The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                              SIXTEEN

 

          

    At last Baddy's efforts bore fruit.

    He had a lucky strike with two poems submitted to Mahanadi, a journal edited by the well-known Oriya poet, Jaya Patra.  This happened after I'd moved to Hyderabad to do a PhD.

    When the magazine arrived, I experienced for the first time that most peculiar sensation which one feels when one sees one's name in print. It was a shock to see the poems, looking so complete and autonomous, so definitive and final, inside the magazine.  I felt as if I had committed a desecration.  I kept waiting for some reaction, response, or answering glance of recognition from those around me.  The knowledge of the publication of the poems became a secret burden, a shame; I would look guiltily at my teachers, colleagues, or friends, waiting for them to question, to interrogate me.  I thought someone would take me to task, hold me to account.

    For a long time, nothing happened.  Soon I got over my initial reaction. I decided that, as a matter of fact, nothing truly significant had happened. The journal in question had a very limited circulation but it did, as I was to discover, have its followers. One such loyal reader, to my alarm, was a classmate, who had spotted my poems in it.

    She came to me excitedly.

    "You're a poet!  I didn't know that.  How have you managed to keep that part of your self so well hidden from the rest of us?"     I mumbled something about how writing required that kind of privacy.  She wasn't convinced.  She prodded me further.

    "Since when have you been writing?"

    I decided to put an end to this dangerous conversation.

    "Actually, those aren't my poems though they've appeared under my name."

    "Well?"  It was her turn to look puzzled.

    "Well, I know this guy, let's call him Baddy--a variation of Buddy, you understand--he writes these poems."

    "Un hunh," she grunted doubtfully, "and?"

    "And, I plagiarize them," I said casually.

    Through my three years at the Insititute, the girl never spoke to me again.  She would stare at me surreptitiously in the library, but always averted her gaze when I looked at her.

    In the years to come, there would be many similar conversations.  Because more and more of Baddy's poems were being accepted.  Besides Mahanadi, New Quest, The Indian P.E.N., Kaiser-E-Hind, and finally, even Femina, and Debonair accepted his work.

    In five years, Baddy had about thirty-five poems in print. Almost enough for a modest-sized collection.  Later, after my marriage, he published some more poems. I started getting letters from other poets.  Each time rather dutifully, I played the part of Baddy's agent, both shielding him from uncomfortable probing and not getting too involved in his work myself.

    His attempts at writing fiction, though, were less successful.  The rejections still kept coming in.  His efforts to break into the Illustrated Weekly of India had been unfruitful over twelve years.  The editors changed, but his stories always came back.  Other journals sent back his work too.

    After each rejection, Baddy would be in a very foul mood. His self-esteem bruised, he would wallow in some emotional gutter for weeks, completely disappearing from my life.  This wasn't at all surprising; rather, it had been the pattern of Baddy's existence from the beginning.  He would take over for minutes, hours, days, and then suddenly disappear as if he'd never existed.  But sure enough, there he was again at the most inconvenient moment, forcing me to rush off into my room,

transcribing his thoughts, to type out a poem, or mail something for him.  Sometimes, he would suddenly appear without making any demands.  But I knew that he was about because his presence was so strong.  He would then compel me to experience life in ways I would not have normally.   Not necessarily anything extraordinary, but even a simple perception or mood.  I would feel these so intensely that I knew it was Baddy's doing all along.  So, in brief, I was quite used to his intermittent presence, quite relieved to have him vanish for a few weeks from my life.

    To tell the truth, these latter were my days of respite too. Clear-eyed and well-scrubbed I would set out early morning to the library and work right through till evening.  So absorbed would I be in my studies that often I missed lunch.  I had been lucky enough to get a small carrel in the library. There was an attendance sheet attached to it, which one had to sign.  There were two others sharing the carrel with me.  The library authorities wanted to make sure that allotees visited the carrel

at least a few days a month.  Otherwise, one's carrel could be taken away.  I always thought the system a little dumb because one could sign up for many days at once.  That would be dishonest, but how would they find out?

    Perhaps, it was Baddy's influence, but as soon as I encountered a rule, I almost automatically thought of how it could be broken even as I followed it scrupulously myself. Similarly, I always thought of ways of bucking the security system to steal books and journals, though I would never have dreamt of doing that myself.  My favourite steal would be to drop the book through the narrow slat in the grille of the windows upstairs.  The book would land in the bushes below and it would be the easiest thing to retrieve it later. Another way of cheating could be to get a date stamp made for oneself and fake the initial of the issuing clerk to get a book out through the front door.

    These thoughts came to me usually when I walked to the carrel.  But, there were times when I was so punctual that I I would end up spending the better part of thirty or thirty-one days of the month in the library. I couldn't but help being alarmed by my own almost bovine regularity.  Sometimes, I wondered if I would ever get out of the library alive.  I mean, I was losing all sense of time.  I thought to myself that one day they would find my bones in the musty corridors, resting

somewhere among the shelves full of books.

    I made fairly good progress with my research.  Soon enough, I was on my way to writing the Dissertation.  My guide was a "cool" guy trained at the University of Illinois.  He let me have a very long rope.  His motto was, "Do what you like, but show me the final draft within five years." Which was perfectly fine by me. My topic was, what else, but the art of the narrative.  The new name for it was narratology.  I read all the latest books on the subject until my head reeled with poststructuralist theory.  The whole question of narrative was fascinating--not only was it a way of telling a story, but also a method of organizing knowledge.  That narrative could have such an exalted epistemological status had never occurred to me before.  No wonder, I was such an inhibiting influence on Badddy, always shooting down his attempts to write narratives.  I knew too bloody much about the theory to let even my imagination do the actual writing.

    My five years in Hyderabad passed.  I submitted my thesis in October 1986; the viva was held next year in April.  By the end of the year, I got this job at the Asafia Univeristy, and soon afterwards, got married.  I was twenty-seven.  By now, in addition to having a minor reputation as a poet, I was a fairly promising scholar-critic.  I was commissioned to do an introductory guide to fiction, which I executed in about eight months.  It was called Indian English Fiction--Theory and

Practice.  The first 500 copies in hardback sold out in six months.  The book went into a second, paperback edition by 1990. It was this that Badri had seen in the Lambada Bookshop a year or so later.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape