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The Man Without Answers: Excerpts from a Ghost Novel

The Man Without Answers: Excerpts from a Ghost Novel

Preface


There is a novel I completed in 2015 that hasn’t yet found a home. Every editor has passed on it thus far, many citing its substantial length. I too plan to take a hint at long last and withdraw it from circulation for the moment, instead putting forward the book I’m currently working on. Once that is off my desk, perhaps I’ll return to a redraft of my unloved work (what emoji should I use here?).

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few glimpses of that unseen tome, which still, at last browsing, remains very dear to me. Its narrator Rajeev lives in Kolkata, and is among other things an agony columnist, although not an especially caring one. This extract brings together four letters he receives. 

I should add that each of these fictionalised predicaments has a kernel of ‘real life’ within it. With the first two letters, people of similar ages shared very similar crises with me; the third was a dream I had, and the final, longest one — believe it or not — is only a slight reworking of a request made to my mother.


*

“Sir, I’m a young man of 21 in an engineering college. My girlfriend and I have been going steady for two years, and only recently she has agreed to allow us to express our love for each other more, but within limits. Two days ago, while close to her, I masturbated, then washed my hands with soap, and shortly afterwards, digitally penetrated her. 

“The next morning, which was yesterday, she called me with great anxiety. She had tossed and turned all night, worrying about whether she might have conceived. At first I had no doubt it was safe, but now I feel I should get an objective second opinion. Sir, please advise. My happy love life is suddenly under a cloud.”

Student,
Behala.


*


“Sir, exactly one week ago I was walking from school to tuition and I was already late, which was also honestly my fault owing to playing cricket after school. My tuition Sir does not permit anyone to go to toilet for the full two hours, and I was quite desperate, so I went on the roadside itself. Then I forgot about it and continued on my way to my physics class. 

“From the next day, things began to go badly for everyone in my family. First the doctor said my brother has chicken pox. Then my father fell off his scooter on Thursday on the Bypass just after Science City. He has fractured his arm and cannot go to office. My Thakuma is becoming more worried, she has high sugar, Sir, and there is so much pressure on Ma. 

“Sir, here is my confession. On Friday, the day after my father’s accident, I bunked school but went to evening tuition at the same Sir’s place for maths instead of physics. My mind was very heavy, Sir, when I got off the bus, with all the various family problems, and suddenly I noticed something terrible. The place where I had stopped to urinate on Monday was the wall of a church which is something I had not at all observed previously. It is a high wall with no chance of seeing the church from this side, but you can see it from the other footpath where I was walking this time. Suddenly I thought, is God punishing me for my sin outside His house? I would never have done it there if I had known. But now all my relatives are being punished one by one for MY sin, and I also fear, my time must be coming soon. 

“Sir, I am not a Christian, but I want to go for confession in a church where no one will know me and also pray for forgiveness. I am fourteen years old and can take the bus or Metro anywhere in the city. I just want to atone for my misdeed, Sir, and also protect my innocent family who don’t even know why these things are happening. Please help with addresses and advice.”

*

“Sir, I keep having dreams of friends who are asking me to pay back debts that I owe. They crop up in the strangest places, on the staircase of my office building (which I never use), or in the international foods section of the Spencer’s supermarket at Quest mall. But I know I have never borrowed money from any of them. Why is this happening?”

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