My problem was who to gift it to.
That New Year the postman had delivered a package. I opened it. A diary. It was one of those executive stuff, bound in rich leather, embossed in golden letters, and had a sleek pen.
A friend from Calcutta had sent it. It occurred to me I had little use for it. So I decided to gift it.
My neighbour Sherry had just got married. Why not gift it to her, I thought. She was loquacious, but secretive about herself, and liked to dominate any conversation.
"Sherry, I have something for you."
I disgorged the diary from the package and placed it on her table. She exchanged a long, meaningful glance with her husband Gautam. Then smiled sweetly.
"No thanks, bhaiyya," she said. "We are going to Simla for two weeks. Who wants to lug a diary? Where's the time?"
"Oh." I mumbled, getting up. Gautam insisted I have some coffee but I could sense I had intruded into their private world. They were looking deeply into each other's eyes. I made a hasty exit.
I wasn't discouraged. I knew a lot of people who would jump at the offer. But it wasn't going to just anybody. I wanted to find a deserving recipient.
Three days later, I thought I had zeroed in on him. My boss. I was sure he would be delighted with the diary since he had a habit of continuously jotting down things.
I reached office early. I was lucky because 'Dada', as the boss was known, was at his table smoking his pipe.
"Good, you are early. Take care of this assignment after you are through with your work," he said, passing on an invitation card.
"I have something for you," I said and placed the package on his table.
He raised his eyebrows. He took out the diary and promptly pushed it back in the package.
"Give it to somebody else," Dada said, explaining he himself had received quite a handful of diaries. What he said next did not amuse me.
"By the way, no extra increments to anybody this year," he said. He was smiling.
For a moment, I didn't get it. When it did, my face burnt hot. I resented his innuendo I was angling for extra increment by 'bribing' him with a diary. I grabbed my satchel and stormed out. God, didn't people accept gifts these days without obnoxious interpretations?
Mrs Bhatia and her daughter Neha dropped in the next week. She was tickled pink her daughter had topped her class and was eligible for scholarship now.
Here's my candidate, I thought. As my mother laid down breakfast, I told Neha I had a surprise for her. I fetched the diary and showed it to her with a flourish. Her face lit up. She felt the leather binding and caressed the ball pen. Then she suddenly pushed it back at me.
"Thanks but no thanks," she whispered. "I don't want mummy to read my secrets, see?"
Mrs Bhatia was notorious in the neighbourhood for snooping into her daughter's affairs and made no pretence of her preoccupation. So that was that.
After work that evening, I went to our 'watering hole' (Press Club of India) for a drink. Within the next three hours, I was sozzled with five. A journalist friend watching me sitting on the barstool closed in conspiratorially.
"I say, you don't get plastered like this... Girl trouble?" he kept his voice low.
"Shut up," I hissed.
"C'mon, you can tell me," he wouldn't give up easily.
I told him I was just feeling tired and thought an extra drink would do me no harm. And then I related my luckless venture in gifting the diary.
"Relax, you can gift it to me," he said.
I gave him the finger and went out. I could still hear his laughter ringing.
I decided I would make one last try. My brother's friend Kamal D had qualified for the IAS prelims. I had told him if he got through, he could expect a treat from me.
Sure enough, he saw me near the gate and hurried over. "Boss, I have qualified, where's my lunch?" he asked.
I took him to Press Club. He enjoyed the food and beer. When we returned, I told him I had a surprise. I showed him the diary.
"Maan, this is a beeeauty," Kamal drawled. He was a rock music fan. He balanced it on his palm. "Wonder if I can sell it, I need that Ten Years After album!"
I snatched the diary and withdrew to my room.
A couple of days later, I met the journalist friend again."Did you have any luck on the diary?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"Well, you are plain unlucky," he said. "But then maybe it is also a case of general incompetence."
My hand closed around the neck of a bottle. But he had made himself scarce.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh