Miss Books Editor is a clever cookie who shall go unnamed. I will not tell you the name of the newspaper she works with because you will Google and find out who she is. And, that is embarrassing. The real books editor is free to stand up, but I will just mention as a side note that it is not Kanika Datta of the Business Standard.
The day I met her for the first time, I asked: “They told me that it is you who handle the book reviews here?”. She asked arrogantly, “Yes. That is right. I do. Who are you?”, and I said, “I work here.” She asked naively, “Oh, you work here. Are you part of the desk?”, making a circle, pointing her finger at the section where the desk-hands work. I said, “No. I am a reporter.”
Many weeks later, when I asked her whether I can write a piece on Mencken and Ayn Rand because their birthday’s were approaching, she said cheerfully, her eyes twinkling, “Ayn Rand—We can ignore her.”, The smile on my face disappeared. After a while, she said, “Mencken…hmmm…Let me think about it.”, with a smug smile on her face.
The next evening, I sent her an email: You might find Mencken’s “In Defense Of Women” very interesting. And, she asked, “Will you write a piece on Mencken? It is my request because I handle the Weekend Ideas page.” I said, “Yes. Let me think about it.” 🙂
One evening, after I had sent the piece on Mencken, when an imbecile was reading my draft, she stopped near me and said nervously, “Tomorrow we should discuss the Mencken piece.” I said “Yes”, curtly and stared at her intensely, my eyes moving quickly from her face to her skirt.I told someone, “Books Editor is up to something.” She often used to say that I was being paranoid, but because she knew my extraordinary success in predicting actions of people in the past, she was silent.
The next day, when I saw Miss Books Editor, she said, “We can look into the Mencken piece now.” I said, “Yeah”, apprehensively. She said, “It is not that this is bad (!), but we should contextualize things.” And then she looked at me nervously and smiled, hoping that I was not paying attention. When I said, “The beauty of the prose is important to me” to see how she responds, she was silent.
Miss Clear-thinking is a colleague who has great clarity of thought. In the evening, when I was walking toward the canteen, Miss “Clear-thinking” stopped me on the way, and said, “Smile. Why don’t you smile?”. I saw Miss Books editor watching carefully from behind. Later, Miss Clear-thinking told me that Miss Books Editor went near her desk and asked, “What did he say?”. When Miss Clear-thinking asked her in a confused tone, “Who?”, she said, “Shanu”. Miss Clear-thinking said, “I just asked him to smile.”, and Miss Books Editor asked, “Did he smile?” Miss Clear thinking said, “No. He tried to smile.”
One Friday, at mid night, when I woke up, I saw the Mencken piece published on the web. Tralalalala. When I tried to share the Mencken piece quoting the most beautiful passage, it was not there. If Miss Books Editor were in the same room of that of mine, she would have lost some of her teeth. I sent an email, marking her and her accomplices, “But, where is this passage? This was the best”
“Women are saner than they appear. When a woman shares an op-ed on Facebook, claiming that her husband is an iconoclastic genius, her sensible friends know that this is a fraud. It is laughable to think that an intelligent lady can be conned by this man. This cannot be true.”
It was my favorite passage.
When I noticed this, I was talking to the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little on Facebook. The Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little is the only decent person that I had worked with. She is a girl who sits at her desk staring at the computer as if she is focused on her work, and work alone. Once when I was in the canteen I saw her standing so straight so that I can throw my coke can away. When Miss Books editor once omitted some details from a book review, it was the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little who sent me an apology. She said that she is scared whenever mistakes creep in, because once a columnist was mad at her. The person who made the mistake was silent, and the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little had to accept the responsibility. I suspect that it was Miss Books Editor.
When I asked the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little whether the people at the desk would have left, she said that they must have left and that she will forward the passage to them if I send her an email. I told Books Editor, “When I once used to freelance for a Magazine, there was a super mean guy who used to search for my best passages to cut. When I do not see my favorite passages, I remember him.” I also told her the truth: “I did not read the playback. I never really read my published articles. I find it really painful.”
