A few years ago on a busy morning, a friend of mine walked over to my desk at work and said “Michael Jackson is no more”. I looked up at him and said “OK, good”. I did not fail to notice the instant disappointment in his face and the hurt in his eyes at the absolute lack of empathy in my response. I did apologize to him later in the day for being so insensitive and blamed it on the back-breaking task that was ruining my day. But only this morning did I truly and sincerely apologize to him when I woke up to the news of Harper Lee being no more.
I must say life is a great teacher that way, because I did not understand then what it felt like to lose someone whom you have never once met in life yet had a mystic connection with. People like Michael Jackson and Harper Lee would not even know we exist. Neither would we be cognizant of their being while we go on about our humdrum lives. However I must acknowledge that they have been gifted to touch lives of multitudes like mine and my friend’s in an incredibly beautiful way. So the news of their demise is as mournful as losing a dear friend who grew up with you.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is indeed an intriguing read. But to me Miss Lee and her life in itself is more intriguing than the book. As the Guardian quotes, the book is “one of the best first novels” ever written and it went on to become a timeless classic. As unbelievable as it is, 55 years after her debut in 1960 as a novelist she came out with her second book “Go Set a Watchman”,in 2015 which is now being claimed as the first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. To be honest, I was more shocked than surprised with the news of her new book.
I wonder why a writer as successful as Miss Lee never really wrote anything new in all these years. Did she get too complacent after her first creation which turned out to be her masterpiece? Was it even her masterpiece? Did Lee who wanted nothing but to be a writer suffer a permanent writer’s block? Did she who wanted to be the “Jane Austen” of her times but write and chose to keep them away from the eyes of the world? Given the extremely private life she lived shunning all the fame and fanfare, one might be compelled to think that she did not publish her writings just to avoid attention to her otherwise quiet life. However what I really want to believe was that she gave every bit of her heart and soul to Atticus and Scout, that she knew she didn’t have enough left to make another as perfect as this. To create anything less perfect would be an injustice to herself, her readers and the characters she immortalized. And that precisely is the reason why I was shocked than surprised with the news of her second book.But then as Lee says “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
I wasn’t going to write about her today, especially not today. She would have wanted to be left alone and I too would have preferred mourning in silence. However I think it would be unfair to her if you knew me and not her. Did I ever tell you I never wrote a second poem after my first one when I was 13 and that until not long ago I was fiercely protective of my scribbling? Call me silly for having compared myself with Harper Lee, but that should explain my bond with her and my misery over the loss. I might take another 55 years to pick “Go set a watchman” to read because I am yet to get over the impressions that Atticus and Scout left behind in me. I might as well die without wanting to know what happened to them after 20 years. But I shall tell my children, if I live long enough, tell their children too about Harper Lee and how strangely I relate to her as a person when it comes to writing. I will tell them about Atticus and Scout and how they are the best father-daughter duo ever created in the fictional world, just the way I and my father are in the real world.