Siddharth stared at the blank page, the usual existential crisis brewing in his mind. He pressed a key, then hit delete. He typed a sentence quickly, and then banged on the keyboard in frustration and filled the screen with gibberish before hitting delete again.
He got up in frustration and paced around his tiny room with difficulty. ‘Why bother?” he thought. The only writing gig he ever got was re-writing children’s physics experiments for some guy to put on his website without triggering plagiarism detectors. The only story he ever published was in the Kudumba Yogam publication that ran twice a year for his esteemed family. It was sandwiched between the ‘Best Students Appreciation Page’ and the obituary section, which got more readership than his piece. The only two people who did read his piece called his mom to say they thought he was commenting on some members of the family. He was, but he didn’t do a good job if they only suspected he was making fun of them.
He fell into his creaky bed and lay there staring at the ceiling for a while. It wasn’t all bad, he told himself. A while back, he had discovered that Kethan Biggot’s latest novel had pretty much the exact plot of a story he had posted online and forgotten about. He had written the first chapter and given it up. Kethan did a whole novel out of the same idea and signed book copies to fawning fans. It was a bitter-sweet memory that gave him some confidence about his ideas, although not his ability to finish things.
He motivated himself with that thought and got up again. He grabbed a bottle of old monk from under his bed and poured some room temperature Thums Up into it. He took a few swigs and sat down to write a story again. It was an allegorical tale about a gated apartment society that got cut off from civilization. By 3 AM, he was pretty proud of himself for completing two chapters. He hesitated before posting it on his blog. Maybe he should have held off and submitted to some publications after a few rounds of editing. But he was too proud of his new story and too jaded in life to wait. Maybe Wanderlust3423 would read it. She had liked his last two posts, and her picture was cute, so the thought excited his drunken, lonely mind. He went to bed and dreamt of wandering around pristine beaches with her as she frolicked around in a bikini and asked him to recite poetry.
A few months later, he had forgotten about the story. He got on a crowded bus, ideas for multiple stories with beautiful beginnings bouncing around his head as he headed to work. He balanced his weight on one leg and stood next to a guy who kept looking up from his phone to see if it was his stop. Sid watched him closely, meaning to grab his seat when he made a definitive move. The guy was watching something on YouTube. Sid was pleasantly surprised to see Kethan Biggot on the screen. The guy noticed Sid staring at his phone and apologetically started to plug his earphones in. “No no,” Sid said, “I’d like to see it too.” The guy smiled and held the phone at a better angle for Sid as he glanced outside again.
The interviewer was asking Kethan about his new creative venture, a TV show.
“Kethan, so far you have written books that got adapted to movies. What made you write for a TV show directly?” the interviewer asked.
“Well, I started this story intending to make it a book, but soon realized that it would simply work better on a visual medium. It was right about then that Bedflix called up asking if I had any original ideas for a TV show and I said hell yes!” Ketan said.
“Amazing. Can you tell us a little about the premise?”
“I can tell you just a bit. The synopsis will be released soon anyway. So the idea is, after a new pandemic rages across the city, an apartment complex gets completely cut off from the rest of civilization…”
Sid’s eyes widened. The bus and everyone on it faded out till only Kethan’s face and voice were left. He spoke about the psychological conflicts the characters would go through and hinted at how there would be influences of game theory in the story. “Have you heard of prisoner’s dilemma?” Kethan asked the interviewer smugly and refused to say more.
There was a commotion as Sid tried to yank the guy’s phone out of his hand when he tried to get down at his stop. He got roughed up a bit by the crowd but didn’t even notice. He ran the rest of the way to his PG after he got kicked out. He burst into his room and fired up WordPress on his laptop. He scrolled through his old posts and the few likes and comments he had got. He started noting down posts Wanderlust3423 had liked or commented on. He started seeing a pattern. An idea here, a theme there. He scrolled till he found the first post she had engaged with. He was stunned to see it was the same unfinished story that was so similar to Kethan Biggot’s third blockbuster book.
His head reeled. He found his old monk bottle and drained it. ‘This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening,’ he thought.
He debated with himself if he should tell somebody. But who would he tell? He had a sudden idea and sat down again. He clicked on the username Wanderlust3423 and found a bare-bones blog page with a contact form.
His hand shook and he felt a chill down his spine. Rage, fear, and sorrow rocked his body. He quickly typed one sentence “Have you been stealing my stories?” and hovered the cursor over the submit button.
‘Should I do it? Was this real? Was this a coincidence?’, he thought.
He paced the whole night, sitting down every half an hour or so and getting up again. Finally at 4 AM, after another bottle of old monk, he clicked submit.
He passed out cold till afternoon. He spent the evening puking his guts out and ate some cup noodles for dinner. He passed out again.
The sun rose. A knock on the door woke him up. He pulled himself together quickly, put a shirt on, and opened the door. The postman held out a registered letter and asked “Are you Siddharth?”.
He held his aching head with one hand and stared at the envelope. He ripped off the end and shook a sheet of white paper out. There was an official-looking seal at the bottom with the name of a legal firm.
The subject line said ‘Notice of impending legal action against Siddharth Rao for plagiarism of Kethan Biggot’s books’
Sid puked again.