Prithvi had worked really very hard to finish his dream project, his first novel. An academician by profession in his mid-thirties, Prithvi’s love for writing had developed years ago but due to unforeseen circumstances, he couldn’t pursue his writing career with great zest. However, at some point of time in life, everyone feels it’s now or never so did he and had started writing. His frustrating job had only added fuel to fire, making his life more depressed and miserable.
He always wanted to run away from his present life but he had responsibilities and his family to look after. He could feel everything around him smothering him. One fine day, he thought that the only get away from this mediocre life would be through his novel.
From that day onwards, Prithvi didn’t look back. No matter how worse the situations became, every day, Prithvi started finding some time to write his first novel. It took him more than two years to complete it.
He did what he was best at. His biggest challenge was to get it edited by a professional copy editor, and then finally, to get a deal from publication house. He had been relying on his one of his closest friends for copy editing but big expectations in this world are the biggest reason for worries and setbacks.
Prithvi himself went through his work several times to minimize the level of errors in his first draft. He somehow managed to contact another professional copy editor and got his final draft prepared. The only challenge that was left for Prithvi was to get a publisher.
Prithvi had tried every source, knocked at every door he could think of, but it seemed as if Gods did not favour him. He visited the publication houses and their agents but it was all in vain.
Though he could have easily got his book published from some small publication house, however, Prithvi wanted to publish his book at a bigger level and that’s why his list of publication houses comprised the top 5 publishers of India.
Dejected with the last visit to get the appointment of publication house, Prithvi sat in a coffee shop in Mumbai. He kept going through his laptop. To avoid being drowned by the gloomy feeling looming over him like a ghostly apparition breathing down his neck, he sipped his coffee and began to write a short story for a change.
The cafe was one of a kind, where the high profile corporates and celebrities spent their leisure time. After two lattes, Prithvi stretched his hands above his head and walked out of the cafe to have his smoke.
He was busy checking his phone while walking outside and didn’t notice someone about to step in. They bumped into each other. Prithvi immediately apologized for being careless and walked out to have his much-needed smoke break.
Stuti, the woman into whom Prithvi had bumped, ordered her coffee and began to scan the cafe for a vacant spot. The only empty table had a laptop and a diary was on it, which belonged to Prithvi. It meant that the table was occupied.
Stuti waited for a few more minutes for an empty table. By the time, Prithvi finished cherishing his long drags of the cigarette and walked in. He walked to the counter and ordered another latte for himself. Their eyes met again and Prithvi smiled at her.
Prithvi’s coffee arrived and he was about to walk when he stopped and turned to Stuti.
“Ma’am, you can sit at my table. If you don’t mind” Prithvi requested Stuti.
“Thanks, but I am waiting for someone. I have a coffee meeting lined up.” Stuti politely declined the offer.
“That’s fine, Ma’am. You can wait at my table. By the time other tables will get free. And if your friend arrives before that then you can use my table. I’ll walk out.” Don’t know why but Prithvi was over generous.
“Are you sure?” Stuti eyed him sceptically.
“Ya ma’am, I am sure.” Prithvi smiled. Stuti nodded and they both walked back to Prithvi’s table. He hurriedly piled up his diaries to make some space for Stuti to keep her coffee and bag.
“I’ll plug in the headphones so you can have your privacy for the call.” Prithvi watched Stuti dialling the number and plugged the headphone.
Stuti smiled at him while her call was getting connected. Her call didn’t last longer than one minute. At the back of her mind, her curiosity was taking a toll over her. She wondered why this stranger is being so kind and courteous.
Prithvi was busy typing his short story. He flipped the pages of the diary to search for something when Stuti smiled at him. Prithvi immediately removed his headphones and looked at Stuti.
“Are you an author?” Stuti asked as she kept looking at the page, handwritten kind of story in the diary.
“I wish I could answer the question with a YES.” Prithvi smiled with a sigh. Stuti gave a quizzical expression and took the sip of her Mocha.
“I am done with the final draft of my first novel and I’m now knocking at the doors of all publication houses and their agents to get my work published.” Prithvi sighed again with a lopsided smile.
