Belated Happy Birthday, Gabo

During the early, celebratory tenure of Rajiv Gandhi, thirteen writers were invited to spend some time in India for a literary rendezvous.  The event, like its godfather Rajiv Gandhi, is hardly remembered – not even Google finds anything on the event, and you have to trust my memory.

But even then, the event was hardly noticed, though this seven-word-poem captured the attention of a local newspaper, and it remains imprinted on my mind ever since.

United States,

Where liberty is a statue

A person called Gabriel Garcia Marquez quoted these lines penned by Chilean poet Nicanor Parra.

A few years later, thanks to the attentive eyes of a friend, I got to read a novel by Marquez himself. My friend had found the book in a used books shop in Mcleodganj near Dharamsala. I devoured the book with a raving ferocity. His books were rarely known in India at that time, except perhaps in some highbrow intellectual circles.

To say that I was impressed would be an understatement; I had never read anything like that before. I made notes, the only ones that I ever made on a typewriter, and they appear below, untampered. My enthusiasm has not waned since then.

I went on to read all of Garcia Marquez’s published works, and though I haven’t read any work of fiction by him in the last decade (unless one counts his autobiography as one!) , I must admit that I continue to be fascinated by Gabo, as he is known in Colombia, his native country from where he has lived in exile for many years now.

The next Latin American writer that I read happened to read was Mario Vargas Llosa, whose passing mention in an interview that Garcia Marquez had with the Mexican revolutionary Subcommandante Marcos, invoked my interest. It turned out later that there was an infamous altercation between the two. The Mexican journal La Jornada published a picture of Garcia Marquez with a black eye, apparently taken immediately after the altercation.

Recently one heard, with suffused elation, that the two had made up. Marquez’s agreeing to a new edition of his magnum opus One Hundred Years to have an introduction by Llosa, has been cited as a literary thaw in Latin America.

Belated Happy Birthday Wishes, Gabo. (March 6 was his 80th birthday)

A wonderful site on Gabo that has been around for longer than I can remember.

(Image acknowledgement: Journal Peru)


(Notes on One Hundred Years of Solitude, I read it in 1991)

This is a masterpiece of a novel by a foremost Latin American novelist in contemporary literature. The story is woven around a family which moves over two centuries of pain, suffering and ecstasy and shares them with the town of Macando founded by Jose Arcadio Buendia and who is the first head of the family. Despite the extrovert nature of most of the family members, the successive generations in the family continue to suffer a strange and an almost nauseating feeling of being alone and embracing solitude.

Through the family line, there are two discernible strands of personality symbolized by Arcadio and Aurelanio- the former typifying the extrovert self coupled with an adventurous spirit and the latter embodying a rebellious and subtle spirit. The novel evolves through the contradictions and struggle between the two strands of nature through five generations.

The recurrence of the Arcadios and Aurelanios makes one feel that history is moving in a circle and out of which there seems to be no way out. Yet that is not the case. For the novel is not about a family in the far- off jungles of South America. The family and its experiences are only a metaphor.

The tale that Marquez wants to tell is about our own selves. The trials and tribulations of the family are not new and unrelated but part of our existential set of problems. Arcadio and Aurelanio are not two separate beings but very much the dual personalities within ourselves. Solitude is perhaps the pinnacle of the existential predicament. And as Marquez warns the discerning reader, no race of people is fortunate enough to experience its past again. No man is reborn.

If one has to break the cyclical, aimless wandering of the spirit, it has to be done in the now. In this sense, this novel is a call to action, not a mere novel to be read and forgotten. It is an elixir that has to be absorbed inside the body so that it becomes a part of the Self.

The narrative of the novel is not straightforward but moves through a maze of subtle and often innocuous looking images and metaphors so that one finds ghosts and phantoms of the dead and the forgotten moving and interacting with the living and the real. The transmission of  ideas and inventions from the world outside to the remote village of Macando takes place through wandering gypsies so that what reaches them is
a bunch of scattered and seemingly unrelated ideas.

The formation of the world view of the founder Arcadio Buendia and his successors is expressed using a mixture of myth, fantasy and science that evolve through the corruptions of the spoken word, mingled with songs and tales. Flying carpets and disappearing acts are a part of the hazards.

The untiring and fruitless efforts of  alchemists and the dreams of the pioneers of flying transport one to the times of struggle and hope. Of ecstasy and excitement.

