"Hmmm, less sugar", she said and emptied the two sugar pouches lying nearby into the mug. And then, as if nothing had happened, went on to enquire about my kids.
"They are fine, but why wouldn't you do the article on tribal women?"
"The answer is simple my dear, nobody wants to read it!"
"Honest and simple"
"Honest and simple?"
"Yes, I'm not pretending I can't do it, I'm not giving you excuses like I don't have the time. I'm telling you that I can do it, I have the time, but I don't have the inclination. And that, is the plain and simple truth Saira.", her voice was steady, no emotion betrayed.
"Ok, I appreciate the honesty, but I don't understand it. Why do you not have the inclination?", as opposed to her cool demeanor, I struggled to maintain control.
"Who do you think wants to read about these illiterate grannies at twenty-nine? Is there an audience for such a work?"
"People don't know about these people, we are trying to spread awareness about their plight. We have to create the audience." My own words surprised me here. I had considered an easy option. I will talk to Rewa and she would agree to work with Mrs. Ahuja. There, my work was done. And now here I was, across the table from Rewa, talking passionately about this project.
"It doesn't work that way Saira. Creating audiences is easier said than done.", again a crisp business like tone.
"Do you always write for established audiences?"
"Yes?, but all that stuff you wrote about in school and college. About independence of women, about liberation from an age-old culture, what was that?"
"That was exactly what the people wanted to read at that time."
I was gaping at her with my mouth hanging open. This was not the Rewa I'd admired. This was not the Rewa who was my inspiration. This was not the Rewa whom I had mentioned in my speech. But then, this was not Rewa. Rewa was dead. This was Progati.
"I was surprised when you mentioned my name in the acceptance speech. Becoming an inspiration to people was never on the agenda. I was merely writing what they wanted to read. My writings have always been driven by need. The audiences' need and my need- the audiences' need of reading seemingly progressive writing and my need of Progati, of progress."
"Progati. Not Rewa. Progati. Rewa died the day I married Nabin. The day I progressed. It's a long story. The tale of my progress", the crisp business-like tone was gone, replaced by an emotional weary voice. And as if to reflect her sudden change of mood, the plreasant breeze started howling at the windows.
"Tell me", I was intrigued, not just by the prospect of hearing her story, but also by the sudden change in her voice.