“So what’s your work about?” Stuti asked taking another sip of her coffee, her eyes fixated on Prithvi, trying to read his mind.
“It’s a fiction, my dream work.” Prithvi kept his laptop aside and started explaining Stuti about his novel. For almost another hour, Stuti was engrossed in listening to Prithvi.
Stuti’s cell buzzed and she excused herself to answer the call. Prithvi walked out to have another smoke break. Luckily the cafe had a few tables vacant now. Stuti looked around and waited for Prithvi to return back before shifting to another table.
“Thanks for the company. My friend is about to reach.” Stuti thanked him for allowing her to share the table and shifted to another table.
Before Prithvi could say anything more, Stuti’s friend came and she turned back to greet the friend and shifted to a nearby table. Prithvi smiled and got back to his short story. Though Prithvi was all focused on his story, from the corner of his eyes, he kept looking at Stuti. She was really very pretty.
Stuti’s friend left in half an hour. Before leaving Stuti came to Prithvi’s table. He immediately got up.
“I guess you had a lot of coffee today? Or is it your daily appetite for coffee?” Stuti asked as she sat. She had some more free time. Prithvi smiled before replying.
“It’s when I am kind of fighting for something and am not able to achieve what I want, that when coffee works for me. It helps me to stay focused on my work.” Prithvi sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“I hope, I am not adding to your stress.” Stuti asked and digging in her purse to find the pack of her smoke. Well, it was an empty pack. Prithvi smiled and pushed his pack lying on the table to her and said.
“No, ma’am, absolutely not.” He then pushed his zippo towards Stuti.
“You care for the smoke?” Stuti asked taking out two fags from the pack. Prithvi nodded and they both walked out of the cafe to the smoking zone. They lit their smokes and Stuti took a long drag, relieving her body from a much-needed dose of nicotine. They smoked for a while in silence before Stuti spoke.
“Why don’t you contact the agents of publication houses? That way your proposal will have better chances to get accepted by the publication house.” Stuti suggested.
Prithvi took a long drag and after releasing the cloud of smoke, he spoke.
“Ma’am…” Stuti interrupted him before he could say anything more.
“Call me Stuti.” She smiled. They have not yet introduced each other formally.
“I am Prithvi.” He introduced himself and continued.
“I have already tried that too but…” Prithvi didn’t finish the sentence and took a long drag before continuing.
“I want this book to be accepted on my terms and conditions.” He lit another smoke and so did Stuti. He paused for Stuti to respond.
“Go ahead, I am listening.” Stuti smiled and took another long drag. Prithvi took a deep breath and explained to her how he wanted his book to be published and what royalty he expected from it.
“And what makes you think that those top-notch publication houses will agree to your terms. There are in numerous writers like you, what makes you special among them?” Stuti asked looking straight into his eyes.
“I feel I have done my work in the most impeccable way. I have studied the mentality of readers and what ticks their minds and makes them stick to the book. I have left no stone unturned in this area and I have taken care of detail narration in the book. You read any incident in my book and you don’t need to imagine it. It will be a kind of film that will run in your mind on my words.” Prithvi smiled and stabbed his half done smoke.
“Sounds interesting…” Stuti replied checking the time and asked further.
“Are you from Mumbai?”
“Nah, I am from Gujarat. I came to get a meeting lined up with the publication house.” Prithvi replied cracking his knuckles.
“And seems it didn’t get lined up?” Stuti added with a smile. Prithvi twitched his lips and nodded.
“Are you gonna stay here or are heading back to your home town tonight?” Stuti asked.
“I don’t know, maybe, for a couple of days, I will be in Mumbai. Let’s pray that something works out for me by the time.” Prithvi took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
“If you don’t have any other plan then can we meet tomorrow for coffee in the morning, here itself.” Stuti asked, not sure of whether she should or not.
“Ya, fine, I don’t have anything lined up or a schedule to follow and I am kind of free.” Prithvi didn’t expect this. It was hardly a few hours they had met and Stuti offered for morning coffee.
