The book I would write? Well, it’s not a book, but half a dozen, half-written already! And no, I am not creating a nested metaphor within a metaphor in a cutesy reference to the book of my life or some such. That’s also been half-written already, only not sure by whose hand, as I am kind of wavering and agonised agnosticklish, and I don’t want to open that whole can at all if I can help it, so forget all that.
The fringe benefits of being a trailing family member are manifold of course, but the most crucial of them is a heightened understanding of the word “random”. In the last eighteen years that I have lived in the Arab world, six of them here in Cairo, this has been brought home to me many times over. An expat is always acutely aware of the transience of relationships, even as the families come in and form friendships, they are aware of the fact that the depth and frequency of contact is directly proportional to the length of the breadwinners' posting there. There are some friendships, both at an individual and family levels, which persist through stints in different cities all over the world, but those are exceptions rather than the rule.
I am essentially a narrator, whether in poetry or in prose, a story teller of sorts. The longest story I have written so far, a novella, is about an Indian guy - Abeer, and his relationships, set in post revolutionary Cairo. He is a loner, an amateur artist, and a wannabe indoor gardener; his relationships, both unmarried and married, have failed. Abeer is the typical expat, detached from the local population and their struggles; but on one of his painting forays into the countryside he comes across a young woman and is inexplicably attracted to her. Sameer, Abeer's colleague and a family man, feels more rooted in the country as his children are being raised here. But a crisis in the company where they both work turns everything on its head, a worker is injured accidentally and things get ugly. Sameer finds that he is not as rooted in Egypt as he had thought after all. Abeer, who nearly loses his life in the aftermath of the crisis, must come to terms with his own take on the situation, will he take a risk and stay? Resolve his ambivalence towards this young Egyptian woman? Or will he too cut his losses and run away? Like Sameer, like Abeer himself has done in the past.
This story began as most of my stories do - as a flash, but then it just kept getting more and more complex and lengthier, it stands at around 30,000 words now. I wrote it in 2012, just a year after the revolution happened and almost finished it, only the denouement remains to be written. I left it for sometime to "cool", and it is my plan to go back this year and complete the ending and do the edits and tie up the loose ends. The reason I have dilly-dallied so much on it is because I will have to rewrite the whole in the past tense. Since it began as a flash, I started off with present tense, and then it was too much of a disruption to change tracks in the middle. I never thought it would exceed 10-12000 words, and no problem, I'll change things around when I do the second draft, rather than start off again at the half way mark. Jo kal karein so aaj karlein, such an effective lesson this has taught me! Never procrastinate.
Over the past week, I have come to know that our stay in Egypt is over, we move out in another few weeks, max a couple of months' time. Out of Africa again. Cairo has got under my skin like no other place, it has grown up my son and his mother in such unimaginable ways that it is mind boggling. It is going to be a real wrench to start off again in a different place, but of course that is also an opportunity. I am going to take the remaining time I have here, which is not much as I will be travelling in May and then again in June, but whatever is left to me here will be soundly utilised for the remaining research and revisions. That is the book I want to write right now. I hope I will be able to finish the story I started in Cairo before I leave this magical, maddening and totally mesmerising city. Wish me luck, universe!