In Search of Macondo

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There are few places, known to us through literature, that let themselves be re- discovered. One of them is the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the site of some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century- the   novels of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It is easy to fall into the trap of missing the actual place when visiting a place that one has known through literature. This is not true,however, when in Colombia that Gabriel Garcia Marquez made immortal through his works, as a re-fabricator of its facts. Some of his greatest works, particularly his best known work, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ as well as ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and ‘Of Love and other Demons’, derived much from two places that he lived and grew up in- the mofussil, and a rather nondescript town of Aracataca and the colonial city of Cartagena in Caribbean Colombia.

If Latin America found its literary voice in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ it is ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ in which Latin America found its hope and destiny. It was also the book and Macondo, the fictional place inspired by Aracataca, that encapsulated the whole of Latin America. Macondo became a byword for the school of writing that Garcia Marquez came to be associated with- that of magical realism. While his knowledge of Aracataca was deeply personal that of Cartagena was based on his knowledge that he gained while working as a journalist in that city from 1948 to 1955.

Like most readers of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, I was bewitched by the place that he created his little universe in the fictitious land of Macondo. Almost three decades after I discovered ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ on a samosa wrapper made from the previous week`s newspaper  drenched in oil, I had the opportunity to visit the town that has renamed itself Macondo, and where reality seems to aspire to its literary image.

In Search of Macondo

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point”

 – One Hundred Years of Solitude

The two of us travelled to Cartagena and Aracataca in March of 2019 to discover some of the places where Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works are based. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, affectionately called Gabo in his native country Colombia, shot to worldwide fame with the publication of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ in 1967, winning the Nobel Prize for literature fifteen years later. Continue reading “In Search of Macondo”

Fragments of a life

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra (2015)22542595

My Documents by the Chilean writer, Alejandro Zambra, is a collection of short stories that almost reads like a novel. It wasn’t until I read the fourth story that I realized that the book wasn’t a novel, but a set of interrelated short stories. There are a number of reasons why it is so.

All stories are set in and around Santiago, or urban Chile. The characters are usually unsuccessful males — drug and porn addicts, wife beaters, men unsuccessful in love and work. A number of the stories have a reference to Augusto Pinochet’s name, and though there is little else about him, it isn’t difficult to see that Zambra alludes to a correlation between the despot and the young men who grew up during the Pinochet years — their lives and minds permanently impaired. Continue reading “Fragments of a life”

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa: The play of dichotomies

Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel The Discreet Hero (2015) is one of the most readable and among his more optimistic novels in recent years, thoughthediscreehero his own claim that it is his “most optimistic novel” is a bit of an overstretch. The optimism may have more to do with Llosa’s winning the Nobel Prize in 2009, for one cannot ignore that a deep pessimism is instrumental in building the plot of this novel.

In his style familiar to his avowed readers, there are two alternating stories in the novel revolving around three sets of fathers and sons, sucked into a grim vortex of blackmail, threats and intimidation. Two stories of intrigues that are as fast moving as a soap opera and keep the reader glued to the pages, follow.

Common Threads

While the life stories of each of the men are different in many ways, what unites them is the disappointment that their sons turn out to be. The optimism of the hard-working fathers is offset by the pessimism of their descendants. The perceived optimism is limited to that of the two businessmen fathers enriched during Peru’s neoliberal upturn in the 1990s. Continue reading “The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa: The play of dichotomies”

A Decade in Blogging: A literary journey to Latin America-III

south_america2The Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli’s riveting memoir The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War gives a glimpse of the deep involvement of poets, writers and revolution in Latin America. Belli spent nearly two decades as a sandinismo, working for the overthrow of the US backed Somoza regime in Nicaragua. When revolution finally arrived, she contritely observes that “It was good to remember that political power, even when it was considered revolutionary, had been for the most part a man’s job, tailored to its needs”.

Women cadres that had fought arm in arm with men were sidelined once the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, starting with the disbanding of the women’s militia.The book delves rather long on the writer’s numerous affairs and escapades with the half a dozen or so men in her life but, in the second half of the book, meanders towards the victory of the Sandinista ‘revolution’. This successful revolution, the second one in Latin America after Cuba, is what leads her to end the book with a sense of optimism, despite the warts and subsequent failure.

