Sunday, May 24, 2009

Desires, Shattered... and Reshattered

She kissed him and moved out… The wetness from the kiss lingered on her lips longer than it generally does. She smiled to herself…

Valmiki tore the paper and threw it in the dustbin. “Perfect shot,” he said to himself when the paper dropped in the bin.

Valmiki Mishra was on the verge of being frustrated. After all it’s not easy to have an idea and not being able to transform it into a good story. That too when you are a celebrated writer. Being a fan of famous Bengali writer Mr. Sharat Chand and having read a lot of Bengali literature, he had decided that he could actually write something with Bengal as the backdrop. So he had started working on a story of a woman from Bengal who had settled in Uttar Pradesh after marriage. He wished to write about the contrasts of two societies and its impact on this female’s life. But till now he had not got a nice start, not even a suitable name, to his story in last two years.

So today morning, he was on the verge of  being frustrated. He had got up at 3:00 AM, pushed his thoughts east-west-north-south; but nothing came out that was satisfactorily good.

It was seven in the morning when his wife, Lata Mishra, came in with a tray of tea and biscuits. She asked with a smile, “Any progress?”

“Story development is not a bloody manufacturing business! It takes its own time…” He had started with a high note (that almost matched to the note of a shout) but had then lowered his voice appearing it to be loaded with his own new frustration and guilt of shouting on someone who doesn’t deserve it. After few minutes and few sips of tea he looked up at quite Lata whose morning smile was gone and she was sitting there as if she had an option to go, she would have run away. He whispered, “I  am sorry… I guess… am a little worked up…”

She gave a forced smile and a forceful lie, “I understand.”

After they finished their tea, Lata carried the tray back to kitchen. She got herself ready for office.

It was afternoon 3:00 PM. Not many people feel like taking a walk at this hour in Haldwani in the month of May. But Valmiki, after having his lunch alone, wished to have the company of some books. He usually visited nearby bookstore at such hours when not many people would be there, except some young college students who would come there to flourish their romance in the corners of the store. So he decided to walk down.

“So what’s new in the store, Raju?” He would generally start a conversation with the storekeeper without any formal greeting as if just continuing from a previous conversation left half done.

“Hello, Sir!,” and his face broadened into a big smile, “Nothing much actually. Not many people write these days, it seems. Even you have not written for so many years now. Moreover not many people read these days. Our small CD’s section gives more business than the books sections put all together.” He continued without realizing that Valmiki was not listening him but was looking around. Catching his gaze at Indian Fiction section, Raju added, “There are three new books in this section, sir. One is a travel book on Himalayas, other a cook book and third one is a fiction called ‘Desires, Shattered… and Reshattered’ It is by a first time writer. Delhi News has given a good review for this book. But you know our readers, right? They prefer English names over Indian in the author list.” By the time Raju could realize, Valmiki was already near the book shelf . He looked at the cover. Read and reread the title. Something struck in his heart.

He hesitated  for some moments. He wanted to pick that book out, but he wasn’t sure if he should. After those few moments of uncertainty, he decided to go for it. He picked it up. The book was credited to some Sudhanshu Sagar. He turned the book and started reading the brief on the back –

… This is a new place for her. She has lived her twenty one years in Kolkata. It’s a new world. She does not know how it will treat her… nor does she know, how she will treat this place…

… And twenty five years have passed since she arrived in Allahabad. Now when Parbati Das looks back, she smiles… in the colony of Gupta’s and Shrivastava’s, Das’ has made their own life… and in the process some desires are lived… some shattered… and some reshattered.

 What sort of feeling it would be to realize that you are not standing in front of a mirror but your own clone? And what sort of feeling it would be to find  a feeling or thought, very personal to you, unexpressed till now, one that you have not been able to tell yourself clearly, is presented in its exactitude in the work of someone else? How should you react? Happy? Amazed? Shocked? Surprised? How should you behave when your thoughts attain shape in the words of someone else?

Valmiki didn’t know for sure. He was just stilled. He opened the book, flipped through the pages, but didn’t read a single word. To some observer it could appear that he was looking at some picture book. Few minutes later, he walked up to the cash counter, paid the bill, bagged the book in and walked out.

When he reached home, Lata was back.

“Where had you been?” She asked.

“Had gone for a walk. How was your day??”

She was surprised by the question as she was rarely asked about her days. And in last two years, never. But hiding her surprise, she responded happily, “It was good. Had some strange customers. Very entertaining in fact. There was this kid all of ten years who wanted to open his own bank account with a saving of 17 rupees.” And she laughed.

“Well ‘child’ is better word, ‘kid’ is more of a slang.” He commented with a straight face and then added with a smile, “I would love to have some tea.”

Valmiki listened to Lata’s elaborate details of the day with a smile on his face, while they had their tea together.

 He wanted to spend these moments like this. Not for her sake, but his own. He didn’t know how to spend these moments alone. At time we actually fall short of ideas for spending the time we have in hand.

 It was midnight. Valmiki had requested Lata that he would like to spend the night in his study. She was used to such requests. He was lying on a small couch in the corner of his study. He had switched off the light in a hope to get some sleep. But the attempt was of no help.

 He switched the light on and opened “Desires…” He never read prologue of any book. He believed they kill the aroma of the story being told if read beforehand. He opened chapter 1, ‘The last night of bachelorhood’.

 The chapter opened with the night before the day Parbati was to be married. It was a conversation between her and her mother. They talked about their childhood, the fun, the fights and her mother’s teachings. They cried and laughed, and cried again. Valmiki could smell Bengal in each word, in each sentence.

 He didn’t realize this thirst till he happened to read a passage where Parbati talks about it to Mr. Das.

“Deb, what is more important – the thirst or the liquid that satisfies it?”

“Depends.” Deb had replied with I-am-not-here look on his face.

“Which part of the body expresses it the best? Eyes or the lips? Tongue or the throat?”

“Again… it depends.” The straight lips on his face had curved in an enigmatic smile.

Valmiki looked around. There was a jug of water and a glass on the table. There are times when you know your requirement, can see your destination, but still to take an effort to reach there becomes an issue. He closed the book, putting in his fingers as bookmark. He took two minutes to decide before he actually got up. He poured the water in the glass, took it up and took the longest route back to the couch. Sometimes we do things deliberately but we do not know why we deliberate.

When he got up from his seat, it was late afternoon. His wife and staff in the house were instructed not to disturb him when the door is closed from inside. When he opened the door, his wife smiled at him. Then he realized she was smiling in response to the smile he gave her.

“You didn’t go to office today?”

“No, I don’t work on Sundays.” She replied jovially.

He grinned and said, “Ok then. We will have lunch together. I shall get fresh in another thirty minutes,” and returned to his room. 

“Parbati Das,” he said to himself under the shower, “you walked straight out of my thoughts and made this book your residence. But why? You were mine. I had created you. I gave you a beautiful house – my mind. Though abstract, it was full of you. What made you leave me and go to him?” His tears were washed away by the shower.

Post lunch, he sat with the book again. He read and reread it in parts. He had loved the parts of the book that elaborated on the various moods of Parbati. At one place, where the author had compared the colours of the evening sky to the various layers of her mood, Valmiki read it again and again.

At dinner, he announced, “I have to meet him.”


“Mr. Sudhanshu Sagar.”

“Who is this?”

“The author of Desires, Shattered… and Reshattered.”

“What book is this?”

Valmiki didn’t reply, just smiled. Then he asked, “Can you find his contacts for me?”

“Sure.” Said she, expressionless.

After dinner when Valkimi was studying by the window in his study, Lata knocked.

“Its open.”

She entered in and handed him a piece of paper. It contained Sudhanshu’s contact details. He thanked her which meant ‘You may go now’. Lata walked out of the rook and closed the door behind her.

Though it was a small piece of paper, Valmiki held it by both hands. He was staring at it, without any feelings.

It was 11:47 PM in the clock when he finally decided to call.

“Am I talking to Mr. Sudhanshu Sagar?” He almost yelled on hearing a ‘Hello’ on the other side of the phone.


“Oh, hello! Sudhanshu. This is Valmiki speaking. Valmiki Mishra. I write.”

