I ached for days after his death. A continuous throbbing in my heart, bursting into unexpected pains whenever he crossed my mind. I didn’t quite know how to deal with this fictional loss that felt very real. It’s months later, but the memory of finishing this book is still vivid. I stayed in bed, my body limp, my mind in disarray, the book clutched to my heart, its edges digging into my ribs. There were no tears like the time when Sirius Black died, or even Fred. But there was a lot more pain. Somehow. Harrowing, distressing, acute and exhausting.
So why is it that some fictional pain is greater than others? Why are we vulnerable to certain stories and characters while forgetting others? How do I explain this sensation of losing a person who never existed. And is it really fair to say he never existed, when he existed with me and around me till the end of the book and a lot longer after.
In retrospect, it hurt more because I always imagined falling in love with a man very similar to him. Tall, tanned, lean. A kind soul, artistically inclined and a smile that would make my heart skip a beat, just like that. A man who loves strangely, but completely. Who isn’t always there, but someone I could always rely on. Who wouldn’t click a single photo of me but would always aware of my exact presence outside of every frame. At first, it made me question the integrity of the characters. Did Jhumpa Lahiri go out of her way to wretch my heart or if as a reader, was I predisposed to finding a lover in every character I came across. Maybe Marcel Proust was on to something when he wrote about our reading habits.
And is that what we do, as writers? As artists? As musicians? Locate a small window in our audience’s minds, giving them a view of what is within them? Is this the eternal purpose of all art? Are we here to help open closed doors, bow deeply and guide them to a table for two? Iron out the edges, erect mirrors at the end of emotional mazes? Make them see what they couldn’t/wouldn’t otherwise.
Maybe this is why I love Monet so much. Every work of his reveals just enough to allow me to superimpose my life onto them. One of my favourite work of his [Morning on the Seine near Giverny] evokes vivid memories from my childhood even though I’ve never been to Giverny, or anywhere near it. The painting is universal enough to remind me of the boat ride to my ancestral home, the trees branching out and kissing the river along the bank. For me, his work is no longer oil on canvas but a memory of laughter, inside jokes, skinny dipping and sugar canes.
What Kaushik and Hema lost at the end of the book, was something I knew could be mine someday. But was it because of the way the characters looked? The way they loved? Or simply because of the choices (or lack thereof) they faced? I think it was a culmination of all this and more. And it hurt because their love is similar to what I believe I am capable of. Therefore their pain was real to me in a way that others weren’t. I know I’ll never lose a godfather to a veil, or a twin in a wizarding war. But I’m susceptible to losing a partner to death. Of making the wrong choice, of being wed to a person who doesn’t understand me. These fears are real, even though the characters are fictional. And the pain is real too, because the pain I felt wasn’t for them but for me. A juxtaposition of memories, emotions and times. The book ripped open a wound that doesn’t exist, allowing me to grieve for something that it yet to happen in my life.
Does this mean artists have a duty towards their audience? Or is this simply an answer to why some art sells over others? Is this something that a writer can consciously cultivate? Or is this the true sign of talent, to be able to relate to a larger crowd? Is this why it is so important to ‘write about what you know’? To stop worrying about selling your art and concentrating on being authentic in your creations. And instead of feeling any untoward pressure to create art that would resonate with others, could we simply take heart in the fact that something we might write, paint, feel or build will help someone else experience in himself that he couldn’t otherwise? So what I’m really trying to say is don’t give up. Finish that manuscript, track, sculpture. And do it as much for yourself as for others.