After a lot of bullying I managed to get Jean-Paul cleaned up, out of his shabby little room, and across town to my hotel.
I bought him a drink in one of the hotel bars. The bar was mostly deserted and hushed, the far away sound of innocuous jazz, creamy white walls, palms, and wood-framed furniture with plump cushions. When I put the drink down in front of him, Jean-Paul wasted no time.
“I don’t think it’s fair that I’ve been fired.”
“Perhaps, but it has happened.”
“What exactly was their reason?”
“Pretentious?” He took quite a large gulp at his drink.
“Yes, pretentious. You fancy yourself as a bit of an intellectual, but you aren’t and it shows. Worse, it shows in a very boring and put on way.”
He took another large gulp.
“I present your Masters thesis as evidence.” I put it on the coffee table between us. About 120 A4 sheets.
He looked surprised and then discomfited. “How on earth did you get that?”
“I’m fictional remember, I can do anything.”
He regarded me they way people regard all unfathomable interlopers: with suspicion. I began to read from the first page of his thesis:
“In Strategies of State and Political Plays Tennenhouse suggests that the conventional notion of artistic genres is unworkable, that Elizabethan and Jacobean literary forms ‘resemble contemporaneous strategies of political augmentation more that they resemble each other.’ ”
I put the page back with the others.
After a while Jean-Paul did the only decent thing and apologised.
“What on earth made you write like that?” I asked.
He shook his head, “I don’t know. I thought I was being clever.”
“And you’re still guilty of it. Who cares about your imaginary literary travels around the world reading books no one has heard of or will ever read?”
“The Singapore book was ok.”
“Ok? Don’t set the bar too high. Can you tell me why you chose to read Tagore when you came to India?”
“Tell me three famous Indian writers.”
“Rushdie, Roy, Desai.”
“They all write in English.”
“I thought it was interesting that all of the famous Indian writers we know in the West write in English, and I thought that there must be famous Indian writers who don’t.”
I had to admit that this was slightly interesting. “Are there?”
“Yes, of course, but Tagore was the only one I could find who had been translated into English. He won the Nobel prize for Literature. He’s like a Shakespeare in Bengali.”
“Any good in English?”
“Oh yes, he’s wonderful. Wonderful.”
“Well, I’ll have to go and meet him then.”
A flicker of derision passed across Jean-Paul’s face. “He died a long, long time ago I’m afraid.”
“Oh, that’s no problem.”
“Because you’re fictional?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
A waiter came across to see if we wanted some more drinks. As I had an imaginary gold card I ordered us some champagne. After it arrived Jean-Paul turned to me again.
“What will you ask him?”
“I have stock questions.”
“Yes, you know, the kind of thing you find at the back of lifestyle magazines – ten questions with celebrity x – that sort of line. ‘If you were a pop song what kind would you be’, that kind of thing.”
Jean-Paul looked at me quite steadily, and then stood up and left. I watched him walk across the bar and under the high arch of the entrance with mixed feelings and a glass of Veuve.