The Narrator

 

 

                Two

 

    If I were to write a novel, it wouldn't be one of those ponderous and profound tomes in which nothing happens, the reading of which is an imposition, an onerous duty performed reluctantly, if diligently.  Such books abound in finely crafted sentences, a close description of objects, people, and locales. The prose is dense and defeating, excruciatingly exhausting.  In the end, you're left wondering what all the fuss was about.  Some of these books are acclaimed for their technique, then hurriedly consigned to everyone's must-read list.  But they are seldom read, and even more seldom enjoyed.

 

    Nor do I want to write a story which has lots of action, plenty of suspense, brilliant plotting, and, no doubt, an unexpected conclusion--but flat characters, pedestrian style, and no thematic value.  True, one enjoys the reading, but the tale is soon forgotten, to be replaced by new thrills, new plots, new best sellers.  The saddest part of writing such a book is the likelihood of its being considered both unintelligent and dishonest by posterity.

 

    There are, no doubt, many different types of the novel, each with its own strengths and weaknessness, advantages and drawbacks, peaks and pitfalls.  But the novel I want to write is intelligent in form, self-conscious in technique.  It entertains without being superficial, moves without being boring and priggish.  It has a serious soul, yet is light-hearted.  It has a stunning figure and mysterious depths.  Its face is serious, striking, even noble, but it also has a hint of a smile on its lips.  Innovative, even brash in telling, carefree and slightly flirtatious in manner, it has a sense of allure to it, a degree of suspense which tickles the observers' curiosity.  It may even

be somewhat risque--naughty, teasing, arousing; it wears a tint of the erotic, like lipstick or blush, without drawing undue attention to itself.  In a word, a novel born of jouissance, informed with jouissance, an image of jouissance.  A very desiree of a novel.

 

    Long ago, when I was about fifteen, I realized that I could never write such a novel.  The realization was as sudden as it was devastating.  It caused unbearable anguish and forever, so to speak, split my personality.  Perhaps, this break with my ego-ideal might have occurred even earlier when, as a child, I would be suddenly afflicted with afflatus.  I would rush about confused, driven, restless, trying to create something--anything that could salvage my pride, salve my unspeakable desire.  But, in the end, fail--miserably and totally, returning to myself depleted and forlorn and defeated.

 

    So at fifteen I came to a conclusion that given who I was, given my mind and its limitations, I could never be the creator of the desired opus.  There were some inherent limitations in my make up which, perhaps, had been accentuated by my upbringing.  I was addicted to a literalism which I liked to believe was truth. I led a very disciplined life.  I drank only water and milk.  I never broke a single rule, either at home or in school.  I didn't smoke on the sly, never bunked classes to see a movie, never dated, never got drunk, never masturbated.

 

    I was a wonderful person but it was killing me.  I always came first in class, earned the praise of my teachers and elders, was inordinately loved as an only child, held in high esteem by neighbours, adored by juniors, and so on.  But I hated being myself.  I couldn't play, I couldn't relax, I couldn't let go.  I was always proper and faultless.

 

    Fiction, I knew, like all art, was about lying.  Lying in a certain manner.  Lying not just convincingly, but innocently. Lying in a way that the reader told you in effect, "Go on, lie some more.  I love the way you lie.  Thank you for lying."

 

    But I couldn't lie.  I couldn't create a character.  I couldn't say, "Once upon a time..." Long before I read Jacques Derrida, all verbs connoting being bothered me.  I considered them to be untenable assertions.  If I said, "There was a man..." I would immediately resist it by saying, "Oh, but there isn't such a man; I know there isn't.  I am merely making him up."

 

    So, as I was growing up, reading voraciously, preparing to be what I always knew I'd turn out--a teacher, a scholar, a boring person--a character invented itself, embodying all that I couldn't be.  He was called "Baddy."  Baddy because he was bad, but also because he was the only real buddy I had. Baddy was also

a joke on Freud, whom I had started reading on the sly, with clandestine relish and eager astonishment--Baddy, a sort of variation of Libido.

 

    Needlees to say, no one else knew about Baddy's existence. He was my own personal, closely guarded secret.  In a sense, I felt responsible for him.  After all, though he was an invention, he was very real to me.  So I kept a close watch over his activities, recording them in a journal.  I tried not to interfere too much with his life; after all, there is something such as the autonomy of characters.  One cannot take undue advantage of them, otherwise they become flat and unidimensional.

 

    Sometimes, however, Baddy's misdeeds appalled me.  I thought I had to restrain him otherwise he'd get out of hand and, literally, get the better of me.  But through all the ups and downs of our relationship, I tolerated him, even nurtured him.  I gave him a long rope, liberty to do as he pleased even if his acts shocked me and the society I lived in.  I had a hope that one day Baddy would deliver, that he would write that novel. You may say that Baddy was a risk I took, an investment I made in an unknown but enticing future.

 

    So, Baddy and I grew up together.  He lived sometimes in my heart, sometimes in my head--the other one too--but always in the secret places of my imagination.  While I pursued Truth and Knowledge, Baddy lusted after Art and Beauty.  I spent most of my time inside classrooms and libraries; Baddy spent his time outside, on the streets, bars, brothels, and parks.  I read nearly all the time; he hardly read at all.  I was serious, humourless, shy, and unsociable.  He was vivacious, outgoing,

funny, and smart.  I avoided the uncertain and the unfamiliar; he pursued adventure and thrills.

 

    Baddy considered my life the kind that is not worth living. I considered his ways too tamasic, too steeped in ignorance and sensuality.  Our disrespect for each other was, thus, mutual. But yet we got along fine.  After all, we were opposites, doubles; he was my doppelganger, my Other.  But the most enduring aspect of our relationship derived from the fact that I was a creator and he, a creature--well, if not creature, at least an invention.  There can be no relationship more intimate or lasting than this.  I could kill him, put an end to him, but only notionally.  The record of his role would still survive--long after I myself had passed away from this earth.

 

    Sometimes, though, I wondered what would happen if Baddy became a real person.  You know, suddenly come to life one fine day.  This fantasy began to grow upon me, blurring the distinctions between fact and fiction.  In the end, it became my favourite fantasy to imagine a birth for Baddy.  I thought of how I might bring him to life, whole and fully formed, after a nearly fifteen-year-old gestation in my mind.  I rationalized my fantasy by thinking of similar cases in both Western and Indian

mythology.  Like the birth of Athene from Zeus's forehead or of Drishtadhyumna from King Drupad's sacrificial fire.

 

    Why couldn't Baddy be born unto me like that?

 

 

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape