I am very fond of Nisha. She's a good friend of mine. I know this sounds terribly cliched but our relationship is perfectly platonic. I remember our first meeting. We were dressed like Adam and Eve - only the setting was different. Instead of the Garden of Eden it was Nisha's bedroom. Now, before your imagination runs wild and you start thinking of Monica and Bill let me make things very clear - she was two and I was three. As a way of introducing myself I had pulled her pigtail and she had attached herself to my left ear.
As I was telling you, since the very beginning our relationship has been perfectly platonic. She thinks I am an excrescence inflicted on humanity by a rather vengeful god and I think she is a blot on the fair name of Eve and the rest of her sex.
But of late she has ceased to be a blot. She has become a blister. She now claims to be a writer and an active feminist - a libber who has, and I quote, 'picked up the cudgels on behalf of her suffering sisters'.
She wasn't always like this. It was probably a gradual process. But to me who has no inkling of what had been brewing in what she calls her mind, the transformation was unexpected. It might have been the books she read (Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Erica Jong), the movies she saw or the TV serials she watched. What finally precipitated the reaction was the seminar she attended. It was jointly organised by the Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Women (SPCW) and the Organisation for the Oppression of Men (OOM). It was on 'Denigration, Degradation, Exploitation and Suppression of Women in Third World Countries'.
Nisha came home straight from the seminar.
"Hello!" I said, "So here you are. How was your seminar? You must have pondered over such existential issues like 'The increasing popularity of mascara in non-nuclear nations', 'The choli and the ethnic revolution' and the 'Silk stocking as an instrument of power' -"
"Shut up," Nisha screamed. "You male chauvinist pig! You and the rest of your tribe - I am m sick of you all. What do you consider us? Your chattels? Your slaves? Just beautiful creatures who are good enough for the bedroom but never for the boardroom, dolls you can play with and discard at your will - mere instruments to satisfy your baser instincts. You men with your sneering, contemptuous, domineering attitude towards women, with your sexist outlook, your blatant double standards, your...."
"Nisha!" I cried. I was shocked. You can't blame me. Imagine a girl fed on a staple diet of Mills and Boon, whose world has consisted entirely of tall, dark handsome men and pretty, charming and innocent women, who has dreamt of moonlit nights and starry skies, ruby lips and dimpled chins, pearly dewdrops or sweet nothings, speaking with such fire-splitting eloquence.
"What's wrong with you? Are you ill?" I gasped.
"Nothing is wrong with me. Today I have been brought face to face with reality.
Today I have realised my true state - the chains that bind me - the shackles that fetter me..."
She talked of 'marginalised values' , 'hypocrisy of ideals, 'intellectual impotence', 'cerebral angst' et al. I heard in absolute silence. I had no option, for dear netizen, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' and 'The female of the species is more deadly than the male'.
A few days later I went to her place. I had given her enough time for convalescing. I hoped she had recovered and 'still nursing the unconquerable hope' I entered her room and sat down.
But unfortunately the malady was much more serious than I had thought, for on seeing me she declared, "I am going to write a novel." Even though I had been prepared for signs of eccentricity, this announcement came as a shock to me. For a moment I thought she was hallucinating.
"It's going to be an epic," she continued. "I'm going to put everything into it - my body, my mind, my soul, my very being. It's going to be my first and last 'Experiment With Truth'. Like Margaret Mitchell and Emile Bronte I want to be remembered for just one immortal creation. I am sure you are 'waiting, willing and wanting' to hear the plot.
And before I could escape she started narrating the central theme.
"It is a story of a slum girl, whose mother is raped by her father. She grows up only to be sold by her brother. She lands in a brothel and starts spending a life of shame and misery. One day she meets her brother when he comes to the brothel as a customer. The brother seeing her there feels guilty. His bleeding soul and tortured spirit turns him into a modern poet. He inflicts torture on himself as well as those around him by reciting his verse from roof tops. The girl hold's the Indian society responsible for her brother's miserable condition and decides to teach it a lesson. She invites Deepa Mehta to make a film on the prostitutes of India. The script is perceived as extremely insulting to the pimps and all of them rise in revolt. Riots break out leaving indelible scars on the psyche of Indian society."
She looked at me expectantly. "How's it?"
My head was spinning.
"Hi..highly original," I managed to blurt out.
"Yes, I knew you would appreciate it," she said. "And you know, I've decided to dedicate my magnum opus to 'Eve - The Eternal Sufferer - whose excruciating agony and deep suffering has inspired this work of fiction."
She looked at me, probably expecting me to jump with unadulterated joy at her inspired genius. Still convalescing from the earlier assault, I merely blinked at her.
"How does it sound," she demanded.
"Fan..fantastic," I stuttered. And after taking a couple of deep breaths ventured to add, "The only problem might be getting a publisher."
"Yes, I know. That's why I have formulated a unique strategy to sell my book. First, the book itself will have all the qualities of a modern best seller. You have already heard the plot which you found so gripping, now to make it even more palatable I will add chunks of realism and dollops of sex. I'll also sprinkle a liberal dose of four letter words from all the Indian languages for good measure, " she paused and looked at me.
It sounded as she was reading out the recipe for a Spanish 'Apple Pie'.
Taking my silence as awe and unbridled admiration she continued, And once I get a publisher the rest of it shouldn't be a problem. To release the book I can get any minister of my sex. To entice her I can tell her that it depicts the stark reality of Indian Womanhood - that it condemns such barbarous practices such as dowry, female infanticide, bride burning and sati With the Minister there can the media be far behind?"
"True," I said, getting interested in spite of myself. "You can also get a couple of libbers and leading feminists to say a few words in praise of your book. They can call it a new chapter in the history of women's lib."
"Yes," she said, "that's an idea. and now with the marketing plan all chalked out I can start writing."
"What are you going to call it?"
"Bleeding Souls and Tortured Spirits - The Story of an Exploited Woman."
That was almost a year ago.
This morning, the following news item was prominently displayed on the front page of most of the dailies:
'The Minister of State for Women's Welfare Narimukti released a book entitled -'Bleeding Souls....', written by Nisha. In her soul stirring speech Narimukti called upon the female writers to unite and fight for the upliftment of women. 'Spitfire' Desouza the President of SPCW and the Secretary of OOM called it an important milestone in a woman's arduous journey towards equality. She called Miss Nisha a bright new star in the literary firmament. Miss Nisha declared that the book was dedicated to Sita and Savitri, Parvati and Panchali, in fact to Eve - the eternal sufferer.'