I feel trapped because although I am outside it, I have been weaved into its gossamer pattern.
I became a character in his creation. I have known S for almost ten years. It has been a long-distance friendship that took its time growing. He was certainly not just another reader, although that is how we first 'met'. I found him to be perceptive and sensitive. The fact that he was a published writer made dialogue with him that much easier. He understood me, and I valued his critical comments. He began to involve me in his life, his traumas and few triumphs; I was chary of discussing mine, but over the phone it is easy to catch me out. And he did. Of course, I still managed to keep my distance, and except for the obvious details, he knew little. He wanted to know more, much more. Curiosity is natural, but I was not ready to reveal too much...
I would say things like, "One thinks like this, but life has its own plans..." I probably thought I was sounding philosophical, but by using "one" instead of "I", I was not really protecting myself. Besides, it was clear that whatever he might think or feel, he truly wished me well.
I had always admired his resolve. He would say, "I am trying to get these ten stories written by month end", and they would be. Unlike me, he needed no prodding. I found it strange, for he seemed to be such a drifter whereas at least professionally I wasn’t at that time. I thought I was disciplined enough, but where was that ambition to 'make it'? Is that not what the world is about? He was certainly not someone who'd kill to get far, yet he had loads of common sense. Or so I thought.
Until that day. The postman carried a huge packet. It was a collection of his short stories that were to go for publication. I tried to give him honest feedback, which was why he had sent this lot to me. I was riveted by the first one, found the next tepid and the next and the next...till my hands froze when I came to a particular one. The title gave no inkling of what was to come, but as I pored over the lines I was stunned to find that it was about me. I could feel the bile rising in my throat and tears stinging my eyes. Is this what he thought of me?
He had used one of our conversations and taking the essence of it he had completely twisted things out of shape and added fantastical elements. I was disturbed for I had consciously worked towards maintaining propriety. He had in a sense taken me, peeled off my skin and covered my face with a mask that he had been imagining. It wasn’t a lewd story, just outlandish. Worse, it was well-written. Had I not known it was me he was talking about, I might have liked it...
But it was clear, and confirmed by him. I was far too angry and being the kind of person I am I dashed off a note (these were regular handwritten letters) asking him to please tell me what made him do this. Why had he distorted the conversation and added completely bizarre elements? He wrote back to say that this was in the genre of magic-realism. If he was hallucinating, so what? I should not worry too much...
I waited. And things were back to normal. I forgive easily. I told myself that no one would know it is me, except for a few people. I was fooling myself...at the time it was written, and were it published then, it would have been so obvious. I have had my time under the sun, and to hide from that won't change the fact that the shadows would loom large.
Fortunately, he got involved in his poetry and this was put on the backburner. We continued being friends as though nothing had happened. I had managed to wipe this out of my mind when I got an email the other day. He said he was making a roster of people he owed apologies to. He wrote, "I remembered that you took substantial umbrage to my short story when I sent it to you a few years ago. Well, I have decided that I am not going to publish the short story anywhere and also want to make it clear that it is in no way a comment on your very fair and beautiful character."
I feel trapped. I have not replied. I don't know what to tell him. If I say, thanks for understanding and your idea is lovely, would I not be curtailing his creative expression, something I value so much? Do we not take slices of our lives and squeeze the drops like lemon to add tanginess to bland meals or zing to a drink? If I asked him to make a few changes and camouflage it, would it not amount to tampering and taking away his right to the free flow of words, which again I consider precious?
I am trapped because I don’t know how to react. I am touched by his gesture, but I do know there was an element of dishonesty in his story. Fiction is fine, but must you not only fictionalise facts but also make the reality look like a make-believe world with a make-believe character when you know her, care about her and are aware that she could break with just a little extra pressure?
I am aware that my life has not been a smooth train journey; it has been derailed often. It makes for interesting episodes and dynamics. But I seem to be the one not to have tapped into its potential. The other day a friend, who has recently got to know me, wanted to know about my other activities. I cheekily wrote back, "You mean, besides being a Muse?" He found it sweet...But I had just got S’s note and had a wry smile playing on my lips even as my eyes moistened. I was looking at the small water-color given by an artist friend. He had not framed it and, although it was to be a part of an exhibition, he had just told me to take it. Because, he said, "This is like you...see there are these stormy waters on one side and a silent stream on the other and mountains. You too are turbulent and tranquil by turns, but you stand rocklike when you know you have to."
I have still not trapped it behind any expected barriers, just put it in an old photo-frame. To remind me of his words, to make it appear like the picture it is supposed to be.
One day I hope I can be my own inspiration and I can rise as much in my eyes as I have been fortunate to have risen in those who really love me.
But I feel trapped by love as well! Will someone release me from the barricades I create?