His life had gone by quite gently for the last forty years. He did not bother himself anymore about trying to write except for occasional fragments, which he thought he would one day compile into a small book that he imagined entitling A Life. He never could write a book longer than 5000 words, but with a whole lifetime, he imagined that even if he didn’t write much, he would be able to compile a book large enough for it to at least have a considerable spine; for he knew that what publishers and bookstores were looking for were books that can be shelved vertically and with a spine that boldly spells out the author’s name along with the title of the book and the name of the publisher.
Why had he given up on writing something the length of a novella so early in his writing career? One could not say that he was particularly lazy. He would grow bored trying to write plot-driven narratives, finding in them something too linear, positivist and consequential. But what if he did magically produce a short novella quite unexpectedly after forty years of writing by and large meaningless fragments? He had received short-lived fame in small literary circles when he was younger. What if he were to suddenly produce—out of the blue—a brand new novella, one that bore little resemblance to the writings of his youth?
He imagined it would be a Bildungsroman about a writer living in a small coastal town stationed at the intersection of three countries. This town, though small, would play a pivotal role in the future of a crumbling empire, but this writer would gently sail through the turbulence of history and would somehow complete his novella which would be instantly well-received without much effort on his part. The writer would rise to fame and suddenly get the attention he felt he deserved when he was a lot younger, when he could have made more use of it. He would tell friends that though his new novella has received so much importance, it was his first book of fragments that actually still holds worth. He would say this with an ironic air, because after the success of his novella, it makes sense to comment on one’s life as if it were a story with an unexpected ending. The writer would get his due respect, his final wishes would be fulfilled, and then he would suddenly die in a car accident. But that would by no means be the end of the novella. The larger remaining part would be about how in that small seemingly insignificant town he would emerge as a kind of hero, a kind of hero they build large statues of in the main town square. His house would be converted into a museum and his wife would write about him in her memoirs.
The writer’s memory would gently live on in the soft waters of this town. People would say that some kind of minor writer who lay dormant for most of his life, suddenly woke up to write a short novella, received acclaim and died. Writers are hardly important to the histories of the cities they belong to—as much as these cities may be important to them. Even the writer of this novella tried finding some traces of Kafka in his native Prague and soon realised that he was just one man among many who had lived there.
He imagined it would be a Bildungsroman about a writer living in a small coastal town stationed at the intersection of three countries. This town, though small, would play a pivotal role in the future of a crumbling empire, but this writer would gently sail through the turbulence of history and would somehow complete his novella which would be instantly well-received without much effort on his part
This writer, however, wrote such a convincing portrait that one began to see the town in him, as if by virtue of such a strange man with a crooked gait walking down its streets, the town itself became strange and crooked. The writer of this novella did not so much draw from the peculiarities and qualities of the town but rather the novella offered the city some kind of testament, written in advance. In fact, future architects of this town would refer to the novella while constructing new buildings and roads in the city; most men would be dressed in the kind of clothes they remember the writer wearing, leading, at least superficially, similar lives.
One could ask how it is that this writer, who for most of his life was out of sync with his contemporary reality, produced a literary work that would define the contours of the town he came from. His early fragments, though good, were so abstract and cryptic that only a few literary people understood them. Anyone who even happened to love his fragments, would have never expected such an obscure, lesser known recluse of a writer to emerge—and that too accidentally—as symbolic of a town and its future. Genius sometimes strikes unannounced, and that was the only real explanation the townspeople could give themselves, an explanation that they were, nevertheless, never really happy with.
In his novella, the writer did not fail to mention that after the success of his short book followed by his sudden death, the earlier, lesser known fragments of his youth would surface and receive attention, to the extent that major publishers would republish his books that earlier had only received attention from minor independent publishers, most of who happened to be the writer’s friends. “Such is often the afterlife of a writer’s effort,” says the writer in an interview just a mere week before his own demise. “Writing, good writing, at least, is by no means an inferior act of magic. It breathes life into dull objects.”
This writer must have felt that he, himself, had become one of those dull objects, languishing for over forty years in his own small corner of the world, producing nothing but mediocre fragments. Not only did he breathe life into his own languishing body but also into the body of the city, a city that was, in fact—much like the writer—looking to reinvent itself. The townspeople found in this slim novella a means to add their small town into the annals of world history. And so it was that the people of this town looked at this writer, who perhaps stumbled upon the scene seemingly accidentally, with great hope. It was as if some kind of backstage helper stumbled onto the stage and received a standing ovation that he, nevertheless, felt he deserved.
Gaurav Monga is a writer and teacher originally from New Delhi. He is the author of Tears for Rahul Dutta , Family Matters, Ruins, Costumes of the Living My Father, The Watchmaker and The English Teacher . His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including B O D Y, Fanzine, Juked, Tammy Journal, Spurl Editions, Queen Mob's Teahouse and Birkensnake, amongst others.
He teaches English, German, literature, epistemology and creative writing, and has taught at schools and universities in India, Nepal, Switzerland, Dubai and the Czech Republic. Gaurav taught himself German to read the works of Franz Kafka, and is currently translating selected works of Robert Walser, Peter Bichsel and Paul Leppin from German to English. He is a member of an international art and lifestyle movement called Neo-Decadence.
Suleman Aqeel Khilji (b.1985.Quetta) is a visual artist and educator, who lives and works in London. Suleman graduated from National College of Arts Lahore in 2011 and is part of NCA Lahore as a permanent faculty member. Currently, he is part of a three-year artist programme at the Royal Academy of Art London. He has been part of artist residencies such as VASL, Muree Museum Artist Residency and Mansion Artist Residency. Suleman has been exhibiting his work locally and internationally since 2010.
His works are part of prestigious collections, such as the DIL Foundation (New York), COMO Museum, SRK Homes and the Luciano Benetton Collection. He was also the cover artist for The Aleph Review, Vol. 5 (2021).