From early childhood, I was passionate about two things- Bollywood movies and my mother tongue, Hindi. When I was ten years old, I started receiving a measly sum as my monthly pocket money. I would use all of it to watch the latest Bollywood production. Such was my craze, that I managed to find something worth liking in every movie and would make diary notes on the same! As regards Hindi, I always won the best student award and was certain to feature in the winners list for creative writing competitions. I had innate sense of humour and satire which showed up in my writings, adding zing to things.
Having completed my masters of arts in Hindi literature from Banaras Hindu University, the obvious option for me was to become a teacher. However I chose otherwise. I thought why not club both these passions and try to write super hit movies like QSQT, MPK and DDLJ.
So, banking on my numerous awards and prestigious degree, with starry eyes and quiet confidence, I set off to Mumbai, to pursue my dreams of becoming a Hindi movie writer. However, life and Mumbai had other plans for me!
Two months of doing the rounds of various production houses, numerous directors and script writers took away the pride and shattered the confidence. During the journey I met many strugglers like me, looking for appropriate opportunities in Bollywood, most of them coming from the hinterland. There were singers, musicians, actors, writers-some very talented people, all with similar aspirations.
One such aspirant suggested that I try for a writing role in Hindi serials. Thanks to Ekta Kapoor, famous for her “K” series of serials, this arena had bloomed and become a good source of employment generation for writers. This initiated a series of journeys to Balaji Telefilms, their production house.
Through religious follow up and pleasing people by running errands, I managed to build some connects. I realised that most writers worked independently. I also came to know that one of the lead writers, Ankita, needed an assistant, and managed to get her e-mail id. I wrote to her, and prayed that I get a reply. She was prompt and called me for a meeting at her office on the weekend.
This was the most that I had progressed towards my dreams. So dressed in my best kurta pyjama, I reached the venue half an hour before the meeting time. I had no clue what to expect in the meeting and was visibly nervous. Given what I had heard of her seniority, I expected her to be an elderly lady. As I waited anxiously for her to come, I was greeted by a warm “hello”. I looked up to see a young lady with a charming smile.
“I am Abhishek and am here to meet Ankita ji” I told her.
She stuck out her hand for a handshake saying “Abhishek, I am Ankita”.
She could make out that I was confused, nervous and wonderstruck all in one go.
She went on to soothe my frayed nerves with small talk, asking about my education, Varanasi (my place of birth), then gradually got into my love for Bollywood and Hindi. We ended up discussing our favourite movies, characters and dialogues- and realised that we had similar tastes. We talked about our love for lyrics by Nida Fazli and Sahir Ludhianvi. Our conversation lasted for more than two hours. By the end of it, we were chatting as if we had been friends for a while. Before the conversation ended, I realised that this lady had magnetic charm, which went beyond her good looks and mannerisms. The fact that she had no airs only added to her appeal.
She closed the conversation with what the work would entail- writing dialogues for serials under the aegis of a provided script, and the money she could offer me for the same. She told me how the financial rewards would grow as I progressed. The amount being offered was already more than I had envisaged, and I did not need any futuristic “ray of hope” marketing. So I immediately agreed to the offer, including beginning work next day itself.
Ankita’s office was basically an extension of her house-a reasonable space by Mumbai standards, carved out of a room and a part of the hall. My daily routine was to reach her office by 9.00 am, write the dialogues for her upcoming serials, get them reviewed by her, incorporate changes and send final draft to the production house. I also acted as a pseudo secretary assisting her in other things, like scheduling her meetings, helping her prepare for them etc. Given that we spent so much time together, we got to know each other well in a short span of time. In spite of her seniority, Ankita treated me as an equal, describing her thoughts and seeking inputs. It was quite an elating feeling for a newcomer like me. Soon we got onto a good work rhythm. Ankita had this habit of laughing aloud like a child- and had a musical tone to her laughter, which I found fascinating. Before we realised it, I became “Abhi” from Abhishek, and she became AJ (a distorted version of Ankita Ji, as AG would have a different connotation in Hindi).
