I first saw him on across the room in the center of a bookshelf: A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. The sheer girth of the spine sent tingles down my own- it took up the space of three books (I have abandonment issues and really like long books, so my "friends" will stay with me longer). Vicky did not let me down. 1400 glorious pages. Family upon family, character upon character who I grew to love and hate with delicious satisfaction.
I first met him years later. The CBC Radio Book Club was hosting a talk with Vicky and you had to write a 100 word piece about why you should be selected. Best writing prompt ever. I arrived an hour early, sat in the second row (you have to play hard to get). It was the most satisfying hour of my life. Better than my first bite of masala dosa dipped in coconut chutney, better than watching the sunset bobbing on a surfboard in Trinidad, better even than the most satisfying series finale ever, Breaking Bad. Every word he uttered was a gift just for me. Every word he uttered made me laugh or cry or grunt with satisfaction.
I searched the crowd for him beforehand and it was a while before I realized the rather unkempt man leaning against the stairs leading up to the stage was Vikram Seth. He could have been a student volunteer, so casual and unpretentious was he. Messy hair, loose, comfortable, slightly wrinkled clothes. And what melted my heart was how casual he was about the whole affair. He admitted right off the bat he was tired from the book tour and wouldn't likely be coherent (not true) and it made me feel so much better that you can be human and still brilliant.
During the Q and A, I found my feet moving to the mic of their own accord.
"Feet," I said, "Sit down this instant. We are introverts, we don't talk when there are more than two people present, let alone in a group of a hundred people at an event being broadcast across Canada." But my feet didn't listen. They placed me before the mic.
I asked Vicky to sing "Awara Hoon," a Bollywood song he'd mentioned in his memoir, From Heaven's Lake. He didn't want to. The crowd made him. His voice was liquid gold. Literally- a strand of melted gold emanated from his body and coated my soul.
Afterwards, as he signed my book, I apologized for making him sing.
"Oh, you're the one," he laughed, and drew a musical note by my name. Bliss.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I was given a mic. I reminded him of the last time I saw him, ten years before, and the song he sang.
"I'm sure I didn't comply," he said.
"Oh, but you did." Who was this cheeky brat, I wondered, even as I continued, "You proved that your singing is as amazing as your writing."
The audience went wild, began chanting for him to sing.
"Well, if it was in Vancouver, I'm sure I had some liquid courage," he said, pointing to his glass, "In Pakistan, all I get is tea."
I responded, "Don't worry, I've arranged for that, check your tea cup." I didn't recognize myself. I was bold, brazen, like it was just the two of us, not 1500 of us. I had never behaved this way in my life. Love does that to you.
He did end up singing a verse or so but without the gusto he'd had in Vancouver. I worried- had I offended him, made him do something he didn't want to do?
At the book signing, I apologized once again for making him sing.
And then the most wonderful two minutes of my life ensued:
He laughed off my apology, asking my name.
"Firozi, like your earrings."
Yes, Vicky, you worldly genius, firoze like the colour, turquoise. You see me, you know me. Let's get married.
I noticed he was writing my name in Urdu. We laughed together because neither of us could figure out how to spell the last syllable. When he spoke to me in Urdu, it was jarring because I'd discovered him in Canada, met him there, loved him there and for a minute, I'd forgotten we were in Pakistan at all. It was jarring and it was amazing. The two spheres of my life connecting through the medium closest to my heart.
I don't want much from our relationship. I'm a realist- I know I'm married and he has a partner. It's not about that. All I want is to live in his left breast pocket and follow him around the world. That's all.