The Helpline – Making of the Book

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The Helpline is my debut novel. It took me roughly 18 months to finish this book. The book underwent a lot of changes during the period. After writing 50% of the book in third person style, I realized it wasn’t convincing enough. So I switched the mode to first person and finished the book in roughly 8 months.

I sent the first draft to a few close friends. The reviews were mixed.

Somehow, I knew there was room for improvement. So I opened the manuscript and started rewriting the whole thing again. Somewhere between the second draft and final manuscript, there were long, scary patches of uninvited blocks and what-the-fuck-am-I-doing phases. Chapters and characters were deleted, scenes eliminated, sentences annihilated; it only reminded me of 3 words…Kill Your Darlings.

It was late April 2013 when I had, convincingly, finished the manuscript and started sending it out to publishers. The book was sent to 25 publishers across India. I never heard from 23 of those publishers.

One publisher based out of Delhi called me up and expressed his opinion on the book. The publisher recommended some changes in the climax before accepting the book for publication. I wasn’t convinced. So I moved on.

A couple of months later, I received the letter of intent from Leadstart Publishing and things soon began to fall in place. On 29th March, 2014, the book was launched by Padma Shri Paresh Rawal at Sivaswamy Auditorium in Chembur – thanks to Tushar Gangoly of Rotary Deonar Club.

Several people have asked me – Is it based on your life?

I have always answered with a NO on my lips and a YES in my head.

No, the scenes in the book are not based on my life. All the situations and scenarios from page 1 to page 252 are purely fictional.

Yes, a part of the book is inspired from the people I have met and observed in my life. For instance, the character of Aslam draws a heavy inspiration from a 12-year-old boy living on the streets of Shivaji Park. This kid was sharp, smart and extremely passionate about studying. He went to a local municipal school and mostly struggled with English. We spent an hour everyday studying English lessons from his school textbook. This kid also became a reason why I decided to donate a part of book’s sale (Rs. 5 per book) as a charity for child welfare through The Rotary Foundation.

Some people have told me that the concept of the book is unique and wonder how it came about. The answer for this too has a relevance to an incident in my life.

It was the summer of 2007. I had recently had a breakup and being an emotional fool,  I took shelter among books. I spent my entire day in crosswords engrossed in books. I lost count of how many books I had read that summer. While on my usual routine at crosswords, I met a girl. I was surprised how easily we hit it off. A few days later, I asked her about the scars on her wrist and she confessed to having attempted suicide and several reasons behind it.

That incident somehow etched in my head. I had not discovered writing until the end of year 2008. When I did, I knew what my first book would be about.

The Helpline is not only about suicide issues among teenagers though. At the heart of it, The Helpline is a romantic-drama set in modern times. It is about relationships that bond and strengthen as well as of those that weaken and wither. It is about selfishness and selflessness. It is about failures in life. Above all, The Helpline is about self-discovery.

The Helpline is Samir’s story – his struggle to come to terms with unfortunate events in his life and his willingness to fight back. The Helpline is Samir’s journey towards his self-discovery.

You can buy the book here:

Flipkart: http://bit.ly/TheHelpline
Snapdeal: http://bit.ly/SD-TheHelpline

Read it. Review it.

 

The Helpline

The Rear View Mirror

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“Drive faster,” she voiced her demand.

 “I am driving fast enough,” I replied pointing at the speedometer that jogged around 30.

 “Oh come on, that guy on cycle just passed us. Drive faster.” She mocked throwing her hands in the air. “Don’t be so sissy.”

 “I am not being sissy.” I said in my defense. “We are not protected. And I have not decided on dying like this. At least not here and now.”

“Really? Are you telling me that you have already decided how you want to die?” That was the beginning of a string of questions to follow.

Damn.

“Well no, I mean yes. I mean it is too complicated.” I stuttered.

“Really? Complicated? With the speed you are driving at, I think I h`ave enough time to listen and fathom. Go on. I am all ears.” And that is how she gets stuff out of me. Every time.

“Well you know how I think?” I said clearing my throat and trying to put some sense in each word I uttered. “I have plans for everything. Come to think about it, I have plans for us too.”

