It was two weeks after Tejas’s book launch and we were sitting in our monthly edit meeting, something I detested. On the first Monday of every month, my mother would come in to the Litracy office instead of the White Dog headquarters in Gurgaon. I hated these visits as Farah would come in, throw her weight around as editor-in-chief, and undo weeks of work.
I had a vision for Litracy, and a plan in the back of my notebook while still an editorial assistant at White Dog Books. I believed that the future of publishing was in creating a niche, indie, author-driven market, like the comic book and graphic novel publishers abroad. There were far too many people writing all kinds of things. People had enough choice and would begin to bore of the half-witted romances and must-read literary novels and would gravitate towards genre-bending writing by authors who really had it – that X factor. It was already happening with music, people had their own signature taste. Even Apple Music and Google Play were using listener preferences to suggest songs to users.
A whole year of ideation and reader statistics went into creating a world-class presentation complete with an AV. Farah was impressed and let me present it to the Asia Head and I was assigned for a trial, which, a year later, has been going superbly. I thought my dog days were over, but Farah’s micromanagement has only intensified.
We were discussing representation at Mountain Echoes, the litfest in Bhutan, as the book was creating a lot of buzz. I’d told Farah before the meeting how much Tejas hated public speaking and to not push for a big audience to start with.
He was scowling at the room, looking everywhere but at Farah. Aisha was looking resplendent in a sheer aqua tunic that reached her ankles. My mother had chosen to wear blue with jeans too, and was pleased at this symmetry. She was in awe of Aisha and had warmed up to her over the past fortnight.
Aisha gave her good reason to. She was the only one appearing attentive out of the three of us, jotting down notes with her long, manicured fingers.
She and Tejas were on either side of me while Farah sat across from the three of us. We were at the only conference table in the office and had a view of the lake.
The rest of the gang, which included two designers, sometimes Ani, and a few interns, were in the office on the floor below.
I know my opinions about my mother were very strong, but in spite of my doing a great job, she never got what Litracy was about, or if she did, chose to regard it with disdain.
What a wondrous feeling, to be lovelorn. I could stay with it forever. I told Aisha about the day I first met Tejas.
It was a chilly but sunny day in February. The office was quite empty. He was scheduled to meet me and was early, standing outside and smoking. I wanted to stand in the sun but somehow felt shy and pretended not to recognise him. I tried to rush inside when he stopped me and introduced himself. I felt my cheeks grow warm and I couldn’t help giving Aisha a goofy smile as I told her this.
“Go on,” Aisha said.
“It’s so good to talk to you about this,” I said. It was. Since I’d been dating Tejas, I’d had to protect my love like a little Gollum. I couldn’t talk to my mother about it, nor Ani, and did not feel like confiding in the designers either. Within office hours, I’d keep my feelings pushed to the back of my mind, like the box of keepsakes from our dates that I kept in the back of my cupboard.
I had filled the box with things like a copy of Carnival of Dreams that was personally addressed to me, the hand written note T had written, a box that once held a muffin he got me, and lots and lots of dried flowers from his place.
It was filling up and like my mind, I didn’t have space to properly place things there anymore. There was no one I could talk to about this who wouldn’t blab, till Aisha came along. With her, I felt lighter and happier.
“What if you guys end up going to Thimphu together?” Aisha said, making a heart with her fingers.
“Finally some alone time.”
“With Farah? It would be like nightmare on each street. She’d make me plan everything, then get mad at me for not doing it her way’.
“Whoa, Ruhi! Biased much?”
“You’ve seen how she treats me.”
“Yeah,” Aisha said. “And Sonam and George and Vicki. Your interns.”
“I’m not new. I’ve been working here for a year and at White Dog for another year before that. And more importantly, I’m her daughter. No respect.”
“She may not want to play favourites in your office. Respect for you.”
“She can play nice.”
“What do you do at home together?”
“Eat. Watch TV. Sometimes.”
“Oh no. What about movies or meals out?”
“We used to, before I joined Litracy. Not anymore. I like spending time working on Litracy. And now, Tejas and I catch up every night.”
“I’m sorry. What will make you feel better?”
“Tell me about this blog thingy, it sounds fun.”
“So, three or four different outfits, two locations. We can shoot it here and maybe one more place. Are you writing that down in your list?”
“No, Aisha, don’t!”
“Is that – poetry?”
“No, just...” I sighed. “I can’t stop thinking about him, Aisha.”
“Earth to Ruhi. We have a problem.”
Excerpted with permission from Adulting, Neharika Gupta, HarperCollins India.
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