By Sreelekha Chatterjee
The laptop glows, as Ruby gazes at the email sent by an author. Her bespectacled, middle-aged eyes are like two ignited blocks of coal, burning with irritation from the constant stare at the computer and the revelation that the message has brought.
Dear Editor Ruby, Please reinsert the word “effigy” in the following sentence as the author himself wasn’t burnt down. Probably the word had been inadvertently missed out at the time of typesetting. Typeset sentence: “Mr White was burnt down by a group of agitators who thought that his book dealt with controversial topics.” Original sentence: “Mr White’s effigy was burnt down by a group of agitators who thought that his book dealt with controversial topics.”
Comparing the original manuscript with that of the copyedited version, Ruby calls Victor to her desk.
“Tell me the meaning of the word ‘effigy’?” She asks with an air of seriousness about her, adjusting her glasses which have almost reached the tip of her nose.
The frivolous young lad, in his early twenties, keeps quiet, toys with his mobile, while his eyes waver around the books, clutter of files, papers on her table. He notices the page tugged onto the clipboard in front of her table where he reads the well-known lines once again: “When I take a long time to finish, I’m slow, but when my boss takes a long time, he is thorough.”
Victor usually takes a long time to edit the manuscripts and the end result is mostly devastating, though he always makes a point to look everything up in the dictionary as well as do an online search on the internet. What he is unable to understand is that despite all his efforts, things don’t turn up the way they should have been and lead to fresh miseries. He stares at the clipboard and thinks of inserting another line there which he mumbles under his breath with a supercilious smile:“When you take a long time to discuss about something, then you are wasting your time, but when your boss takes a long time to discusses it, then it’s a serious matter that needs attention.”
He keeps his head obstinately lowered, determined that he will not look up.
Ruby squirms in her chair, observing his quivering lips. Is he muttering abuses? Or, calling her a devil (as they do behind her back)?
“Look at me, look into my eyes. Last time you’d queried an author about ellipsis points at several quoted instances in his article and asked him what he intended by that. Don’t you know what they are meant for?”
Victor winces as his face twists, struggling hard to appear unmoved. Impatiently, he wriggles his right toe on the floor as if he’ll create holes in it or trample her down.
“A copyeditor needs to be hawk-eyed. Use your damn eyes. The editing eyes reach the desired perfection based on their use and cultivation. Last time you misspelt the word ‘snacks’ in the sentence and it read: ‘Tea, coffee, and sacks served here.’ And you didn’t correct the word ‘molest’ to ‘mullet’—‘His eyes sparkled like the shiny skin of the molest.’ The words ‘soul’ and ‘peace’ were replaced by some ridiculous words in the sentence: ‘May his sole rest in piece. Can you bake a cake with flowers as was mentioned in the sentence—‘The main ingredient of the cake was flower.’”
In response to Ruby’s usual mocking harangue, he recalls a famous quote on shame and vulnerability:“Grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose instead of serving shame.”
His sun sign is Cancer and he believes in the prophecies made by a Panditji every morning on a popular TV channel. Though he didn’t quite understand what Panditji’s astrological predictions for the day indicated when he watched the show early in the morning, but now it feels somewhat relevant in the present context:“Remember, the things that are occurring today are not happening ‘to’ you. You need to have a greater perspective in mind to understand that the so-called challenges you are facing at the moment aren’t what they appear to be. Turn your experience into wisdom and you’ll find the way ahead.”
That morning when he was stuck at the traffic signal, he recalled having seen a truck on which it was written “Sunil Treaders”. People often say that they write wrong spellings to attract attention, then why is it that editors are blamed for all the spelling errors that the authors make.
“When an editor makes a mistake, he is an idiot, but when an author makes a mistake, he is only human.” He utters in a low voice so that it doesn’t reach Ruby.
“Why don’t you look at me?” she yells.
Victor still keeps his eyes lowered or rather fixed on to the ground. Are those eyes loaded with tears?
Suddenly, he recalls that Panditji had mentioned something important and he totally forgot about it. He mumbles what Panditji repeated again and again today morning, “All Cancerians should be cautious about their position today. They should be standing on the left side of all their senior officials to avoid any sort of conflict.” But he is standing in front of his boss. How will he change his position now? That’s why things are not going in his favour. Absentmindedly, he moves towards the nearby wall.
Immediately, Ruby says testily, “Where are you going? Come closer.” After a brief pause, she resumes watching him through the edge of her eyes, “Look into my eyes. It’s where the truth lies.”
In an instant he is strangely reminded of the phrase that he has mostly seen painted on the rear side of trucks, lorries:“Dekho magar pyaar se.” (“Look but with love.”)
At last he raises his head, his cheeks flushed red, sweaty, tense-limbed, and says, wide-eyed, showing his tobacco-stained blackish teeth, “I’ve never looked into the eyes of my wife, how can I look into yours?”
Sreelekha Chatterjee lives in New Delhi, India. Her short stories have been published in various national, international magazines, journals, and have been included in numerous print and online anthologies.
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