Meera, who had just finished dinner with who she thought had to be the most boring man in the universe, was startled to see the Nalwas in the lobby. She had wound up the date by announcing that she had a migraine.
As she told herself, it was her ‘Devdas moment’. She had to get drunk to tolerate his whining. After she told him that, he seemed miserable in his own skin—a frosty front engulfed the already icy guy. She dawdled near the restaurant, reluctant to bump into them, especially after she saw how over-dressed Mrs Nalwa was.
She felt a sudden rush of pity for the woman and felt a queer kind of empathy with her. Mr Nalwa had already spotted her and, after his terrible session with Fixit, felt all his self-control spiral out. Was the bitch following them? Hadn’t she soiled his reputation enough? Really, this was too much; it was stalking and harassment.
He immediately called Bhagwan up and told him sharply, ‘Your rude reporter is now stalking me. We had a meeting in the Taj Palace and now, she is hounding us in the lobby. This is too much and it’s going to cost you! Have you and your paper no sensitivity and no boundaries after the hell you have put us through?’ Bhagwan, who was schmoosing with the Italian ambassador, was irate.
Without giving away anything, he said ‘Please don’t worry. I will look into it and make sure it is stopped.’ Twenty minutes later, Meera was wailing into the phone and wishing that she had not been born as Bhagwan screamed at her. First, the rotten date with that icy prig who was so proper that he was a virgin at thirty and then, Bhagwan. Could it get any worse? Winding up his tirade, Bhagwan told her, ‘I get one more complaint about you and you are history. You are wreaking havoc with my reputation and with the reputation of the National Express, which took decades to build.
You do not work for some shady tabloid. Understood?’ He took fierce delight in hanging up on her. Meera was shaking with rage and tears, and wanted to quit immediately. She sat on her bed in utter despair, which tasted acrid in her mouth. This was immediately followed by the realization that she was utterly alone, as the silent tears flowed down her crumpled face. Who can I share this pain with? Nobody will understand.
And why would I burden my parents? Finally, she gave herself a clumsy, dog-like shake and thought, I need to finish this story, if not for anything else, just to screw everyone’s happiness. And let me steal some Alprax from Ma’s stash so that I might sleep tonight.
She couldn’t face going to office the next day, where the bush telegram would have already mysteriously transmitted her distress, and official pariah status and Bhagwan’s threat of firing her. She thought, I can’t bear Meetu and Shivani’s ghoulish, malicious delight.
And Dev and the editorial team would shun her as if she was a plague carrier—so total was Bhagwan’s sway and their abject surrender to him. So she sent Dev a cryptic text message, simply saying, ‘Not coming in tomorrow or day after.’
So now she had them, two days. And more than a couple of choices. Should she go down the lush path and drown her sorrows? Or maybe retail therapy? Or go to the bookshop in Jor Bagh and buy a dozen books under the kindly eye of the venerable K.D.
Singh? She decided an oil massage and books were on the agenda, and she immediately felt better. The house had also been utterly neglected. A spot of screaming at the servants and getting things cleaned always made her feel good.
Meera, forever the control freak, liked to have a plan. Her phone beeped; it was a message from the priapic Amit and read, ‘Baby doll, when are we having lunch? I want to cook for you.’ Meera thought bitterly that cabinet ministers in this country must be woefully underemployed if this fucker has nothing better to do than cook for her.
What a disgusting, dirty old man! Why couldn’t he fry his own balls and end the source of his troubles? She did not bother to answer the text. Now that she had some salve for her wounded pride, Meera went back to the old question which was haunting her.
Clearly, Mr Nalwa had complained and while Bhagwan delighted in screaming at his minions for no rhyme or reason, just to feel his power, there had been a finality in his tone.
That, coupled with Rama Kaushik’s genteel, veiled threats, made Meera feel that she would reach a dead end if she tried to investigate the Nalwa story further. Flooded with a sense of an ending, she could feel fresh bile, tasting like acid, rising in her mouth.
Meera had to admit to herself that she did not know what to do. Was this what the end of the road felt like? Actually it felt like numbing nothingness, even the pain wouldn’t come. Maybe, this is the narco-dullness which symbolizes that you are a grown-up with the ability to be numb to your own pain or anybody else’s, she thought to herself.
She wondered what she would do next. ‘I can’t really carry on in the National Express suffering like this. Is there nothing else in my life? God, how many years I have wasted!’ She was still numb. Normally, the emotions so quick to the surface, just would not register. She felt completely powerless.
She had always fancied that she was so smart. Well, this really proved the contrary, didn’t it? she thought wryly. She suddenly felt a longing to go to the ancient Hanuman temple, which she always visited with her Dadi. The longing for a higher power, which she had always ridiculed, finally made her laugh.
‘How tragic I have become! The next thing down the slippery slope would be to do an Amitabh Bachchan temple scene from Deewar. Quit being ridiculous, Ms Upadhyaya!’ she scolded herself. This was not going to be easy. And she was not going to make it any easier for the others.
(You can grab your advance copy of Daddy’s Girl through pre-booking on Amazon)