“La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda y cómo la recuerda para contarla.”—“Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and recalls how to tell.”- Gabriel García Márquez. In 1982, when still a kid, I had a great inspiration to be a great writer. And the Nobel Prize was the logical conclusion in those halcyon years of infantile magic realism! Falkland war just happened that year. The colonial legend Britain was fighting tooth and nail around 13000 kilometres away in the remote, scarcely populated , near the arctic island around Port Stanley, to get hold of one the last British overseas territories, which the Argentinians fondly called, Las Malvinas! Indian media was mostly Newspaper centric then and mostly covered the British and US despaches, exhorting the heroic deeds of the British forces and their feats. But there was one and only newspaper in India, now defunct, ‘The Patriot’, founded by Aruna Asaf Ali and Edtata Narayanan which got despatches right from the Cuban news agency, Prensa Latina, that gave day to day, pro Argentine news coverage of Argentina’s activities in the Guerra del Atlántico Sur. It was a CPI minded paper, and an uncle of mine was its regular reader. In those pre -internet days, like many school boys, I had an Argentine pen pal, who was much interested about India. So, when in December 1982, Gabriel García Márquez got the Nobel Prize in literature, I promptly despatched a letter to the Columbian Embassy in New Delhi, without much knowledge that ‘Gabo’ had left Columbia and was living in Mexico City for many years by then. Marquez had great affiliation with the Communist activists and activities. Far back in 1959, as a keen supporter of the Cuban Revolution, Marquez and his close journalist friend Plinio Mendoza was offered to open the Bogota office of the nascent Cuban press agency Prensa Latina.
In late 1960 Marquez went to heroic, anti-imperialist to Cuba and for sometimes worked in the head office of Prensa Latina, in Havana and then proceeded to New York early in 1961, at a crucial time of enormous US hostility towards the new Cuban regime. The now infamous Cuban Missile Crisis happened later that year, in October 1962. It was a queer consequence that as a journalist Marquez was the man, who incidentally opened the New York Bureau of Prensa Latina. Shortly after, he was banned to enter the USA due to his close Association with Fidel Castro, the legendary Communist Leader of Cuba and there was a ban on his books by the US Government. Only after Bill Clinton became the US President, he lifted the ban and later became a close friend and admirer of Marquez. The Colombian Government in 1982, under Belisario Betancur was fighting a bloody, decisive battle with the communist insurgents and drug cartel, in close association with the US Government and CIA. Marquez’s siding with the leftists and Cuba was well known (He later became a rare mediator in reconciliation talks between the Colombian guerrilla groups and the Colombian Government, so during that time he was a persona non grata for the Colombian Government, almost.) In 1972 Marquez won the prestigious Romulo Gallegos Prize in Caracas, Venezuela, and created a political storm of the kind, by giving all the money to the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS)Party which was having a strong left leaning and suspected guerrilla affiliation! Incidentally, other prominent Latin American authors like Mario Vargas Llosa (the first recipient), Carlos Fuentes,Manuel Mejía Vallejo, had won this transnational prize, but without any controversy. In response to the letter of a school kid, the Colombian Embassy in New Delhi, politely answered that they are grateful for the interest I had shown in Colombian literature, and the Embassy did not have great details. I am advised to contact some Bogota address, a literary academy, perhaps, for more information on Colombian culture and literature. After so many years, I’m unable to recall the exact details of the embassy letter, but there was perhaps no mentioning of Marquez, leave aside the Euphoria!
Macondo está de luto! (Macondo is in mourning)
Marquez returned to his hometown Aracataca, where he was born in 1927, after a long gap of almost three decades, in 2007. The place has now been immortalised by him as a mythical town ’Macondo’. This time the town has imposed five days mourning by the local mayor. The mayor, Tufith Hatum declared, five days of official mourning in Aracataca.
In the dead heat of May in 2007, it was well known that the Nobel Laureate had suffered major health complications, but nobody expected such a huge gathering and that was instant. The news spread fast, and the town square had seen the huge crowd of local people, the inhabitants of Macondo that has been immortalised by the son of a local telegraph operator! National Flag of Colombia and was raised at the town square of Aracataca , candles were lit , there were tears , hugs, glances, memories and long awaited pains! Marquez imposed just one condition to the then mayor of the town, Pedro Sánchez, that there was no police or army men present. This was done. But such was the excitement and bustle that more than 20,000 people lined the streets of Aracataca eager to have a glance, even for a millisecond,of their most famous son. In 2006, the people of Aracataca organized a referendum to change the name of the town to Aracataca to Macondo, but somehow, the referendum failed and officially Aracataca retained its traditional name. This time, when the news of Marquez’s death arrived in the hometown, the people were dumbfounded! “Before Gabo, we did not exist in the map of Colombia. Let alone in the world. It was all due to him”, remarked Leonor Quesedo, a teacher of literature, in the school where Marquez once studied,speaking in a chocked voice from the square crowded under a huge cloud of pain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-ElWrS57Ew&rel=o “We were orphans. We are hurt. Gabo was so important to us, we are proud of him, we are passionate about his work and also that we live in that magical realism that even permeates every person Aracataca. The rich aromas of Guava, the yellow butterflies, all are here…Virtually there is no conversation here in which Gabo was not present in some way”. The visually perturbed Municipal Councillor, Joaquín de la Rosa, said. Beyond magic reality, the actual reality about the town of García Márquez is that, there is still not much potable water available in the town. And there is not even a proper hotel able to cater to tourists. “We had high hopes in the cultural tourism and projecting Aracataca the place for such things. But nothing much ever been done. And the money that we heard was allocated for the project, never arrived”- said a Councillor. About his hometown, Marquez once said: “I feel Latin American from whatever country I belong, but I have never renounced the nostalgia of my homeland: Aracataca, to which I returned one day and discovered that between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work”. –This message is now depicted in a mural outside this town.
Macondo: The Magic Town
The name of the town now been immortalised by Marquez. Macondo is fictional, prominently appeared n García Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad). This is the home town of the Buendía family. Macondo the very name is supposed been drawn from Marquez’s childhood town, Aracataca, located near the north (Caribbean) coast of Colombia, 80 km South of Santa Marta town. Macondo was perhaps the name of a banana plantation near Aracataca, and means “banana” in local language. The town first appeared in Marquez’s short story “Leaf Storm”(La Hojarasca) first published in 1955. But it is the central location for the s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. He has used Macondo as a setting for several other stories. In Evil Hour, published the year before One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez mentions Macondo as the town where Father Ángel was succeeded by the one hundred year old Antonio Isabel del Santísimo. Inspired by the town’s association with magical realism, many Latin Americans now portray many unreasoned or unpredictable situations they face, as belonging to Macondo.New York has a well-known restaurant named ‘Macondo’ on East Houston Street with a Pan-Latin American menu with lots of Spanish-influenced specialties. But most famously a popular Russian Rock Bandgroup Bi-2 had their 2006 album with a highly popular song called “Macondo” The chorus translates: “Rain was falling on Macondo, right in the middle of the century.” Bi-2 incidentally firstgot popularity in 2000, with the release of their first hit album “No One Writes to the Colonel” (“Полковнику никто не пишет”), the title of a novel by Márquez.
India And Marquez
I have no idea whether Marquez had ever visited India! Castro, of course did, so did Che Guevara. Pablo Neruda, who was the Chilean Ambassador in Rangoon (now Yangon), visited India on several occasions. The Mexican Ambassador Octavio Paz in Delhi was a much discussed personality in Indian literary circle. He had written many times on Indian themes. Another controversial figure was the Miguel Serrano the Nazi theologist and writer, who served as the Chilean ambassador to India between 1959 – 1962.Another Latin American writer had also served as a Consul General in Calcutta in the sixties. But Marquez and his magic realism have the most powerful influence in Indian literature like many other countries of the world.
A recently released Malayalam film, Geeyen Krishnakumar’s ‘Kaanchi’ has a tagline that reads — Tale of a Death Foretold — inspired by Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Malayalis and Bengalis are two voracious readers of literature and their literature has been immensely influenced by Marquez. All of his novels and novellas have been translated in both the languages. In Bengali, many of them were translated from the original. Susnigdha Dey is familiar with the Latin American literay circle closely. Another writer who had translated most Latin American literature from Spanish is Manabendra Gangopaddhya. Prof. K V Thampy and V K Unnikrishnan, the two well-known scholars have translated the novels of Marquez into Malayalam, and which now run into several editions. Lijo Jose Pelliserry’s film ‘Amen’ has been described as the most successful experiment with magic realism in Malayalam cinema. He says that though India and Colombia exist in two different hemispheres, the sensibilities are almost the same. Indians also have uncountable legends and supernatural stories and lore’s borne out of fertile imagination, robust beliefs, large families and a culture of strong family and community bonds. And not to forget Salman Rushdie, whose first epoch making novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ and controversial novel ‘Satanic Verses’ were heavily influenced by Marquez’s Magic Realism. Rushdie once told in an interviewer that there was “a whole group of writers” including himself who, “broadly speaking, are thought of as a family”, namely a Magical Realism family. Mo Yan, the writer who won the Nobel Prize from China, for the first time for literature in 2012, has admitted that he “read and reread Marquez’s Chinese translations”. Magical realism is visibly a feature of Mo Yan’s works.
Now what is magic realism?
García Márquez spent most his early childhood with his grandparents while his parents were away in the coastal city of Barranquilla. Both his grandparents were excellent storytellers, and García Márquez soaked his imagination in their tales. From his grandfather he learned about the military men, Colombian history and the terrible history of killings in Colombia. From his grandmother he knew the folk tales, local superstitions, magical beliefs and many ghosts among the living beings! In a Paris Review interview in 1981 just before he won the Nobel Prize, Marquez had said, “The truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that in our part of the world reality resembles the wildest imagination!”
By Deep Basu