“Valmiki Mishra? The author of ‘The water and the sand’?” Sudhanshu almost exclaimed.



“Oh, My god!! Sir is it really you? What a great surprise it…”


“ I called up to congratulate you for ‘Desires…’, Sudhanshu.” He said, “… and I would like to meet you.”

“Anytime, sir. Just tell me when and where.”

“You live in Delhi, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You OK with a little traveling? I am avoiding going out of Haldwani. You will be personal guest, here at my home.”

“That’s my pleasure, sir.”

Then Valmiki briefed the meeting details and hung up.


Next morning he announced at the breakfast table, “We are having a guest from Delhi on coming Saturday.”

Lata waited for a little more information.

“I invited Sudhanshu.” Valmiki smiled.

“OK.” She said and called for the maid, “Geeta, come here.” When Geeta arrived, she was briefed to clean the guest house and prepare it for the guest before Saturday. 

When the clock ticked 06:30 PM in evening, Valmiki opened the door. He was eagerly waiting for Lata. With the help of Geeta, he had prepared some tea and snacks. Lata was amazed to find him at the gate to welcome her.

While having their tea, he looked at her and said, “I met her,” waited for a few moments and continued, “I met Parbati Das, the woman who was hiding in my thoughts all these months and years. I met her finally.”

Lata had not seen Valmiki so happy in last two year. His face was warmed with pure happiness. He came closure to her, kneeled down, held her hands and kissed them.

“Lata, I am very happy today. I FINALLY met her. I sat with her, spoke to her, laughed with her and at other times cried with her.” Its great to hear your own name from people whom you love but who rarely call you by your name. Though the discussion was not about her, Lata felt important as he had started an important  conversation by her name.

Since then, every time they sat together, Valmiki always talked about Parbati and various facets of her life. It was Friday night at dinner when Valmiki was talking about the love scene between Parbati and Gupta’s son who was ten years younger to her. He remembered every details about Parbati’s body mentioned in the book, its curves and moves. For a moment, Lata thought, “Does he know my body in such exaggerated details? How can somebody be excited about someone so fictitious and happily ignore a real woman around him?” Her stream of thoughts was broken with a loud applaud that followed a happy appreciation for Parbati, “That’s the kind of woman, I always thought of. That’s my lady!”

Lata was had picked up the plates and was moving towards the kitchen. She turned half back and said, “Really?”

“What do you mean?” asked Valmiki, raising his eyebrows.

“She is Sudhanshu’s lady, my dear.” She smiled, fixing her eyes on Valmiki. Before see could see the change of moods on his face, she turned back and went into kitchen.


Next morning, at 8:30 the doorbell rang. Lata opened the door.

“Hello, Mam. I am Sudhanshu. Sudhanshu Sagar. I was invited by Valmiki Sir for a meeting today.”

“Hello, Sudhanshu. Please come in.” She greeted him with a smile and directed him towards the drawing room. Guiding him to sit, she went to the kitchen. After some time, Geeta came in with water.

“Would you like to have something to eat first or get fresh and then eat? She asked.

“I guess, I would like to meet Valmiki Sir first.” He said with the same eagerness as a child would seek for his hero on a prefixed date.

“Sir, is not ready yet.”

“In that case, I guess I will get fresh." 

“Come, I will show you your room.” She picked up the luggage bag which Sudhanshu requested to let him carry that.

It was 03:00 PM post lunch. Sudhanshu already had two rounds of food and a small nap in between. Lata was not sure if she should knock on the door of the study. It was locked from inside since last night. Finally she decided to knock when it dusk.

First knock. No response. Second Knock. No Response. Third Knock with a call for his name.

“Yes?” a question popped out of the room.

“Sudhanshu is here since morning. He is waiting for you. You may like to meet him.”

“I do not. Ask him to go back. You may extend apologies from my side.”

“But that’s rude!” She whispered.

“I guess we have discussed that you will not teach me interpersonal skills and will keep it for yourself. Now you may like to stop disturbing me.”

There was a silence on both side of the door.

In the guestroom, Sudhanshu was sitting on the bed, in a ready position to meet Valmiki when Lata knocked the door.

“Please come in.”

“I am sorry but I am afraid Mr. Mishra may not be able to meet you.”


“I am really very sorry. But he is not keeping well. He…”

Before she could continue her excuse listing, she was stopped by Valmiki.

“She is lying.” Valmiki announce with a false smile. “I am well but was in no mood to meet you and had asked her to say so. But after she left my door I realized, I actually may like to meet you.”

Sudhanshu didn’t know how to react. He was standing by the bed side in attention. Valmiki walked up to him and shook his hand, “Congratulations. Your book is wonderful.”

“Thank you, sir. Its indeed a pleasure…” he too was cut before he could complete his sentence.

“Don’t bother. You relax. We will meet after your dinner,” said Valmiki and turned to his wife, “I will not have dinner tonight. Going out. Not sure when will I return. In case Sudhanshu wants to sleep before I come, please make his arrangements.”

Lata shook her head to express her agreement to the said directions and walked out of the room after Valmiki.

When Valmiki returned, he found Sudhanshu waiting for him. He smiled and asked him to follow him to the study. Once inside, he asked him to close the door.

“Come sit, make yourself comfortable,” Valmiki said and roamed around in the room replacing a few things here and there.

“Sure, sir.”

“First of all, I am very sorry I wasted your day. I was not in a good mood.”

“No problem, sir.” Sudhanshu gave a forced smile.

“Well, I loved your book. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. I called you because I wanted to see who is the person behind this masterpiece.” Valmiki had lifted to book from the table.

“Thank you, sir. That’s an honour.”

Valmiki smiled, “Thanks to you for writing  beautiful book! Tell me more about it.”

“I didn’t get you sir.”

“Tell me about the idea, the concept behind the book. How you thought of this, and why only this as your first book… and yes, first relax yourself. Forget the day. We have the whole night with us,” Valmiki said with a smile.

“Actually sir,” started Sudhanshu, “ I hail from Bengal. And I love Bengal. I have read almost everything written on it. In fact I have read all your writings. I find Bengal in them,” he widened his grin and continued, “ I have read your ‘The water and the sand’ more than twenty times.”

“So how you decided upon the characterization of Parbati the way you have done? Let me tell you, it has been done beautifully.”

“Thank you, sir. Parbati was a kind of my dream girl. She has evolved out of all my stories I have read since my childhood, from all the Bengali women I have met in my life. In fact, she was also inspired by Aparna from ‘The water and the sand’, specially her moods during the days of her infidelity towards Mr. Das.”

Valmiki looked up, focused into Sudhanshu’s eyes and asked, “And?”

“And.. and that’s it sir.”

“Do you really think you can evolve a character, that appears so original, out of some previous reads?”

“Well, if it appeared original to you, that’s really an appreciation I am going to be proud of for rest of my life, but I understand that how she came into existence.” He replied and smiled confusedly.

Through rest of the night, they talked about Parbati, in and out. When Sudhanshu left his study at 05:00 AM in early morning, he had not realized that everything they discussed was recorded by a tape recorder.

Next day, Sudhanshu left for Delhi.


A month later, on a Tuesday morning the doorbell at Mishra’s rang. When Lata opened the door, she was faced by Mr. Ranjan Upadhyay, the best advocate at Delhi High Court.

“Hello, Mr Upadhyay. Nice to see you.”

“Hi, Mrs. Mishra. Is Mr. Mishra at home?”

“Yes, please come in.” She guided him to the drawing room and called for Geeta to bring some water.

“May I know what it is regarding Mr. Upadhyay?”

“Frankly speaking, even I don’t have much idea. Mr. Mishra said he had something important to discuss.”

Geeta had arrived.

“Mr. Upadhyay, please make yourself comfortable. I will inform Mr. Mishra that you are here. I will take a leave for office.”

Then she instructed Geeta, “Take care of Vakil Saab.”

She went to Valmiki’s study and knocked.

“Mr Upadhyay is here. You called for him?”

“Oh yes. Please ask him to wait. I will be there in a minute.”

When the door opened, she asked him, “What for?”

Valmiki smiled, “You are getting late for your office, don’t you?”

Lata looked at him for a while, then walked towards the room to collect her bag to leave for the day. 

