I have been an entertainment journalist for almost two decades now, seeing the Bengali film industry up-close from my days as a rookie reporter and then when I moved to Dubai and started working as the Features Editor of Masala! Magazine, Dubai’s No.1 Bollywood glossy, I became privy to what the Bollywood stars did in the playground of the rich and famous – Dubai.
I came to know which star went to which hair-specialist to get his receding tresses woven and repaired, which actress was getting her botox done at a Jumeirah clinic and who all were being gifted plush villas by real-estate giants or rich Emiratis. The gifts were with a purpose though. Having a B’wood star living in a villa community meant one could pump up the villa prices by several million dirhams.
I came to know which star was pally with which Emirati family and how his entire family stayed on their farm for months and played with their pet chimps enjoying their hospitality to the hilt, or which stars attending award functions, threw parties in their rooms and billed it entirely on the channel organizing the awards. I knew who was partying on which Indian businessman’s yacht or which star couple was having a fight over Whatsapp at a press conference.
When you are a journalist you get to know the inside stories which cannot be published most of the time.
Thankfully when we started journalism there were no hovering PRs telling us how long we could talk to an actor. There was a comfort level that often led to trust building between a journalist and a star and that in turn led to exchanging phone numbers and staying in touch. As a result of this often there would be confessions and revelations during an interview that I could only file away in the recesses of my memory.
But if you have a writer inside you those memories stay on only to come back one day in bits and pieces and you end up weaving those into fiction.
Thus emerged my collection of short stories Museum of Memories.
The stories are an eclectic mix. Here is an excerpt from my short story Diary Of A Surrogate Mother.
If you are a Bollywood aficionado you would not want to miss this one.
DIARY OF A SURROGATE MOTHER
May 12, 2012
Tendrils of smoke go up from my cigarette as I exhale my first whiff after nine long months. I had craved for this moment from the time I had to give up smoking for the baby but now that it’s here, the white stick between my fingers doesn’t give me that kick that it used to before. But still, I am trying because this is the only thing that I have for company in this room. As I lie on my comfortable bed that can be moved to any angle I want, with just the press of a button, I write these words: ‘I have to’. This is the only way I can express the pain that’s clawing at my heart.
I have numbed the smoke detector on the ceiling with some Band Aids in the morning today, so there is no fear of the smoke alarm going off. If only I could numb my heart in the same way. My eyes are constantly darting back and forth between the 60-inch TV on the wall in front of my bed and the mango tree outside my window where a crow has built its nest and is feeding its young. The TV and the nest are both agonizing to me but I can’t take my eyes off either of them.
All channels are constantly flashing the face of singer Riyaz Alim and his wife Zubeida, who are beaming with happiness because they have just become parents. I can’t tolerate their happy faces. Every time I am trying to divert myself, my eyes are landing on the crows busily feeding their young in the nest. My eyes are welling up. I have to light another cigarette. My cigarette tastes bitter now.
It’s like I am hearing Riyaz’s voice on the loop in the car stereo, but it’s actually the news playing and re-playing on the TV. I think the channels have gone mad after he made that statement in the morning.
Riyaz told the media he had a daughter last night. Yes, you might be thinking ‘what’s the big deal?’ All stars procreate. But when it’s the Indian media, it’s a big deal. He declared that his daughter was born through a surrogate mother.
‘We had health problems. That’s why we chose a surrogate mother,’ I hear him say, again and again and again.
Darn these channels. Will they stop it? But look at me; I can’t switch off the TV.
The more they smile, the more I cry. I had always known I would have to give Irene away—yes that is the name I had given her—but I never knew that the emptiness in my body would be so hard to deal with.
I wish my confounded breasts could have produced some milk. I had squeezed my breasts so hard last night that I am still in pain. But not a drop came out. My contract said I could keep her for a month with me if I had milk. I didn’t; she is gone.
Hadn’t it been for the white all around—the white walls, the white bed sheet, the white pillow, the white couch, the white cupboards, the white marbled bathroom—I would have made the mistake of thinking that I had checked into a five-star hotel. The moment sleep left me in the wee hours today, the whiteness of the surroundings reminded me of the colourlessness of my life. I rang the bell for the nurse who immediately appeared in her white starched uniform. I asked her to close the window. I was pretty sure if I saw the crows any more I would land up in an asylum.
