Hasta Siempre, Marquez!
I have not felt this grief-stricken in a while. Yet, there I was, as if someone had just wrenched my heart out. 'Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at 87', said the newsreader solemnly and I thought it was simply not possible. How could it be? I had just met Marquez yesterday.
Yesterday, when I was sixteen. A long time ago that now suddenly seems to me like yesterday.
I like to think we discovered Marquez together. A bunch of high school students, on the cusp of what they call 'adulthood', woven together by the magic of words. The words of a silver-haired Colombian man, filling our heads and minds with the most beautiful of words, sometimes spoken by the most wretched of characters.
Struck by the fleeting thrill of 'teenage love' and angst at its ensuing injustice, we sought refuge in Marquez. As if it calmed our nerves to think that like Florentino Ariza, we would all be able to redeem our broken hearts, sixty years hence, and wax eloquently on the profundity of time and love. We began and ended our soliloquies with him and that is how I will always remember Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I had become part of an ever growing world of those who thought Marquez wrote for them. Despite his characteristically Latin American settings, I convinced myself that he was doing a jig on our broken down furniture and asking us to move on with our lives. For there was so much to see and hear. We did not move on much from Marquez though. We devoured every bit of him, reading his books again and again; our reading experiences enmeshed with equal excitement and frustration. Then, assuming we were escaping maniacal dictators and melancholic lovers, we quoted him. Threw his words at each other as if they were our own. In retrospect, it all seems a tad silly but then, I did not know of anyone else who could have put it better. Who could have mixed up ordinary words and created extraordinary lines that bared our vulnerable selves?
His writings on love were deeply personal and political at the same time. Steeped in the Caribbean landscape embodying a politics that combined sensuality and strength. Writing of humanity's excesses and its seemingly unending capacity to inflict violence on itself, Marquez struck a chord with millions across the world. This is, perhaps why, even when he wrote only in Spanish, we chose to hear him in the languages that endeared to us most.
In university, when a couple of friends embarked on discussions about what was being 'lost in translation', I was rather distressed. I had never given a thought to the fact that I was reading Marquez in translation. Edith Grossman and Gregory Rabassa were only being kind to readers by opening a pathway for dialogue with Marquez himself. It did not matter if the two were engaging in literary duels elsewhere. To me, the Colonel, Innocent Erendira, Fermina Daza, the Vicario brothers, amongst others, were brimming with imperfections and battling for a sense of purpose in their lives. Yet, I remain indebted, like almost every non-Spanish reader, to these brilliant translators. Thanks to them, Marquez jumped at us from the window of the local bookshop, posters and banners. We packed him up in cheerful colors as birthday gifts. We borrowed and lend his books repeatedly until its spines were bathed in stretches of dirty cello-tape. As a friend remarked, he remained the most important reason to, at least, dream of learning Spanish. To be able to say his name the way they would. With the hissing of the 'c' and stretching of the 'a's.
With the news of his demise, the world shall, once again, revel in Marquez's words and engage with the meandering friendships and conflicts his characters find themselves in. His own friendships with the twentieth century's sharpest political minds, feuds with fellow writers and romantic affairs will grab our attention too. However, the giant will loom large, refusing to leave. For as long as the art and craft of story telling remains, so shall Marquez. Shouting out to us, urging us to speak up in times of trouble. From atop the mountains of Macondo, a yellow rose on his lapel.