Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

My secret life

Navtej Sarna

Everybody indulges in the luxury of vicarious living. I’ve never been able to resist taking on Borg and McEnroe, or going hunting and fishing with Hemingway.

THE realist says he never does it. The cynic heaps shovelfuls of caustic remarks at the very idea. And yet everybody-well, almost everybody (before you claim that you of course, are an exception)-indulges in the luxury of vicarious living. These unguarded moments came by often and they come by stealthily, and suddenly one is climbing into the TV screen, stepping jauntily through the movie screen or a book. Perfectly natural and, I would say, the only real way of life, squeezing out not only one’s own share but unscrupulously sponging on that given to another or many others.

But so often the idea gives rise to a feeling of inadequacy and guilt, for the simple reason that some spoilsport come around and says in no uncertain terms that it is not done and everybody around hangs his head thinking of the time he chased smugglers with Amitabh Bachchan and then looks up to vehemently deny that he ever did so crass a thing. I mean, the very thought!

Well today, I’m going to put an end to all this hanging-the-head-and-apologising syndrome. I stand up and say that I indulge in vicarious living without fear or favour, and I intend to go on doing it. Let anybody who thinks different stick to his bus queues and ration cards.

One Sunday recently, I spent most of the day in trying to beat john McEnroe. He finally got the championship but not even his most avid fan would say that Bjorn Borg went down without a fight. And as I sat glued to the TV. I was trying to come up from two sets down against young McEnroe. I tried most of the tricks in the bag but he always seemed to come back with more. You should have seen some of those passing shots I managed to get past his outstretched racquet. Sheer beauties. Left him stranded looking rather ordinary. He managed to win the match ultimately but then there’s always another time. They think thatBorg the Iceberg is finally melting.We will see about that. And then I climb out of Borg’s mind, pick up my racquets and switch off the TV set. It's been a good game, you’ll agree.

Please don’t go away with the idea that I’ve suddenly become a hero. I always was one. Most of my childhood was spent alternating between Phantom and Robin Hood. I still remember with a pang of nostalgia those long summer afternoons after school when I rode through the Denkali or Sherwood forest, putting an end to injustice, a sworn enemy of pirates and a do-gooder for the poor. I stopped being Robin Hood when I developed a dress sense and found that he insisted on dressing in green most of the tome. And I ditched Phantom when he got married. The tough man image is not all satisfying. One can’t leave out the gentler emotions. I’ve played the great lovers of history with poise and aplomb. The days I was reading the Romantic poets, I was Lord Byron, a pale and incomparably handsome poet stepping ruthlessly through hordes of heartbroken ladies. And when I learnt horse-riding, I was young Lochinvar, forever riding out of the West and looking out for the fair damsel.

The literary world has always held an unfailing attraction. I have never really been able to resist hunting and fishing with Hemingway, a protagonist of the macho image. Between these trips I’ve gone on drunken binges as the talented Scott Fitzgerald. On rainy days I have sat at my typewriter as a smiling Wodehouse, churning out masterpieces of wit and humour. When I was feeling intellectually low, I have spent days as Bertie Wooster, holidaying at a country retreat, trying hard not to get engaged and managing to sneak off with Jeeves in the two-seater. I tell you, some of those things were close. Well it’s been a rich and varied life and if I ever write an autobiography, I wonder whose life story it will be, And new, er, excuse me, Superman is on TV….