I became a character in his creation.
I had known him for almost ten years. It was 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. I managed to keep my distance and, except for the obvious details, he knew little. He wanted to know more, much more.
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 reached the 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.
He had used one of our conversations and, taking the essence of it, had completely twisted things out of shape and added fantastical elements. I was disturbed for he had in a sense 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 even liked it.
Angry, I dashed off a note: 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. So what if he was hallucinating?
I waited. Time passed. I had managed to wipe this from my mind when I got an email one 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 felt trapped. I did not reply. What would I tell him? If I thanked him for understanding, then 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? Had 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 was trapped because I didn't know how to react. I was touched by his gesture, but I was aware that there was an element of dishonesty in his story. Fiction is fine. Must you then not only fictionalise facts but also make reality look like a make-believe world with a make-believe character, especially since you know the protagonist and are aware that she could break with just a little extra pressure?
My life, like many lives, has not been a smooth train journey; it has been derailed often. It makes for interesting episodes and dynamics.
One day I hope to tap into its potential myself and ‘muse' myself.