Like a Bird on the Wire by Chhavi Bhardwaj is the story of Nethra Kaul, a sharp, efficient, beautiful IAS officer. An  excerpt:

So Nethra Kaul had read the news, and she had looked at the picture. Wholeheartedly. She had even braved a thirty-minute ‘how-to-stop-sulking-and-start-living’ tele-lecture from her agonyaunt, best friend and batchmate Madhavi, who in keeping with the great tradition of all agony aunts, had for the nth time, explained how ‘it was only passing through pain that one could hope to reach anywhere.’

Nethra had had a strong urge to ask her where this was, this elusive anywhere she was supposed to be reaching since the past seven years, but of course she didn’t. She knew Madhavi loved delivering these lectures. They gave Madhavi a sense of greater control over her own life. Only upon seeing the suffering of others do we realize how little our suffering is…something like that. So Nethra had heard her friend out and promised that more pain indeed was what she was prepared to embrace, with arms wide open. Her friend deserved this little bit of assurance, after all. After all these years, and a distance of twelve-hundred kilometres that now lay between them, Madhavi could still sniff heartburn like she always had, and she could still find time to deliver lectures that they both knew meant nothing, amounted to nothing, now. And that morning, Madhavi had only picked up on her friend’s heartburn. In their batch’s ‘IAS @ LBSNAA Rocks!’ WhatsApp group where the same Morning Herald picture had just been posted, it was heartburn, heartburn, heartburn, ad infinitum. Unadulterated peer envy, simmering deep down inside perfectly bona fide messages as given below:

  • So proud of you, Avi (blush, blush)…always knew you would go places!!—Avantika J [Unrequited feelings. A lot of if only he…, we might have…had he not…it might have been…and more stuff like that.]
  • Way to go, man, way to go (double thumbs up) [Next time, brother, next time. It will be me with the PM next time.]
  •  Kya baat boss, PM se zyaada chamak rahe ho! [Feelings of inadequacy rooted in a colour complex/height complex/whyshould- others-have-all-the-fun/get-all-the-awards complex.]
  • Congratulations!!!!!!! [Jealousy, in direct proportion to the number of exclamation marks.]

All in all, an all pervasive sentiment that could be pithily summed up in one of the oldest punchlines of Indian advertisingBhala uski kameez meri kameez se safed kaise?

But from the face of things, people, from their very face, God was indeed in his heaven and the IAS community was once again affirming its allegiance to esprit de corps—that sticky glue that is supposed to bind selfish people in a zero sum game. Like that’s ever going to happen!

Nevertheless, Nethra was the only batchmate who hadn’t yet chimed in with her esprit de corps laden proclamation of pride. She had…uh…messaged him(!!)…to underscore that he was an altogether different case…for her? Nethra shuddered at the implication. She regretted sending the message the moment she had sent it, and a thousand times over when the two-worder-send-to-all sort of reply left her phone shattered forever. Anyway, was this ever going to be over for her?

Excerpted with permission from Like a Bird on the Wire by Chhavi Bhardwaj, published by Amaryllis Publishing, MRP Rs 399; Pages: 326. 

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.