Miss Books Editor really lost herself. I saw her coming near the bureau and screaming at me, “You asked the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little to insert that passage?” I loved the expression on her face because it was a moment when I saw anger being mixed with humiliation and helplessness. It amused me that we were bound by the knowledge of the private truth that crippled her—that I have never really read my published articles because semi-literates had touched them. No one else would have known the truth.
I thought: “Lol. Dominatrix fetish. It is said that vengeance is a lazy form of grief, but this certainly turns me on. ” I said, “Don’t be angry.” When she brought this to the attention of the editor, Mr. Old Fashioned, I said, “Miss Books Editor, You are much older than me. I did not scream at you when you made mistakes in my copy. You should have more patience with me.”
Mr. Old Fashioned is a clever cookie who sits in a corner in his cabin as if he has no idea of what is going on, after giving orders. I noticed how carefully he framed his words when he responded to this. After keeping her happy, he told me, “You need not delve in to the rights and wrongs of the matter. It is her decision”. Then, Mr. Old Fashioned asked smiling, “Aha. So, you were talking to the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little at 12:30 in the night?” and I said, “Well, No. I just saw her online.”
I sat there thinking, “But, it is a charming sight to see an old man struggling to write an op-ed.” I had heard that Mr. Old-Fashioned is an utter mediocrity, and that the most painful mind-numbing question that tortures him day in and day out is: “Am I am editor? I mean, really? This cannot be happening.” Later, I saw Miss Books Editor walking to the conference room burning in humiliation. If I am not wrong, she had cried. I thought, “When people cut my darling passages, the punishment I mete out is mild. But, it is amazing when you see how wonderfully that works.”
She soon pulled down my article.
On the 4th of February, she came near me and gave me a hard copy of the book I had reviewed, and said, “Here is your book”. I wondered how she got a copy of the book that I had ordered from Flipkart. The book hadn’t really reached the Indian markets. Soon, someone from Flipkart came to the office and gave me a copy of the book I had ordered. When I asked her where the copy she gave me came from, she said, “It must have come from the publisher”. But, I saw a faint flutter of a smile across her face.
A few days later, when I woke up from my daytime slumber, I saw this smarty standing near my desk, with a bundle of notes. I saw some 5 Rs and 10 rs notes. There were also some 1 Rupee and 2 Rupee coins. With a triumphant expression on her face, she said: “Here is your money.”, saying that the money that was supposed to reach my account reached hers. I thought, “My dearest, you don’t think that this is…low, do you?” If I had behaved the way she had done, I would have been mighty ashamed of myself, but she was enjoying herself. Cheap Auntie!
A few days later, at midnight, I was lying on the bed, pressing my face on my pillow. IT was then I noticed many Facebook updates about an International Book Fair in Delhi. The first thing I wanted to know was , “Did it begin on the 4th of February?” I was right. She gave the book to me on the 4th. I said in an email, “I do not think I am entitled to two copies of the book. I missed that an International Book Fair is going on in Delhi. It began on the 4th.” It must have struck her like a thunder bolt.
When I was in the canteen, I saw her placing her flask, and suddenly leaving, looking at my face apprehensively, like a school girl who had placed her lab record on the desk of the teacher before running away. I thought, “Take your time. The feeling is mutual.” A month later, one day (!), she came near the bureau and said flattered, “Shanu, I do not have a Twitter account or anything.”, and I thought, “But, I never sent you a Twitter request. Twitter automatically sends it to everyone.” I always used to see her while going to the washroom, but after the fight, I never saw her. I do not know how she manages it, but I know that she does. But this day, I saw her.
Later, the Cute-girl-that-fashionably-sleeps-so-little told me that Books Editor and Mr. Old-fashioned did not ask her anything about the passage she had inserted. When I asked Miss Books editor about the article she pulled down, she said defensively, “Ask Mr. Old fashioned. I can’t unilaterally take such decisions.” And I thought: “This is the third time you are using the word unilateral. I am keeping count.”