I dare say, after the life I have lived, that there is nothing quixotic or romantic in wanting to change the world… My deaths, my dead, were not in vain. This is a relay race to the end of time. In the United States, in Nicaragua, I am the same Quixota who learned through life’s battles that defeat can be as much of an illusion as victory.

Continue reading “A Decade in Blogging: A literary journey to Latin America-III”

A Decade in Blogging: A Literary journey to Latin America – II

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Map depicting the countries and some of the writers that are discussed in part 1 -3 of this post.

(Continued from Part I of the post)

Among the writers who have looked at the impact political dictatorship in suppressing natural human instincts is Manuel Puig (1932-1990). One of the first post-Boom writers, he’s best known for Kiss of the Spider Woman. Llosa once said about him,

Of all the writers I have known, the one who seemed least interested in literature was Manuel Puig.

The plot of Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages, Manuel’s first novel in English, is seemingly straightforward. Ramirez, an Argentinian trade union-organizer and revolutionary, is tortured after the military coup in 1976. He manages to find his way to a sanatorium in the United States via a human rights organization and is provided an attendant who takes him around in his wheelchair. The novel is little more than a series of conversations, a continuous stream of dialogue between the two, as the attendant, Larry takes Ramirez around New York. Continue reading “A Decade in Blogging: A Literary journey to Latin America – II”

A Decade in Blogging: A Literary Journey to Latin America – I

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Map depicting the countries and some of the writers that are discussed in part 1 -3 of this post.

Latin American Literature is like the Amazon river, massive in its expanse and meandering across many thematic streams. The most well known of these is its association with magical realism and what has come to be called the “dictatorship novels.” But there is more to it. It has explored fantasy, the eternal theme of love as well as that of sexual suppression and, of late, the psychological life of the individual as the collective village communities give way to urban angst.

There is a lot more to Latin American literature than magical realism.

Continue reading “A Decade in Blogging: A Literary Journey to Latin America – I”

Now, who will tell the tale

My obituary on Gabriel Garcia Marquez (March 6, 1927- 17-April-2014), at DNAIndia.

My Nobel is in the pocket of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” (Carlos Fuentes) said, adding, “the prize for Gabriel Garcia Marquez was for my whole generation. We celebrated. We will go on celebrating it.”

With Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s death last week, a day before Good Friday, the world lost the most well-known Spanish writer after Miguel Cervantes. Gabo to his admirers, Marquez was the star of the Boom generation of Latin American literature of the 1960s and 70s. At the age of 40, his best known work, One Hundred Years of Solitude was published. This book catapulted him to world fame, selling 50 million copies worldwide since.

Continue reading “Now, who will tell the tale”

The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos

The Book of Lamentations51ZXl5Fj7ML._SL500_AA300_[1]

Translated by Esther Allen, Marsilio Publishing 1996 pages 400

Exactly twenty years ago, the world became aware of the Zapatista rebellion in the Chiapas region of Mexico. Though the immediate reason for the revolt was the NAFTA treaty that opened the floodgates for US-manufactured goods into Mexico, it was one among a series of previous revolts in the area since the 18th century. Rosario Castellano’s farewell novel before her death at the age of 49 in 1974 is based on these revolts and located in the early 20th century. The title of the novel recalls the Jewish text also called The Book of Lamentations,a collection of poetic laments about the destruction of Jerusalem.

The proclamation of land reforms by the PRI party in early 20th century forms the background to the events depicted in the novel. Spurred on by an honest and gritty land inspector, Fernando Ulloa and the millenarian prophecies of an Indian woman, Catalina Diaz Puilja, the indigenous Tzotzil-speaking Mayan people of the region rise up against the Ladinos, the landowners of Spanish descent. The end is a bloody defeat of the rebels and Fernando’s calamitous death at the hands of the Ladinos- led by Leonardo Cifuentes, the devious representative of the land-rich ranchers. These three characters form the fulcrum of the story, though there are at least a dozen important characters in the novel.

Continue reading “The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos”

An Epic Tale of Comic Realism: Life and Death are wearing me out by Mo Yan

Long novels tend to wear out the reader, and this one was no exception. Yet I ended up reading Mo Yan’s Life and Death are Wearing Me Out. In the process, I came to not only respect Mo Yan’s talented writing, but also gained a view of China through the second half of the long 20th century. On a side note, it is quite ironical that what is a very long read, took Mo Yan just 42 days to write, that too by hand since he doesn’t use a computer.

Mo Yan’s writing is humorous as he recounts the ups and down of Chinese history–starting with the Revolution on 1st January 1950 and ending the novel on 1st January 2000. It is not only the turn of the millennium but also a time when China firmly and decisively, veered towards a capitalist future.

Mo Yan’s writing is a page turner, as he gallops through a very grim part of China’s recent history. The writing is marked by a humorous, even comical touch. The style is reminiscent of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Especially in the long middle, the narrative is quirky, marked by tangential diversions and exaggeration. While Garcia Marquez’s style came to be known as magical realism, I would term Mo Yan’s as “comic realism” (I couldn’t find the term on Google, so I may claim some originality for coining it!), given the humour with which the novel bustles. Continue reading “An Epic Tale of Comic Realism: Life and Death are wearing me out by Mo Yan”

Reading Vasili Grossman in the time of Mo Yan

I have just begun reading Part III of Mo Yan’s “Life and Death are wearing me out”  (a little over one third of the book) and have mixed feelings about it. What works for me is the narrative of post- revolutionary China, particularly about the Cultural Revolution. What also works are the different points of view, a robust sense of humour amidst a tumultus period of China’s post- Revolution history and a literary flourish that make the book a page turner.

What doesn’t seem to be working is the quirkiness of the narrative, tangential diversions and exaggeration- much in the style of Garcia Marquez in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” which I liked the first time I read “One Hundred…” but found it irritating while reading the second time.

Mo Yan’s style also contrasts with another book that I happened to be reading alongside- “Everything Flows” by Vasili Grossman.

The collectivization of the peasantry, among other changes in the post Revolutionary Soviet Union up to Stalin’s death are very similar to those in China in the 1950s and 60s. Yet, the contrast between the two writers could not be more striking- Mo Yan is verbose and humourous while Grossman has used tight prose and is uniformly serious, digressing into long soliloquies on Lenin, Stalin and a grand sweep on Russia’s thousand years of history. It was refreshing to read a simply written, straightforward novella that is no less – if not more, engaging than “Life and Death…”. I finished the 200 page “Everything Flows” in a couple of weeks, much moved by its sparse but surgically precise prose.

I continue to plough through “Life and Death are wearing me out”, and if I am not worn out by the time it is finished, will post a longer review.

Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan

Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, is the nome de plume of Guan Moye- the name “Mo Yan” literally means “Don’t Speak.” Apparently, Guan  Moye was so talkative as a child that his mother repeatedly commanded, “Don’t Speak.” So, when Guan Moye decided to become a writer, he adopted Mo Yan as his nome de plume.

It says much about today’s China when Mo Yan explains why he decided to become a writer. He was once told by a student sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution that writers make a lot of money, so he decided to put his gift of the gab to a profitable use. That is how Mo Yan became one of China’s most loved living writer.

The collection of stories in the book under review, Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh, contains 7 of the writer’s stories written over several decades.

The title story is about Ding Shikou, a worker who has been fired from his job just a week before his retirement. In the new capitalist China where making money by hook or crook is as acceptable as for a worker to be laid off close to retirement, Ding Shikou finds opportunites to make money in an abandoned bus  hidden among the vegetation near a beach resort. Observing that young couples often do not have enough privacy at the beach, he starts to rent out the bus after furnishing it with a bed and providing cold drinks to couples- young and not so young. Soon, he has a roaring business. Towards the end of the story, his conscience comes back to gnaw at him. This is by far the best story in the collection, marked by touches of magical realism.

Continue reading “Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan”

Nikolai Gogol

1st April seems to be an appropriate date to celebrate the 200th birth centenary of one of the great satirists of all times, Nikolai Gogol. Human nature, that of con men included, hasn’t changed much since his days.

Gogol’s prose is characterized by imaginative power and linguistic playfulness. As an exposer of the defects of human character, Gogol could be called the Hieronymus Bosch of Russian literature. (more)

Watch the entire film based on Gogol’s The Inspector General starring Danny Kaye (1949). Here is the first part:

Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture

This year’s Nobel laureate Le Clézio gives an impassioned Nobel Prize lecture, in a sense taking off from where Doris Lessing had left it last year. He quotes a passage from Stig Dagerman that influenced him as a writer and touches on many themes including a call for re- claiming the word “globalization” as well as for reclaiming a place for literature in face of the audio and visual media. Among others, he dedicates his lecture to the Mauritian Hindi writer Abhimanyu Unnuth, Qurratulain Hyder (for Aag Ka Darya) and the Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo.

A few excerpts from the lecture: (link via Literary Saloon)

How is it possible on the one hand, for example, to behave as if nothing on earth were more important than literature, and on the other fail to see that wherever one looks, people are struggling against hunger and will necessarily consider that the most important thing is what they earn at the end of the month? Because this is where he (the writer) is confronted with a new paradox: while all he wanted was to write for those who are hungry, he now discovers that it is only those who have plenty to eat who have the leisure to take notice of his existence.” (from Stig Dagerman’s The Writer and Consciousness)


Continue reading “Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture”

Wrong Heaven by Rabindranath Tagore

Continued from here:

That day, too, the workless man stood on a side.

The girl asked, “What do you want?”

He said, “I want more work from you.”

“What work shall I give you?”

“If you agree, I will make a ribbon for your plait by knitting together colourful threads.”

“What would that do?”

“Nothing at all.”

A ribbon of many different colours was made. Ever since, it takes the girl a long time to tie her hair into a plait. Chores are left undone, time passes by.

4

On the other hand, with time, big gaps started appearing in the working people’s heaven. Tears and songs filled those gaps.

The heavenly elders became deeply concerned. A meeting was called. They said, “Such a thing has never happened in the history of this place.”

The heavenly messenger came and admitted his mistake. He said, “I have brought a wrong man to the wrong heaven.”

The wrong man was brought to the meeting. His coloured headgear and waistband were enough to tell everyone that a grave mistake had been committed.

The chairman said to him, “You will have to return to earth.”

He tucked his bag of colours and brushes to his waist and with a sigh of relief said, “Off I go then.”

The girl came and said, “I will go too.”

The elderly chairman became a little abstracted. This was the first time he had witnessed something that had no meaning at all.

THE END

Image source: http://threadsofatattinggoddess.blogspot.com/

(Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh)

Wrong Heaven by Rabindranath Tagore

The man was totally out of work.

He had no occupation, just many different hobbies.

He would stuff mud inside small wooden cubes and decorate those with little shells. From a distance, those appeared as a haphazard painting with a bunch of birds within them; or a patchy field with cattle grazing on it; or undulating hills, out of which a waterfall or a trodden path peeked out.

There was no end to the chastisement he received from his family members. At times, he vowed to drop all this madness, but the madness never deserted him.

2

There are some boys who are lax with studies the whole year, but still pass the exam for no reason. The same happened with this man.

His entire life was spent without doing anything, yet after his death, he heard he had been approved to ascend to heaven.

But even on the way to heaven, destiny doesn’t forsake a man. The messengers put a wrong sign on him and took him to the working people’s heaven.

This heaven has everything except leisure time.

The men here say, “Where’s the time to breathe?” And women say, “I am going, dear, there’s a lot of work to do.” Everyone says, “Time is valuable.” Nobody says, “Time is priceless.” They all lament by saying, “We can’t take it anymore.” This makes them very happy. The music here plays to the refrain of the grievance “Oh, I am so tired!”

This man doesn’t find any space, he can’t fit in. On the road, as he walks absent-minded, he blocks the path of busy people. Whenever he he tries to rest by spreading his sheet at some spot, he learns seeds have been planted at that very place for cultivating crops. He has to always get up and move.

3

Every day, a busy girl comes to the source of the heaven to fetch water.

She darts through the path like the quick gat of a sitar.