“Yeah? Like what?” She shot again.

These women.

“Like spend loads of time with you and love you to the core, marry you someday, have kids, grow old, and then die with you still by my side.” I prayed that made some sense.

“You know, on second thought, I like the plan.” She said smiling.

Gosh, how did that happen?

“You do?” I asked surprised at hearing that. I was expecting whats and whys and hows.

“Totally, and lets have 2 kids, a boy and a girl. Boy, we will name Josh and girl, Amanda.” She said, her voice growing curious with every word.

“Sounds good.” I said, clearly enjoying the conversation. Then something struck me. “Wait. You had this planned before, din’t you? You even decided on the names, without my consent.”

“I did not.” She said trying to defend herself. “It was a mere suggestion. You can pick the names if you want. I can give you the book.” And the ball is in your court baby.

“The book? What book?” I saw her bit her tongue at the question.

Gotcha.

“It’s no big deal. I just bought a book of names for babies. Just to see what name our kids could have.”

“Oh my God. And all this while I thought I was the crazy one making plans. You are even crazier than I am. You named our unborn babies.”

“Whatever.” She said making a straight face.

I stepped on the accelerator and the speedometer rushed, forty, fifty, sixty. The bike zoomed on the deserted road.

“What are you doing?” She asked with a disagreeing look.

“I thought you wanted me to drive faster.” I said in a confused tone.

“We are not protected. And I have not decided on dying like this. At least not here and now.”

Where a Dream Splits

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“Why do two people fall in love?” It is not really a question with a definite answer. But it is a question that ought to be answered by two people in love. Because if they can’t; then they are just wasting their time together.

“Why are you asking me that?” The question takes her off guard. But I know she can handle impromptu scenarios very well. There is a confidence in her voice. The answer will come, I know it.

“Because I don’t understand the concept of love,” and that is true. “I mean, I saw you, my heart skipped a beat. I asked you out and you said yes. I asked you again and you never denied. We both just knew it from the beginning, didn’t we? That is weird.”

She leans ahead and rests her elbow on the table. “What is bothering you?”

There are these waves of questions hitting me every now and then. The irony is that you cannot separate one wave from the other.

“I had a dream early morning. You know that thing about early morning dreams? They often come true.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————

“I had a dream early morning,” a feeling of déjà vu takes over me. I struggle to recall if I have had this conversation before.

“I have some bad news.” He looks away from me. I can feel my heart throbbing in my throat. A bad news is even worse when they come from your best friends.

“She is seeing someone.” He says after a few tense moments. “I am sorry.” And then the déjà vu is gone, vanished.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

“You wanna talk about it,” there is a profound concern in her voice that cannot be ignored. I breathe deep and sigh.

“I had this dream. We were holding hands and walking down a long endless road. We were happily singing the true companion song,

So don’t you dare and try to walk away,

I’ve got my heart set on our wedding day.

I’ve got this vision of a girl in white,

Made my decision that it’s you allright.

The endless road did not seem to bother us. What mattered was that we were together, holding on to each other, and living our life together.

That was until the road split into two. We went our separate ways. Walking alone was a nightmare. No one to hold hand with, no one to dream along with, no one to sing for, no one to die for.

The roads will meet again someday, somewhere. I consoled my lonely heart every single moment. And when they finally did, you were there.

But you had found someone on your way. The path I chose was the same that we both started with. The path you chose was the one we split at. I continued to treasure our dreams. It was hard to see you with someone. There were mixed emotions, should I be happy for you or should I feel betrayed?”

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

I look blankly in his face. He is waiting for me to say something.

“I am happy for her.” There is mixed emotion in my voice. The heart cries, feeling betrayed. There were no promises made, none broken. The roads have met again, and the dream has come true.

Song courtesy: Marc Cohn

Here With You

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“This place is beautiful,” she says in awe.

 I have always wanted to bring her here. The ambiance is perfect for a quiet dinner and a healthy conversation.

 A fresh rose in the vase, the fragrance of which refuses to leave the table. A soothingly burning candle, the flame of which flickers with her every breath.

 We stare at the ceiling, our heads up at the same time. The ceiling is covered in a collage of broken mirrors.

 Thousand reflections of her on the ceiling and yet my heart craves for more. I simply can’t get enough of this girl across the table.

 She smiles, her eyes still glued to the ceiling. They are outlined with faint kohl. Every time they fall on me, I can see my image trapped within. There is so much virtue in those eyes, the ones that garner, protect and nurture little dreams of endless joys. They glitter with an out worldly passion. Just like a mirror, they remind me of who I am, every time I look into them. Her smile never ceases to enthrall me. It glows and spreads passionately across her face. I wish to be imprisoned forever in her aura.

Her freely flowing hair is neatly tucked underneath a red hair band. They bounce off her shoulder every time she turns around. She wears a beaded necklace around her neck. Her sleeveless red gown perfectly complements her countenance. My heart skips a beat and then a few more. Just like every time, a thought crosses my mind.

 If you were a princess from a fairy tale, I did stop believing in reality.

 —————————————————————————————————————————————-

This place is fantastic. It is strange how I failed to notice before. I have been here several times, with family, friends and colleagues. And yet this place seems so novel today. Is it his presence across the table, or am I beginning to fall for him?

I can’t help smiling while I look at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes are glued on me. He is lost in his own imaginary world, a world where we are together all along. How I wish to be a part of this world, and turn his dreams into reality.

He looks at me with such innocence; I yearn to read his mind. I want him to look at me good and long, let his heart be filled with a desire full of me.

The way I am dressed tonight is solely for his attention. The way I wear my hair tonight is only for him. I want him to realize that everything I am tonight is just for him. I want him to know I am here, with him, for him.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

 They say love can make a poet of you. Every word you say in love sounds like a poem. I am falling for this girl sitting across the table.

I am falling for her silky hair.

I am craving for her every stare.

I am falling for the blush on her cheeks.

I am craving for those lips to kiss.

I am falling for every word she says.

I am craving for those magical words she refuses to claim.

And yet I sit here looking in her eyes

A question still runs deep through my mind

Will you ever be mine?

Forever mine.

 This moment will desert us soon, but you are here to stay in my heart, for eternity.

 —————————————————————————————————————————————-

 “Shall we order?” I ask him knowing how much he hates going through menus.

 He has been holding one in his hand, reading over and over again. I can make out from his confused expressions. He tries so hard not to make any mistakes around me. He tries so hard to impress me. I wish he knew I already am.

“Should I order for us?”

 “Sure,” he says relieved.

 “We have been seeing a lot of each other these days.” I say hoping to catch him off guard.

 “Is that bad?” he questions raising his eyebrows.

 “No,” I say convincingly. “How often do you go out with your girl friends?”

 “I don’t really ask anyone out.” He nods.

 “But you asked me out.”

 “I like your company.”

 “Define company.”

 He thinks for a short pause. “Submission is sweet in your presence. It is strange the way I feel around you, fearless and confident, ready to take over the world. When you are with me, I am not afraid to take a step forward. It is that feeling of trust which drives me, knowing that you will be here even in my mistakes. The feeling that you will believe in me and that in your presence, I will never fail. With you by my side, I am the happiest man on the face of the earth. With you by my side, I am the best man on the face of the earth…”

 He stops abruptly, realizing he might have shared too much. There is so much in that heart, so many unspoken words.

 Don’t stop for now, don’t stop ever. I long to tell him.

 —————————————————————————————————————————————-

 What is it about her that drives me to such extremes? There are so many things I want her to know. And yet time and again, I stop myself from saying so. What if she does not understand? What if the feeling is not mutual on the other side? What if she walks out of my life?

 “Why did you stop?” she questions at my sudden pause.

 “Can I ask you something?”

 “Sure,” she nods.

 “What is your impression of me?”

 “Well, I like your company too.” She smiles.

 “Define company.” I smile.

 —————————————————————————————————————————————-

Love is a game two can play. Somehow, I love the way he plays me into saying things.

“There is more to you than meets the eye, an unknown mystery hidden within you. At times, I am not convinced if I know you enough. And yet here I am, knowing in my heart that you will always be here to comfort me, to protect me. There is an unspeakable innocence in your eyes and a melody in your words, as though everything you say is a poem for restless soul.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Time stands still. I am lost in her eyes yet again. A voice in my head screams an encore.

Get off the chair and kiss her.

“I want to tell you something,” I gather some courage.

“I am listening.” She says looking me in the eyes, assuring that I have her full attention.

“Promise you won’t hate me.”

“I won’t.” She whispers.

“Promise you won’t ignore me.”

“I won’t.”

“Promise you will not regret being here with me.”

“I won’t.”

“Promise you will not walk out of my life.”

“I won’t. A million times, I won’t. I promise. Don’t keep me waiting anymore. Just say it.”

“I Love You.”

Talking Titles

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“It’s quiet in here.” I accost glancing around the place.

She looks at me in revulsion. “It’s a library,” and nods her head contentiously.

I force a smile of discomfort  and shrug. She occupies herself into the book she has been reading all along.

“What book are you reading?” I interrupt intending to get her attention on me.

She lifts the book up so that the title is shoved in my face.

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” I blurt the title aloud and grin impulsively, “For the facts, the man who wrote the book was himself divorced and married, twice.” I mock with my two fingers wriggling.

She slams the book closed and looks at me in resentment.

“What do you want me to do?” I shrug again.

“Shutting up may be a good start.” She leaves her seat and starts fishing for a different book.

“Look, I said I am sorry. It wasn’t a big…”

“I thought you were going to shut up,” she cuts me off.

“Ok. If that is what you want.” I plant my hands in each pocket and sigh. She continues with her search, completely ignoring me, as if I do not exist in the room.

I stay close on her heals, trying to get her attention by moving around her. She relents. Few minutes pass by and I begin to feel twitchy.

Ignoring is the worst thing you can do to meit literally kills me. I think in my mind but refuse to convey to her. May be because I know I deserved it.

Another minute has passed by and my restiveness has reached its zenith. I leaf through the numerous books lined up neatly on a shelf labelled fiction.

She is still busy when I walk up to her with a book in hand. Tapping her lightly on the shoulder, I run my finger across the title of the book. P.S. I Love You.

She nods in denial, pulls out a VCD from the movies section and thrusts it in my hands. Liar Liar.

I scroll through a few more books and point out at one in the corner. Trust Me.

She denies again and pulls out the same book. She turns the book to the back cover and underlines a sentence from the book summary with her finger. All Men are bastards.

She slams the book in my hand and moves on leaving me quizzical.

I make another move with two books, one in each hand. I hold one up in the air while she reads the title. I’ll Take You There.

She looks back at me with a questioned look. I bring forth the second book in my left hand for her to read. Five Days in Paris.

She heads for a shelf and comes back with one in her hand. She raises an eyebrow and the book simultaneously. Be Careful What You Wish For.

I hold her hand signifying a promise. She looks away, still not satisfied by my apologies.

I step back holding a finger in air beseeching her to wait for me. Up and down the library, I run for a couple of minutes. I return to the table where she is standing and plead her to close her eyes. She obeys.

I place the several books I have been hugging around on the table and begin to arrange them.

I hold her hand and get down on my knees. She opens her eyes; I direct her glance to the arranged books on the table.

It happened one Autumn.

On the Night of the Seventh Moon.

A Smooth Talking Stranger.

A Beautiful Mind.

Perfect.

It Had to be You.

Where Dreams Begin.

From This Day.

Love Story.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine.

Once and Always.

Dreaming of you.

I am Ok, You are Ok. 

Everything is illuminated.

One Hundred Years of solitude.

For Better, For Worse, Forever.

Till Death do us apart.

I make an innocent face, urging for her forgiveness. She breaks into a cherubic smile for the first time. Her smile makes me smile. She pulls me up close to her.

I pass her the final book I have been hiding behind me. Say You Love Me.

“I love you,” she breaks the silence and rests her head on my chest.

“Let’s get out of here,” I suggest.

“That would be a good start.”

We begin to step out when the librarian shouts pointing at the dozen books on the table, “Oye! Are you going to buy those? Where do you think you are going?”

I direct him to a book on the top selling shelf. A Walk to Remember.

Walk In-Walk Out

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She looks at me, with sorry eyes, then closing them, she drops her head. Her fingers circle the ring on her index finger, nervously and aimlessly.

Where have you been? What have you been up to up to? I looked for you in every nook and corner. I looked for you wherever my eyes wandered and I looked for you wherever my heart wandered.

And whenever I found you, all I got was the cold look of a stranger. The innocence was lost and replaced by the ignorance. The love was lost and replaced by abhorrence.

It took a while, and then, it took a long while until I realized I had lost. It did not hurt when I thought I had lost. For I always took pleasure in losing to you. But then I looked deeper and I realized what I had lost and then it began hurting.

The pain was somewhere inside, I wished to touch it, to soothe it, to calm it and to hold it tightly and assure it that things will be fine. But it would not heed to me.

The pain only ceased when you touched it, when you calmed it and when you held it tightly and assured it. But you were not here anymore. So it hurt even more knowing the cure to the pain had just walked away.

I made up my mind and decided to move on. So I walked, I walked until my legs began hurting. But that pain in the heart was much deeper than the one anywhere else. The only way to get rid of that pain was to cause a bigger pain. So I ran, I ran harder and I ran faster. I ran for days, months and years. I ran until I had left the world far behind me.

Then one day, I stopped and turned back for the first time. I was leading the world, just the way you wanted me to. But you were not there to look me in the eyes and tell me I had done it, to appreciate me, to share my joy and bask in the glory. The pain had gone and so were you.

I decide to take it slow now. Time has healed my pain, but the scars on my heart that you had left behind still exist. Then one day while I was smiling again, you walked right back in to my life, without knocking on the door.

You look at me, with sorry eyes, then closing your eyes, you drop your head. Your fingers circle the ring on your index finger, nervously and aimlessly. Its been a long time and destiny has changed hands.

There are a million questions in my head, patiently yet curiously waiting to be answered. Then I see that drop of tear roll down your face and one after the other, the questions begin to vanish. My heart feels the beat once again. The choice was yours then, and you chose to out. I survived with the little memories of us that you left behind. Now we are back to where we had left it unfinished. This time, the choice is mine.

Its been a long time since I had seen you so closely. And every second of looking at you makes me feel standing between life and death. All the questions have cleared from my head, all but one. Should I walk out or should I let you walk in?

The Seventh Floor Apartment

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“You see that 7th floor apartment, the one with the red curtain.” She points towards the window facing west as I follow her direction.  “Some day, it will be my apartment.”

She loves everything that faces the sea. There is something about the breeze, the sand, and the sunset that always makes her smile. And her smile, makes me smile.

“So, your apartment huh? What about me?” I ask obviously being felt left alone.

“Well, you have to earn your way in, mister.” She teases still looking at the apartment.

“Really? Earn it?” I pull her in my arms, lock her in and look straight in her glimmering eyes. “Now, what does a man have to do to be with the woman of his dreams?” I wonder.

“Impress her.” She answers, not winking once.

“Fine. Here goes. I promise to thy. You will never, ever, wake up alone in the morning. The first touch of the day will be our lips. The first three words you hear in the morning will be ‘I love you’. The first thing you eat will be the breakfast I make. Your favorite, French omelet with brown bread and loads of cheese, exactly the way you like. And when you are ready to leave for work, I will take you in my arms, hold you tightly and tell you that you, my dear, mean a world to me. And that being with you makes me feel like the luckiest man on the planet.

And when you return from work, tired and dazed, I will sit you on the couch and treat you to a slow, soft, and gentle foot massage, until you feel rejuvenated. Every dinner will be special, and when we are done with it, I will ask you for a dance. Hand in hand, one step at a time, we will move in rhythm to the soft beats of your favorite song playing in background. As the song comes to an end I will gently lift you up in my arms and walk towards the bedroom. And then….”

“And then we make love all night along.” She completes me. I smile nodding. “You just earned yourself the keys to our apartment.” She whispers checking my lips with her finger.

“Don’t ever keep me out of your life. Ever. Promise? .” I ask her never wanting to let her go.

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