[Issue 8 / February 2014]
Pompously I babbled: I will kick it to the ground and stomp on it, spit on it, tear it asunder and burn it, but never will I stoop to read it. Nabokov corrupts. I knew my words were hollow, as hollow as my core, hollow and enveloped in misery, but I uttered them with a vehemence and temerity that only a young aspiring writer could display.
A successful writer friend offered that book to me as I was boarding the train for my hometown. Enveloped in a plain Penguin Classics cover with its six silent letters jeering at me cheekily: L O L I T A—that book was right before my eyes. I could never be a writer if I didn’t read it, he said. I can never be a writer if I don’t read this blatant diabolical conceited display of genius? Bah!
I snatched it and once more I laid my eyes on its first page which was residing in my memory like a stubborn ghost from a horrifying nightmare. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. MY ARSE! Thad! I snapped it closed.
The passengers in the air conditioned train compartment stared at me. The girl sitting opposite, primly dressed, oh so beautiful and young, with an angelic face and a dolorous silence (dolorous!), she snorted. She looked at me: from my filthy floaters to my filthy hair, my shabby clothes to my unshaved face, and snorted; and she looked long enough to let me know she had snorted. How I wished to throw the book at her face! What do you know of me, you spoiled expensively educated illiterate? And what do you have to be so proud about: tiny breasts, wiry hands, a neck like that bottle of oxidized water to crush after use?
I opened the book—the book—and underlined every phrase, every play and trick that I would never, never use. I underlined and underlined and underlined, paragraphs after paragraphs, one pretension following the next—my hand moving of its own, my mind reading swiftly, repeatedly, filling in itself to remain sane. If I’d stopped, I would’ve hit her. That swollen-headed, breast-less barren bitch!
So I read on. Chuckling, cursing, reciting; coursing through the demonic narrator’s first loves and early sessions of love-making, Mr. Fate throwing in his arms the cunning little Lolita. And I read on. My twisting tongue was tired but it was rollicking, frolicking, masticating the delicious word plays, the lyrical sentences, the pages that flowed like wistful zephyrs. Zephyrs! I’d never used a word like zephyrs!
Word plays, games, sports: this was not a novel but an exhibition for display and attention. My novel will have none of it. My unborn, kicking, maturing novel, the first that I am pregnant with, it will be pristine. It will be born to serve, to add something to the lives of my miserable readers: their weeping souls meeting mine through the portal of my words; isn’t that reason enough to write with a bleeding heart? Reason enough to be wounded, to be pierced, to be open and honest and direct? I am not here to show them who I am. I am not here to impose. I am here to share their woes and to provide them space and stillness, all that they so dearly desire but search for in the wrong places, outside. No, I am not a mad old man running naked in the sun and shouting, “Look at it. My dick. How big! How Big!”
She became intrigued, my eunuch co-passenger. She saw me reading and revelling, reciting and whining, and she peered at the book cover. Yes, Lolita, a Penguin Classic. You might have heard of Penguin. You might have heard of Lolita. You might have seen it in a bookstore that you visit every fortnight, girl—blatantly displayed in the ‘Bestsellers’ shelf and ‘Classics’ and ‘This Month’s Recommendation’. You might have bought it; the owner might have made you buy it. He might have sweet-talked you, asked your reading interest then suggested this one. This too is a love story, only slightly twisted. Nabokov, this guy was a genius, madam. It’s a must read, madam. And madam, you might have bought it, placed it with utmost care in your sandalwood bookshelf where along with your Slam Book and your pink colored journals from 1998 to 2001 and Eric Segal’s Love Story—this book basks—displayed blatantly.
Our honorable mademoiselle finally became uncomfortable. Relentless staring did that. She neatly sipped mineral water from her plastic bottle, neatly and delicately, and talked nicely in her nicely voice to the fellow passengers, fluffing her nose and settling her hair—hair falling on her fair, meagrely visible shoulders. Each strand a rivulet flooding with sensuality… I wanted to kiss her nape, smell her hair, drink her in. Crush her. I wanted to make love with her in the filthy toilet of that first class train compartment. I wanted to fuck her on the stained commode and flush her out. Her pompous nose was more repulsive than the plumy prose. (!)
