Rudraani sat looking outside. It had been raining continuously for the last three days. The driver hadn’t turned up. The inaugural ceremony was supposed to start at 6 pm. “Good riddance. I can always tell them that the rains made it impossible to venture out. Let my secretary handle it.” Relieved, she made herself a strong cup of the aromatic tea that she had bought from Nathmulls, the famous tea boutique in Darjeeling and switched off her phone. “Now I can be in peace.”
But peace eluded her that evening. She felt depressed and she knew not why. She sat in her “green” balcony watching the rain lash at the cottage opposite hers. She watched the drops trickle down the pane tracing a pattern. She took in the wet dog shivering in the cold. Fetching a blanket from her almirah, she decided to make a meal for the wretched fellow. “He deserves it. There have been many times he has warned me of the intruder. He guards my house when I am away. And I have never been kind to him. Never have I given him a morsel of food. I have always shouted at him for bringing in the mud and sometimes those fleas into my beautiful veranda.” Rudraani added a generous amount of meat to the rice meal and kept it out for him. Sceptical, the dog refused to come near. No amount of persuasion worked. She decided to step inside and wait. The dog walked cautiously to the food, sniffed it and gobbled it down. It made her smile. “Okay buddy, we are friends from today. It’s a deal.”
Feeling better, she decided to switch on her computer. Her secretary kept nagging her. “Madam, you have to be regular on social networking sites. You need to interact with your fans, reply to their messages and keep posting once in a while.” She hated the idea. She did not want to interact with anyone. All she wanted was a cocoon where she would retire for the rest of her life, writing for herself.
Rudraani was a popular writer. She wrote about the paranormal world and had already earned a place for herself in the Indian literary circle. Her writings were simple and straight from the heart. The readers loved her for she connected with them. But she hated interacting with her fans. She did not understand the need to be in touch with them.
Tonight was different. She reinstalled messenger and logged in. “Thank God, the old password works.”
Ping! Ping! Ping! The messages poured in. Annoyed, she turned off the notifications. She decided to select at random and reply. She would tell her secretary to write a reply to the rest.
“Madam, you are beautiful. How do you write so well?” No, she was not flattered. Yes, she was beautiful. But, it was a stupid message. She wanted people to know her by her intellect and not by her beauty. She pressed delete and block.
“Madam, where do you live? Can we meet?” What a moron he sounded! Delete and block – he suffered the same fate.
“This is enough.” She decided to log out.
Ping! A new message appeared. “I had turned off all notifications. How did this one get past it?” She promised herself that it would be the last message she would check.
“Namashkar Madam! Is this a good time to message you?”
There was a curt “yes” from Rudraani.
“The rain spoilt our chances of an interaction with you, Madam. I hope the rain gods do not play a spoilsport on June 21,” read the message.
Rudraani read it twice. This message sounded different than the others. She logged out.
A disciplined woman, she was particular about her meal timings. Probably that’s the reason her colleagues called her “Hitler writer”. An early dinner followed by a good night’s sleep creates a fertile bed for imagination, is what she believed in. That night she lay on her bed thinking of the last message. There was something in it that lingered in her mind. Her eyes strayed back to the computer. “No, this is not the time to log in,” she reprimanded herself. Finally, around 2 am, she gave in to the temptation.
She found the message. She clicked the picture next to the message. It took her to the profile. It belonged to a person named Anaam. There was a picture of a shadow emerging from the turbulent waters. The profile had no friends. There were no posts. The cover picture was empty. The gender was male. That was all she could gather. “A fake profile,” she proclaimed. She chose to reply.
Rudraani: “Namashkar. Yes, the rains stopped me from going. My driver did not arrive.”
(But that was not the only reason. Should I tell him? No, no, not needed).
There was nothing else to write. She reread her reply. How brusque she sounded. She decided to add some more before logging out.
“June 21, I am not sure.”
(How I hate these ceremonies and parties)
She was about to log out when she saw the dancing dots appear. Anaam was awake. He was typing. She chose to wait.
“Madam, there is enough time for the Rain Gods to have mercy on us. The weather might change for the better. It might be a bright and beautiful day.”
Rudraani: “Umm…no. I don’t know.”
Anaam: “Is it something else that’s bothering you, Madam…if I may ask?”
How could she tell this stranger that she had agoraphobia! Her panic attacks increased when she faced those people in closed spaces. Every time there was a book launch, she had to gulp down a shot of Vodka to calm herself. It was torture for her.
She chose not to type. There was a long wait. The dancing dots appeared again.
Anaam: “I am reading a book of yours. ‘The many lives of the hero’ – the one on reincarnation. How well you have described the Past Life Regression. What made you write this book?”
(That’s an intelligent question. I can’t wait to reply). Rudraani went on to describe how she had chosen to write it. When the alarm sounded at 7 am, she was shocked. They had spent five hours dissecting each and every book of hers. The man had read all her work and knew them by heart. That was incredible.
Anaam: “Madam, you have been up the whole night. If you don’t rest for a while, how will you write the book on paranormal activity?”
Rudraani: “You are right. I should sleep for a while and start writing again.”
Grabbing a loaf from the fridge, she fed Buddy and decided to catch a few winks. Her last thoughts were of the chat. Anaam was a stranger. True, how a stranger had opened up her heart. She had never shared the inspiration behind her stories with anyone. She had never chatted with anyone for such a long time. She remembered how Anaam had waited patiently as she typed. The ‘trigger finger’ did not allow her to type much. She thought about the profile – the image of a shadow rising from the water. Sleep overcame her.
The day passed in a flurry of activity. She had written a chapter for her new book. She had cooked an elaborate meal and had sat in the sun, basking in its warmth. She had also for the first time gone for an evening walk with Buddy following her. That night, she logged in to messenger again.
“No, he isn’t online.” A sigh escaped unknowingly. Messenger informed that Anaam had been active nearly fourteen hours ago which mean he hadn’t been online after their chat. “What if he doesn’t come online today?” She could feel the familiar tightening of her throat, the bile threatening to rise and choke her – the typical symptoms of a panic attack. That was when she noticed the dancing dots. Anaam was typing. She calmed down.
“Good evening, Madam. How has the day treated you?”
Rudraani: “Anaam! I finished a chapter. Can you imagine? Well, even I can’t.” She ended it with a happy emoji. Anaam replied back with a variety of emojis. Rudraani gave him a glimpse of her day. She told him about her new friend, Buddy. The conversation veered back to her favourite topic, the paranormal. Anaam had a strong grasp over the concepts and knew everything that she had learnt after years of tedious research.
Their chats became frequent. It was almost a telekinetic affair. When Rudraani wished to chat, Anaam was there, already typing a few words to her. Their discussion was rich in facts and data. Their debates were never-ending. They ended their nightly chats promising to catch up the next day. It would always be Anaam reminding Rudraani that the latter needed enough rest and stamina for a better day ahead.
It was a weekend again. Weekends meant more time to sit back and look at the days that have gone by. Orphaned by an accident, Rudraani had never known love. Abused by her maternal uncle, she had fled one day. Rescued by an NGO, she found her place in a state-run shelter. Life was not easy. But there was enough food and no abuse. The staff realized Rudraani was a prodigy. The head of the NGO sponsored her education. Since then there was no looking back for her. She scored the highest marks, secured the post of a professor in one of the best universities and then became a published author. Rudraani was a successful woman. The royalties she received went to the orphanage that gave her a new life. But that was all people could see.
Inside, she was a tormented soul. The abuse had left her scarred. Timid, insecure and lonely, she had shielded herself with an invisible wall. The frequency of the panic attacks had increased. She had refused to go in for counselling. She was seldom seen in public. This had taken a toll on her image. The trolls had multiplied. They targeted every book, every quote of her.
Ever since she had started interacting with Anaam, there had been a gradual change in her attitude. She had gone out for shopping twice in the last fifteen days. She had called up her friends and met them. There were emails from her fans. The backlog of messages was clear. She replied to everyone. She and Buddy went for long walks, explored the countryside and always returned home, hands laden with goodies from the villagers. Life had changed.
Yet she dreaded June 21. It was the day after – the launch of her new book on paranormal activity. It had shocked everyone when she completed writing it within a month. Much of the credit had to be given to Anaam. They had spent many a night discussing the book. The book was rich in information that she had gathered from her new friend.
Wait, was Anaam a friend? She decided he was much more than that. He was her friend. He was also her guide, always channelizing her thoughts in the right direction. He was also her therapist, constantly encouraging her and egging her to move ahead. He was her confidant. By now he knew all her secrets. Anaam was also the worst critic. His feedback was ruthless, driving her to tears. Their relationship had no definition. It did not require one.
She now had Messenger on her phone. The desktop was too cumbersome. It also allowed her to chat on the go. It was fun. It was cathartic.
Ping! Ping! Anaam was typing.
“All set for tomorrow, Madam?” He refused to address her by her name.
Rudraani: “Still getting jitters, Anaam.”
Anaam: “Oh don’t you worry. I will be there with you.”
Rudraani: “What? You will be there? Thank you…Thank you. I am feeling much better, Anaam.”
Anaam: “Now, get back to the speech for the ceremony. That has to be good enough and then you have the press conference. Remember you are an expert in this field and no question can throw you off your guard. Cast aside those phobias. They are your inner demons. Slay them, Madam….high time to slay them. Be true to your name and rise up like a Rudraani. We will catch up tomorrow morning when you travel.”
Rudraani went back to her work. Buddy lay curled up against her toes. Buddy had earned the status of Rudraani’s live-in partner.
“Anaam, where are you? I am about to reach the venue. Please reply. Come to the gate when I arrive,” implored Rudraani.
She had been typing furiously for the last thirty minutes. Anaam hadn’t replied. As the tears threatened to run down her face ruining her mascara, she saw that the dancing dots were back.
“Sorry I have been busy. I am here at the venue and I will be there listening to every word of yours. I will be cheering you. Don’t let those tears run down. And did I tell you how beautiful you look?”
Before she could reply, she realised she had reached the convention hall. She fixed her makeup and told the mirror. “I will slay them all.”
The hall was packed to its full capacity. The book was launched. Rudraani gave a brilliant speech and received a standing ovation from the audience. The press was delighted to have a new Rudraani. This newer version was friendlier, wittier and confident. She fielded back answers to every question they posed. It was an amazing experience for the audience and journalists. Her secretary stood transfixed. They enveloped each other in a big hug.
In the midst of all this, Rudraani knew Anaam was there in the audience. He was watching her. He was guiding her. She felt his presence. On her way back, she messaged him.
“You did not meet me Anaam.”
The dancing dots appeared.
“Well done, you fared very well. The image of the confident woman in that olive green sari was arresting. No one will ever forget it. And the speech was exceptional. Do you see how far you have come.”
Rudraani: “it’s all because of you, Anaam. You have made me what I am today.”
Anaam: “No, No, Rudraani, you have always had it in you. You failed to see it. That’s where I had to come in. I am a catalyst. (A brief pause). My work is done, Rudraani. It’s time to let me go.”
Rudraani: “No! You can’t. I can’t live without you.”
Anaam: “You can. You have to understand. I don’t belong to this realm. I am Anaam, the nameless, the faceless. I don’t exist. I am born when people need me. I awaken them, help them rise up and then I vanish.”
Rudraani started sobbing.
Anaam: “You are making it difficult for me. Remember, I will always be with you. And you will always feel me around you. I am there…in you…always…always!”
Buddy licked away her tears.
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