I sat through the remainder of the awards and the vote of thanks in a mild trance. Seeing and hearing all that was happening around me, but not really taking anything in. I was euphoric on receiving the award, sad because none of my family members were present, proud of my achievements and mildly surprised by the Bengali lady in the front row. I was missing Aftaab and I was missing Abbu. I really wanted them to be there with me. After al, it was not everyday that you got awarded for your books! And while I fidgeted about my chair, cradling the trophy in my arms, the ceremony rolled on, the chief guest rose to speak and his booming voice cut through my reverie and brought me right back to the proceedings. I caught something about encouraging the women writers, the fact that there aren't enough women writers of Indian origin was emphasized by today's winners list. Only two women writers. That was when my cell phone screen lit up, and reading Aftaab's name on the display, I moved out of the hall to take his call.
"I'm so sorry Saira, I tried to get free earlier, but things just kept moving on and on..."
I cut him off. This wasn't the time for explanations.
"Its ok. Listen, I've got to tell you..."
"I'm on my way home. I just talked to Abbu. I'll pick him and the kids up and meet you at the hall. Then we'll go out to lunch and celebrate."
"Celebrate what?" I was smiling. He already knew.
"Oh come on Saira. You think I wouldn't know? I can hear it in your voice. You've won"
I moved back to the hall to find people drifting away to the left side wing. I crossed over and joined the throng when I heard the sonorous voice of Neel Survekar. Neel was Aftaab's friend, my editor and the one who planted the germ of writing a book in me. The only reason I'd refrained from mentioning him in my acceptance speech was that he'd absolutely forbidden me to do so.
"Think of my reputation Saira", he'd said with mock seriousness "Do you want people to think that I urge people to write, and then go on to edit their books, and thats how I get work?"
"Oh Dr Bashir, congratulations. Many many congratulations", he said, reaching my side. "So, when should I come home for a celebratory dinner? Mind you, I want Murg-dam-Birayni, fried fish and Gosht-a-la-Saira Bashir in the menu. So you decide the date or I'll drop in on my own accord one of these days"
I was laughing.
"Sure Neel, you are welcome anytime"
"You know, I'm glad you reached in time for collecting your award. I thought I'd have to collect it for you."
"But I thought you liked collecting awards."
"I do, but not for someone else"
"Because I've to give them off to them afterwards"
"Ha ha. Neel, you are impossible"
We had reached the second hall by this time. It was a small rectangular room where the refreshments were laid out. Contrary to the dull atmosphere of the hall where the award ceremony was held, this room was electric. The place was buzzing with the voices of about a hundred people talking at the same time, the waiters serving refreshments, friends and colleagues catching up with each other and debates and discussions from politics to films to world peace that took place when the collective IQ of the attendees was more than that of the Lok Sabha!
"Ah, there she is. Someone I thought you'd be interested in meeting."