AJ also had a great sense of humour, and given our love for Bollywood, would use comparisons from there to tease me.
So one day, when I missed out on an instruction given by her, she said “ tumhari yaadasht Ghajni ke Amir Khan jaisi ho rahi hai”
Similarly, one day when I was angry on the poor connectivity of my mobile, she gently slipped “ kyon Tejaab ke Anil Kapoor ban rahey ho”
Given the comfort which I had developed with her, I also started paying her in the same coin.
So one day when she broke her tea cup, and dropped her mobile, I said “ Pyaar to Hona hi Tha waali Kajol ban gaye aap to”
And one day when she was looking really hot, I could not resist and said “My dhak dhak Madhuri”.
We had our differences around work , and how to best present a dialogue. She was a good listener and would weigh in my suggestions, but she had the final word. She made it a point to explain her views clearly and given her flawless articulation, she more often than not managed to convince me as to why she was right. Over this period, my admiration for AJ kept on increasing.
As a part of our work routine, Ankita suggested that we start going for a walk around 5.00 pm to a park nearby. She felt that it would provide much needed fresh air, a better environment to think through ideas and some exercise. She had put on a couple of kilos and was really getting perturbed by it.
On these walks, I noticed someone tailing us. Initially I was not sure, but after I noticed the person multiple times, I thought I should bring it to AJ’s attention.
Me: “AJ, I think someone has been following us.”
AJ: “Is that a middle aged, moustached man, with a large mole on his right cheek.”
Me: “Yes, do you know him?”
AJ: “Ah! Jacob is back. What will I do of this man! Every time he is in India, he chases me. First he came to me saying he was my fan. I thought he was a fan of my work which surprised me as he did not look the types who would watch female oriented Hindi serials. Later I realised, he was a fan of my looks!”
Me: “and how did you know that was the case?”
AJ: “Whenever he would meet me, which was at least once a fortnight, he would invite me for dinner. After a few such invites, I decided to oblige.”
Me: “Wow, you are a bold lady. Dinner with an unknown person just because he compliments you regularly! What happened over dinner?”
AJ: “First he told me all about himself, his multi country business interests, and the fact that his net worth is several millions of dollars. And can you believe it, after a few drinks, he proposed marriage to me!
Me: “What a fan! Very high net worth, and wanting to marry you. Does not look bad either”, I added jokingly. “What did you say?”
AJ: “Obviously I refused! But he said, he will keep on asking me, just in case I change my mind”
Me: “and all the while, I thought I was your biggest fan around !” I said jest fully.
AJ: “There are many ahead of you” she said with a tone depicting the honesty of the response.
This incident gave me a new barb. Once in a while, I would tease her about Jacob, and the fact that the easiest way for her to get rich was to get married to him.
Work was progressing well. As AJ had promised, I graduated to more work, and thereafter to a higher pay. We had a good working chemistry. We knew each other’s work style well by now. Our relationship had now developed to that of good friends rather than a superior-subordinate.
A few days later, when I was alone in the office, a rose and a box of chocolates was hand delivered for Ankita ji. When she was back, I told her about it.
AJ: “Ah, today is the 14th of May !”
Me: “So you get a rose every 14th of May?”
AJ: “Yes, I get a gift from my friend Gagan. He proposes to me every 14th of Feb, and keeps on sending these quarterly reminders! He is a madman, he has been doing this for the last 2 years now . Can you believe it ?”
Me: “Seems the list of your die-hard fans is much longer than I imagined. Care to share more about this guy?”
AJ: “He is a colonel in the army, a few years my senior. I met him almost a decade back through some common friends. We have been interacting regularly since then. He had been vocal about his interest in me even earlier, but was non-committal about marriage. About two years back, his mother threatened that he will not inherit her property if he did not marry. Since then he has been trying to woo me.”
Me: “Clearly I am way behind in the queue of your fans. What can I do to improve my prospects?” I said cheerfully.
She gave me an angry look and then broke into her characteristic laughter.
Life became so involved in work and AJ, that I did not realise how time flew and how close we both had become. I had gotten so used to her companionship, that I would end up showing at office even on holidays. She was a guide, a friend and even more. We often ended up discussing things other than work. The day I completed one year into the job, AJ took me out for ä lovely dinner to a nice Italian joint.
“ Romantic candle light dinner! Are you going to propose to me” I said, sounding all excited.
AJ : “ You are ten years younger to me Abhi!”
Me: “I thought you were a liberal AJ. Age is not a bar!”
AJ: “Can you stop flirting with me” breaking into a laughter.
Me: “ Okay, so I know that you have many fans, many of whom are way ahead of me. Any such moment of “fan-dom” which had you stumped?
AJ: “Ha ha. Yes. I have had my share of unique experiences, but I can never forget the one at Puri. Last year, just before you joined, I went to the temple there. I hired a Brahmin priest for assisting in the worship. He really guided me well, took me to all relevant places to pray and gave me a detailed guided tour . End of day one, when I was about to pay him, he said, if I am coming the next day, I can pay together. He pointed out where I could meet him around 9.00 am next day”
"Don’t tell me, he too !" I said shocked.
She nodded affirmatively. Mimicking the priest she said " I have been a worshipper of Lord Hanuma all my life. I am a priest, but oh lady, after meeting you, I want to give up my oath of celibacy." She started laughing uncontrollably.
Me: “Your effect is magical. Quite often I wonder what is so alluring about you. I clearly think it is beyond looks. Yes, you are very good looking, but that alone cannot account for this kind of craze.”
AJ: “How do I know? Maybe people think I am single, and so may be easily available!”
Me: “Which sadly is not the case” I said with a wink. “I think it also has to do with the way you conduct yourself. You are polite, easy to talk to, have no airs and somehow people can be themselves in your presence, without being worried about being judged. I think more than your looks, it is interacting with you which leaves people mesmerised.”
AJ: “Stop the flattery. Hope you like the food?”
I persisted. “AJ, after meeting you, I am convinced that God is a capitalist. You have everything that one could seek. You are beautiful, intelligent, well off financially, have a very good reputation in your field and every man who talks to you seems to want you.”
AJ looked at me for a while, as if deciding whether to speak up or not. Probably the earnestness with which I spoke, and the strength of our bond made her decide to go for it.
AJ: “Abhishek, you are seeing my present and that too from a one-dimensional lens. I have a past which is painful, and however hard I try, I cannot get rid of it.”
She sighed and continued. “I came from a middle class family, and got married when I was just 18. I was pregnant within a year, and delivered a still born baby. This broke me up completely. However, instead of supporting me, my husband gave into the words of my mother-in-law, who felt that I was unlucky and needed to be ostracised. I was disgraced and ill-treated. When I could not bear it any longer, I divorced him, but it took me a few years to get the strength to do that.”
My admiration for AJ grew significantly in that minute. Given her manners, I had always thought of her as having been born with a silver spoon (“Khandani raees” types).
Me: “I am sorry to hear about your past, but must say, I am totally convinced about your awesomeness. It must have been quite a tough ask to reach where you managed to, with a start like that. In fact, I believe your life journey should be an inspiration to all struggling aspirants, especially to all women who are silently facing oppression at the hands of their husbands or the society at large, unsure of how to fend for themselves. ”
AJ: “ It was a difficult, especially given that our industry is full of people who would attempt to make the most of a young, struggling lady trying to establish herself. However, I am very happy and relieved that I gave myself a life. I wish that women in India realise that they are not puppets in the hand of this patriarchal society. They can achieve a lot even if they do not have any support, as long as they have courage to pursue their dreams.” her voice showing an array of emotions.
Me: “I come from a background where women do not get the respect they deserve, or the opportunities they should get. Honestly, it is so ingrained in the society out there, that we assume it is the way things are meant to be. Only once I came to Mumbai, I realised that with right opportunities, women can do amazing stuff in all fields. I am super inspired by your life, and want to take this message to people back home. But coming back, so what next in life for you?”
AJ: “Life goes on. Am enjoying my success, and want to do better in my career, and of course, support women in whatever way I can.”
Me: “But do you not feel the need of a life partner? I mean, there are men literally dying to marry you…you could literally do a swayamvar !”
AJ laughed heartily in her typical style.
AJ: “To be honest Abhi, there are times when one misses a companion. However, having gone through a messy experience once, I do not want to risk another chance. Might sound contrary to the strong characters that our writings portray in serials, but that is the reality of my life. I am happy with my life the way it is.”
After a brief silence I added: “This conversation has led me to four conclusions”
AJ: “And what are they?” with eyebrows raised in curiosity.
Me: “Firstly, we often judge people by what we see at that point in time, which may just give us a limited perspective of their lives. I had only seen the brighter side of your life, and assumed that was the only reality. I had no idea of the pain that you had gone through.”
AJ smiled. “Agree. What else?”
Me: “Circumstances may not always be conducive, but if you try hard and back yourself, you can achieve things of significance, in spite of obstacles.”
AJ: “Agree. The road may seem long, but you need to start, and keep at it. What else?”
Me: “That there is a really long queue of your lovers. Even without making enough efforts, I keep on finding that the length of line is longer than I thought”
AJ giggled. “More sincere conclusions please!”
Me: “Well the most sincere and serious one. The more I know you; my fascination for you has only increased”
AJ smiled again, more sweetly this time. Before she could say anything, I went ahead.
Me : “Which brings me to a question?”
AJ: “And what is it?”
Me: “Do you think we have a future?” I asked hesitatingly.
For a moment, I saw a confused look on AJ’s face, but then she quickly regained composure and smiled gently.
AJ : “I could see this question coming but was not sure that it will come so soon”
Me: “Wow, so the thoughts are mutual”. I jumped in half-expectantly and half-jovially.
AJ: “Not so fast, Abhi. Hear me out.”
“I am really happy that I have you in my life. Besides being an able dialogue writer, in a short span of time, we have really come close. I like talking to people, yet funnily, I find it difficult to share my feelings with them. However, with you I have built that comfort of being myself and expressing myself. What is even more appealing to me is that you understand me, and I cannot say that of many people. “
Me: “You are a friend-zoning me !” I said with a frown. “But on the brighter side, you of course know the popular dialogue from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai -Pyaar dosti hai”
AJ: “It is so difficult to have a serious conversation with you. At times I am confused how much of the conversation is in humour and how much is serious! You can take it is a compliment as there are not too many people whom I cannot see through.”
Me: “Compliment bhi diya to Mr. Confusing ka !! Bottomline bataiye madam.”
AJ: “Tum baat to suno. We are very good friends, and let that be ….as of now.” She added with an afterthought.
Me: “As of now…hmmm…means I do have scope in future”
AJ gave a naughty grin and added “Never say never”.
I started humming “Hum hongey kamyaab ek din!” and we both laughed heartily.
The monkey was off my back. I had shared my feelings, hopefully without affecting the relationship.
The response was not an immediate yes, but knowing AJ I did not expect the same. I would have been happy as long as it was not a “definitive no”. In this case, a beginning had been made, and there was hope!
“Hamari Filmon Ki Tarah, Humari Zindagi Mein Bhi, End Tak Sab Kuch Thik Ho Hi Jata Hai..Happies Endings..Aur Agar Thik Na Ho, Toh Woh The End Nahi..Picture Abhi Baaki Hai Mere Dost..Picture Abhi Baaki Hai!”
Om Shanti Om