The Woman: Rimli Bhattacharya
Chief Editor – In the times of change
“Occupation writer?” KK’s eyes narrowed down on me. He resembled a pussy cat.
“For whom do you write?” Now he was scratching his belly
“I am a freelancer”
“Ah, sounds like a Bar dancer”
And then he is in splits. He lifts his arms to scratch his yellowish arm pits which let out a foul odor. But more than that I was scared where this conversation was leading to. He was interested in ridiculing me. Has he figured out who I am? His actions spoke louder than his words. He appeared unrestrained and heartless.
The urge to cry resurfaced in me. I bit the insides of my cheeks and hold them in that position till those tears made way back home through the tear ducts. Why the hell am I remembering science now? Didn’t I tell my daughter today morning to follow her heart and not fall prey to somebody else’s dreams, unlike me who had to follow her mother’s diction till she was alive?
In spite of the chilled air conditioning both of us were sweating. Me from apprehension and him I guess for those fatty meat he was carrying in his arms, stomach and chin.
Clearing his throat he inched forward towards me.
“FOR WHOM DO YOU WRITE? I CARE LEAST IF YOU ARE A FREE LANCER OR A BUSY DANCER”
“Sir, kindly refer my bio data, it’s mentioned at the bottom.”
“Oh you have authored books. Good, good you should do that. How much did you pay your publishers?”
“Nothing, they were traditional publications.”
“How come I haven’t heard of author Aditi Sen before?”
I pinched myself.
He typed something on his laptop. I guess he was checking on my books and writings. Every now and then he looked up from the screen to see me. The ugly smirk on his face was unmistakable. And I wanted to perish from this room, rather from this unsophisticated man.
In the meantime there was a knock on the door. The waiter has come to serve tea to both of us.
“Zyada shakkar diya na?” (I believe you have given excess sugar)
The waiter nodded in approval.
I declined mine and opted for a glass of water.
“Have it Mrs Freelance writer. You will need it in my room. Madam ko bhi deke jao (Give a cup to madam as well).”
It's ages I have forsaken tea. Not that I didn’t like it but the thing was I wanted to use that money to buy milk and sugar which is the only breakfast for my daughter before leaving for school.
His search continued as he sipped the tea with a loud slurry sound.
“How did your books fare?”
“Sir, the first book sold 31 copies in the first week itself and the second book 36. They are still selling.”
“Hmm, can you get these books for me?”
“Sir, I always carry copies with me.”
I happily took out my books, signed them and handed over to him.
“I didn’t ask for your autographs. I do not need them from mediocre writers. Also Shah & Shah is a small publisher. Did you get your royalty?”
“It’s confidential, sir.”
And he flared up. Thumping the floor by his boots he labelled me a third grade plagiarist. I was like a ghost to him and he on a mission to chase, to reveal his power. I allowed him till he got exhausted and slumped on his chair. I chose to ignore. That was a sane response in dealing with this mad man. I knew I have to keep my composure for my daughter’s sake. And anger will cost me more than what it earns. I pitied him. He is so vulnerable and that now he has exposed himself completely before me, unlike me who carried immense self-control which I have learnt over the years with lot of effort and time.
However he continued.
“You have mentioned that you have also written for international magazines. Which are those?”
“Sir, given to your age and experience an editor like you can truly differentiate between the Indian and the international magazines.”
“Mrs. Aditi Sen you may leave, get out suits you better.”
“Sir, I have come to fill my nomination forms. I had waited in the queue for 2 hours. Kindly help me.”
He didn’t revert. To add to my insult he threw my books. I lifted them and placed them on his table and without even looking back I left the room.
The scene outside the room was chaotic. A huge queue of young writers waited for KK. I could not hold back my tears and ran towards the lift. A man who too was waiting got inside the lift with me.
“Tell me what happened? What makes you weep?”
“Are you opulent?”
“What the fuck?”
Tears streaming my face, my hair plastered on my sweaty forehead I was walking down from Fort to my bus stop. I couldn’t afford a cab. On my way I stopped by Kitab Khana. The smell of books always tempted me. Today I restrained myself. Today I let go of my desire.
