About the Book:
Ila Isham has a lot to worry about – the angst of being an Ali Zafar groupie and the extra layers of fat she has inherited from her Punjabi lineage. Add to this separated parents,an enthusiastic best friend, Deepali, whose idea of variety means dating three guys at the same time and Aunty Maleeka, mom’s BFF, whose savvy skills throw up more problems than solutions.
Ila’s life takes an exciting turn when she decides to hunt for the perfect partner for her mother. With a little help from Deepali, Aunty Maleeka and Dev of the inviting chocolate-pool eyes, she’ll have to brave it all – from Lagaan.com and Ok-cupid profiles to handlebar-moustache colonels and middle-aged psychos, if she wants to succeed in her quest!
About the Author:
Reenita Malhotra Hora is a founder, executive-level content, operations & marketing leader, and prolific writer. With multiple years of experience in media, entertainment, communications, tech/innovation and wellness industries in the USA and Asia, she grows organizations, ranging from early stage startups through mid-size businesses, through storytelling, creative marketing and business strategy.
Reenita has written seven books – five non fiction and two fiction. She is the writer, anchor and executive producer of Shadow Realm and True Fiction Project podcasts and founder of the Chapter by episode fiction app. She has contributed to The Hindu, South China Morning Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, Asian Investor, Times of India, National Geographic Kids, Cartoon Network Asia, Disney, and more.
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IT ALL BEGAN with Deepali wanting to experiment with her sexuality.
“It’s about discovering the feminine mystique,” Deepali said. She peered out of the corner of her eye towards the far end of the school canteen, twirling a thick lock of hair that hung down over her left ear.
“That’s a book by Gloria Steinem…No, Betty Friedan,” I replied.
“Yaar, don’t be so literal. Just think about it. If you kiss a girl, maybe you’ll understand how a boy feels when he kisses you. It’s an experiment.” Interesting…the only thing I had experimented with was with sulphuric acid in a lab.
“There must be something you want to experiment with this summer,” Deepali continued, scrutinizing her perfectly manicured nails. “Something that you are obsessed with, that you love.
And that Aunty Veena probably despises you for.”
It was just like Deepali to have a dig at Aunty Veena, my mom. She did it only to test boundaries; riling me up was a matter of entertainment for Deepali. It had been ever since we were five. Every play date, every sleepover. Deepali was convinced that I was too over my head in trying to please my mother, so she did everything possible to encourage me to rebel. Although this trait had annoyed me throughout our twelve or so years of friendship, it was definitely a truism that helped me confront my inadequacies. Isn’t that what BFFs are for?
But back to being obsessed. Yes, I knew all about that. In no particular order, I was besotted with:
- Puppy dogs
- Ali Zafar
- Roller-coaster rides
- Sleeping in on weekends.
Okay, okay, I admit that’s not entirely true. So let me rephrase.
In this particular order, I was crazy about:
- Ali Zafar
- Ali Zafar’s voice
- Ali Zafar’s eyes
- Dreaming about Ali Zafar
- Ice-cream, puppy dogs, roller-coaster rides, sleeping in
on weekends, Dev.
No, not Dev! Perish the thought! He was far from being anywhere near my league. In recent days, I had more exposure to this particular so-called love interest of Deepali’s. Yes, I choose my words carefully, but as long as the ‘so-called’ part was still valid, I needed to put him out of my head and focus on Ali Zafar, Pakistan’s hunkiest singer-songwriter who, until my very recent experience with Dev, had been the object of my attention since I was fifteen.
Mom could never stomach my obsession with Ali Zafar. As far as she was concerned, two years was way too long to have a teen pop idol crush. “For god’s sake, Ila, get a grip,” she would grumble, perhaps on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I couldn’t understand why it so riled her, but I did try to reason. “I’m in love, Mom. You were seventeen once. You should know the deal.”
“Yes, I do know the deal.” She was, as always when it came to Ali Zafar, dismissive. “The deal being that, at seventeen, you can’t tell love from the backside of a bus.”
Mom’s metaphors are so confusing. “Ali Zafar is a beautiful man. He can hardly be compared to the backside of anything.”
“Still, you should set a more achievable target.”
Should. Conversations with Mom are always peppered with the word. Ila, you should this; Ila, you should that. Perhaps I should, but in my eyes, just one target counted—Ali Zafar. He was definitely more achievable than Dev.
I’ve never been much of a groupie, but I figured I could spend most of the summer following Ali around the country from concert to concert. Some people travel, some do internships. I could make an art out of stalking my celebrity. If not an art, a science. That’s what I wanted to experiment with.
Recently, while shopping at Phoenix Mills, I couldn’t help but notice a horde of people and cars in front of the mall. I finagled my way into the crowd, anxious to find out what the fuss was about. A big black sedan drove up to the front. A sedan in Mumbai? Must be some big shot. The car door opened and out stepped a black tank-topped, skin-tight-jeaned Ali Zafar, bodyguard and all! A lady-killing machine. You should have seen the jaw-dropping entourage cluster around him as he sauntered over to the popcorn vendor.
My heart pounded harder and harder with every step he took farther into the mall. He took off his dark glasses and smiled at the crowd. At one point, his eyes actually met mine—the ultimate moment of romantic connection.
“Hey, babe,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Of course, I couldn’t say anything. What can one possibly say in response to a ‘hey, babe’ from the world’s hottest teen pop idol? I just stood there, frozen to the bone, trying to conceal the embarrassment that spread through my being. What I was actually nervous about, I have no idea—the sheer thrill of being acknowledged by my heartthrob had rendered me utterly useless.
Within seconds, he had left me for someone else at the other end of the crowd. He posed coyly for photos with some girl and then with another girl, both of whom had been frantically pushing and shoving to get framed with him. And then his bodyguards skillfully maneuvered him into the lift.
What a colossal idiot I was. Instead of standing there like a victim of Medusa, I should have gone right up front and demanded a photo with him. I hate it when my nerves take over
my powers of judgement.
That was two months ago but, of course, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Every day since, I have become increasingly obsessed with the idea of tracking him down.