The nurse helped me to the bathroom because I was still hurting from the normal delivery and arranged a hot bath for me in the sparkling white spacious bathtub. I had the good sense not to turn on the flat-screen TV in the bathroom. If not anything, I wanted the small pleasure of the hot bath. It did help relax my taut muscles but opened the floodgates in my eyes. I don’t know how long I was there but the nurse finally knocked on the door saying I had a visitor.
Riyaz had said he would come to see me in the morning. For the first three months, he had visited my small apartment in Bandra every single evening. He came in a hired car so that gossip mongers wouldn’t spot Riyaz Alim’s Porsche in my lane. I felt strangely happy when he came alone because I felt I could be myself. When Zubeida came along sometimes, I don’t know what used to happen to me but I would turn all courteous and tense as if I had stolen her husband, when actually it was she who was going to steal my baby.
Zubeida wasn’t the warmest person on earth but she was not reptilian either. She was plain curt. She was the one who took me to the doctor for regular check-ups, bought me my maternity clothes, and took me to their farmhouse in Lonavala after I completed the first three months of my pregnancy.
Secrecy was the name of my contract. I followed it more zealously than taking the vitamin and calcium pills every morning. The contract said that I was to stay in the farmhouse for the entire period of pregnancy when the world would know that I was in Paris on an assignment. I had a Parisian number on my dual sim mobile but I seldom used it. In my world, apart from my school friend Usha and my parents, no one really cared to know where I was.
It was hard to be holed up for six long months but I had my books, the DVDs to catch up with, the walks on the green grounds, and the future to dream of. I did miss talking to Riyaz every evening. After the first trimester, it was Zubeida who was in charge and he sometimes came with her. Riyaz was a great talker. I could listen to him endlessly. No wonder he talked me into this. . .this bloody mess. I am in no mood to meet him but guess have to say my goodbye.
The visitor yesterday wasn’t Riyaz; it was Zubeida. She was warm; very, very warm. She gifted me diamond danglers. She said it was from her own savings and she handed me tickets for a seven-day-holiday to Paris.
‘You will have a good time there. And anyway, you need to know Paris in case people ask you about the city.’ Was she trying to be sarcastic or was she trying to be helpful? I couldn’t make out.
‘I want to thank you for giving me the greatest happiness in my life,’ she smiled, a sunny smile that had never lit up her face before.
I wanted to curse her for giving me the greatest sorrow of my life. But what’s the point of blaming someone else.
The whole situation is my handiwork, isn’t it? I wanted to ask her about Irene. How was she doing? But I am supposed to dissociate am I not? I am a surrogate mother after all. I felt like banging her head against the wall or was it my own I wanted to crack open?
Who had asked me to take the lead in a conversation on surrogate motherhood and argue endlessly in favour of it, that too right in the middle of a party? Nobody!
I argued incessantly saying that it was a great way of being altruistic. What better way than giving happiness to someone who could not experience motherhood? My friends brought up the issue of exploitation of Indian women and the aspect of surrogacy tourism in India, but I was still in its favour. Now I know I had no clue about what I was talking. I was just jabbering nonsense based on my knowledge acquired from newspaper reports. Today I know making party conversation about surrogacy is one thing, and experiencing it is something else. If I go back to the same conversation today, what will I say? I really don’t know. I will probably talk about killing the person who invented surrogacy.
When Riyaz asked me out for dinner the next day, I was over the moon. Riyaz is this ultra-handsome, suave, sophisticated, talented, famous singer whom I had known for around two years. A date? Well, that’s what I had thought then. I liked Riyaz; I think there are very few women who don’t. I had met mostly at the parties that I attended for networking and for keeping my dwindling modelling assignments alive.
Around eight years back I could happily say I was a face to reckon with in the modelling circuit in Mumbai. As age caught up with me, so did the heroines of Hindi movies. They took over most of the commercials. Life became a struggle. I had movie offers too, but I hadn’t taken up modelling to get into films. I wanted to earn enough to go back to studies. Does that sound stupid?
But that was my dream. I was always a good student. Despite my hectic modelling schedule, I managed to finish my Masters in Economics with good grades. My dream was to do a PhD from London School of Economics. But I never managed to save enough to pay for my studies abroad and leave a cash buffer to run the household of my aged parents and younger brother living in Chandannagar, a town few miles away from Kolkata. Yet, even when my income started diminishing, I didn’t stop dreaming.
This is an excerpt from the book Museum Of Memories. You can order the book from Amazon for just Rs 100. Click on the image of the book to order it on Amazon.com.