Someone Like You

The temptations of mingling truth and fiction

01 July 2015
Mysore is a small city, with tight-knit social circles, which may account for how easy it is for readers to imagine that characters in a novel set there are drawn from local life—perhaps contrary to how they view the glittering cosmopolitan swirl of the metros.
EyesWideOpen / Getty Images
Mysore is a small city, with tight-knit social circles, which may account for how easy it is for readers to imagine that characters in a novel set there are drawn from local life—perhaps contrary to how they view the glittering cosmopolitan swirl of the metros.
EyesWideOpen / Getty Images

IT WAS A CASUAL SORT OF EVENING—bottles of beer had left wet rings on corner tables, someone was hunched over a laptop fiddling with the playlist, the smokers had claimed their spots on the balcony and were lighting their cigarettes with tealights. I wasn’t entirely at ease, though. My hosts had been kind enough to ask me to read a couple of passages from my debut novel, which was to be published in a few weeks’ time. Even though I was among friends in Mysore, I felt a small sense of disquiet. This would be the first time I had read in public from the completed novel.

It was fine—of course it was. I was grateful to the impressive couple who laughed in all the right places. There was even a bit of applause. But once I had finished, I noticed a delicate change in the atmosphere. It felt as though a cool gust had swept in from the balcony, blowing the tea-lights out on its way.

I later found out from one of the hosts that someone at the party had been a little disconcerted by the reading. He had recognised himself in one of the characters I had read about and, after a few half-hearted sips of his drink, had left in a fug of preoccupation. What else might I have revealed in the book? What had I meant to say about him? Why did I have to write at all? This was a person I barely knew, and he certainly was not the inspiration for the character.

Mahesh Rao Mahesh Rao is the author of The Smoke is Rising. His collection of short stories, One Point Two Billion, is due out in October 2015.

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