The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth.
—Marcel Proust, Le temps retrouvé
The mind was in overdrive, now depleted, words lost their meanings and would not string together to make sense.
Staring blankly at the pristine screen deciding against smearing it with inanity.
Letting the mind rest for now, renewing and soothed by nature’s refreshing dew.
Shutting it off momentarily letting the heart take the lead, letting the limbs dance.
Being dumb and carefree for a while perhaps there will be plenty of things to write about after that.
If it doesn’t give that, it is, so far as the reader is concerned , valueless. In this respect every reader is his own best critic, for he alone knows what he enjoys and what he doesn’t. I think, however, that the novelist may claim that you do not do him justice unless you admit that he has the right to demand something of his readers. He has the right to demand that they should possess the small amount of application that is needed to read a book of three or four hundred pages. He has the right to demand that they should have sufficient imagination to be able to interest themselves in the lives, joys and sorrows, tribulations, dangers and adventures of the characters of his invention. Unless a reader is able to give something of himself, he cannot get from a novel the best it has to give. And if he isn’t able to do that, he had better not read at all. There is no obligation to read a work of fiction.
-Somerset Maugham, Ten Novels And Their Authors
” I don’t understand how can you let yourself get so tightly ensnared in the grip of this hopeless romance.” Rahul shook his head while titling a bottle of beer to his mouth.
” I am recapturing my fading youth through my memories of her and escaping from the dullness of my present mechanical existence.” No sooner than this statement escaped from Ashok’s mouth did he realized it to be true.
” Ah my friend.” Rahul exclaimed with satisfaction. ” I am glad to know you can still see things for what they truly are. I thought I had totally lost my friend to this sentimental sap sitting before me.”
Ashok drank his beer silently.
” My college days were awesome. Best times of my life. Man. Who does not what to experience all that again. And the girls. ” Rahul laughed throatily. He was half drunk already.
Several empty bottles of beer littered the floor near their feet. Rahul’ s wife and daughter were already fast asleep. Alone in the balcony both men felt free at last to talk about things they kept hidden in their hearts during day as they fulfill the roles of loving husband, father and hardworking CEOs.
“I had one or two affairs after marriage.” Rahul whispered. ” Nothing as passionate as yours of course. Just with some young girls at the office. You know how it is. Those naive wide eyes eager to please.”
Ashok smiled dryly. ” The youth of the young is truly contagious. Some of the vigor do rubs on you for sure.”
” Ah, yes. Nothing like a beautiful tight ass to get my motor running. They are just so full of unsoiled dream–”
” So you make sure they don’t remain unsoiled for long.” Ashok interrupted and both burst out in boisterous laughter.
” It was kind of sweet really,” Ashok said, his voice more somber now. Rahul looked at him with sympathy this time sobering a little himself.
” How did you meet her anyway? I don’t remember you telling me the whole story. You came back here after four years of college so flustered with love and then that whole business with your parents and you getting married all of a sudden. I don’t remember us really talking in detail about what happened between the two of you.”
Ashok smiled remembering. ” She was a little crazy even then I think. Can you imagine me approaching a girl just like that and from that foreign country.”
Rahul laughed. ” I was wondering about that. You were never the type to chase after girls. So serious and brooding all the time. I was not even sure if you like girls. Ha haha. But of course you had that girlfriend in school.”
” Oh Mina, she was the one who courted me. ” Ashok laughed remembering the young awkward girl who followed him around everywhere all the time leaving everybody assuming they were going out together. She was a nice girl. He remembered liking her eventually and falling in love with her.
” It was the same with her. Do you remember how much I complained being lonely abroad and not having any friends? ” Rahul nodded. Smoke coming out from his mouth swirled around his head.
” Well on my first year over there it was like that. I was having a hard time adjusting. They made fun of my accent, of my clothes and my hairy arms. After my shift at the burger place I worked for to augment my allowance I usually skulk off to the nearby beach during the evening to blow off steam. She was there too almost every evening. Walking by herself. Listening to her iPod, plugs in both ears lost in thoughts. She was also a part time barista in one of the cafe’s around there.
Rahul remained quiet, listening to him while looking dreamily up the dark star studded sky, smoking a cigarette and drinking beer alternately.
” It went on for about a month just like that. I, sitting on the rock facing the sea, she, walking along the shore by herself. I was somewhat interested but never had the courage to say hello. There were days when she did not come. Then it caught me by surprise when suddenly I realized I was missing her silent presence there.” Ashok paused to put the bottle of beer on his lips. After gulping a fair amount of alcohol he took a puff from his cigarette and continued.
” Then one day out of the blue she walked towards where I was sitting and sat by my side. She started talking to me as if picking up from a middle of a conversation we had before. She said, ‘ So I told dad I am going with a couple of friends to Mexico and we will go backpacking for sometime. Like for a month of two. Of course he went ballistic.’
I was caught off guard with this information which was suddenly unloaded upon me. But I found myself responding, ‘Well I can understand your father. Who are you going with anyway? You might get into trouble you know. It might not be safe to go without an experience guide with you.’
She stood up suddenly. Irritated. ‘You sound like my father! That’s exactly what he said.’ Then she laughed and walked away from me without saying another word. I told you. I thought she was nuts. I thought are women from this country like this? Of course that was not true. She was quite, ” Ashok paused looking for an appropriate word. ” unique. Nuts but unique. Well I was intrigued after that. I could not stop thinking about her. I reviewed that little incident a million times over in my head. Putting different meanings on those statements she made. My heart was beating with anticipation the next evening I walked down the beach. I waited for her but she did not come nor the next day after that. When it stretched into a month I concluded she must have gone to take that trip after all. How I agonized over her return! But two months passed I stopped going to the beach and made new friends. I also started dating another girl and I have forgotten about her for while.”
Rahul sighed. ” Ah young love. Sweet indeed. I find myself envying you my friend.”
Oh the dreariness of middle class life
the mediocrity of it
I know I should be grateful
but the path is too straight
I must be twisted to be longing
for something crooked
A road with numerous bends
That lead to passion, adventures
And yes even sadness
Alien emotions assuaging
my robotic existence
I am wallowing in too shallow waters
And in my inane concerns
My Siren feet keep pulling me down the deep end
Oh but what am I saying? I must be stupid or something.
I saw him again today as I was walking down the beach at sunset. I wanted to speak to him. Ask him why he always looks so morose in such a peaceful setting. What could that young man be thinking. It seemed as fathomless as the ocean in front of him.
I like his silly little curls neatly tucked behind both ears. He doesn’t look like his from around here. He looked exotic. Somewhat middle eastern? I can’t be sure. I am kind of stupid about this thing. Which reminds me I wanted to do some traveling in an exotic place like perhaps in Morocco? Daddy will be pissed. He’ll never let me. He will be too scared to let me go.
If I see that boy again tomorrow and he is still looking surly I will throw a stone at him to start a fight. It will be good fun. He could be good looking if he would just stop frowning….
Ashok closed the diary. Closing his eyes he pressed his temples and drew a very long sigh. It was bittersweet to remember that day. Of course he had been noticing her since he started going to the beach every evening. That solitary girl walking along the shore completely lost in her own thoughts. But he was too shy to even looked at her then much less to speak to her.
That was when he was in his first year in that foreign country. He was friendless and lonely and mad at his parents for sending him abroad. His parents thought finishing a degree in a more advanced country would give him more chances to succeed financially in life. He could not see any merits on whatever they were planning for his future then. At that time he was only thinking about how he missed his friends back home and of course of his childhood sweetheart. And how some students in his college were too cruel to him.
But one good thing did happen to him while studying abroad and much to the chagrin of his parents. He met her. Have fallen in love with her. Got immersed in the beauty of her world. Discovered feelings he never knew existed.
Ashok opened his eyes and smiled.
Ashok received the package with a thundering heart. He signed the form, thank the courier man and hurriedly went inside his home office.
He recognized the stamp coming from her country but the return address was not familiar to him. He placed the brown package on his desk and opened his laptop.
Until now he haven’t had the courage to open the e-mail she sent him. He had been postponing it for weeks afraid to find a summon from her. Afraid that if she ask him to come he would not be able to stop himself from running to her and throwing his mediocre life away to be with her forever. Not a day went by that he did not long for her. Long to be with her.
With trembling hands he clicked the e-mail she sent him. He read it slowly not comprehending for a brief moment. Then when the meaning of the message finally dawned on him the shock that went through his being almost stopped his heart from beating.
She’s dead. We found her lifeless in her apartment. She killed herself. In the letter she left for me she asked that I send her diary to you. I am her sister and I so loathe you. I hope you suffer as much as she did.
Ashok stared at the package lying on the desk, unable to move.
” What did you get? I saw the courier guy leaving. ” His wife Ayesha came into the room wiping her hands with a towel. Her gaze fell upon the package.
” Oh, who is it from? ” Ayesha reached out to touch the package but Ashok snatched it away before she could. Without answering her he opened his small metallic safe and locked away the package there.
Ashok took his car keys from the desk. ” I’m going out. Don’t wait for me.” He tried to control his voice from breaking walking fast almost half ran towards the garage.
Ayesha followed him until the gate, frowning.
Apple had very few relationships compared to Abigail. Most of the lessons she learned about relationship were from Abigail’s many failed ones. Since the day they met, Abigail has been claiming of finally finding “ the one”. Apple attributed this to Abigail fondness of reading romance novels during her teen age years, books she stumbled upon on her mother’s shelf. Those Mills and Booms and Harlequin Romances have filled Abigail’s head with skewed ideas about love. While she on the other hand had been fond of reading English classic novels and had grown a little bit cynical about love especially after reading Wuthering Heights where she decided Cathy, the heroine of the book was a little too neurotic for her liking. Abigail absolutely loved Cathy’s character when she told her about the book. After reading it she went on for days as if she was Cathy’s reincarnation.
“I am a Cathy. I am so her. Oh my God, Apple. Thanks for lending me this book.”
Apple had always preferred Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet among the heroines in classic English novels when it comes to love. Jane Eyre and Elizabeth were subdued and dignified unlike the overtly passionate Cathy, although she still slightly disapproved of their weakness for charming aristocrats.
Apple and Abigail were sitting in a cafe late that night. Apple was consoling her distraught friend who recently found out through Facebook that her boyfriend Oliver was cheating on her. She saw him kissing another woman in bar on one of her friend’s photo in Facebook. A snapshot caught the moment while a group of Abigail’s female friends were posing for the photo. Although his face was not recognizable, Abigail could tell it was him.
“Maybe he was just drunk.” Apple said earlier when Abigail lamented what happened.
“So what! That’s not an excuse besides I am sure he did plan on cheating on me. He lied to me where he was going that night. He said he’s having dinner with his dad. “
“Why did Anna post that photo before telling you Oliver was in it?” Apple asked, frowning.
“I guess Anna did not notice that it was him making out with someone or she wouldn’t have posted it. Anna did not remember seeing him that night. But I recognize the t-shirt he was wearing instantly. I gave it to him”. Abigail wailed.
“Did he admit it was him? “
“Yes! He said he wants to start seeing other women.” Abigail wiped her tears.
“You’ll get over him soon, I am sure.” Apple said, patting Abigail’s hand.
“I won’t! I really, really loved him. He is my soul mate. “
“You said the same thing about Bryan. Yet, you started going out with Oliver only after a few days of breaking up with him.” Bryan was Abigail’s last boyfriend before Oliver.
“ I know. But I totally misread Bryan. He keeps giving me mixed signals. I thought Oliver was not a player.”
“Of course everyone’s a player. Consciously or subconsciously. You know that.”
“ I know but sometimes, I still believe there is someone out there who just loves. Like Heatcliff . Someone who will love me absolutely, maddeningly.”
Apple rolled her eyes. “ Heathcliff is a fictional man. Written by a woman. A woman’s wishful thinking. I’ve always told you that men are more like Tomaz from that book Unbearable Lightness of being. In the novel, Tomaz made love to everyone women he met. ”
“Oh how dreadful. Why do you keep reading books like those.”
“Unlike you, I don’t look at the world in rose tinted glasses.” Apple retorted, losing patience with Abigail who seemed to have learned less from her own failed relationships.
“What’s wrong with rose tinted glasses? That makes the world bearable to look at. “
“Well don’t complain when you get disillusioned.”
Abigail sighed. Feeling defeated. “I suppose you are tired of hearing about my heartaches. “
Feeling guilty for being harsh, Apple took Abigail’s hand. “ Not at all. I am here aren’t I?”
“ Thank you for meeting me at such a short notice. I really appreciate it. You are the only one among my friends who have the patience to listen to me. Most of my other friends are so self obsessed. They have no time for listen to my problems. Their problems are always more important. Ugh.” Abigail paused.” I’m sorry I’m doing the same thing. Tell me what’s happening with you. What have you been up to? “
Apple blushed unexpectedly. “ Well, I met someone.”
What is terrible is that after every one of the phases of my life is finished, I am left with no more than some banal commonplace that everyone knows; in this case , that women’s emotions are still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists. My deep emotions, my real ones, are to do with my relationship with a man. One man. But I don’t live that kind of life and I know few woman who do. So what I feel is irrelevant and silly…I am always coming to a conclusion that my real emotions are foolish, I am always having, as it were, to cancel myself out. I ought to be like a man, caring more for my work than for people; I ought to put my work first, and take men as they come, or find an ordinary comfortable man for bread and butter reasons– but I won’t do it, I can’t be like that…
– Ella from The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
This novel have me in a tight grip. As I turned the pages I get sucked more and more into it. I can feel my mood changing, my being, my thoughts, influenced. My dreams becoming vivid intermingling with the characters in the book as if I am living their lives.
The Author a woman. The protagonist a woman who is writing about the life of a woman in the 1950s. About a period of time when the roles of women were set for change. Feminism was rising in a crescendo and women were breaking free from stereotypes but still galled at the fact that they still need the love of a man to make them happy. Her honesty stings. And still so relevant even today. The truth in her words scalds. It forces you to look at what you refuse to acknowledge.I am like a moth drawn to a fire. I cannot stop reading even if it burns me.
Illustration by Jofelyn M. Khapra