Madhuri had reasons to be chagrined: her idol had deserted her. She had deserted her family, defied her beloved father, to live with her idol, the famous novelist Amitabh Sinha. Her devotion to the idol was such that she took all the necessary precaution to avoid getting pregnant. Children would divert her devotion from her idol.
Five years of selfless worship. Yet he deserted her. What’s unbearable was that he took as his beloved the woman whom Madhuri hated the most. Sheila the witch with her two kids one of whom was a moron.
Madhuri had first fallen in love with Amitabh’s novels. The love grew into admiration and it spread like a contagious disease from the creation to the creator.
“Don’t trust writers and such people,” Madhuri was warned by her father. “They can’t love anyone except themselves and their works.”
Madhuri was sure that Amitabh would love her. How can a god ignore his most ardent devotee?
Such devotion brings devastation when it is spurned. With her god gone, Madhuri found her life absolutely empty and worthless. A fury rose in her, however. “What is it that she has and I don’t?” she asked me. “Aren’t I younger and more beautiful? Didn’t I give him my entire heart and body? What more can anyone give him? What is it that he finds in her?”
No woman can endure being replaced by another woman. Even the idol’s death is more desirable than that. Death has an advantage anyway: it marks the end of memories. Separation does not kill memories.
I could understand Madhuri’s furious outbursts but could not console her.
“Speak to him,” she demanded of me. “You’re also a writer, aren’t you? He will listen to you. Moreover, you were his teacher too.”
It is true I taught Amitabh in the senior secondary school. It is also true that I met him once or twice in the recent past and had brief conversations with him. But I never conceived I could have any influence on him especially on a matter like this. He was a famous novelist whose books sold in thousands of copies while I was a mere blogger who was lucky enough to get a few hundred readers. Moreover, what right did I have to interfere with somebody’s private life? I hated it when anyone interfered with my private life. I didn’t like it when my school put restrictions on what I could eat or drink outside the school hours. There are certain matters that should be left to the individual concerned with no undue interference.
However, Madhuri had a right to know why she was abandoned. No one can walk over a person this way. Amitabh did not do the right thing at all. Who am I, however, to tell him that?
But I happened to run into Amitabh. Life is like that: it fetches right before you just what you would like to avoid the most knowing well enough that the avoidance is not the best thing to do.
Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. I was sitting in the lounge of one of the domestic terminals reading a novel by Amitabh when he himself came and sat next to me.
“You know what kind of creatures artists are,” he said having listened to my hesitant narration of Madhuri’s woes. “Every artist is a person obsessed with himself. Every artist is a creator who is unhappy with the world’s ugliness. Every artist is trying what he can to re-create the world after his imagination. There is nothing more important to the artist than his work.”
Madhuri’s devotion was a stumbling block to Amitabh’s creative process. That’s what I understood. “She had become an irritating presence everywhere. There she would be where and when I didn’t need her at all, watching me as if I were a child in need of a guardian angel, asking me what I wanted when all I wanted was to be left alone, breathing down on my neck when I thought she was busy in the kitchen...”
“If you wanted solitude, why Sheila... with her two children?” I asked. I thought I could take that much liberty by virtue of having been his teacher for two years. Teachers love to think of themselves as greater than anybody else merely because they taught that ‘anybody’ for some time.
“Can a man live like an island?” he stared at me as if I were the biggest fool in the world. “I wanted someone... Sheila won’t be my guardian angel; she has the kids to look after, and one of them will take most of her attention, he’s mentally retarded, you know.”
The artist should not be distracted from his work unless he wants to be. Even the distraction is his choice. If only Madhuri knew this secret! But can a devotee like her be contented with part-time devotion?
“There’s something diabolic about devotion,” said Amitabh. “You give your self away only to snatch something you perceive as greater than you. Every ‘full time’ devotee would only be contented with possessing God, nothing less. She too wanted something similar.” I knew who he meant by ‘she’.
“She wanted me to love her more than my work. Do you think I can do that? Worse, she was trying to make me make her my idol by giving herself entirely to me.”
I am no religious believer. I found that last statement as obscure as religion itself. But I was not surprised: Amitabh is a writer.
Note: This is a work of fiction inspired by the short story, A Man of Letters, by the Nobel laureate (1952) Francois Mauriac.