenever I sat down to write the book, it came very smoothly to me. It was as if like I had a mind-map, where the imprints of this story were embedded. Maybe it had to do with the controversy of the subject or maybe it was the excitement of dealing with something I haven’t experienced first-hand, but the novel sparked something in me everytime I got down to write it. I have read the 324 page book quite a few times, and for whatever reason I have felt excited about it – maybe it’s just because it’s my book. I hope the readers find the book equally exciting to read. I leave you with the first chapter. Let me know your comments.
AN UNEQUAL HARMONY… will be out on stores on 1st November 2013 and the pre-order will start on all online bookstores a week before the date.
Let me leave you with the prologue of the novel. Hope you like it and if you do, please ensure that you include the book in your shopping cart for this Diwali.
DAY 1 3:18 a.m.
She released the brake and gently pressed her stiletto on the accelerator. The speedometer moved from the 55 kmph mark to that of 70 as she firmly steered the black sedan through the dimly lit Worli Sea Face. The watch on her right arm showed the minute hand just overtaking the hour hand and moving towards four. The radio channel was playing one of her all time favourite songs – “Meri jaan… mujhe jaan na kaho meri jaan” – the legendary Geeta Dutt’s last recorded song, picturised beautifully on the ethereal Tanuja and her father’s favourite actor Sanjeev Kumar. The purple sari rolled down her arms as she pulled it over her shoulder, around the black blouse. Through the windshield, her eyes caught the deserted stretch of the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link – lit up by fluorescent cable wires.
He was in the next seat, wearing a crimson shirt teamed with black trousers and black boots. There was something impregnable about the silence that had ruled their conversation through the last twelve hours, with unspoken pangs of grief relegated behind the facade of smiles. If only he didn’t love her so much, maybe things would have been much simpler.
She downed the windows and a sudden gust of breeze filled the car. The day had been warm and the nation had been praying that, contrary to certain predictions, it wouldn’t rain at the big event scheduled in a few hours’ time.
‘Eight years later, we are at the same spot,’ one of the RJs said, ‘will we repeat what we did eighteen years ago? Will Dhoni be the one to realise Sachin’s incomplete dream?’
She turned the headlights on full blast and ran her fingers fondly through his curly hair. Such a baby, she wanted to say but decided against it. He looked up, smiled affectionately, held her arm and turned around.
‘Leave my hand,’ she giggled like a teenager. He always brought out this aspect of hers. ‘I am driving sweetheart.
‘You can drive with one hand,’ Siddharth cajoled, ‘this is my side pillow now.’
She laughed out, when a sudden shriek caught them by surprise. Almost in a flash, four cars zoomed past them. Filled with youngsters hooting and cat-calling at the other cars, they relentlessly chased each other, neglectful of the speed limit.
‘Bastards,’ Siddharth spoke from the adjacent seat.
‘Come on,’ Reva hated curse words, ‘they are young guys. They are entitled to this much fun.’
He shook his head and looked outside the window. Reva held the steering wheel and took a left turn as the car cruised up the incline of the Sea Link. The three and a half mile bridge looked resplendent in the series of lights as Siddharth gazed at the serene Arabian Sea, with its faint ripples illuminated by streaks of golden and blue. It knows everything, he felt, the sea knows everything about all of us yet it is quiet. Is it a confidant or a secretive old man who doesn’t share secrets with others? But then there are people who say that the sea returns everything – is it because the sea is vindictive or is it too generous to appropriate without donating in return?
‘Hey,’ she looked at him, ‘what are you thinking?’ Reva softly touched his cheek.
She knew what he had been pondering over – for not just that day, but the previous few weeks as well. Both of them knew what his reply would be. In a way, it was good that she had broached the topic. Some things have to come to an end, he thought, and maybe we should have thought of it earlier. Maybe they had; maybe they were just too naive to prognosticate the implications of the very feeling that they had sequestered behind the walls of formalities and conventions; or maybe they had just feigned ignorance of the same, expecting the reality to never beckon them out of their reverie. He was about to respond when a crashing sound alarmed them.
Reva promptly grabbed the steering wheel – her fists clenching into the cover, her eyes dilating in shock. Trying to overtake a rival, one of the cars carrying the youngsters banged into the divider. The driver seemed desperately attempting to rein his car but the SUV spun at an indomitable speed across the lane, and suddenly a young girl was thrown out of the right rear door.
‘Look out,’ he shrieked.
But it was too late. Their car was barely 200 metres away and the girl was scarily close to the wheels. Reva knew that even if she were to pull the brakes, the car would stop only after running over the girl. With all her might, she swerved the car. Siddharth shot up and held the wheels with her, as the SX4 screeched across the breadth of the bridge and crashed into the left railing; not being able to control the motion, it toppled rightwards.
Reva’s head struck the horn and the sound permeated through the silence of the night as Siddharth struggled to open the seat-belt and put his hand under her blood-soaked eyes.
DAY 1 – 10:05 a.m.
‘Shucks’, Anshuman frowned. His beard looked oddly unkempt. And one of the most important presentation of his advertising career was scheduled in less than an hour’s time. His team had spent a sleepless week over this. Plus, the previous night, he had received the biggest offer of his life from one of the most sought-after celebrities in the country. Life was great, only if…
Even a stubble needs maintenance, he shook his head disapprovingly, a scruffy look is never fashionable. The overnight stay at office had left dark patches under his eyes, and his knee-long denim kurta was crumpled from the night on the couch. The light atop the mirror highlighted the contours of his face as Anshuman Mehra stood in the restroom and yawned. The cell phone display revealed meager battery backup, but no new calls or messages. He had a feeling she wouldn’t call. He just knew.
The frigid water seemed to breeze in some energy into his skin as he stood by the large round glass basin and splashed it on his face. It’s going to work, Anshuman assured himself, you have come up with an idea they can’t turn down. A couple of knocks on the door alerted him. Sophie’s alarm! He was taking too long. It was time to get ready for the meeting. But not before calling Reva…
The phone kept ringing. Anshuman looked at his watch as he opened the door and stepped into his cabin. It is past ten and she is still asleep?
At a posh nursing home in Bandra, Reva’s mobile phone kept emanating an old romantic song – Lata Mangeshkar’s “Aaj kal paon zameen par nahi padte mere”. A woman in her early thirties, dressed in her service uniform, walked into the doctor’s chamber and heard the phone ringing. She had joined the hospital just a few days ago; was barely a known face around. The job meant a lot to her and she knew that one wrong step would bring crashing down all those hopes that the new job had piled in her heart. But something in her said that she needed to take the call. The silvery Curve vibrated on the doctor’s table as Mrs Gaitonde walked sceptically towards it and picked it up. ‘Jaan’ the name flashed on the screen.
She pressed the green button and held the phone to her ear. ‘Hello.’
‘Who is this?’ Anshuman looked at his phone’s display. He had not dialled a wrong number.
‘Who are you, sir?’ the lady questioned back.
‘This is my wife’s number,’ Anshuman sounded confounded. ‘Has she left it with you?’
‘Well, no,’ Mrs Gaitonde cleared her throat. ‘I am Ms Reva’s attendant at Apollo. She is admitted here, sir.’
‘Now, who is that?’ Anshuman chuckled. He was sure it was one of Reva’s journalist friends playing a prank on him. ‘It’s not a very good joke.’
‘No, sir,’ Swarnalata said awkwardly. ‘I am indeed her attendant.’
‘Okay,’ Anshuman sounded incredulous, ‘then why didn’t you call me if Reva is indeed admitted in your hospital? You have a patient and you didn’t even bother to find who her relatives are?’
For a moment, the question unnerved Swarnalata. The man’s words contravened all that she and her colleagues had assumed for the past few hours. If the caller was truthful, then the man they had addressed as the patient’s spouse was an impostor. But then, Siddharth Kashyap had not even allowed anyone tend to his wounds before Reva was operated on. All the nurses had their hearts gone out for the injured man who loved his wife so deeply that even the sedatives couldn’t bring sleep to his eyes before she recuperated. And now, the caller was saying that Siddharth Kashyap was never the husband. Indeed, the caller’s name was stored as “Jaan” in the patient’s cell phone. And she could make out from the caller’s voice that he wasn’t prevaricating. Swarnalata was stuck on the horn of a dilemma – whom could she believe, the man she had admired or the man she couldn’t distrust?
‘Actually,’ Swarnalata Gaitonde swallowed and paused to prepare an answer, ‘we thought we have her husband here.’