I firmly believe that only a writer has access to the coveted privilege of feeling all alone, if he wants to, in a crowd and be engulfed with the raciest, raunchiest of ideas and adventures when he is really alone. Specifically and being a writer, I have had this experience, which in simple terms could be put down as fertile imagination. I also opine that whatever is concocted, written and published by a writer under this white banner of ‘imagination’ is forgivable. But writing this, I have a feeling that we writers should join hands and declare a Convention to protect us from sins of imagination, nay, protect us from our contemporaries.
It happened on a Sunday. Most of the incidents that have shocked me and shook me later have happened on a Sunday. My birth and marriage being just two of them. I was taken aback when my wife said in a matter-of-fact tone that there is someone out there to see me.
"Out where?" I asked, already sensing the prevailing chances of another Sunday going down the drain.
"Out in the sitting room, if you can call it one!" she snapped with the bravado of a woman destined and tailored to marry a writer.
The so called sitting room was a standing room, sleeping room, writing room, pacing room, brooding room, in brief, it was my room. The confusion and disarray it presented was a part of me and with it and in it, I was the happiest man on earth. In its moldy atmosphere of old books I breathed the pure air of the countryside; in the medley of the creaking furniture I have heard the gentlest whisper of fresh water brooks; in its semi-darkness, I have created such floods of erotic imagination that I often stand to question my own innocent imagination.
With these thoughts and a devil-may-care smile (a la Leslie Charteris’ Saint), I entered my room.
Someone was there and it was a she.
I was a little aback for two reasons. I knew her because she too is a writer; second, I did not expect her to come to my pad to see me or make me see her. And the very fact that she is my contemporary, kneaded my heart to a pulp and pushed it to the farthest corner of my rib case.
"Good morning!" I said cheerfully, may be a little too cheerfully because I did not hear her reply. Instead, she shifted her carriage so gracefully that I silently wondered why I had not imagined such a ….or had I?
"WE have met before!" she said.
"Not very many times." I pointed out.
"I’m sure you haven’t the faintest idea of the purpose of my coming here."
I did not and it was the honest truth. But to say ‘yes’ was to give-in meekly and to say ‘no’ was baseless. My ego was at stake and that too when a shapely contemporary comes to my home brandishing swords, I knew that something more was at stake.
She smiled triumphantly.
"I read your writings!"
Although this came out of the blue, it was a good tension breaker and I noticed a generous chunk of flattery in her tone and gave in happily forgetting what had happened to Somerset Maugham in ‘The Luncheon."
"Writings are to be read," I put in wisely only to feel sheepish.
"Aren’t they?" she quipped acidly.
"That goes for your writings too," I hurried to keep the conversation alive, though I did not know what exactly went for her writings.
"Any of them in particular?"
"Let’s not be critics."
"Look," she said bending a little to catch my attention which she did for obviously endowed reasons. "I have not come to wage war against your writings."
"I believe you," I said humbly. "That leaves me alone against none."
"Can the wise stuff!" she suddenly turned Yankee and brushed my humor black. "It is your weekly column, ‘Ah! My Contemporary’ that…." Her cherubic countenance underwent a series of flashy convulsions before a beautiful peach-blush spread on it.
Touch?! Where have you seen this before?
"…..that has got on my nerves!" she completed her sentence.
"I don’t see why?" I exclaimed, narrowing my eyes to mere slits. That weekly column was a series of imaginary encounters, my encounters, with a shapely contemporary writer of mine and were hilarious, piquant and as the readers had put it – stimulating. But the column was not meant to get on anybody’s nerves, not without my knowledge though.
"Don’t sound so innocent!" she pointed a well-manicured finger at me. "Now that you have brought your shapely, curvaceous, contemporary to the verge of having an affair with you….in your column, I mean."
"I’m coming to the end of the column," I held up my hand in protest.
"And what an end!" she exclaimed and sat bolt upright and I felt the plot beginning to thicken as Paul Drake would say to Perry Mason.
I waited for the bomb to drop.
"Mr. DSouza!" she chose her words. "It so happens that your beautiful, exciting, imaginary contemporary has my name and…."
"It is a beautiful name!" I interjected.
"And her description – once again imaginary I presume – fits that of mine like a glove."
"My imagination is fertile but out of this world."
"Fertile?" She looked around for signs.
"Not yet," I said. "We are wise."
I was beginning to enjoy this. Coincidence as it was, its vivacity was stunning. Every gesture, smile and tone of hers matched perfectly with that of my imaginary contemporary and though I seek the benevolence of the banner of innocent imagination, it was evident that she was visibly chided by my column.
So here was Sunday, a writer and a problem.
"Let’s be serious about it," she said, catching my attention her taunting way. "We both have the privilege of being noted and being pointed out in our society gatherings. So far it has been a smooth run and I had no swords to cross with you. And now, you come out with this column and our readers are getting ideas…"she was practically wailing.
"This is very unbecoming of your writings, my dear," I said coolly, recollecting how her female characters never bowed down before the stronger sex. This was her reputation.
"Sarcasm can wait," she said, throwing her head back to make her silky, glossy raven-black hair lie gracefully on her shapely back. "Can’t we come to an amicable settlement?"
"Coffee or tea?" My wife’s intervention was timely.
"Tea and no sugar, please." My contemporary was specific.
I felt my wife’s gaze drilling through me.
"Make it two, honey," I said.
"Do you want me to stop the column with a note that I am stopping it because readers are getting ideas?" I asked when my wife went out of the room.
"You can’t be serious!" she said, failing to see the humor in my question.
"You did not give me any alternative solution." I shrugged.
"I did not think of one when I came here," she said. "I thought we could put our heads together and cook up something…."her words trailed into silence.
"Cooking up…..that’s a part of us," I said, silently admiring the fact that how a writer could hook the imaginations of millions by cooking up.
We looked at each other and she smiled.
My wife came in with the tea.
Although the tension had melted, the prevailing silence gave me the feeling of an eternity.
We had our tea.
This did not improve the ambiance.
"I am putting my cards on the table," I said at last. "You will appreciate whatever has happened is a coincidence?"
"How do we square up things, then?" May be another coincidence would do the job?" she asked meditatively. I failed to see the sinister glint in her beautiful eyes.
"Well and nothing!" she sprang alive, smiling broadly. The bubbliest of her laughter broke everything that was or that could have menacingly come up between us. The peace-pipe was passed around, smoked, followed by lunch and the evening tea and my contemporary went away, leaving perhaps, enough thoughts for me to churn up a short story.
It was ages later and when my column had ended and when I had practically forgotten about my contemporary’s visit that a packet came to me by post.
I slit it open.
It was a paperback, latest from my contemporary. It was autographed. I turned the flyleaf and read:
Are washed away
But a novel has come
Dedicated to my adorable contemporary who has no resemblance, living or dead, to the villainous ogre in this novel.
If it does, coincidence applies."
Needless to say, the ogre had my name and his description fitted me to the last T. But I am yet to study my own character in her novel.
(This article was first published in Kuwait Times in 1978)
Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore