This edition of WEP Writing Challenge is a prompt fiction based on the iconic movie: Gone With the Wind. I’ve chosen to pick up the theme of unrequited love, of what love can mean, and to whom and why.
As usual, I’ve used characters from my BLUE MUMBAI series. These snippets of prompt-fiction show aspects of the story only hinted at in the novels. When you read the books, you’ll recognize the characters, and the voices will (hopefully) blend into the tapestry.
So here’s my WEP entry, a prompt fiction flash piece I’ll feature only here on this site for WEP.
(I threw this together in half an hour, so the quality isn’t what it should be, but I’m exhausted with no sleep and endless edits, and it was either this or nothing at all. At the very least, it helps me practice a few words, like muscial scales. That should count for something, right? Sorry, my patient friends, this may not be a profound meditation on the nature of love.)
At work, Sita wore her expression clean and starched just like her khakis, the color of Mumbai police uniform the only thing she had in common with him.
It was cloth that made men and women unremarkable beings like the teetar from her childhood village. Speckled and gorgeous on its own, but set against the brown soil and others of its kind each grey partridge looked the same as any other.
That was her strategy: blend in. Don’t let your self show, because in that direction lay peril.
He was married to someone else, for one.
And there was that small issue of her own marriage. She’d married a man she didn’t like, because those were her grandmother’s terms: marry the man I choose for you, and you can join Mumbai Police. A woman fought many battles, most of them against her own kind, and she could never fight them all and win. Sita had learned this early.
What she hadn’t prepared herself for was her first assignment, and the way her very being would react to her boss. When Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput had stepped into the police station the very first day at her new posting, she’d taken one look at his square jaws and his broad shoulders and glanced away. The air had thinned out, and she’d found herself focusing on her breath the way she did when training for target practice, or hand-to-hand combat. It would pass, she’d told herself, but it had only gotten worse once he spoke– his voice settling in her mind like first rain on parched earth.
Keeping her expression professional and her gaze shuttered took up all her effort. Over the years, it had turned into second nature, but each day as she returned home, the weight of carrying her own invisible armour added to her burdens. She’d never taken his first name in public because he was her superior at work. At office, he was Rajput sir.
In her mind, she’d tried several times to take his name. Arnav. The ocean. She’d failed. She hated this, hated this inexplicable weakness, this inability to forget or express what was becoming a large, inconvenient, utterly embarrassing part of her life. It wasn’t love, she cursed herself, it was an abomination.
And now here she was, on stage, the moment slowed down and enlarged.
They’d been called up, him and her, by the host of the show—the Bollywood show put up each year by movie stars to entertain the Mumbai Police who protected them and the general public, and to thank them for their service.
Umang, they called the show. The joy of life.
Only right now, under the spotlights, she felt everything but joy. The host was teaching them the steps of a Bollywood dance, forward one two three and back one to three, dip her one two three, and he was nodding, Senior Inspector Rajput, was smiling that rare half-serious grin, that gave him perfect dimples, and made her want to disappear so as not to react, or worse still, touch him.
Touch him was exactly what the host wanted her to do, put her hand on his shoulder, his hand at her waist and dip one two three, left one two three, and somehow, she was moving with him to the left, to the right, not looking up, breathing in his rain-smelling cologne, her hand firm on the silken epaulets of his uniform.
Look at him, the host said, you must gaze upon each other like a hero and a heroine. Maybe the host had picked her because she looked docile and safe, her hair neatly tucked into her cap, her uniform fitting but not figure-hugging, her gaze shy but professional.
She nodded her head when the host repeated himself—you can’t be an actress if you have inhibitions. The regular Sita would have turned around and said, I never wanted to be an actress, I’m a police officer, but that small hidden part of her, the rogue, the thief, the marauder, swayed and melted into his arms.
Tomorrow she’d be the gossip fodder at the station because of the way she’d given in, how she didn’t care when her cap flew off, or the curl of her hand on his bicep, as she followed the host’s instructions and they danced, round and round on the stage. She met his eyes, and in them saw an indulgent smile—the sort he might give his teenage daughter. That affectionate, tolerant grin hurt like a shard in her heart, but she danced on in the moment, uncaring of herself, her job, her reputation.
‘Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is,’ she remembered from a college text long forgotten, and after all these years she knew what the words meant.
The moment over, they walked off stage, her boss shaking her hand at the end, as if congratulating her on solving a case. The audience broke into loud cheers.
The host moved on to the next announcement, another song, but all of that evening, Sita sat, unseeing, un-listening, living over and over the only moments she’d ever spend in his arms. There would be no tomorrow, but these few moments in the spotlight in front of all of Mumbai Police and Bollywood were enough.
She’d lost her reputation, might never win it back, and would never hold him again, but in her mind something had come unstuck.
She could say ‘Arnav’ to herself, and it struck her what the word meant. The ocean with its storms, its irrepressible waves, its tides, its winds—not tied down, all encompassing, unbound by rules. Sita would untie herself. So what if she was pinned down by a marriage forced upon her? And what if she had to love alone? It only meant her love held no conditions, no fetters, no limits.
Arnav, she said to herself, Arnav, Arnav, Arnav. Only this time it wasn’t her boss, just a boundless, unshackled, vastly indifferent force of nature freed within her, where she danced in his arms, round and round, and this time she flew free, uncaring of his gaze.
WORD COUNT: 976 , FCA
How do you think these characters will end up? What part of the prompt intrigues you the most? What do words like love and freedom mean to you?
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Lovely character arc in this short piece. I can see why the judges gave you first prize. Sorry I’m late to the party, but I’ve been dealing with storms and their damage. Better late than never is how I’m framing it.
Thanks, so much, Lee. I’m moved and honored to have won the first prize. I threw it together very quickly because I know the characters very well.
Hi Damyanti – congratulations on your WEP win – despite your rush to bring us something … your writing is so evocative … and I love it – all the best Hilary
Thank you so much Hilary–this was definitely a rush job. I look forward to your review of The Blue Bar. 🙂
Thank you for sharing!!.. love means I can accept another as who they are and believe and freedom gives me the power to do so… 🙂
Hope your path is paved with peace, love and freedom and until we meet again..
May the love that you give
Always return to you,
That family and friends are many
And always remain true,
May your mind only know peace
No suffering or strife,
May your heart only know love and happiness
On your journey through life.
(Larry “Dutch” Woller)
That’s such a beautiful definition, Larry!
Pressured in to something not wanted to be able to do something that is wanted – add an unrequited love and you’ve given us a wonderful piece of writing.
Thank you, Sally. I’m relieved it worked out.
Damyanti, I don’t know why you apologize for putting this together in 30 minutes and it not being perfect. It is perfect and for most of us, it would have taken much longer to write. Wonderful story and I know exactly who is narrating. It’s hard to miss!
Thanks so much, Mary. You’re always very kind to me, and I deeply appreciate the support.
An exciting post. Unrequited love is the worst but how it’s handled key to the direction of the story. My heart breaks for Sita, but that dance, wow. Just beautiful. Although I wonder how Arnav’s wife would react to it. Also a heartbreaking moment.
Thanks, Yolanda. Yes, there’s something heartbreaking about unrequited love, but I suppose for Sita it turns into an empowering moment on that stage.
You may have tossed this story off in a short amount of time, but, wow! The inner struggle, the outer reality, the issues of attraction/forbidden love/freedom — all resonate beautifully. I keep hoping that her reputation was not damaged, that Arnav’s courtly and professional behavior protected her, and that she somehow can find peace with her life. A really beautiful piece.
Thanks, Beth. I know these characters deeply, having lived with them for years, so it was possible to toss together a story relatively quickly.
As always, this is stunning. I love Sita, and this rich morsel of her inner life is most satisfying. I’ve never read anyone who could do so much in so few words. To me, love means deliberately opening yourself to the possibility of emotional pain, and freedom means choosing your own limits.
Thank you, Marian, for reading this piece and The Blue Bar. Your kindness and encouragement has helped for more than a decade now. And what a lovely way of putting it: Love means deliberately opening yourself to the possibility of emotional pain, and freedom means choosing your own limits.
Ah, unreciprocated love. How beautiful. I loved this fleeting moment of true happiness, true love. I reveled in the heat of the moment. Lust, desire, acceptance. Marvelous.
I love your work, Damyanti, even when you write half asleep 🙂
Brilliant use of the prompt! Reminded me of the charity ball where Rhett bids an exorbitant sum to dance with the widow Hamilton. Your writing is always a treat to read, thank you for posting for WEP.
You can tell a profession author because even when we are tired, or under stress, it is impossible to write poorly. This is well crafted. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Hi Damyanti – I’d love to see how it pans out for her … can she live soley, but devotedly in love – can it remain hidden – a tempting tale … loved it – thank you … cheers and so glad to see you here doing WEP – Hilary
I am glad she freed herself. What a price to pay, but now she is emotionally free.
I just finished reading The Blue Bar, and like Jemi Fraser, I hope Sita manages to redirect her feelings! But you’ve certainly depicted them well here!
Having read The Blue Bar, I know where I hope they DON’T end up! I like Arnav too well for this to progress further. But, I feel for Sita and hope she finds her freedom!
I know these two and sometimes it’s enough to know you love someone, without thinking much about reciprocation. You’ve done an amazing job in half an hour!
Unrequited love could be such a sad burden. I hope this woman could find her happiness in the future.
Hello Damyanti. Thanks for posting for the WEP prompt under duress. As you say, good for the writing muscles!
I feel I know these characters and expect not is all chocolates and roses ahead for them. Great description and showing of emotion.
You are amazing Damyanti. Your gift of expression takes the beholder into those scenes so that you are actually watching it all take place physically and entering into the thoughts of the people you describe.
Somehow, I don’t think it will end well for these two.
That’s what you turn out in a “half hour with no sleep”??? No wonder your books sell so much!
Well, love to me is a set of actions and reactions that shows humbleness, humility and compassion without any judgements. Also it differs in definition catered to individual perception. But the power of love is what unites everyone in this world since all seek validation from it due to its attractive qualities. That’s what comes to my mind.