“Fine, this place opens up at 10 a.m. I will be here by 11.” They walked back in. While Stuti began to pick up her bag, Prithvi spoke.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Ya, sure.” Stuti replied immediately. It seemed she had been expecting Prithvi to question her.
“Why do you want to meet me tomorrow? I mean no offense, just curious to know why someone like you who seems to be a hotshot corporate person interested to meet a mediocre person like me.” Prithvi biting his lower lip after finishing his question.
“Maybe I can help you with your novel.” Stuti smiled and before Prithvi could ask anything further in excitement, Stuti added.
“Save the rest of your curiosity for morning coffee.”
Prithvi could only smile, unable to comprehend what she just said. Prithvi too packed and left the cafe. It had been a long boring gruelling day for him and he could hear his stomach was growling with hunger like a predator in search of its prey.
Stuti could not sleep that night. She was alone in her flat. Her only family her dad stayed in his separate flat in the same building. Stuti closed her eyes and the memories of past kept playing in her head.
In the middle of the night, she woke up as sleep had already deserted her. She poured the Jack on ice in a glass for herself and sat in the terrace garden of her penthouse. She could feel every moment of what had happened in her past. Tears rolled down her eyes. No matter what she did, she could move on with it. She couldn’t sleep, she sat there till the grey starry sky slowly turned blue and announced the arrival of dawn.
Stuti continued with her morning jog and workout which lasted a couple of hours to keep her body in shape. Prithvi, on the other hand, woke up with anxiety streaming through his nerves. He was quite hopeful that Stuti would be his trump card to get his novel published.
With nothing much to do after getting ready, Prithvi continued writing the short story he was working on the previous day. He checked the time and it was already 10 a.m. He got dressed in his best casual pair he had and walked to the cafe where Stuti had asked to meet him.
Prithvi was the first customer to step in the cafe. He ordered his latte, kept his bag on the same table he had been sitting on the previous evening and walked out for his first smoke of the day. He had hardly lit the smoke when he saw Stuti walking towards him.
“Good morning.” He immediately greeted her and pulled out his hand. Stuti shook his hand gently and settled down for the smoke.
“Are you fine?” Prithvi asked looking at her eyes which clearly revealed sleep deprivation
“Had some work, so stayed up till late at night.” Stuti smiled but that was enough for Prithvi to know that there is some other reason and he has no right to ask her anything personal, yet. They smoked in silence and walked in. Stuti on her way to table ordered her mocha.
“Now, tell me your story?” Stuti asked rubbing her palms to avoid the morning cold of December. Prithvi started narrating the story of his novel in detail, covering every incident in his book. It took two rounds of coffee and three smoke breaks before Prithvi finished narrating his book to Stuti.
“I must say it’s nice work. However, I have one question regarding it.” Stuti paused to take a puff of her smoke and continued.
“Is the level of narration exactly the way you said in your book?” Stuti again looked right into his eyes.
“I am afraid, it’s not.” Prithvi’s reply faded the glimmer in Stuti’s eyes.
“It is more than that.” Prithvi smiled. The glimmer in her eyes returned. Her curiosity to know this person sitting in front of her kept growing.
“Tell me more about yourself, Prithvi. I wanna know more about you.” Stuti said as they settled back inside.
“But why do you want to know so much about me?” Prithvi’s last evening’s question still remained unanswered.
“Let’s say, it will help me in helping you out.” Stuti began to play with her words.
Prithvi told her about himself, what he did for living, his dreams, his philosophy for life and everything he could think of. In and out, he told Stuti, everything about himself.
“What are you doing in the evening?” Stuti asked out of blue.
“As such, nothing. No plans yet.” Prithvi sighed.
“Let’s catch up for a drink. There is a fantastic place I know. A rooftop lounge. It’s one of my favourites. Let’s meet there, at 7 p.m. and I will tell you how can I help you.” Stuti got up and picked her purse.
“But…” Again, before Prithvi could ask anything, Stuti cut her in between.
“I will be there. You don’t have to worry about it.” She smiled and left the cafe. Prithvi walked out to have another smoke break.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Written by: Hemang
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha