Bhattacharjee at the tribute to Marquez. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Calcutta, May 14: In Macondo, it rains for four years, eleven months and two days. In Bengal, the heat wave has continued for almost two months and the election season looks interminable.
In this climate, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee brought along a breath of fresh air — not by talking about Modi and malpractice in the Bengal polls but about another “M”.
Bhattacharjee chose to talk about Gabriel Garcia Marquez who passed away on April 17. Gabo — sometimes called Gabo-da in Calcutta — had immortalised the imaginary Macondo through his fiction.
The former chief minister was speaking at the Press Club, which also thought a break from electoral politics and number-crunching may be welcome.
Bhattacharjee spoke eloquently about Marquez, the journalist-novelist. He started with a disclaimer about not being a literary critic but what he said was evidence enough that he would not have fared too badly in the classroom.
Bhattacharjee has translated two of Marquez’s works of “non-fiction” into Bengali. The first, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, was a report published as a 14-day series in 1955. It raised the question of the Colombian government’s complicity in the narcotics trade. It got Marquez into trouble in his country and he was posted as a foreign correspondent.
The second book that Bhattacharjee translated, Clandestine in Chile — he regretted not knowing Spanish and translating from English — had a more personal connection.
It is the tale of Miguel Littin, a filmmaker from Chile, who had told his story to Marquez, inspiring the book. Littin was later to tell Bhattacharjee his story again personally.
Although the Press Club had made it clear that Bhattacharjee was there to speak as an admirer of Marquez, and not as the veteran Marxist that he is, Littin’s story helped Bhattacharjee to talk about his politics as well.
Littin was banned from entering his country by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. But the indefatigable man, who was living in Madrid, managed to return to his country under the guise of filming the four seasons for a French perfume company. He actually shot the life of the people in terror, ruled by one of history’s most feared dictators. Dictatorship takes different forms in different times.
“This story he had told Marquez, which led to the book. This same story Miguel Littin told me, when he came to the Calcutta film festival,” Bhattacharjee said.
“Once he had come face to face with Pinochet. It was in Chile that the economy was first liberalised. Everything was given over to individual ownership,” Bhattacharjee said.
Littin filmed it all, always scared that he would be caught, and when he was finally in the aeroplane, on his way out, police were on his trail and his name was being announced on the flight. But it was too late.
Among his favourite Marquezes, Bhattacharjee listed three novels. The Autumn of the Patriarch, about the power and terror of the autocrat, Marquez’s best, according to both Bhattacharjee and Marquez himself. It is also the most difficult, Bhattacharjee added.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, with its epic scope, which transforms Macondo from an imaginary place into a historical presence, and speaks of the oppression, alienation and solitude of a people. Later Marquez, in his Nobel speech, would speak of the solitude of a vast world, his world, Latin America.
Love in the Time of Cholera, where love is discovered at age 70, and its goldenness, but death is all around.
Scholar Manabendra Bandyopadhyay spoke before Bhattacharjee and after him, writer Sapnamoy Chakraborty, Sadhan Chattopadhyay and others.
Bhattacharjee also spoke of Marquez and Fidel Castro and their friendship, mentioning that the author was not attracted so much to the Soviet Union.
The magic of the magic realism, he suggested, was in the way a particular reality is looked at. “Amader bastabta amader moton (Our reality is our own),” he said.
So as different parties hope for different magic numbers, here’s hoping for rain for Bengal. It will be different from what it was in Macondo.