A writer faces a midlife crisis when he finds himself unable to write anymore. However, his predicament arises not out of the Writers’ Block but due to a disability
“It’s strange that you can’t write anymore,” said Noel.
“Even more so since I’m a writer,” said Vikram disgruntledly.
“You put in so much effort to go to Japan and learn the language. All the good work undone by a measly stroke!” Noel twitched jokingly.
“Well, it’s not like I knew I was going to have a stroke.”
Noel mellowed his voice and smiled at Vikram in a consoling manner. “Strokes are more common than you think, Vikram.”
“Yeah, but losing your ability to write because of a stroke isn’t that common!”
Noel pushed back into his chair and chuckled. He handled his glass of Port but put it down. His laughter made it impossible to take a sip.
Vikram turned and looked out the window. He brought his hand in front of his face and stared at it. He had been born with a surgeon’s hands, although he didn’t put them to any such use. But it had still been a matter of some pride for him that his hands were always rock steady. He felt his success as a writer had something to do with the nature of his hands.
Vikram had grown up in an age without computers and had never liked the monotonous clicking of typewriters. His medium of writing had always been pen and paper. But after having a stroke a month ago he had lost his ability to write. He could spell words fine and read and dictate them alright. He even retained the ability to spell out how the hiragana and katakana words that he had recently learned in Japan should be written, but just couldn’t write them himself. When he held the pen his fingers disobeyed him. It was as if a bundle of invisible webs shackled them. The more he tried to free them, the more his fingers shook and ached. Even writing a single sentence tired him out, and the words just wouldn’t come out right.
The doctor had labelled it a case of agraphic apraxia. Vikram had frowned. He hadn’t liked the sound of it. Any sort of jargon made him frown. He was fine with esoteric words, for knowing their context allowed one to understand and appreciate them. But not jargon. Vikram always felt people used those terms to create an opportunity to regurgitate their knowledge. Whenever a doctor used such a term, though, it could never be good news.
Vikram sighed and looked out the windows facing Mumbai’s Marine Drive. The sea breeze blew with its usual panache. The restaurant always flung the windows open after sundown. He didn’t much like the food served there, but the ambience attracted him whenever he happened to be in the city.
There was a small patio and a few tables in a clearing outside the inner air-conditioned room. He always found it better to sit somewhere in the open during the evening, especially whenever he was so close to the sea. The curved corridor had enough room for a dozen tables and leave space for people to find their way and for waiters to meander towards their customers. More than the breeze and a general relaxed aura of the place, it was its redolence that always appealed to Vikram. It made him ignore the dirty tablecloth. But Vikram could never make out if it was really dirty or if it was a trick of the restaurant’s dim lighting.
The one hour commute through the local train network didn’t bother him. He travelled after the rush hour, so there weren’t as many people to push and wriggle through. What bothered him was that the number of people in his locality had grown tremendously. He had bought a house there specifically because of the relative peace it offered. But two decades of growth had reached and crossed his area. It was no different than the main city now. In fact, it was much worse.
Waiting for Noel’s laughter to die out, he looked at the faces at the adjacent table. A large group of corporate employees drank and ate and talked noisily. They were all in their late twenties. He could tell by their clothes that they had come straight from work and were all complaining about their workplace. It being a Friday night, Vikram thought they were just out to spend their hefty salaries getting drunk for the weekend, living the last days of bachelor life before their parents married them off.
It all made Vikram feel disconnected with his surroundings, as was quite often the case. He had never had a job and had never been much of a drinker. The only thing he had in common with them was being a bachelor. But he was in his mid-forties, so the similarity ended there. His Indian nationality and marital status set him apart from a large portion of the country’s sizeable population, only compounding his feeling of disconnect. But he didn’t mind.
“So tell me, did they call you Vik-lum there in Japan?” said Noel, bringing his glass of Port to his lips.
“Quite a few of them, yes. But not everyone. Most of them called me Chauhan-san out of courtesy and a formal relation. I only had friendly relations with a handful of people, so it wasn’t that big a concern.”
“You making few friends hardly sounds surprising.”
“Besides,” continued Vikram, disregarding Noel’s intervention, “it’s a land of different dialects. Some find it easier to pronounce words as people in other parts do. But they all tried pronouncing it right. That’s something you don’t find in the west.”
“Well, that’s kind of a broad statement,” said Noel, knitting his eyebrows.
“Not really. Take yourself for example. You’ve known me for over a decade, yet you still call me Vik-RAM. It’s pronounced rum, not ram. You possess the linguistic skills to say my name right, but you just don’t make the effort.”
