Excerpt from Chapter 2
‘Of course, I have to resign tomorrow,’ I said.
‘Why? Why should you resign? You should sue the bastard, drag him into court for sexual harassment,’ Saira said. ‘There was this Supreme Court judgement…’
‘A court case?’ I laughed humourlessly. ‘Are you mad? I’ll be forty-five by the time it gets settled. OK, he jumped on my bones, but what do I say in court? That I went out for dinner with him, cried on his shoulder about my heartbreak, got drunk of my own free will, and it’s sexual harassment because he’s my boss and makes a pass at me? Huh!’
Saira bit into her green salad furiously. Firstly, she was angry, and secondly, her salad did require a lot of chewing. I slathered some more butter on my pav bhaji. Who the hell wanted to have a ‘good figure’ any more? Eat food fit for cows and buffaloes, endure the pangs of hunger same as a person below the poverty line, and feel very proud of my self-control? For whom?
‘All men are bastards,’ Kavita said quietly.
Saira and I nodded our heads in agreement. If there was one thing that all of us had discovered since coming to Bombay, it was this axiom. I had been the last one to catch on.
When I was going around with Karan, I was sitting on cloud nine, looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses, telling my friends that they had let themselves get too bitter and cynical. When I fell down, back onto reality, they were kind enough to keep their ‘I-told-you-so’s to themselves.
‘I can’t believe that I was so, so dumb. I should’ve realised that Mr Bose was being so kind and sympathetic and all just because… just because he wanted to fuck me.’ I could feel the anger come up like bile in my throat. ‘I should’ve known as soon as he mentioned the word “dinner”. But I was this bloody nitwit, thinking he’s a nice guy because he’s so intellectual and well-read and artistic.’
‘How can somebody who loves Tagore be such a scumbag?’ Kavita said.
‘I wish I had his residence number,’ I said. ‘I’d call up his wife and tell her what a lech her husband is.’
‘Married men are the worst,’ Kavita said.
‘You can find out his residence number from your office,’ Saira suggested, always practical.
‘I don’t feel like going back to office.’
‘Why? Hey man, to hell with your boss,’ Saira said impatiently. ‘You just go and start working in the office from Monday, Paro. If he kicks you out, we’ll see to him.’
‘I don’t know, but meeting him again…’ I remembered his hands on my breasts and felt like squirming. ‘I’d feel kind of… humiliated.’
‘Why the hell should you feel humiliated?’ Saira argued. ‘He’s the one who’s been a jerk.’
‘Ya, but he’s seen me like that – almost topless – don’t you understand?’ I even had a love bite above my left breast. A love bite, for Chrissake!
Saira started to say something more, but Kavita touched her arm, so she shut up. Kavita was the oldest amongst the three of us – twenty-seven. She was quiet and straightforward, no frills to the way she spoke, or the way she dressed. I’d never seen her in anything except jeans and plain T-shirts. Saira always wore sarees. Not that she was traditional, far from it. She just felt that they hid her fat better. She worked as a journalist for a daily newspaper and one would’ve thought that she’d be more comfortable getting around in jeans. But she claimed that she could even climb a tree in a saree.
‘One mango milkshake,’ I said to the wizened old waiter and tried to smile back at him, swallowing the lump in my throat. The nicest thing about this Udupi restaurant was the waiters – they didn’t mind us sitting and chatting for hours as long as at least one of us was eating or drinking something.
‘One chocolate milkshake for me,’ Kavita told him, inspired.
“‘Chocolate cake,’” I said, shaking my head. ‘Actually, Mr Bose kept on comparing me with things to eat. Probably can’t think very far beyond food. No wonder he’s so fat. Eyes like chocolate cake – can you imagine? Milk and honey skin!’ I was trying to joke, but nobody found it very funny.
‘You should’ve told him to take his chocolate cake and stuff it up his ass,’ Saira said.
‘This morning I was thinking, when Mr Bose said to me, “I wish I could forget that I’m married,” I should’ve said, “It’s obvious that you don’t let your marital status stop you from playing around. But I…” No, that’s too long, I should just have told him that I’m not interested. Period. And before leaving, when he said, “You’re overreacting, Paro,” I should’ve said…’
Kavita touched my hand gently. I drew it back. I didn’t want her sympathy. It made me feel like crying. Anger felt much better, it felt strong. It made me feel like getting up and fighting, not just lying on in the dust, weeping.
‘I don’t know what the hell I was doing crying in front of him about Karan. I didn’t even let myself cry in front of Ma when I went home, because she would have got upset… and you know how mothers are, she would have got it out of me about the abortion. I was so irritable all the time, I kept on snapping at her. She thought that it was because I’d been dieting, so she kept on feeding me and I kept on puking it all up. It was so bloody ridiculous…’
‘You must’ve needed the relief after holding yourself back for so long,’ Kavita said.
‘So I could have gone and cried into my pillow,’ I said. ‘I’ve been making such a fool of myself – crying in front of my boss… and oh God, I don’t even know who all saw me crying that day on that Silkina moisturiser shoot.’
‘Why don’t you join another production house, Paro?’ Kavita suggested.
‘Ya, I could do that… But it’s not easy, getting work. I had to job-hunt for more than three months after I came to Bombay. Of course, I have six months of experience now… But anyway… even if I do get a job elsewhere…’
‘Well, Karan’s a cameraman, he can shoot ads for any production house. If I meet him again… It was so humiliating that day, when we were shooting that Silkina Moisturiser ad, I didn’t quite beg Karan, but he wasn’t speaking to me and I… Shit, man, forget about it. Anyway, I can hardly say to my new employers, can I, “I’m not going to work for you if you use this cameraman”?’
‘What are you going to do, then? Run away, back to your hometown?’ Saira asked.
I had thought about it, but it had been so much of a struggle to leave Amravati in the first place. None of the girls in my group had believed me when I’d said that I would go to Bombay and become a set designer some day. I’d had to work so hard for it – getting the best marks in my commercial art class, saving up my scholarship money, convincing my mother to let me go. I was the youngest in the family, so I’d always been her baby. She had her misgivings, but she’d put them aside because she wanted the best for me. She wanted me to have all the opportunities she hadn’t had. She wanted me to soar. If I chucked up my career and went back home, what would she…
‘Hey, I’ve got an idea,’ Kavita said suddenly. ‘A friend of mine was working as an assistant director on a Hindi film. He quit a couple of days back. I don’t know if assisting on films is the same as working on ads, but if you’re interested…’