I was parceled to Mumbai when I was 20. I was a native of Khowai, a small town located in the state of Tripura. My father had a ration shop and my mother was a school teacher. I picked up the habit of reading from my mother. She devoured books and I was her companion. We three made a family. My mother had high hopes that I was born to be an engineer, thus thrusting me to something I absolutely hated. Four years passed and I was molded as an absolutely hopeless engineer, but my grades told otherwise. Mother was ecstatic, I shivered on the new decree which would be my new identity and father who was a quiet person appeared biased.
The decree read Aditi Sen will now be shifted to Mumbai, a place where people traded their dreams for making money. Mother sold her gold bangles and I landed in Mumbai with no house, no job and a little money.
Long story short. I stayed in chawls. I bathed in open. I would defecate on the railway tracks. Sometimes I worked in small shops, sometimes I was jobless and depended on the money father sent me every month. I could never send them a penny back as all were utilized on myself. I begged them to call me back home but my mother was firm on her ground. She forecasted that good days weren’t far away. With that came the news of my mother’s heart attack. She passed away. I breathed a sigh of relief. Father called me back home but now the situation was a bit dicey.
I was in love with Christopher. We married. I informed my father. He sent us his blessings along with some cash to buy some gold for me. Something in me told not to touch the money. It would be safer in the bank. At 26 I became a mother to a girl, Jenny. Did I say Christopher was 2 years younger to me? It didn’t matter then, it didn’t matter now, but I kept it hidden from my father. Christopher whom I addressed Chris worked in Kitab Khana and hence the connection. I moved with him at the hutments in Colaba and my father died. Was there a sinister connection?
For the first time in 6 years we three left for Khowai. I heard from the neighbors father had cancer but he kept it a secret from me. I guess he was the only soul who knew that I was sacrificed for some ominous reasons. We couldn’t see him as we reached after 4 days. The body was decaying and the neighbors had to cremate. The lawyer, Ghosh babu handed me the will. My father had left all his money, house and the shop for me.
We returned with the money and within a week lost Chris to a road accident. With that I lost all my emotions.
After a week I approached Kitab Khana for a job as a replacement of Chris. Unfortunately they didn’t have one to offer. I started sending my stories, poems etcetera to various magazines. They all got published but I didn’t get any money. They all said they can’t pay. It was on Jenny’s birthday my neighbor Solanki handed me a card of some Mr Sawant and asked me to meet him. “He will change your fate”, Solanki said.
I got a job. I became a ghost writer. Then one day,
“Sawant sir, I want to author a book”
“You may but don’t expect a leave from me”
I didn’t take a single leave. I authored two books. Sawant sir helped me in choosing a publisher and both my books got traditionally published by Shah & Shah. But I didn’t touch the money. I kept everything for my daughter. I was planning to write a third book when Coronavirus hit Mumbai. The city has witnessed enough cataclysm and this being the worst. Time stood still.
Amidst this curfew like situation I came across the advertisement from the Chief Editor of In the times of change of their upcoming offer to author a book. All we needed to do was to submit a 500 words story on COVID. I did. I got a call from them asking me to bring my credentials. I agreed.
“Aditi Sen?” Nadkarni asked the locals of the Colaba hutments. He was breathless.
A stunned silence before Usha ajji wiping a tear by the corner of her saree murmured something which Nadkarni didn’t understand.
“Arre koi bolega bhi? Aditi ko award mili hein.” (Can anyone please tell that Aditi has bagged an award?)
“Chilla mat suar. Bohot sataya tune didi ko. Le sun uski bachchi corona ki shikar huyi hein” (Don’t shout pig, you have tortured our didi enough. Listen, her daughter had been a victim of the ongoing pandemic)
Like a cat Nadkarni mewed about Aditi. He wanted to see her. Apparently the dwellers said they have not seen and heard of Aditi ever since Jenny’s death.
At fisherman’s colony, Marve beach there is a huge ruckus today. A decomposed partially eaten body has been washed ashore. It is a woman.