to be a fussy
He refuses to aim
at the apple
unless it’s peeled.
But how does one
peel a crossbow?
has a slightly strange quirk.
He could rob a bank
instead of travellers
if he chose to
and many would thank
him for that.
Yet banks didn’t exist
he would have to
establish one himself
in order to raid it
but he’s afraid of paperwork.
SINDABAD THE SAILOR
His tailor was a failure
and it drove Sinbad mad
that the colourful robes
he ordered to be made
tended to fade when exposed
to just a little salt spray.
“How can I have adventures
in pastel clothes? I want
to wear bolder shades
when I go looking for gold
and gems!” he muttered.
His tailor only smiled in reply
but when Sinbad’s back
was turned, he returned to his
original shape. He was a
gigantic genial green genie.
Suits of armour
rather do chafe
but they keep you safe
from the bullets
of the Law. If you are poor
and truly believe you need
to rob banks to feed
yourself then taking precautions
is a lot less awful than
being shot into small portions.
Daniel Boone needed more room
so he went westward
until he came to Kentucky
where he was lucky
to survive all the various dangers.
Easily bored and
a man of few words
he rarely spoke to his friends
but often said howdy to strangers.
He had magic powers
but no pockets on his trousers
So he kept his keys
strapped to his knees with a bowstring.
That was a clever thing
to do because if he was attacked
he simply bent a leg
and shot one of those iron objects
with serrated teeth
into the locks of their shocked looks.
Sometimes a key
ended up in an assassin’s mouth
and unfastened his tongue
and it wasn’t much fun
for that very bad man.
On the pampas
he was hampered
by fate when
he filled a hamper
with picnic foods
but forgot to bring a knife
to cut the bread
and cheese. Sitting
down with a deep frown
and trying to tease
meaning from political
debates while chewing
with the local cowboys.
He was a bushwhacker
in his youth and the bushes
plotted to whack him back
eventually. And they did
but not with a literal club
when he hid in thorny scrub
one prickly dangerous day.
His beard is a goatee.
His horse is a bag of bones.
He has no home.
His servant, Sancho Panza,
acts like a panda,
slow and plodding, chewing
often. While he,
chivalrous in a haphazard
never clamours for dinner
but only demands
noble and gallant repartee.
TWM SIÔN CATI
A cunning thief and trickster
he once took a leaf
out of his own book and refused
to give it back. Into a sack
of looted treasure it went
while he went into hiding
in the hills near Rhandirmwyn.
Those cursed heights!
Whether or not he read
the words on that stolen page
or not matters not a jot.
Our concise advice is the worst.
Why is that pirate yawning?
Doesn’t he know
that the golden age
of salty rogues is dawning?
He will do well
come hell or high water
and never give quarter
if he wakes up
in parallel with the zeitgeist,
ropes all spliced
so his sails won’t fail
but billow large and not nice
like a poltergeist
wrapped in the sheets
of a foamy sea. Wait and see!
I don’t want these cakes!
I don’t want this wine!
You might say I’m fussy
but I know my own mind.
I won’t dispute in this room
that Rasputin is doomed
but right now I feel fine.
It’s not time to become
just a footnote of mystery
in the annals of history.
No cakes, no wine for me!
The highwayman is hurting
because of a pin
that was concealed within
the bag of coins
offered to him by the hand
of his victim
through the curtain
of a stagecoach window. His
thumb is bleeding
and the carriage is receding
down the rutted road.
He is annoyed
and will take no joy
from the successful robbery
because he is fussy
about injuries at work
and only respects big ones.
That’s his rule
of ruddy thumb.
It’s time to retire
from revolutionary thrills
and live in the hills
in a cottage or bungalow.
But just in case
you don’t know
fussy Pancho declines
to dwell in any abode
less swell than a villa
in classical mode
well-stocked with wines.
Geronimo is learning
from one of the newly
on the off chance
it will help his cause.
will surely be effective
in future wars.
That’s what he thinks.
But he refuses to jump
out of the plane
unless he is given
a memorable name
to shout as he does so.
Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!
“No. I am not.” Surendra replied. “You are mistaken.”
“You are free! Free to move around and visit any place of your choice. Nobody can stop you. Nobody is stopping you. Inside or outside. Doors are open. Go for a stroll. You will realise this freedom. Why do you keep on saying this, father,” said the eldest son, while others listened and nodded.
“No, I am not free here—elsewhere. This is the truth. I am in chains. I carry them as a heavy burden, everywhere.” “Why do you say that dear brother?” asked Mukesh. “Your son is trying to make you understand that there are no chains around you. But you are adamant…and wrong.”
“Where am I wrong, Mukesh? You know me better.”
“Sorry, bro! But you are wrong.”
“You say you are chained.” Mukesh replied patiently. “There are no chains. Look around — no chains. It is your illusion only.”
“It is a fact, Mukesh. I am in chains. Trust me, please,” said Surendra calmly. “I mean it. Every word. You know I never tell lies.”
A collective sigh!
Surendra was his usual composed self. Tall and dignified, he sat on the edge of the bed, in a meditating pose. A subtle aura made him appear otherworldly, a sage, among the philistines.
They sat for long. The distant forest could be glimpsed from an open window, a mass of soft shadows.
Raghu bent a look at his uncle.
“What nonsense, bro! You are totally free. I assure you. Absolutely free.” Mukesh broke the stalemate. “You are a well-read man. Why are you tormenting yourself and the rest of us? Please stop believing this wrong notion. You have always been logical. Now, come on. Walk with me to the nearest hotel on the highway. Nobody will stop you from moving around. I repeat, it is a free country!”
“Uncle is right. For the last three hours, we have been trying to prove the simple fact that you are not in chains. It is only a delusion! Come out of that, please, father and spare us this stressful drama.” Raghu pleaded with folded hands.
Surendra was unmoved: “That is the sad part!”
“That my chains cannot be seen by my own son!”
“Please! Do not start again this argument now. It is a democracy in which all of us are free. That is it. Final! I do not want to argue on a given. Period.” “You are a fool. You are in chains, too, invisible chains but you don’t realize that, right now, like the silent majority. Living under the greatest illusion. That is it.”
Raghu gave his father a resigned look, “No point in talking further about this. Nobody can convince you. I am done.”
Raghu got up to leave.
“Fool! You will realize this fact soon.” Surendra said quietly. “It took me all these years to understand this simple and fundamental truth! We are all in chains in a free country! That is the biggest irony of human condition globally!”
Raghu did not engage with him. He exited, along with others, into the courtyard.
Ma waited there.
“Wastage of time and energy. Refuses to listen to reason. Stubborn as usual. He has never listened to me anyway. The fact is that he does not want to see reason. If not insane, he is not sane, either!”
Ma nodded. “I knew it from the beginning. Married to a top-class nut. Told you also many times. You never believed. Now face it.”
“He was a graduate, first in the community. Mad guys do not finish a B.Com with a first class,” replied Mukesh agitatedly. “Our mother said you drove him crazy. He was an intelligent man who did a lot to the extended family but you and your constant nagging made him mad.”
Ma retorted, “Defending the elder brother, as usual. You all gang up on me — mother-in-law, five brothers-in-law and two nasty sisters-in-law, all these years.”
The brother glowered. Ma glowered back. Mukesh muttered something and left in a huff.
Raghu and others met again, late night, to discuss ways of avoiding a possible public embarrassment of a rational, law-abiding, articulate man going mad in the autumn of his life, for no apparent reason.
It was a big mystery — his absurd claim of being in chains.
They discussed, debated but were unable to figure out the apparent trigger for such an odd behavior of the patriarch.
“We must act fast. The village should not learn that he has lost his mind,” Raghu said. “It will be great shame!”
They agreed to take him to the mental hospital the next afternoon on some ruse.
The gods willed it otherwise.
The village learnt about Surendra’s madness, very next morning, in a most dramatic manner. The author of this revelation was none other than a composed Surendra announcing it in the morning in the public square.
“You all are chained! Listen to me. Break your chains, you fools!”
Surendra shouted at the top of his voice.
People came out and watched, curious by the sudden transformation of a much-lauded supervisor in a textile factory in Kolkata, who had moved to Delhi, after the textile mills had closed down and driven taxi and finally owned three, in the Capital for two decades—saved money in the process, raised a large family and returned home in the village in Bihar to spend remaining years in the shadow of his ancestors. Surendra had renovated his old property in the village still mired in poverty. He taught children from the low-income families English and Math. A well-respected son of the soil who was not claimed by the city, like many others, and had returned to his roots.
At the moment, he appeared the usual self– calm, composed, dressed in simple cotton shirt and trousers, all white, and a pair of sandals. He wore a white Gandhi cap and spoke in measured tones.
As more crowd gathered near him, with children jostling for space and better view, he climbed a pile of crates, outside a grocer’s shop and addressed the audience in his familiar baritone: “Hear the truth! Be liberated!”
An old man asked lightly, “Okay. Give us the truth.”
Surendra smiled and said, “You ready for the shock?”
“Yes. We are.” The old man said. “Nothing surprises us anymore.”
Others chorused a big yes.
“Listen then, old man. This will surprise you a lot…” here he trailed off, building up suspense. Surendra surveyed the crowd and exhaled.
They waited for the fun.
Surendra looked again at the assembly of friends and neighbours and declared loudly: “Listen! The Truth. You are all shackled. All in chains!”
The old man was taken aback. “What? Are you drunk?”
Surendra laughed. “The drunk do not tell the truth. They spill secrets, after a peg too many.”
“That is also the truth,” countered the old farmer who had once stood for local elections. “The drunken truth. It also reveals things.”
“Truth is much higher than the alcohol-induced revelation.”
A murmur went around. Some youngsters jeered at the pompous man standing atop his perch, like a self-appointed guru.
“Fools! I give you the truth and you laugh at me!”
They laughed more.
“There is more.”
“What is that?” the old farmer demanded. “More truths!”
“I am the republic!” declared Surendra. “I am the democracy.”
This made the crowd laugh uproariously.
“He is out of mind,” said a neighbor. “How can a common citizen be the republic and democracy?”
“He always thought in grand terms,” said a school chum. “Treated himself as superior to rest of us!”
They laughed and some repeated derisively, “Hey, Republic! Hey, Democracy!”
“Tomorrow he will say he is the President of the Great Banana Republic!” said the chum.
“And day after, he will be the God!” observed the old farmer.
Surendra did not flinch. “Fools! You do not understand. You, too, are the republic and the democracy.”
They jeered again. “He is the Government.”
“Yes. I am the government.” Surendra shouted at the top of his voice. “I am a citizen — and everything. The basic unit. The fuel that keeps the system going.”
The crowd began enjoying the show.
“You are the government?” They asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Then solve the problem of poverty, my government.” The farmer mocked.
“Who is the government?” A burly inspector asked in a husky voice. He had joined the crowd few seconds earlier. The crowd made way for the new arrival, haughty and walking with a swagger.
“This old villager says he is the new government,” said the school chum sarcastically.
“And the republic and democracy.” Added the old farmer with glee. “See his arrogance, audacity, a common man claiming to be the government!”
The inspector was amused. “Did you say that, old man?”
Surendra showed no fear. “Yes, I did.”
“What did you say?” the inspector asked. “Say it again.”
“I am a citizen.”
“I am the republic.”
“Because I am saying that — the police officer who is the real government. My word is last.”
“You are a mere pawn in the power game.”
“Let it be but I am the real government of this area.”
Surendra was patient and then said quietly, “Let it be. Anyway, I repeat, I am a citizen, the republic, the democracy and the government.”
The crowd laughed. They were enjoying the show now.
The inspector was amazed by the bold assertion. “How dare you?’
“How dare you call yourself the democracy, the republic and the government?” blazed the inspector.
“And why not? Why cannot I claim that?” persisted Surendra.
“A puny citizen! A low-life — that is what you are — nothing else.”
“Why low-life, inspector? I am the basic unit, like you, of the democracy.”
“So you say you are the government?” the cop jeered.
“Yes. I am. Part of the elected government.”
The crowd clapped for the puny man facing the cop.
The inspector replied, “That is going too far. I have to arrest you…”
“For what crime?”
“For anti-government stand. Being a grave threat.”
Surendra laughed. “Do I look like a threat? An old man standing in the square? How do I constitute a threat to the mighty state?”
The inspector scratched his bald head, pondered and then said, “I say so. I am the authority to decide that.”
“Then you are abusing your office,” replied Surendra.
Surendra’s statement surprised the fat officer. He thought and then said, “Enough! You are proving to be a danger to the security of the country. You are a public enemy number one. I arrest you for inciting people.”
He clapped the handcuffs on Surendra who said nothing.
People mocked him: “The new government goes in handcuffs!”
Surendra smiled and declared, “Fools! If truth leads to arbitrary arrest, you too, are under threat. I am ready to die for my convictions, my truth, which is the universal truth. The real government is always the public!”
Now few youngsters began shouting, “He is right. We are the real power, the voters. He is right!”
A carload of tourist was passing by. They stopped and filmed the scene. There was a local journalist and a lawyer who demanded an explanation from the cop: “How can you arrest a citizen for claiming that he is the legit democracy?”
The crowd was split into two camps: pro- and anti-police.
The seasoned cop understood the gravity of the situation and the volatile mood of the frustrated masses. He was one pitted again a crowd that might question his ways.
The man in khaki dialed a number desperately. Soon two jeeps arrived and took the disruptor to the police station, 10 miles away, followed by a large crowd and the carload of tourists. Within hours, the video began circulating and became viral. Foreign press caught on. Then the national press arrived and parked itself outside the police station.
The inspector refused to budge. “He is a public enemy number one, out to destroy the general peace and to incite people against the state by his bizarre claims of being the State, Democracy and Republic. A real danger to the legitimacy of an elected government. He needs to be kept behind the bars for the sake of peace and order.”
As the “Free Surendra, the Citizen” drive spread within 24 hours, the cops secreted him away to some other place, and, he was never seen again.
Some said he died due to torture. Others said Surendra was put in a maximum security jail in an island. Others claimed he was offered money and land by an opposition party to run on a ticket against the ruling party member.
The opinion was divided: Surendra, the Mad vs. Surendra, the Prophet: The former challenged the status quo and the latter revealed the plain truth to an unbelieving public!
Meanwhile, Surendra’s joint family had gone underground.
As happens in such viral cases, public memory being short, the world soon forgot Surendra and moved on with other viral videos about crazy dancers, weddings and stars spotted in the public.
Videos that excited the popular imagination.
Surendra and his disappearance no longer mattered.
After all, he was nothing — a zero.
Add zeros — and you become millions! He had once declared.
Sadly, he was ignored.
The thing did not end so tragically, however.
…on moonless cold nights, the ghost of Surendra could be seen in many locations, breaking his big chains and occasionally heard muttering — some said — two Russian names: Akaky Akakiyevich Bashmachkin and Gogol. After such sightings, the witnesses too, began mimicking his action and wanted to break out of their chains.
But who knows? These can be urban legends.
Or truth. In these days of doctored versions, it is difficult to decide on such matters…
Sunil Sharma is an Indian academic and writer with 22 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. Currently based in MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region).
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
Sunil Sharma unravels the mystique of the Spanish ingénue, the man who fights windmills and has claimed much much literary attention post Quichotte
While learning Spanish in Mumbai recently, I came to enjoy Don Quixote immensely. And I also came to discover a unique tutor who came from the same enchanting land once traversed by the great philosophical Don on his poor steed Rocinante and in the company of his trusted fellow-adventurer, Sancho Panza. The shared links to Spain and her present and past culture made my wiry tall tutor a valuable guide. His observations vastly added to the pleasure of understanding the more than four-hundred-year-old sacrosanct text. He proved to be a skillful navigator, guiding me through the thick maze of the interesting book, generally considered to be the first modern novel of the West.
Spanish language is called the language of Cervantes — so rich is the effect and contribution of this artist on the overall national language and culture of Spain, and, on Western cultural life, by extension. The bulky rambling novel has inspired a host of great writers like Flaubert and Dostoevsky, among others. Picasso was said to be inspired by the adventures of this loveable simple man seeking beauty and romance in the most prosaic age of commerce and overseas conquest for colonies.
The Don’s creator can be called the precursor of magical Marquez and Isabel Allende and other experimental fictionists of the last century. The way even the mundane in Spain is fantastically transformed in the pages of this novel is an astonishing feat of unmatched artistic skill. It is a charming but lost place you come to see; a strange country that is conjured up for you. It is like catching a fleeting historical moment and preserving that elusive moment forever, for the succeeding generations of mind-travelers who want to revisit a famous literary site and be a participant in the unfolding seductive landscape marked by the surprising visual contraries.
The sheer magnitude, the solidity, the hugeness of the windmills can be experienced afresh by the reader through the eyes of the Don questing for the extraordinary in an ordinary age. The banal becomes the marvelous.
Don Quixote celebrates the creative difference in human perceptions — very much like the artistic genius of a Picasso or Dali who see things differently from the rest. This can disorient and yield a new insight. The windmills are not the ordinary windmills but are perceived to be giants. With the Don, the conventional view is drastically changed, and you get radicalised by a totally alien view. The usual appears unusual.
The artistic inversion and the radical reversal produce a startling breakthrough — the kind experienced in Kafka or Grass. There are other dramatic modifications. Deep transformations occurring in the text and within the reader. The world gets topsy-turvy. Don destabilizes stale perspectives and blasé viewpoints and manufactures refreshing realities, far removed from his current context and location.
The gentle sheep become an army of marauding mercenaries, a shocking opposite: the commonplace taverns and non-descript inns shed their dull features and turn into mysterious dark castles housing the secrets and weaponry of the ideal knights; the scheming magicians, it is claimed, make the precious libraries vanish. It is a continual collision of the real and the unreal, fact and fiction, heroic past and pedestrian present. In short, lands miraculous where things appear to be their reverse: everything appears to be whatit is not.
For example, Dulcinea is a fair princess for the smitten fifty-year-something Don; in reality, she is an ordinary farm girl. Cervantes has upturned the existing conventions of romance by describing ordinary real people of his country in a most favourable light and this bold gesture inaugurates the process of democratisation of literature that deepens further in succeeding centuries. A working farm girl serving as the original for an ideal princess itself is a remarkable advance, a literary breakthrough, a literary coup.
These ideas did not come naturally to me in my readings of Don Quixote but were a result of my constant interaction with my tutor. He was, incidentally, from Madrid and had a strong resemblance to Don. He went by a long name of Juan Rodriguez de Silva but preferred to be called Amando. Once, during a break in the long afternoon lessons, the 45-year-old Mumbai-based freelance writer and part-time Spanish tutor — in the country for a year for some research on the early proselytizing of the Spanish Catholic priests in Goa, Mumbai, Cochin and Chennai, among other coastal cities of the South India — told me that the father of my favourite author, Don Rodrigo de Cervantes, was a very interesting figure, largely ignored by the later scholarship.
He said: “I found him, Cervantes senior, quite fascinating. He was a surgeon who wandered from one place to another in search of work. The family led a difficult and unsettled life due to this reason. In those days, in sixteenth-century Spain, the job of a surgeon was not high-paying and considered lowly. It did not enjoy any social prestige. The poor family suffered many financial problems on account of this vagrant lifestyle.”
I listened attentively to this family history that was like opening a window on the hoary past of a different era and nation. “Spain was feudal. Aristocracy prevailed. Finding acceptability, honour and respect was difficult for the disinherited and dispossessed. The senior Cervantes was a man of ingenuity, very much like Don Quixote of La Mancha. I have this feeling that the immortal Don Quixote was modeled to some extent on Rodrigo. A few parallels can be seen,” said Amando.
“How?” I asked.
“Well, the guy was like to-day’s harmless imposter, not willing to violate the law or break rules but willing to twist facts and invent a bit of illustrious history or lineage to make him look grand. You can call such desperate persons as simple pretenders who mean no harm. Cervantes’ father thought what he was actually not. He was very inventive. The wandering barber-surgeon claimed he was descended from a noble family. An aristocratic past, I would say, for his impoverished family. But, in the long run, this fiction did not help, and he landed up in the debtors’ prison for unpaid arrears, very much like John, the unfortunate overspending dad of Dickens, who served as a model for Mr. Micawber. In fact, both the writers were much haunted by the imprisonment of their failed fathers and the misfortunes that attend such a situation. Poverty and inequalities of an unjust system are sympathetically described by both chroniclers of two great societies, most poignantly by Dickens and satirically, by Cervantes.”
This sounded exciting.
Amando continued, “You can call them forgeries. Innocent ones, of course. Who does not want to have a duke or duchess in their blood? People invent an interesting past for themselves for different reasons.”
I agreed. I know of a young man who had created a Christian past to woo a European woman in a multinational corporation in Mumbai and was successful in this deception. In America, many Indians have adopted Anglican names to blend well in their society and avoid hostility.
“You see, we all are like that. We all fictionalise, invent and re-create things for ourselves, at one point or other, in our unremarkable lives. Don is an avid reader of books that talk of romance and chivalry and wants to re-create that lapsed order of things in an age hostile to such revival and the entire project is doomed from the beginning.” I nodded.
Amando went on: “I know many poor young men who say they are from wealthy families, but the lies get exposed. The truth is to be confronted. Rodrigo lived in a dual world of lies and bitter truths. He was escaping from bitter facts into the comforts of fiction. Don was also like him. The imaginative man wanted to revive an entire age that was gone forever. Naturally, such an attempt was going to be farcical and ultimately tragic, simply because history can never be reversed. You cannot run away from your present and reality catches up—finally.”
He was right. Fiction does not last forever. They do not help, either. One has to return — to a normal sane world or die dubbed insane. This dramatic tension between the past and the present, between romance and grim reality, between an imagined past and an impoverished stark present, continually informs the life and the optimistic but hopeless quest of the man from La Mancha.
“Rodrigo was using a language no longer understood in a cynical age of greed. Like Don Quixote, he was caught up in a cusp of crucial change. A new world order was starting and the older solid one was dying. Folks like Don could see things others could not. Don is a visionary or a mad prophet—take your pick. A genius or a phony. In fact, forgeries, deceptions, self-deceptions, thefts are all common in art world. All art, if you permit, is itself, a great forgery. It may scandalize the establishment, but it is a truth that cannot be denied. The Bard is a known literary thief. Many painters did forgeries and were never caught. Forgery proves one point: No art can claim to be original except the precocious Greeks. Everything else is a mere re-telling or mere re-working of the original. That is why geniuses like Shakespeare or Picasso never bothered about originality but, ironically, could produce some of the most original works that were commentaries on the preceding ones, kind of meta-fiction or meta-work or meta-criticism. Borges did that through his short fiction called ‘Pierre Menard, the Author of the Quixote’ raises the question of continued relevance of an artwork for the coming generations. It tells us how we re-create the classics and fashion them in our own image. A text is never static but an open and dynamic series. Borges himself did successful literary forgeries to prove the point that search for originality of vision is futile exercise and need not be undertaken by the modern artists. It also undermined the seriousness of art.”
Talking of Cervantes, the insightful Spanish tutor said somberly, “Even Miguel Cervantes did forgery of a different sort by inventing an exotic authorship for the fictional Don Quixote and his adventures that defy common sense. He attributed authorship of this long text to one Arab Benegeli. He said it was originally written by the Moor, translated by another and edited by him. But then, it was a common practice for many writers to do like that only. Stevenson did that. Authorship, originality and artistic vision were not exclusive preserves of the narrating voice but were diffused in the wider culture of the day.”
He was quiet for long and then said, “In fact, this desire to recreate and represent the given facts is an act of forgery but since we are aesthetically conditioned or trained to view these as art objects, we miss the obvious and call it as a creation.” Now, this was revelation. “Don Quixote is an exquisite example of this human creative desire to recreate older realities or traditions in newer ways that can be shockingly, startlingly, daringly different from the older ones. They call them these days as revisions. In fact, every new voice is a renewed older voice. If you acknowledge the source, it becomes a tribute. Otherwise, it is plagiarism. Then there are other issues as well.”
I looked at him. A fine but unknown reader and critic, Amando said after a long pause, “The value of popular traditions, the value of books and the fictional truth and the outcome of a desire to implement these literary truths in the altered context of the contemporary reader of that text or tradition are all discussed by the writer. Rodrigo changes his pedigree, Don Quixote wants to re-create an imagined past in the romantic tradition of an era yet to come. Cervantes creates an Arab author for this history of an individual that reflects the seventeenth-century Spain and in the process, mocks that tradition and anticipates the emergence of another world that is no longer feudal. All these acts are forgeries of the prevalent facts. They challenge and change the facts and are changed by the subsequent facts of the succeeding generations.”
