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Not to be outdone, the journalist continued. “You have mentioned it’s an erotic genre. And then an ex-lover. Don’t you think your female protagonist is behaving like a whore?”
Riddhi stretched her arms like a lazy cat and got up from her table. She badly needed a piping hot glass of filter coffee. These trolls can wait.
She returned to her seat with a tumbler and dabara bowl. The aroma wafted in to her nostrils. She exhaled it, as if it were a lover’s scent, and took a sip. The perfect brew!
Feeling rejuvenated, her eyes darted to her Twitter account. Her article on Ahalya had garnered an admirable number of retweets and likes. However, it was those eggheads, as she called the faceless and nameless trolls, that got her goat. Do these guys bother to check facts? Why do they need to get personal with me? Do they know the real me?
Riddhi stifled a chuckle as she took another sip of filter coffee. A true-blue Tamilian, she swore by this manna from heaven. And these trolls? They thought she was a foreign agent, out to malign India’s sanskriti. If only they see me now, eschewing cappuccinos and lattes!
Her phone buzzed. It was her editor Mini Mondal.
“Hey, sweetheart. I hope I am not disturbing your filter kaapi moment.”
Riddhi laughed out loud. “That’s always there. Your sense of timing is atrocious.”
Mini let out a melodramatic sigh. “Forgive me, The Great One.”
“Anyway, the reason why I called you was – Your book will be launched at CCD, Adyar. You will be reading an excerpt from the opening chapter. I have roped in also Malini Manian as the chief guest.”
“What? THE Malini Manian. Wow! I have always admired her writings on feminism.”
“Well, babe. You can meet her in person.”
“I am already excited. You know, I really want to ask her about taking unnecessary criticism in her stride. I am already fed up with the trolls flooding my timeline.”
“That’s because you are feeding them, honey. Anyway, I have to hang up now. See you there, sweetie pie.”
And with that, Mini disconnected the call. Riddhi had a broad grin on her face. Not only had her debut book My Ex-Lover and I been accepted for publishing, but her favourite Malini Manian was going to be there with her at the launch. Now this is a dream come true.
Looking ravishing in her simple powder blue saree, Malini Manian greeted Riddhi with a kiss on her cheeks. The debutante felt overdressed in her fuchsia Anarkali. Mini, as usual, rocked her bandhani kurta and plain leggings.
“You might face some uncomfortable questions from some journalists. In that case, I will take over, OK?” Mini sounded like a mother hen out to take care of her chicks.
Riddhi smiled. “I will try to handle that. You and Malini madam being by my side – why should I fear?”
“Miss Riddhi. You are a debutante. Don’t you think the topic you chose was a bit… erm… how do I put it… risqué?”
Riddhi looked at the bespectacled journalist. “This book has been launched just now. And you say it’s risqué! I must admire your clairvoyance.”
A huge ripple of laughter reverberated in the hall. The journalist looked flabbergasted, and adjusted his glasses, as they threatened to slide down his sweaty nose. “The title suggests something like that.”
Riddhi took a sip from the coca cola bottle. “You mean the word ‘ex-lover’ in it? What’s wrong in it? Don’t we have our exes?”
“My main character Pavitra is a successful entrepreneur. On a flight to London, she meets her ex-lover Rahul. She is an independent woman. And… they both are adults.”
“So, is it about sex? Like those Fifty Shades of Grey type?”
“Well, for that, you have to read the book!”
Mini took the mike. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Now I would request Riddhi to read an excerpt from her first chapter.”
She then turned to Riddhi. The author had kept the book aside, and had taken out her mobile. Mini frowned. What is this girl doing now? She looked at Malini. The woman smiled at her. As if trying to calm her. Riddhi knows what she is doing.
Riddhi cleared her throat. “This is the first time I am speaking in a public platform. So please avoid the headlines that Riddhi Shankar makes a fool of herself at the launch of her debut book.”
There was a thundering applause.
Riddhi scrolled through her mobile. “So here I go”. She paused. The members in the audience were silent. Even mobile phones hadn’t buzzed during the past thirty minutes.
“Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!”
Riddhi finished reading. Mini looked like she had seen a ghost. Malini Manian smiled and gave a thumbs up sign to her.
“This is not an excerpt from your book”, a voice came from the audience.
“Yes, I know. This is from another author I admire. Have you read her Girls and the City? I am sure you all have. Anyway. My question to all of you is this – why is it difficult to digest this news that a woman can write erotic novels? Or a female character can meet her ex somewhere? Why is it that a woman is trolled for having an opinion? Why is it that everywhere she is countered not with facts, but mudslinging? I wrote a seemingly innocuous article on Ahalya? And what did I get in return? Accusations that I sleep around with multiple men! When I revealed the title, how many of you praised me? Instead, all you could come up with was this was an expected topic from me!”
Mini let out a silent yes.
Malini Manian took over. “You fear women like us. We voice our opinions. We are not afraid of owning our sexuality. We are not married, yet we choose not to remain like nuns. That bothers you. Because that’s promiscuous, right? Yet, when men do it, they are called studs.”
Riddhi picked up her book. “As promised, I am reading an extract from my book. I am aware it’s my first attempt, and it’s far from perfect. I have miles to go before I reach the level of Malini madam. However, I am prepared to learn. What I will not accept is baseless criticism based on a conjecture of my personal life.”
Mini and Malini clapped enthusiastically. The people in the hall joined in.
This girl will go places, thought Miss Manian. Indeed, Riddhi Shankar had arrived in the literary arena with a bang. And she had made it crystal clear – she will take no nonsense from anyone.
This was shortlisted for our January 2021 Muse of the month short story contest.
Image source: a still from the film Manmarziyaan
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