One also shares the rigors and defeats of the Auriliano Buendia, who fights thirty-two battles and loses them all. Naturally, he fights on behalf of the revolutionary forces. But ultimately, his craving for solitude overpowers him, and he surrenders–both in the field as well as spiritually. He ends up a lost man with a lost cause. By the time he realizes his error, it is already too late, and his friends are no more to start a fresh war with the Conservative government. But he, too, leaves behind a rich legacy which his nephew tries to carry forward–with equally disastrous results. And then, the town relapses into obscurity again. Auriliano Buendia, the once legendary hero, too, is forgotten, remembered only by the only great grandchild who survives.


Update : Gabo takes a walk with Fidel on his birthday last week.

“This morning I had a visit with Gabo, who showed up here. He’s here.”

Link via John Baker.

Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

25 thoughts on “Belated Happy Birthday, Gabo”

  1. I distinctly remember my first encounter with One Hundred Years.. too around 1999. One of the first serious and challenging works of literature that i had read at that time.

    also i found this paragraph of yours very revealing…

    The tale that Garcia wants to tell is about our own selves. The trails and tribulations of the family are not something new and unrelated, but part of our existential set of problems. Arcadio and Aurelanio are not two separate beings but very much the dual personalities within ourselves. Solitude is perhaps the pinnacle of the existential predicament. And as Garcia warns the discerning reader, no race of people is fortunate enough to experience its past again. No man is reborn,.

  2. I had heard about his writing and his ideas. But the book i read of his is ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores’ and i was thoroughly attracted by his language. His words had attached to it so much of life.

    More books waiting to be read.

  3. Indscribe/Apurva/Alex: Thanks for your comments. Garcia Marquez, in the words of Carlos Fuentes, received the Nobel on behalf of all the Latin American writers- and as I have discovered over the last few years, there is a virtual ‘kahkashan ‘ (galaxy) of writers from that part of the world.

  4. Thank you for remembering a great soul on his Bday. I treasured every page of this book. Each paragraph is a story itself…. I somehow could not get into Mario Vargas Llosa. Both have different style…

  5. garcia marquez celebrates defeat and lost causes and that is what endears him to me. my other favourite author is hemingway who also is a celebrator of defeat and lost causes. but where marquez scores over hemingway is in his capacity for drawing a large canvas. eventhough hemingway’s terse simplicity is a value in itself there is definitely a different kind of enjoyment in the complexities that marquez weaves

  6. 100 years was seminal for me. Since I read it it has remained with me, never far away. There are very few books that could lay claim to my developing consciousness in quite the same way.

  7. Great that you have remebered him on his B’day.

    But… “His books were rarely known in India at that time, except perhaps in some high brow intellectual circles” – This is not correct, this book was not among the high brow intellectuals, it was widely read and talked about and i have seen people who used to connect every other happenings to some instance or the other in the Novel. I am talking about kerala. They for sure were not high brow intellectuals.. some were film makers, some were government officials, some were students and some were.. just ordinary souls who managed to read english!

    When gabo was bed ridden for a while (Couple of years back)- A community prayer was conducted in a small city in kerala – a small gift was sent to him through a man who was touring Latin America. May be he is still talked about only among high brow intellectualls, But he was revered and re-read a 100 times by some souls – who were not “high brow intellectuals”

    Anyway this rhetoric was not to undermine the importance of Gabo!


  8. clash: I am not sure if we are referring to the same period- I had the late 1980s in mind. Though I am quite confident about my statement, it is still based on my experience and memory, and therefore limited by both.

  9. Thanks for this post. Marquez is my favourite author and I have learnt many a secrets about life and one’s uncertain existence from his writings..

  10. Raza: I fully share your view.
    Damini: Hope Gabo leads you into the vast labyrinth of Latin American literature that is perhaps the most lively one in the world.

  11. Hi people! I’m from Azerbaijan. I fell in love with this writer (in the literary meaning of the word) when I read his beautiful phrases. Then at the University we had a subject “World Literature” – we were learning and analyzing the books of famous world writers. There I learned many things about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now he is is one of my most favourite writers. By the way who can help me finding the full version of his any novel or story? Please write here if you know. Here is my e-mail address: I’ll be very grateful…. In Azerbaijan we almost have no book by Marquez translated to Azeri language. I would like to translate his novel into Azeri- I’ve graduated from the University of Languages/English Language- and right now I’m taking my Master’s Degree on Literature.
    Also where can I find the English version of his phrases? they were like” Smile even when you are sad, because someone may fall in love with your smile” or “Never cry that it ended smile-because it happened” etc.

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