X, Y, Z belong to three nationalities and do not live in their homelands. We first ‘met’ on the page and the monitor screen. I was a byline. There was communication beyond that, but I remained a Person Who Wrote (PWW).
One day I met them in person. It was not the first time I was meeting readers, but the first time I was meeting such disparate people within a span of days in one city.
X and I had the longest correspondence and talks and he knew quite a bit about me; he also knew what was not there. In effect, I came away feeling like a curiosity that had been satiated. I was still the writer, the metaphor for a person. I was familiar but that sense of familiarity was black on white. I never became grey or blue or red or pink…and if I did it was as a ‘colourful’ character. The writer became a character. If my blood had been drunk it would have only congealed into ink.
Y is a new recruit! We exchanged only two notes; the first time he was ticking me off because I had written something about his area of expertise and he felt I was wrong. I said I was right about my right to be wrong, and he agreed. So, we were okay. Then, we met. It was nearing sunset and I was dying to look at the sky in all its flaming brilliance. I sipped iced tea; he stuck to Earl Grey. It was an amazing chat, completely metaphysical, and he did what I often do – drew various patterns with his hands on the table: pyramids, squares, other shapes to highlight a point. I don’t know when exactly, but he mentioned a personal incident from my life in passing. I immediately reacted, “How do you know?” He laughed, “You wrote about it!” I did not expect that as someone new he would have read this. More importantly, those pyramids and squares, so meaningful in our debate, now became me. I was also an atom, a molecule, something you brought to the table. I was a PWW.
Z knew me from my book, primarily. He had written a few times, and had got fairly acquainted with my work. He invited me home and I would have met his wife and child, but it was too short a notice. So it was dinner at a club without them. Fun insights about his life, about the diaspora. He asked little. Towards the end of the meeting, he said, “The moment I saw you, I said this is F. Frankly, if you were not what I had imagined, I would have been devastated.” Again, I was the writer, except that he had imbued me with the flesh and blood of his imagination. Yet, the imagination was about what I wrote. During the conversation he had said, “I see you as completely liberated…” I paused. I knew what he meant. As an Indian woman writing on certain subjects I am seen as a bit of a rarity, especially the language I use. In fact, I am told it has little to do with my nationality. I am bold and far too upfront even by normal western standards. Z was, like many others, projecting that onto me as a person.
The parting shot, just before I left, was most amusing and interesting. “But, you can also be quite frightening. There is a divinity about you that seems to go contrary to that other image.”
I chortled. I began to think of a halo around me, but again it was either as a writer or as an imagined person going a bit against that which he said he had also thought about.
It has made me contemplate about whether I want to be seen as just that. Recently, I did not write for a while. One of the reasons was, as I mentioned in Who moved my bubble?, to unwrite myself.
From being a curiosity, a pattern made on the table, an imagined entity, a bagful of words seeping out on the sand, leaving small little imprints and occasionally metamorphosing into crabs clinging to what will be washed away.
Even more importantly, in this supposed bonfire of the vanities I was in fact trying to reclaim my person. I realised only later that although I knew all along that these three people are hugely accomplished in their fields, have interesting experiences – professional and personal – by seeing them see me as only a writer, was I not seeing them only as readers? The difference is that I know them from what they say or do; they know me from what I write.
What sort of synergy is possible in such sharing? It also makes me wonder whether there can be any equitable understanding. Different perceptions aside, does the reader not have the upper hand? S/he can see you as you are, as you could be, as you may not be, as they think you are, as they want you to be, as they hear you are. There is no room for factual analysis at all. Strangely, the subjective makes you into an object.
I used to crave the company of people who had not read me. One friend would boast that she had met me without having read a word and wanted to stay away from my writing as much as possible to see the real me.
As the friendship evolved, she often remarked, “You are so transparent. I can read you like a book.”