“She is not the typical fiction writer who conducts methodical research and then labors to produce a faithful simulacrum of a time or a place. She doesn’t bother about each and every detail of a major event that will form the backdrop of her novel, just a facet, an anecdote enables her to recreate the event in a way that fits well into the plot. If she visits a place which appears in her work, she doesn’t research the social, economical or historical aspects, instead she wanders in the streets stopping at a building, or a mossy wall from which she creates the whole building.”
As I read this critic review of N’s latest novel, I remember her telling me with those wondrous eyes – ‘The outside world is a place from which to snatch inspiration, details, people and feelings.’
It was one of the first animated discussions we had on the subject of writing, where we debated with passion at extreme ends of the spectrum. But she wasn’t forthcoming with her views at first, this conversation for instance happened many months after we were well acquainted. Once you get to know her, you develop a real sense the power of human imagination, and how to be vivid about it. It’s a feat I still cannot manage with finesse.
Also, I find it a bit queer, but then I am an insufferable realist, judging people at the first go. I knew there was something amiss when I met her the first time. In a room surprisingly crowded for a book launch, N looked lost, misplaced, a beautiful pearl among the oysters looking for empty chairs. Her beauty was however not in the feminine projections or the curves that are the usual indicators. It was her face, with a small forehead, her inquisitive and ever wondering eyes, the sharp nose, full lips that she never put lip colors on and a curving chin. It looked out of place in her unremarkable body. But place is what I had saved for S, who was late as always. I was so moved by N’s appearance that I had offered her the save seat as if in a daze.
She was thankful, of course, but the way she offered her thanks had wrenched me out of the charmed state and then put me off. She looked through me, a smile that betrayed it’s distance, in response to an old joke that one recalls, or a pleasant memory that visits us out of the blue. She belonged to my world, was present in that room, but i was certain it was just one of her imaginary identities, another N was probably visiting the streets of Cairo, and another kissing me passionately, but that was just wishful thinking. I had tried to make harmless, mundane conversation but her responses had made me regret my decision and I started preparing for the wrath of S.
On our subsequent meetings, N started acting more sane, and social. She would engage me in conversations about things that ranged from the most petty to subjects like molecular biology, or say theoretical physics. But her presence wavered, one instance she is listening to me intently and the next there she would have the lost, glazed look. Even though she was against explorations in the usual sense, she wanted to explore each and everything she could. What she wanted from me were those little triggers to set her imagination soaring. And once in flight, she had no use of me or my views.
This applied to our love too, or whatever you might want to call the relationship that was between us. She took cues from me, my actions, inactions and confessions, but that was all she needed. Breaking up was an equally surreal moment, she was right about most of the things, on how I am never sure about what I want, of how I am years younger to her, but what remains with me about the event is how she calmly told me that she loved me like no one she ever did, and how she had taken all that was to take from me, in form of inspiration, details and feelings and how she had built me in her imagination, in her soul, that will remain so even if I wasn’t there. In a way she taught me the same, the N I loved remains etched in mine no matter what I read or hear about her.