Yes, he was right.
He continued: “It is — great art — both local and universal. It is both temporal and eternal. It is both present and future. Now, the question is, can the great art of last century or much earlier, speak to us directly? Borges raises the same query in the Pierre Menard fiction and says a creative engagement with great texts like Don can be historically productive as we try to interpret these texts in the light of our own times. We try to refashion these multi-layered rich texts pregnant with multiple meanings and try to extricate valuable insights into the nature of time, humanity, life and society. Both creation and critical reading is a continual process of re-inventing, recreating, altering historical facts with imagination and then trying to make it give some historically true conclusions that can be called progressive at a later stage of its evolution. In a way, a great artist is able to transcend the limits of his social condition and rise above his historical moment and see the dawn of another moment. The past, present and future are all sedimented in great art that belongs to all the centuries and not to its century of creation. It is the great paradox of art. You commit artistic forgeries and produce genuine serious art out of this act of self-conscious tampering. Old knowledge being made contemporary and relevant by reading the present into the text of the old and making it yield new truths whose echoes can be found distinctly in that of the old text. Postmodern fiction does perform only this task for us. The only difference is they call it parody and avoid the term forgery.” That was brilliant.
“In our life ordinary, we all tend to fictionalise to some extent but have to return to bitter realities of the human existence. Fictionalised worlds are delightful ad hoc realms but fail to provide permanent sanctuaries. The real for a previous era or eras is unreal for us; the unreal for us was the real for our ancestors and out of the dramatic tension of the two, emerges newer dimensions and newer texts in a ceaseless manner. As the wise, not mad, Don says to Sancho, in chapter sixty-six, that each person is a forger of his own destiny and he, of his own but without necessary prudence. This results in one disaster after another. This view marks a radical juncture between the ideologies of the feudal and the emerging world and shows the inevitability of the decay and death of the former and the birth of the latter.”
After another long pause, he said, this somber Spaniard, a look-alike of Miguel Cervantes, “Last consideration on Don. Last three centuries, the imaginary Don has shed his fictional character and become real — like Mephistopheles, Hamlet, Wilhelm Meister or Young Werther, Raskolnikov and Madame Bovary. These characters have become super real and cultural figures of eminence and reached cult status. It is amazing transformation within art. They speak to the curious and the willing. The Don could see backwards and forwards, Janus-like. The historically well-located Cervantes could witness the dialectics of change vividly. He announced the total eclipse of a dominant world order and the arrival of another world order. In painting, the same was achieved by another brilliant Spanish genius. Velazquez achieves the same prophecy in his painting, Las Meninas, whereby he foresees the fading of monarchy and signals the end of the monolithic worldview of feudalism by splintering the single unified view into multiple perspectives. By rupturing the old and inaugurating the novel, serious art becomes prophetic and consecrates the new point of view that may look scandalous to many but gradually becomes accepted as the official version — till a new voice terminates the outdated and heralds the new beginnings for a changed age. Don does all this for us and by the inherent dualism of artistic projection and artistic cognition, renews and revitalizes the narrative traditions and their continuities. By constant re-engagement with the classics, we fulfill deeper needs for epistemologies and gain bold insights into the past, our present and dim future based on this temporal cycle. Great artists explain the world present past and future and tell us that nothing is eternal but subject to historical change. As long as they perform this task, they will never be irrelevant to us or others after us.”
Amando had just unfolded so many dimensions that others could not perceive in Don. But then, that is the art of reading and critically explaining to us through a consecrated cultural text of the yore. Is it not? All of us write our own Don Quixotes in our own way as close collaborators and gain rare insights, epistemes by this joint process. And feel educated or enlightened. ‘Epiphanies’ is what Joyce called these lucid moments.
Reading Don was such a moment for me in the company of my imagined Spanish tutor…
Sunil Sharma is the editor of SETU. He is a senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 21 published books, seven collections of poetry, three of short fiction, one novel, a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection.
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