So that was it, his book was on the shelves. His publisher told him that it was doing very well, and that he should expect a lot of calls from friends, acquaintances, publishers and fans. The last three did not bother him, in fact, he was looking forward to them. It was not that he wanted fame, but, he wasn't shy of it either. What bothered him now was the calls he would receive from his friends and from those who were a part of his past and whom he had filed away in his mind. He had based almost the whole of his novel on his life and on the lives of those around him. He thought that he had covered his tracks rather well.
The first call that he received was from his very good friend Amit Singh.
"Hi, Amit, I guess you have called me about the book"
"You guessed it right, Arse-hole, I misunderstood you all my life. You lied when you said that my friendship means more to you than a goddamn novel. You went ahead and wrote about my personal life in your novel."
"No Amit, I distinctly remember your strong feelings on the matter, believe me no character is modeled after you."
"Oh yeah! Then who the fuck is Sumit Singh, the similarity in name and besides that the love affairs and the temper --- Haroon, fuck you. If it had been anyone else I would have killed him. Never try to contact me again."
"Wait a minute---", Haroon said as Amit put down the phone with a bang.
All the fame, all the money, all the creative satisfaction wasn't worth losing your friendship, Amit, thought Haroon.
And the irony was the character of Sumit Singh wasn't modeled after Amit. True, Amit had a very hot temper, but his temper did not surface in the ways that Sumit's would, there was qualitative difference -- Amit was not selfish. They had been the best of friends, in their college days they were inseparable. Amit never understood him and probably he never understood Amit. Once he had borrowed Amit's bike and banged it behind a truck, he had escaped unhurt but the bike was damaged. Haroon had expected Amit to get angry, he didn't. Then Haroon offered to pay for the damages, then, then Amit had really lost his temper. No Amit you can never be Sumit. Haroon hated his novel now. All his efforts to cover his tracks amounted to naught, the trouble had come from an entirely different source. Haroon was dreading the thought of receiving the next call.
The phone rang. He had to pick it up, he couldn't escape it for long.
"Hi, Vijay, how's life?"
"Fine, I was right about you all the time, you are a big pseudo-intellectual bastard," said Vijay in a light hearted manner.
"Because all your talk about drawing insight about life was hypocrisy, you went ahead and wrote all about your friends. The one person you didn't write about was me. Am I not important enough?"
Haroon didn't have it in his heart to tell Vijay that the protagonist of the novel was his interpretation of the character of Vijay.
"You are greatly mistaken, Vijay, no character in the novel has been modeled after anyone."
"You don't convince me, Okay,I gotta go, see you soon."
I never could convince you Vijay, thought Haroon, I could not convince you that I loved your sister.
Oh how Haroon had loved Shalini. Vijay had been his friends since the school days. He had spent many evenings at his house, there he had met Shalini and fallen in love with her. He was in class ten and she was in class eleven. He had been weak in Mathematics and she had taught him. She probably thought of him as her younger brother, but he never thought of her as a sister. For two years he had visited Vijay's house just to get a glimpse of her. Then he finally told Vijay that he loved his sister. Vijay was obviously taken aback but quickly recovered.
"You know what your problem is Haroon, you haven't been in contact with many girls, so the first beautiful girl you talk to, you think is the girl of your dreams. it is nothing but a crush."
"Vijay, try to get my point, there is nothing else that I have thought about for the past two years."
"Why? Just because she taught you geometry for ten days. And now just shut up, you are testing my patience. If you ever mention my sister again or try to talk to her one of your best friends will become your sworn enemy."
Haroon had given up, but his whole concept of love changed. Earlier he had thought that the proper end of love is marriage but now he concluded that love is an end in itself. This was a conviction that Haroon still had and he had tried to make that come out through the numerous love affairs of the protagonist and his ultimately marrying a girl whom he did not love. Even Haroon had done the same. After the affair of Shalini he had been heartbroken for a long time but he had still had many relationships with girls. They were all there in his novels. Would any one of them read his novel? If so would anyone understand it. What had he done with the novel? Was it right to make the private lives of so many people public? It was no use debating over now. All he could was to stop the losses.
His doorbell rang. He asked his servant Hamid to answer it. Even Hamid was part of his novel, but as an educated man. In reality Hamid couldn't even sign his name. But Hamid would never know, he will not complain. Hamid had been with him all his life. He had been the servant of his parents and after their deaths he had come to Haroon. Hamid was the only person on whom he could count upon for unconditional support.
"Bhaiya koi ladies aayee hain, apna naam nahin bata rahin hain," Hamid came back with this information.
"Theek hain, unhe Drawing room mein baithao,main aata hoon."
Who would it be, Haroon wondered. He hoped that it was Shalini. He was forty now and she was forty one. She was happily married and sadly he was married also, but even now if she gave him a hint he would leave the world for her.
He went to the drawing room. At first he did not recognize the girl, she was a beautiful girl, must be around thirty, he thought. Suddenly he recognized her, she was Shireen -- she had been his student during his brief stint as a lecturer of English Literature.
"Hello, Sir, I read your book and I just had to meet you. I have a confession to make --- I don't know how to put it --- I am ashamed of telling you---"
Haroon had an inkling as to what was coming. In his novel a teacher falls in love with his student. Nevertheless, he told her that there was nothing to be ashamed of and asked her to tell him everything.
"Haroon, Sir, when I read about the student teacher episode in your novel I thought --- it just occurred to me that you were writing about us."
"About you and me, I mean. The whole school knew that I had a crush on you, only you didn't, or I thought you didn't. When I read your novel I thought that I had missed an opportunity. I hope it is not too late now. Haroon, I have come to tell you that I love you and that I would go to any lengths to be with you."
"But Shireen I am married and I am much older than you, the thought is outrageous."
"Sir, since when did you start believing in the institution of marriage," said Shalini softly. There was both pleading and challenge in her voice.
"Shireen you don't seem to understand ;I never had any such feelings for you." As Haroon said this he didn't convince himself, however he went on. "And Shireen, for god's sake realize that fiction is fiction and life is life, never try to connect the two."
"You said that all good literature is true to life in some way or the other. I am not asking you to marry me. Even I am married as you know. I just want the two of us to go away somewhere, like the teacher and student in your novel. We'll go to France, to Paris, there we will have the time of our lives. You can easily cook up some excuse, I am a reporter I can get myself posted there for a month. I am not asking for any commitment, I am not asking for any permanent relationship, all I am asking for is an experience, a memory I will treasure all my life."
"Shireen, you are young and beautiful. Coming from you this offer is great compliment. You talked of the relationship between fiction and life, it is a very complex issue, it cannot be taught, it can only be learnt. Go away now and think no more of this, someday you will realize why I have said no."
With this word of advice Haroon let her go.
When she left Haroon thought why he had rejected her offer, there were no moral considerations preventing him from accepting. He thought over the reasons he had given Shireen. Vijay was right, he was a pseudo-intellectual bastard. Then he thought of the girl he had met on a flight from India to U.S. five years ago. They had a relationship similar to the one Shireen was suggesting. They had lived together in a hotel for a week with absolutely no talk about the future. He hadn't heard from her since.
Now why had he rejected Shireen's offer? Was he growing old, did he no longer have the enthusiasm of youth? The thought was depressing. He found it difficult to believe but the thing that was bothering him most was that if he ceased having experiences, what would he write about? He had realized long ago that he did not have a very imaginative mind. What he did have was an eye for detail and an excellent command over the style. As regards the contents he was absolutely dependant on those around him.
Even Amit was right, he did value his novel more than his friends -- to him his friends were just characters in the novel. Writing was his passion and it was the only thing that he cared about. His novel had been successful, certainly he had lost Amit, but he had gained another experience -- Shireen. He picked up his phone diary and looked under 'S'...Shalini. . .Shireen, certainly something must be done about Shalini also but she will have to wait. Presently he called up Shireen and fixed up their vacation together. He gave obscure philosophical reasons as to why he changed his mind which he himself didn't understand and Shireen didn't seem to mind.
So Haroon lived and experienced life for another five years and kept on collecting material for his next novel. In the meantime he divorced his wife, both his children left him. Shireen also divorced her husband but Haroon refused to marry her, again giving some very obscure reasons. Still Shireen doted on him and visited him regularly. A year ago he proposed to Shalini, asked her to leave her husband. She refused but she wasn't very satisfied with her marriage, so Haroon succeeded in tempting her to a one night stand.
Yesterday his second novel had been released, it was doing brisk business and again his publisher had told him to expect a lot of calls. Haroon thought that he was caught in an endless cycle, but being caught in this cycle was very pleasurable to him. This time he was not apprehensive at all about calls from friends. He knew that he will lose some friends and some he will gain. And then again the 'experiencing' would begin for the next novel -- with new characters.
The phone rang. Hamid answered it."Vijay Bhaiya hain, bahut gusse mein lag rahe hain," he told Haroon.
"Hello,Vijay I was expecting your call."
"You bastard, what did I tell you years ago I would do if you bothered my sister again"
"You told me that you would become my enemy."
"Exactly, bastard and you just remember that."
Haroon put the phone down before Vijay could say anything else. He was thrilled. The story of best friends becoming sworn enemies was very hackneyed, lets see if I can look at it from a unique angle, he mused to himself.
And then he had also been receiving letters from a certain beautiful lady, twenty-five
years of age.
© 1998 Misam Abbas, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
To my friends: don't read too much into the story.