Book House The Lead

Novoneel Chakraborty’s latest novel is a beguiling tale about urban loneliness, and explores the psychological impact of social media

Author Novoneel Chakraborty
  • The book “Cross Your Heart, Take My Name” by Novoneel Chakraborty explores themes of urban loneliness, fickle relationships, and people’s need for companionship by depicting the twisted journey of two individuals, caught up in their own emotional plight, blurring the lines between crime and sin.


  • The novel follows Garv Roy Gill and Yahvi Kothari, who meet at an airport lounge by chance and fall in love. Their adventurous streak makes them decide, one day, to escape the present and begin a new reality somewhere far, far away. On the day they are supposed to meet and escape, Yahvi doesn’t turn up, she doesn’t respond to Garv’s phone calls or messages, and mysteriously Yahvi vanishes altogether.


  • Days later, as a grieving Garv stumbles upon her Instagram profile, which he didn’t know existed, he is shocked to realize that her every post is probably a clue to the truth behind her disappearance. Except, the more he unearths the meandering truth, the more he learns about a certain side of Yahvi which changes the way he saw her. And the way he understood love.


  • Read an excerpt from the book below.


PRESENT

25 February 2019

Have you ever disappeared from someone’s life just like that? No intimation. No conversation. Nothing. Well, I’m going to do that. Today. In fact, in a few hours.

Since the time I woke up, I had a knot in my stomach. The ominous kind that constantly whispered that nothing would go right. I don’t remember the last time I woke up with my head buzzing like this. But the good thing was I was looking ahead to a busy day. Busy days take care of whispers like these and other unnecessary thoughts. I had no time to waste but my anxiety led me to an early morning smoke. I do smoke but not this early. I have my first cigarette with coffee after I reach office. But today was different. Or perhaps today was mundane but I was different. For starters, I was not going to office.

I looked out as I exhaled a puff of smoke, admiring the vivid splash of colour that was already appearing at the horizon despite the blanket of smog. The view put me at ease. The idea of living in a concrete building only to stare at other concrete buildings suffocated me. I had always wanted to live in a place from where I could watch the horizon. Horizons! The only time nature seems to have closure, contrary to its otherwise limitlessness. But this view, my bedroom, my wardrobe, my coffee machine . . . I wouldn’t see them ever again. The thought was as exciting as it was scary. Leaving something behind always troubled me. But for the first time, I was seeking adventure in that ‘trouble’.

I stubbed out my cigarette and messaged her: Good morning. This was more to check if she had woken up. Our destination was the same today. That reminded me of something she’d once said: Doesn’t matter if two individuals have the same destination. The journey is always different. I’d asked her why she thought so, and she’d replied that perspectives were always different even if the relationship was the same. I guess she was right.

We generally never exchanged ‘good morning’ messages. In fact, we were yet to exchange anything which could possibly lead to any monotony. Why seek what you are running away from in the first place? The message didn’t get delivered.

I chose not to waste any more time. I showered, got dressed in casual attire, ate a quick breakfast—half a bowl of cornflakes and three boiled egg whites—picked up the bag I’d packed and left. I placed a note on the dining table under a vase which had some fresh lilies I had bought the previous night. Before firing up my SUV, I checked my phone again. The message had still not been delivered. I sent another one: I’m on my way. Will reach in an hour. See you. This time the message got delivered along with the previous one. I didn’t think much about it and drove off.

While driving to the spot where we were supposed to meet, I felt like one of those kids who’d told his mother that he was going to school but was actually bunking class to watch an adult film with his friends. I was sure she felt the same. It had been—I counted in my mind—twenty-six times in six odd months since we had met, and yet we had planned this like we had known each other for years. I realized it was not about the number of meetings or the amount of time that you spent with a person, it was about how intense your feelings were for each other, how strong the bond was. Our plan was simple. We would meet at a dhaba in Lonavala, where she would abandon her car, and drive to Mumbai together in my car. We would then leave my car in the parking lot of one of the malls and take an Uber to the international airport. From there we would catch a flight to Santorini, Greece. Why Santorini? That was her favourite place. What would we do there? We didn’t know. Till now, we both had been running after a plan in life. Not any more. We both wanted to live like nomads. We wanted to belong only to the present without any baggage from the past or any care for the future. Unbelievable, right? I know.

I reached the dhaba and lit a cigarette as I waited for her to either message or call me. She did neither. As the day progressed, I started getting calls from work. I took some time to sort them out. Nobody knew I was going to disappear. It was unfair to my employees and the company. But the essence of this plan was to not think about others. It was about being selfish and living for yourself.

I’d left home around 7 a.m. and now it was close to 10 a.m. I toyed with the idea of giving her a missed call. I’d never called her without her permission before. It was times like these when I missed being on social media. I could only get in touch with her through calls and WhatsApp messages. She always complained about it, but photographs troubled me. I finally tapped on her name in the contacts list of my phone. I hadn’t changed her name to anything fictitious, unlike her who had saved my number as ‘Kavya’ on her phone. I would have cut the call on the second ring, but she picked up on the first, leaving me surprised.

‘Reaching in two minutes,’ she said and hung up. Indeed, she was there in less than two minutes.

‘Where were you?’ I asked. As an unsaid rule, we never hugged in public.

She got out of her car, came over and settled next to me. She turned to look at my luggage in the back seat sheepishly. I frowned.

‘I’m sorry but we will have to postpone our plan,’ she said. Her voice seemed a little tense.

‘Is everything all right?’ I asked.

‘No, but I can’t tell you anything right now. I have to go now. I came here only to say this.’

That was odd. She could have just messaged me.

‘But you needn’t have driven all this way if our plan was going to be postponed.’

‘I’m not fretting over it; why are you?’

I chose to interpret her willingness to drive here all the way from Pune as her way of respecting whatever we had between us. What did we have between us? This question had given me sleepless nights. I wanted to ask her so many questions. Till when were we postponing our plan? We had a flight to catch later in the night. What about that?

‘Whatever it is, I’m always there for you, if you count on me,’ I said.

‘Of course I count on you. Why else would I come this far only to tell you that I need some more time?’

It felt good to hear that. Sometimes we need reassurance.

‘Cancel your ticket? I’ll tell you when to rebook it,’ she said.

‘Okay.’ I didn’t want to ask too many questions about the tickets. We had booked them and applied for visas separately in any case.

‘Want to have some tea before we disperse, now that we have come this far?’ I asked.

She nodded. We ordered two cups of kadak ginger tea from the dhaba and sipped them in silence. Then I walked her to her car. She sat in the driver’s seat, started the engine, but then suddenly stuck her head out of the window and did something she’d never done before. She kissed me in public. The suddenness of it took me by surprise but by the time I surrendered to the kiss, she pulled back.

‘I’ll miss everything,’ she said, and before I could say anything else, she drove off. Why would she say ‘everything’? I looked around. A few passers-by had seen us smooch. Ignoring their glares, I got into my car and drove off. I followed her car till she took a left from the Wakad flyover for her home while I headed straight for the office.

Though I wasn’t supposed to go to work, the change in plan made me decide otherwise. I kept checking my phone for messages from her but there were none. The knot in my stomach eased as I got busy with my day but came back as I lay in bed at night and asked Alexa to play my playlist. Music was my perfect lullaby. During the third song, I felt my phone vibrate. There was a message from her. It read:

I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you today. Will meet you soon and discuss our plan. I have cancelled my ticket. Hope you have done it too.

I read the message again and again but still didn’t understand what she was talking about. I replied: We did meet. What happened? All okay?

The message did not get delivered. Not the next morning. Not ever.

Excerpted with permission from Cross Your Heart, Take My Name, Novoneel Chakraborty, Penguin India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.

 

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