I have been had, treacherously, by my own hero. Only Julius (Et tu Brute) Caesar can truly understand my plight. For the others, I will always be the funny guy who slipped on the banana peel, the guy who could not write his first novel. It is true that I yielded to a force of unprecedented resourcefulness, but I shall still do what is right – I shall caution the young innocent writers of the world by telling them my story, as a cautionary tale.
The writing of my first novel began sometime last summer, on a happy note. I had the plot all tied up. It was as follows: The story begins with a flashback- a young law graduate (to be known as ‘the hero’ from here on) is married to a spoilt rich girl who is mentally unbalanced and a pest. Over the year he struggles hard to raise his five kids and becomes a successful lawyer. He is humble, compassionate, steadfast – a true hero. Cut to present – the five children of the hero are insensitive, repulsive, rebellious, and ungrateful. The hero ponders over life and its meaning, and sees hope in the smile of his grandchild, before putting in his papers.
Brilliant, as far as plots go. I am sure you will be reminded of Dickens and Tolstoy and Marquez, and rightly so. ‘An Epic’, the critics would no doubt have said, had the novel been written and published. Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!”
The problem between The Hero and me began from the first scene itself. As I was describing the hero as a sober, solid man of mettle, though a little sad and melancholy, The Hero made his first intervention in my mind, with a nasty comment.
“No young man is so dull. It is un-natural,” he said in a tone of unpleasant insolence.
Overcoming my surprise, I said in reasonable yet firm tone – “I actually know such a person, trust me.”
“You must not have known him well enough,” he said, raising his voice, “and in any case, that’s not me.”
Face with such intransigence, I decided to reveal more – “The person described here happens to be my grandfather, and the facts are true.”
“Facts! Bah,” the hero retorted.
I had to yield to that – no one can have a monopoly over facts. “You know different?” I challenged.
“I am your grandfather, I should know better,” he retorted, throwing Surrealism at me.
“You can never be him. You are my imagination of him,” I corrected him, falling into his trap.
“Exactly. And you are not imagining me right,” he said, with an irritating grin.
“If it is my imagination, surely I have the right to do whatever I want with it,” I said. But this conversation was going nowhere, and I was getting increasingly irritated. I took a deep breath and began again.
“So what should be changed, according to you?” I asked.
“The hero should be a fun person, and the heroine should be a fun person too, only a little temperamental. Five children are too many, though keep them if you want. I think more focus on the courtroom dramas would be better, especially the one where the British judge praised me,” he began in right earnest. I noticed that he knew everything about my plans for the novel, though I had not yet spelt them out in my draft plot. I also noticed that his idea of the novel was very different from mine. It was sort of a Perry Mason rolled into a Mills and Boon.
“I am seeking to present a relatively true story of a man I admire. I cannot fudge with facts to make it popular, if that is what you want,” I tried to reason with him.
“You are trying to be too literary and bombastic. A normal man lives a normal life, and the epic battles have to be shown with a light brush, maybe like James Joyce,” he said.
James Joyce light!! Give me a break.
I was not toying with literary greatness – I wanted to write an honest story, I tried telling him, but he would have none of it. The Hero would have to be made into a dashing figure, at least some of his children had to come good, and he would not die at the end, he insisted. The novel should end with reconciliation with either the wife or a daughter, on a happy note, with a possibility of sequels like it happens in the novels of the famous Horace Rumpole of Bailey.
“But the hero in my story is not like that at all,” I wailed in dismay.
“Then it is not I,” he replied, his grammar dubious, his tone final.
For a few days I struggled with the novel, but I was getting tired with the attitude of my hero. He would not even agree with the clothes that I gave him to wear – much less with the description of the heroine. I distinctly remember my grandmother of being short in height and having a small nose. But no. He remembers her as medium height with sharp nose and…well, he goes into great detail about her anatomy, none of which matches my memory of her.
To cut the story short, I had to reluctantly shelf the project. There was no other way. I would rather not have a novel, than write something in which I did not believe.
I know some sniggering critic would say that I did not have sufficient ability to control my material. But let me tell you this – no one could ever tell my grandfather what he should do, and the very idea that his memory can be controlled and molded to anyone’s wishes is laughable. Let the critics try, if they are so clever. I will give them all the facts.