Dreams in Prussian Blue by IIT grad, software engineer and first-time novelist Paritosh Uttam is the fictional story of Naina, an art student who walks out on her parents to live in with Michael, her senior in college and a man she is smitten by.
We bring you an excerpt from Chapter 7:
'Where are you going?'
Naina turned around to face her mother. This wasn't going to remain secret for very long.
'I am leaving, Mamma.'
'Where? College excursion? You didn't tell me. When will you be back? Should I make some aloo parathas?'
No, there was no easy way out. Maybe she should have done it through a letter -- tell her mother she was going on an excursion and not return. Leave behind a long letter under her pillow or mail it. 'You remember I had told you about my friend Michael?'
'Yes, that Christian...your best friend. I remember very well.'
'I am going to him.'
After that, Naina had to put her packing on hold. To be honest, this could not have been easy for her mother. One moment everything was all right with the world and the next, the sky had fallen over her head. One year into college and her only daughter had announced that she was leaving home to live with a senior from college, a Christian and unemployed.
'But why couldn't you talk to us? Why are you in such a hurry to get married?'
'I am not marrying him, Mamma.'
'Court marriage? Oh God, I knew all this would happen in college. You have had too much freedom. I knew it.'
Naina saw that her mother could not think beyond marriage. It would be cruel to destroy her bedrock, so she did not say anything.
'Let me talk to your father. He will make you understand.'
'No Mamma, don't talk to him. He will get angry, shout, and will never understand. And there actually is no point because I have made up my mind.'
'Won't you even talk to your father? Are you mad? Let him come back.'
They were hysterical by now. Naina's mother called up her husband who was away on tour -- the one important reason Naina had scheduled her exit for that day.
Far away in Chennai, with the line not clear, it was impossible for him to make out what Mamma was breathlessly explaining. 'Naina, listen to your mother. I will talk to you when I get back the day after tomorrow, okay?' Naina nodded her assent, unseen and unheard, over the phone. Mamma, relieved that the matter was sorted, went back to the kitchen.
Naina then completed her packing, wrote a note that simply said, 'I am leaving,' and stole out. But while she had never imagined that she would ever leave in a palanquin, to be tiptoeing like this out of her own house was ridiculous. Where was the joy, the elation that she was supposed to have felt at such a time?
That morning, lying luxuriously in bed, a little cross that she had risen early even on a Sunday, she had no idea that she would choose that day to be the most momentous one of her life. The sounds and smells of a relaxed morning -- the ladle striking the pan, the pressure cooker letting off steam, the aroma of spices, the whirr of the washing machine busily tumbling clothes -- all comforted her. She momentarily forgot that she had gone to bed with disquiet in her heart after a conversation with her mother. A distant cousin had declared her intention to try a career in fashion modelling and upset the whole clan. Naina, though barely familiar with this cousin, felt intense solidarity with her, and valiantly defended her right to make her own choice. Mamma said there were plenty of other respectable career options to choose from, and which would be agreeable to everyone concerned.
It was then that Naina realised that it would be impossible to convince her parents about Michael. To them, the fact that she had a choice was immaterial. Michael was the antithesis of everything they believed in. As she was brushing her teeth, the very domesticity of the day's start made her see that this would be the rest of her life unless she did something about it. A uniform flatline with occasional troughs or crests. And by the time she realised that she had let slip the chance of being with Michael, of aiming for and achieving something worthwhile, it would be too late.
By rejecting the familiar and the comforting, she would make a deliberate and conscious choice. Naina had no answer to her mother's bewildered questions, and it was futile to try to explain anything to her. Her father was away touring, and suddenly it all seemed to fall in place. The decision taken, she felt compelled to believe that if she could not do it that day, she would never find the courage to try it again. It had not even occurred to her that she should tell Michael about it.
Naina reached Michael's door, rang the bell, and waited. For the first time, the watchman looked surprised; the big bag made it clear she was here to stay.
Eventually, sleepy-eyed, when Michael opened the door, she dropped the bag and fell into his arms.
'So, you are here?'
She nodded against his chest. He smelled of paint, a smell, she realised at that moment she would have to get used to.
'Make yourself at home.'
She came in and looked around, as if she were seeing it all for the first time. The large window made the place bright and airy. Though it looked Spartan now, ideal for Michael, it would not do anymore. But she could transform it. Setting up the kitchen would take some planning, though. The locality was decent, devoid of hustle bustle, and the neighbours kept to themselves. It was not going to be as bad as she feared.
'You never needed a kitchen, did you?' she asked Michael, who was slumped on the bed. 'I have an idea if you let me use a part of your studio.'
'Playing house already? Hold on. I talked to my dad yesterday.'
'Also that. I told him I would drop out of college soon. To paint.'
'And what did he say?'
'As if he was reading a script I had prepared. No business, no support.'
'And being with me?'
'Let's just say he is more concerned about his business.'
'Maybe you shouldn't have told him. He wouldn't have known.'
'Maybe I would be a hypocrite, then.'
Naina let a few seconds pass. 'So, these rooms?'
'Out of the question. We can't afford the rent.'
'Search for what we can afford. How much do you have?'
Naina took out a passbook from the bag. 'All my pocket-money that I have saved since childhood. And a recurring deposit that my father started for me years ago.'
'Good,' Michael said. 'You are the man of the house here, remember? So first find a place where we can afford to stay, and next, a job.'
'I assume we don't have a honeymoon?'
'Starting now,' Michael said, gently pulling her to bed.
Excerpted from Dreams in Prussian Blue (Rs 150) by Paritosh Uttam, with the permission of publishers Penguin Books India.
Here's your chance to win a copy of this book! Tell us in less than 150 words whether you are for or against live-in relationships and why. Send an e-mail with your views in 150 words or less to firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: 'Live-in relationships'). The ten best entries will receive a copy of Dreams in Prussian Blue each, so hurry! The contest closes March 1 -- click here for more details.