She has tied her hair into a hurried rough knot. Even so, a few restless strands of hair bend down her forehead to get a peek at the black stars of her eyes.
The heavenly unoccupied man was standing on one side, still as Tamal tree standing beside a sprightly waterfall.

Just like a princess feels sorry for a beggar passing by her window, the girl felt sorry for this man.
“Aha, so you don’t have any work to do?”

Letting out a sigh, the workless man said, “There’s no time to work.”

The girl couldn’t understand any of his words. She said, “Do you want to share some of my work?”

The unemployed man said, “I am standing here only to share your work.”

“What work will you take?”

“If you can give me one of those earthen pots you bring to carry water…”

“What will you do with the pot? Will you fetch water?”

“Nah, I will paint on it.”

Irritated, the girl says, “I don’t have time, I am going.”

But how could a working person beat a workless one? Every day, they meet at the waterfront, and every day, the man makes the same request, “Just give me one of your pots, I will paint on it.”

Finally, the girl accepts defeat and hands him a pot.

The man began encircling the pot with layers of different hues and strokes.

When it was done, the girl lifted the pot and looked at it from all sides. With a raised eyebrow she asked, “What’s the meaning of this?”

The workless man said, “It has no meaning.”

The girl returned home with the pot. Hiding from others’ glances, she viewed it by moving it at different angles and shades of light. At night, she would get up from her bed to light the lamp and look at the painting. At her age, this was the first time she had seen something that had no meaning.

The next day, when she came to the waterfront, her brisk feet seemed to have hit a pause. As if while walking, the feet were carelessly thinking of something–something that had no meaning.

…To be continued

(Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh)

Wang Anyi’s Short Story on China’s Cultural Revolution

At the time, young wives in our village didn’t have regular names. Add the word “xiao”–young–in front of their maiden names, that’s how they’d be called: “Xiao Qian,” “Xiao Sun,” “Xiao Ma.” After they had borne children, it would then be all right to call them “so-and-so’s ma,” such as “Xiaomei’s ma,” “Liu Ping’s ma.” Only Wang Hanfang, everybody called her by her own name.

At Words Without Borders read Wang Anyi’s short story Wang Hanfang about life during the cultural revolution. WWB’s April issue has a focus on China.

Literature from the Evil World

The London Book Fair this week celebrates Arabic literature. As Ahdaf Soueif states, there may be a crisis in the Arab world, but there is no crisis in the Arabic literature as such, though I must admit that I have seen very little or read very little of the same. Perhaps this has to do with the relative lack of availability of its literature in translation. The US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has, if that is any consolation, turned some attention to Arabic literature.

My own limited excursions are confined to some early readings of the Lebanese- American poet Kahlil Gibran and Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz‘s Cairo trilogy. Here is a poem from Gibran’s most well known work The Prophet.

Children

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

source

60 years of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus

One of the very dark modern novels, and understandably so, is Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus written in 1947 and first published in English in 1948. Based on the medieval myth about Dr. Faustus and his pact with the devil, Mann trans creates it in the backdrop of Nazi Germany’s “pact with the devil.” A thick, dense novel it also uses music as an allegory. The novel is in the tradition of German writers and their fascination with philosophy. What I did not know till I read Urich Grothus’ review of the novel on its 60th anniversary is that it was based on Adorno’s book Philosophy of the New Music and that Adorno himself reviewed the manuscript of the novel “that makes you believe to hear music that actually has never been composed.” Also insightful are the reviewer’s observations on the place of philosophy and music in contemporary Germany where its fascination with irrational- ism seems to have vanished and interest in philosophy declined.

This is a novel about music. Mann’s main musical advisor in writing the novel was Theodor Adorno, one of the founders of critical theory, who had studied composition with Alban Berg, one of Schönberg’s first followers. Adorno saw atonal, dissonant, and polyphonic music as the only progressive way for the further development of musical material and as the adequate musical expression of the contradictions of advanced capitalist societies. Adorno was less convinced of the constraints that the twelve tone system imposes on the creative process, in that it prescribes literally every tone that may be used at a given place in the composition.

When I read the novel again last summer, I was thinking: What has remained of the Germany that Mann described in so desperate and still so loving terms, and what has changed? Germany is very different today, it would seem to me. Of course, the unparalleled crimes committed by Germans under the Nazi regime, are, and will forever be, central to the German collective memory. Any sign of renascent racism there is taken more seriously, at home and around the world, than in most other countries, and rightly so.

Still, the strain of irrationalism that Mann describes and that was so fraught with disaster has all but vanished in contemporary German culture. It would even seem that the national obsession with philosophy has ceased altogether. In the former “land of poets and thinkers”, philosophy has become the specialty of a small profession. 95 per cent of German university graduates of my, or the younger, generation, have probably never read a philosophical book, and if so, it was mostly Foucault, Habermas or Marx. Most books by Martin Heidegger, Germany’s most influential and most compromised philosopher in the 20th century, are not even available in paperback, for lack of popular demand. The love and high esteem of music, however, seems to have survived. Nearly half of the world’s opera houses, I am told, are in Germany – and mainly play Italian opera. There are good reasons to believe that, finally, democracy in Germany has been the success that Thomas Mann, in Zeitblom’s words, had already hoped for during the Weimar Republic. “It was an attempt, a not utterly and entirely hopeless attempt (the second since the failure of Bismarck and his unification performance) to normalize Germany in the sense of Europeanizing or “democratizing’ it, of making it part of the social life of peoples.”

While on the theme of novels about (Western classical) music; here is the review of a more recent work; Romanian author Dumitru Tsepeneag’s novel Vain Art of the Fugue.

Who was Akbar?

The central question that the Mughal emperor Akbar poses in Salman Rushdie’s recent short story The Shelter of the World is:

How could he become the man he wanted to be? The akbar, the great one? How?

At the start of the story the emperor is initially perceived as a terror in the bastis of Sikri, the city that he founded, only to be informed by his imaginary wife Jodha about the infamy that this brought him. He changes the rules and encourages people to speak up, announcing:

“Make as much racket as you like, people! Noise is life, and an excess of noise is a sign that life is good. There will be time for us all to be quiet when we are safely dead.” The city burst into joyful clamor.

That was the day on which it became clear that a new kind of king was on the throne, and that nothing in the world would remain the same.

The change, however, is not straight forward and soon the emperor is on one of his conquests, beheading an upstart, the Rana of Cooch Naheen. It is the remorse after killing the young Rana, that Akbar, like Ashoka after the Battle of Kalinga, faces the existentialist question on how to become great. It is certainly not by beheading small time threats to his growing empire.

The country was at peace at last, but the King’s spirit was never calm….

He, Akbar, had never referred to himself as “I”, not even in his private dreams.

Was this “we” a manifestation of his greatness as an emperor, as the man who conquered Hindustan, as a descendent of Genghis Khan and Babar, “the barbarian with a poet’s tongue?”

Evidently, jahanpanah, the shelter of the world, feels that it is not so. He feels that he is as lowly as any other human being who needs the love of the imaginary Jodha, who is not so much a person as an idea of Hindustan and tries to discover his greatness in ‘I’, instead of we. Only to discover that the ‘I’ does not exist, it is ‘we’, but this ‘we’ is the plural not of the brutal conquests that he has carried out to carve his empire, but the conquest of Jodha’s heart. It is the we of pluralism.

The story is certainly not without its faults. At places its is marred by an excessive wordplay and sometimes by unnecessary distractions and convolutions- typical Rushdie fare that is not unreadable, but certainly demands patience. A fascinating character in the story is that of Bhakti Ram Jain, Akbar’s stone deaf personal assistant. Also fascinating is the usage of the Akbar- Birbal anecdotes interwoven in the dense story less than 8000 words!

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“For Vincent Van Gogh”: a poem by Namdeo Dhasal

For Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers truly are
The self- expression of your
Experience
But, brother
You’ve forgotten to paint
One of the colours of the sun!

– Namdeo Dhasal from The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in This Regime (1995)

Translated by Dilip Chitre in Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld published last year. A great book with some fine translations and an introduction to Dhasal and his works. The stunning pictures by Henning Stegmuller provide a visual introduction to Dhasal’s world. My only disconcert with the book is that Chitre entirely washes out Dhasal’s later shift to Hindutva politics. This poem can also be read as an expression of that disconcert.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

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