I delved into the book once again, dwelling in the twisting, turning sentences, losing and finding my way out through the overpowering vortex of relentless ramblings, while the characters coursed through freeways, hiding and seeking, screaking and weeping, hideously performing their wanton acts in motels and in mornings: mourning, luring, grieving, wheedling.
Who gave a shit! The blackness of my thoughts was darker than their acts, darker and more despicable than recesses in any writer’s mind. But that very darkness was a tunnel to my soul. I must traverse through it, I must let it soak me in, let it soak in me, so that together we may discover the unexplored dimensions of my existence.
There is beauty, untouched, unblemished, unblemishable, that resides unexpressed in the core of our beings—it is this that I want to materialize on page, ladies and gentleman of the jury. My sentences will be broken. My prose pruned and prickly. My words coarse. I have something new to say but my phrases will be clichéd. My verbs unspectacular. Won’t you still read me? Won’t you see past the veil of words to find out what I have to offer? Beauty of text is filthy, a cover up, a make up to conceal the ugliness of banality. Old wine, new bottle. What must a writer know more about—poems and rhymes and rhetoric, or pain and death and providence? I will offer you my spite and soul, my blood and blessings, my everything—that is a promise. I might be blunt and boorish, but there won’t be a word that is dishonest, not a sentence that is borrowed. Not one spurious feeling. Will you still read me: if I am unpoetic and uncouth and unseemly? Or will you snort—snort and stare long enough to let me know you have snorted, you tiny breasted readers, you refined members of the blind jury, you educated illiterates.
I jumped out of the empty train. I was back in my hometown, the town of phonies and wannabes, of ambitious hardworking money-minters, and I was alone and unslept and read. I had finished the novel in fourteen hours straight in the dim passage light all through the night, and I had cried in the empty compartment. Language. LANGUAGE. A breathing, pulsating entity! Not a dead sheet of words, not an imperial whimsical jamboree, not a soulless torso whoring at the whims of sermonizers.
So what? I told myself I did not care. The end was good, better than its famed beginning. Yes, like everyone who ever read this book I loved and loathed that delightful despicable fiend whose name I could not bring myself to say, I did ponder on fate and morality, on primeval instincts and the prison of our mind, but only very briefly. I don’t give a rat’s ass to it, I said. Nabokov corrupts and I have emerged victorious, almost. I am still a young aspiring writer who does not know how to write. Yet write I will and they will read me. They will have to: I will lay bare my soul to them. “Look at it! Look at it! How big. How big.”
I threw the book in a bin and flew out the railway station. I was relieved? I should have been relieved but wasn’t. I should have torn the book into pieces; I should have kicked it to the ground, spit on it and burnt it. I should have fucked it and flushed it out.
Blindly, insanely, I ran back. The trash can was empty. A toothless old man had just cleared it. I begged him, bribed him to open the trash bags and let me fish something out: yes, yes, it’s precious. Very precious. Among discarded food and condoms and milk cans, in the smell of vomits and faeces and rotting eggs, I buried my hands and rummaged, feeling through the dump with my closed eyes and clenched teeth. There it was, the Penguin Classics cover spoiled and sullied beyond repair, but the six ugly letters still staring at me like a proud prudish nymphet. L O L I T A. I was hunted. I was enchanted.
I spat on it, kicked it and stomped on it. I wiped it clean with sand and my shirt. I kissed it, tears flowing out my eyes without stopping. Nabokov, you master of masters, you wizard of creative writing, fuck you!
Mohit Parikh’s fiction has published in Identity Theory, Specs Journal, Out of Print Magazine, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine and others. His first novel ‘Manan’ is due for release in 2014 by a major publishing house. He received a Special Jury Commendation in Toto Awards 2013. Presently, he is filming an experimental docu-drama based in Mcleodganj, India. He is almost certain he will fail in this project.