In the drawing room, after greeting each other, Valmiki started the conversation.

“He stole my story.”


“Sudhanshu Sagar.”

Then he briefed Mr. Upadhyay about the whole thing. By then, Geeta had set up the table for breakfast for both of them. After breakfast Valmiki played the tape recorded while conversing with Sudhanshu. He also made them read his comparative analysis of his previous work with ‘Desires, Shattered… and Reshattered’.

“But Mr. Mishra, it doesn’t prove that he stole your story. It can be a simple case of drawing inspiration, that’s it. It cant be proved illegal.”

“I didn’t call you here to tell me this. If its not illegal, make it. That’s what your job is.” Valmiki smiled.

Ranjan looked confused.

“If you think you can’t do it, let me know. I will hire someone else.”

“Mr. Mishra, it’s a case nobody will win.”

“Tell me, who is nobody? I will hire him.” Valmiki laughed as if he cracked the best joke in the world. Then shading his tone with seriousness, he said, “I have to win this case, Mr. Upadhyay. And I can pay anything, I mean ANYTHING, to win this.”

There was a silence for next ten minutes. Only a few birds chirped outside the window.

Ranjan looked again at the comparative analysis, this time studying it closely. Then he listened to the recording again. After investing another one hour, he replied, “I will fight this.”

Both of them smiled to each other. Valmiki handed a copy of the analysis and recording and said to Ranjan before he left, “She is MY lady. I HAVE to win her back.”

A week later, Sudhanshu received a court notice.


When appeared for the first time in the newspaper, that was when Lata got to know the purpose of Mr Upadhyay at her place. She ran to Valmiki’s study and banged on the door restlessly.

Valmiki opened the door. “What’s the matter? Have you gone mad? I have told you not to disturb…”

“What’s this?” Lata showed the newspaper article.

“Don’t bother.”

“What the hell you mean by ‘don’t bother’? You are fighting a case. It is in the newspaper. And you want me not to bother?” She almost shouted.

“Yes.” Snapped Valmiki and was about to close the door back that Lata opened it forcefully.

“You cant get away like this. I need an answer. What is this?”

Valmiki looked in her eyes for a moment. Then he gave a slight hint of a cunning smile and said, “She is my lady. And I will win her back.” Before he could hear any response from her, he closed the door from inside.

“You mad fellow! You goddamn, mad fellow!!” She was shouting.

Till now she had only heard about Parbati from Valmiki. And she was convinced that she is not worth reading. But today she felt an extreme rush to read the book. She rushed to the book store.

She read and reread the book. She didn’t understand whether it was the strong dislike she had already developed for the character or it was a reality, but she didn’t find anything special about the character of Parbati.

The case went on for an year, with a hearing or two per month. In each hearing, Mr. Upadhyay would present a new angle to the case.

Lata, in all possible opportunities she got to have a word with Valmiki, she only talked about the case and reasoned that why he should take the case back for his own good.


But the power of status and money played its role beautifully. The decision was given in Valmiki’s favour. ‘Desires…” was declared a copy-in-parts and the publisher was asked to call back the stock available with bookshops to be re-floated in the market with credit for the concept and characterization of the lead character, Parbati to Mr. Valmiki Mishra and an apology by Mr. Sudhanshu Sagar for lifting the idea from Mr. Valmiki Mishra.

The newspapers reported this case as a corruptness infused in the young generation of writers and how they plagiarize the work of old, renowned writers, assuming that the audience is stupid not to find this out.


After the declaration, Valmiki didn’t return home for two weeks. Finally when he arrived one night, he found Lata sitting in the drawing room with no lights on.

He switched on the lights. Looking at her, he said, “She is my lady.”

Lata was looking away. Without looking at him she asked, “Really?” This word had the summation of all the pain she had gone through during the whole processing of the case.

She didn’t look at Valmiki at all and walked out of the room. She went to her bedroom and came out with a packed suitcase and started walking towards the exit. Valmiki had come out and was standing on the way.

“Where are you going?”

“Doesn’t really matter. Don’t bother” she walked a few steps then stopped and turned back, “Wish you a good life with your lady. Goodbye.”

She turned back and walked out.