Noel opened his mouth to say something but checked himself. Vikram liked how Noel always kept an open mind and was willing to entertain the other person’s argument, no matter how strongly he believed in his own opinion. His boisterous blue eyes donned a pensive state when he did that, and it briefly showcased the philosopher that resided within him.
“You might be right. I’ll be on the lookout for that from now and see how true it is.”
Vikram nodded and poked at his lasagne. He chewed on it reminiscently for a minute while Noel sat eyeing him.
“Have you tried working with a writer or a typist?” he asked.
Vikram gestured with his hand and shook his head. “It doesn’t feel right. I cannot put my thoughts properly into words until I write them down. I can talk about the ideas in my mind but writing is more than simply saying what you have in mind. It’s got to take a form that is easy for others to understand and appreciate.”
“I always thought there should be an aesthetic touch to the words coming out of a writer’s pen. What sets him apart from any other literate person who can put pen to paper if not that?”
“Beauty attracts everyone, but it’s understanding that forms connections and brings this world together.”
Noel raised his eyebrows in surprise and took another sip from his glass. “I never knew you were one to think like that!”
“Well, that’s not my base approach to writing. I merely focus on the ideals and ideas that I circulate through my works. Then comes the beauty. It’s like nutrition for an ageing gourmet; important but secondary.”
“What about using your laptop then? There’s a great software called Microsoft Word. You should check it out,” said Noel. Vikram sighed.
“I can’t associate a laptop or a computer with writing, Noel. I just can’t. It’s not that I have anything against computers or technology. But computers and writing have always been mutually exclusive for me.”
“I see. Well, it’s fine if you don’t write something immediately. You wrote a novel a year ago, and you have enough money to last you for a few years at least. But I sense an urgency in Vikram which leads me to believe there’s a story brewing up there,” said Noel, pointing at his head. Vikram chuckled.
“You always know when I’ve decided to go through with one of the stories in my mind.”
“I am quite perceptive of such things. Tell me, what kind of a story it is?”
Vikram chewed on the lasagne for a few seconds. “A love story.”
Noel’s eyes lit up. “Does that mean you’ve finally found a special lady? I’d almost given up on you in that matter, you know. But not my wife. She always said you’d find yourself a lovely lady to fall in love with. There’s nothing like a woman’s intuition!”
“I never said I’m in love, Noel. Besides, I have been in love before. You know that.”
“Oh no, you haven’t. Having a relationship and sleeping with a woman is not love.”
“When did I ever say it was? I know that’s not love. But I have been in love before.”
“No, you’ve not, Vikram,” said Noel, smiling.
“How would you know what I do and don’t feel?”
“No one possibly can. But I know you’ve never been in true love. It’s not something that happens spontaneously, Vikram. It’s something you feel growing and growing until it smothers you into accepting it. When that happens, there’s a clear indication in everything about that person. The devil’s horns or an angel’s wings and halo couldn’t be easier to spot!”
Vikram shook his head and chuckled. “Well, maybe you’re right. I still can’t develop an understanding of these things.”
“Some things can only be understood once you feel them,” said Noel.
“Hmm. But even if I find that woman, it won’t do me any good. My medium is writing. I’ve always used it to woo women into going out and sleeping with me. But my hands are no good anymore.”
Noel remained looking at Vikram for a few seconds. His white skin looked muddy and his curly blond hair looked stale and dirty under the restaurant’s pale yellow light. His black bowling shirt, though, was unaffected by it.
“So you write notes for women you admire and you take it forward from there. I guess it’s not so surprising. A forgotten act, but not unheard of. Besides, people do all sorts of things in these matters.”
“Yeah, so my hands are pretty much tied.”
Noel gulped the remaining contents of his glass and asked for the bill. “You’d be surprised how things can work out,” he said. Vikram smiled to himself and wiped his face. The cool sea breeze rustled his hair. He looked at his hands again before looking outside to the seafront.
A few minutes later, Noel drove away and Vikram remained standing outside the restaurant. A young girl tiredly asked him to buy a balloon so she could feed her hungry sister. He didn’t buy the balloon but handed her a 100 rupee note. He wasn’t concerned if she was scamming him. He had enough money to waste a hundred rupees. The girl looked at the note for a minute, assuring herself that she really held it. Vikram merely patted her on the head and walked away.
He threw away the pen his hand had touched upon in his pocket. It had been an old habit of his to keep a pen handy. But things had changed. The wind was in a coaxing mood, and Vikram decided to take a walk before heading home.