Monday, July 05, 2010

End of the Beginning

He had never won an argument with her. It looked like that it would be the same case this time also. It was not that he lacked intelligence to construct his case successfully but as they say one needs more than logic to win arguments with wives. She was upset over the portrayal of the protagonist’s wife in his debut novel. The book was about a writer struggling with his creative juices finding neither much needed inspiration nor encouragement from his wife. The strikingly beautiful wife is a disinterested, indifferent spectator to his efforts to succeed but has a roaring life outside of their shared world. Now the literary world debutant was facing the wrath of his wife. She was upset that he had described the wife in the novel as frigid and cold as far as the writer was concerned. It was an affront to her femininity and sensuality. How that could be an affront to her, was beyond the understanding of the novelist, for he had underestimated the sensibilities of his lovely wife.
‘I am your wife, damn it! People will look at me as though I am her’ she snarled at him.
‘Honey, people will not connect you with her just because I am the author of the novel’ he pleaded.
‘Oh! they will! You should have shown me the manuscript before’ she blamed him.
‘But I wanted to give you a surprise’ he explained for the hundredth time and groaned.
‘Surprise! You have shocked me. And you have completely demeaned me and undermined my role in your life.'
‘Honey, the novel is not based on our life.'
‘Your hero is a struggling writer, just like you. And his horrid and cruel wife neither warms his bed nor his heart. I have supported you always. Given in to all your demands. Haven’t I?’
He could not deny. She had. And she had always been a willing and wonderful partner in his fantasy fulfilling efforts. He was fighting the memories of their passion and the fresh desires that those memories aroused in him. He knew he had to somehow convince and disassociate the connection between his wife and his protagonist’s wife in his wife’s mind, if he wanted those memories to become reality once again. He decided to take the bull by its horns.
‘Darling, my work is not autobiographical. It isn’t. It’s not about me. Of course, my central character is a struggling writer. That’s where the connection ends.'
‘But people would think that it is you actually and that the story is based on your life. And moreover you told me once that writers modelled their characters on themselves. Didn’t you?’
‘Usually, yes. But not always. You see Tolstoy was not Vronsky in Anna Karenina’ he tried to escape from the trap that he had innocently set for himself long back by telling her that novelists share their ideology, beliefs, hopes, dreams etc with the readers through the protagonists. She gave him a strange look disbelieving his impudence.
‘No, no, I am not trying to compare my work with that of Tolstoy’s. What I am trying to say is that a novelist can, without sharing his/her personality with the lead man, tell a story. You don’t think your Grisham or Sheldon or Wallace or Steele write about themselves through their characters. Do you?’ he said feeling heavy with sadness. Because he knew that by saying that he had knowingly placed himself and his beloved work in the category of writers for whom he had only contempt.
‘Of course, they are different. But you don’t read them. And you treat them as worthless. Why would you then write like them?’
‘But that’s beside the point. What I want to say is that a novelist’s central character need not be always based on himself/herself. You will have to agree with me on this.’
‘Hmm. Yes. I do. Their heros are different from one another. They vary from book to book. So all of them cannot be based on the writer himself.’
Even though he noticed the flaw in her argument he chose to ignore it. And sensing that she had softened and it was the right time to salvage himself and his work from the sleazy company of what he called Hollywood script writers, he said ‘Honey, my book is not the story of our life. My protagonist is a struggling writer like me. But he is not me. There are many elements of me in him. I have shared my worldview with him. I have shared my favourites with him. But that’s it. And his wife is not you. She is my creation. Without you I could not have completed the novel. You have been my rock solid support throughout. That is why I have described you as my rock in the dedication.’
The next few moments they spent in silence. It was like lull after the storm. She contemplated what he had just said. And he tried to fathom her thoughts, hoping for a coy apology from his handsome wife which could break the silence and shatter the stillness that was swallowing them up. She looked at him and took a full measure of him. He realised then that he had hoped too soon. And that it was not over as yet. And waited.
‘You say, the protagonist is not you even though he has some likeness to you in habits, preferences and things like that.’
‘That’s it. There is no other similarity.’
‘Their life bears no resemblance to our times spent together’.
‘No, it is not the story of our life.'
‘And that adulterous wife is not modelled after me’.
‘No, no, no. By no stretch of imagination could she be ever compared with you. You are not her.’
‘If she is not me, then who is she?’
‘What?!’
‘Your protagonist resembles you in some way and in the same way you should have had somebody in your mind to create her also. If I was not on your mind while you created her then who were you thinking of?’
‘Oh! No one. She is just a product of my imagination. Just my imagination. She is not inspired by anyone.’
‘You want me to believe you, don’t you?’
She got up from the sofa and walked toward the bedroom.
‘You have to trust me.’
Grasping the brass handle of the door, she turned and said ‘You think I have no choice. Don’t you?’ and without waiting for his answer slammed it shut.
PS: This is Roth effect. While reading Roth I have often wondered what the women in his life must have felt if he had used them to construct his characters. Brigette Bardot in one of her interviews says that her director (probably Godard, I am not sure) had used the conversations which he had with her in his movies. And she did sound as though she felt betrayed by that. Women feel easily betrayed, dont they? One look, one word or the absence of a look or a word is enough to break their hearts. One of the most beloved romantic poets of Kannada, Late K S Narasimhaswamy wrote beautiful poems especially describing women even though his wife was not so very good looking. Impressed by his poems people called on him to see his wife, it seems! With these thoughts in my mind, I wanted to do a confrontational piece, using arguments, counter arguments and arguments to counter, counter-arguments like Roth. But this turned out to be entirely different from what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it comical but got tired. Since I was feeling low, I made the lady shut the door in anger.

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