Monday, April 27, 2015

No place for héros – novel by Laura Restrepo

The novel 'No place for heroes' (Demasiados heroes) by the Colombian author, Laura Restrepo, resonated more with me since the story is about Argentina, rekindling my nostalgia. Lorenza, a Colombian journalist joins an Argentine resistance group based in Madrid against the dictatorship. She takes an assignment to smuggle passports, microfilms and secret stuff to Buenos Aires. There she falls in love with an Argentine militant Ramon. They start living together but the life is filled with fear and tension under the military regime. Lorenza persuades Ramon to shift to Colombia when they get a baby. She wants Mateo, the son to grow in peace in Colombia. But Ramon gets bored in Bogota and drifts away from Lorenza after some time. He returns  to Argentina and takes his son Mateo also with him after lying to Lorenza that he is just taking him out for a weekend outing in Bogota. Lorenza gets even madder when a narco mafia group threatens her and her family for repayment of a large sum of money Ramon had taken from them with a cheque in which Lorenza's signature was forged. Lorenza goes to Argentina to recover the son and finds him in Bariloche happily enjoying with Ramon horse riding and walking around the scenic Bariloche area. Lorenza manages to take Mateo back and escapes to Bogota. Ramon knows Lorenza's plan but lets her get away. When Mateo grows up, he comes back to Argentina with his mother to look for the father, after the end of the dictatorship. He manages to find and reunite with him in Bariloche.
The novel brings out the dark period of the Dirty War in Argentina when thousands of people 'disappeared', exiled, tortured and killed. The Argentine society had a traumatic experience caught between the cruel and sadistic military and the naïve idealistic militants who fought against the dictatorship.  Thousands of young people from the middle class believed in their noble cause and plunged into the resistance movement with a romantic revolutionary fervor.  Their amateurish acts and provocations were punished with inhuman and terrible suppression by the secret service and the dictatorship.
I have read many Argentine books and novels about the travails of the Argentine society during the dictatorship. Laura  Restrepo has given an outsider's perspective. She did not just imagine Argentina. She had actually lived there for four years as a member of the underground resistance, married an Argentine and had a son from him in Buenos Aires. The novel seems like a fictionalized autobiography.

Restrepo's narration of the resistance is also authentic reflecting her own political activities in Argentina, Colombia and Spain as well as her journalistic experience of covering the Colombian guerillas. She had faced dangers because of her political activites in Colombia itself and was forced into exile for six years in Mexico. She was member of the Trotskyist party of Colombia for some time. 
Restrepo praises the courage of the mothers who marched in Plaza de Mayo demanding the return of their sons and daughters, daring and defying the watching eyes of the murderers. In her words, this was the beginning of the fall of the dictatorship. Restrepo describes the endless agony of those whose dear ones had ' disappeared'. While death of someone closes the emotional door in some sense, the 'disappearance' keeps the door open with eternal hope, waiting and driving oneself to madness. I remember reading the statement of an An Argentine general who said, 'not alive not dead but simply disappeared'. 
Restrepo has depicted the typical Argentine Macho spirit through Ramon's emotional, reckless, moody, mysterious and adventurous character. She gives a vivid account of the good life in Buenos Aires by taking the readers through the lively and elegant cafes, bars and restaurants as well as the discrete but unmissable 'telos' of Buenos Aires.
The best part of the novel is the constant conversations between the mother who narrates the stories of her adventurous life and the adolescent son who questions everything she says in his irreverent way. Lorenza tells him about her revolutionary younger days, her uncertain life in Argentina and her love for Ramon . But he interrupts, challenges and interpretes everything with his sarcastic comments. 
The book is a delicate blend of romance, love and revolutionary spirit of the lovable Latin America.
I have earlier read Restrepo's other books: The dark bride (blog review),  Leopard in the sun (blog review),  and La Isla de Passion blog review and 'The angel of Galileo'.

The real life of Laura Restrepo is also as fascinating as her novels. A glimpse of her life at
-an interview in which she herself narrates her life
-another interview to La Nacion of Argentina when the book was launched in Buenos Aires in 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Latin America and Bengal share two passions and a link

Latin America and Bengal share two passions and a link: football, communism and Tagore.
Bengal shares the passion for football with Latin America. The crowds in Kolkatta went crazy when Maradona visited the city in 2008. The rivalry between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal teams and fans reminds me of the super classic rivalry between Boca and River Plate in Argentina and the one between Palmeiras and Corinthians in Brazil. When I was anointed as the fan of Boca Juniors in La Bombanera stadium in Buenos Aires, they told me that I could change my political party, religion, god and spouse but not the loyalty and fidelity to Boca !
MN Roy was a founder of the Communist Party of Mexico before he came back to found the Communist party of India. He spent over two years in Mexico from 1917 to 1919. He became a communist  during his stay in Mexico. He was very active in the Mexican leftist politics besides writing articles and books. The Mexican government had given him a diplomat passport with the false name of Roberto Vila Garcia to avoid the British and American harassment due to his communist activities. Roy called Mexico as 'the land of his rebirth'. Today, the house where he stayed in Mexico city has been converted into a vibrant bar/night club with the name MN Roy
Majority of the countries in Latin America have leftist governments. But the New Left of the region has become more pragmatic and less dogmatic. It gives ample space for the private sector to flourish so that they also generate wealth for the country, jobs for the people and taxes for the government. 
Tagore spent two months in Buenos Aires where he was looked after by Victoria Ocampo. She introduced him to her social and literary circles in the city and got his articles published in Argentine newspapers. He got rejuvenated and she got spiritual awakening and inspiration. Tagore dedicated his Purabi poems to Victoria. In one of the poems, he says,
Exotic blossom
I whispered again in your ear
What is your language dear
You smiled and shook your head
And the leaves murmured instead

They had extensive correspondence after the Buenos Aires encounter which was also romantic and platonic besides cultural and literary meeting. Their exchanges have been collected and put in a book ' In your blossoming garden' by Ketaki Kushari Dyson.

In his letters Tagore addressed Victoria as ' Dear bhalobhasa'. She in turn started her letters with 'Dear Gurudev' and ended with ' Your Vijaya'.

Tagore to Victoria, " you were the only one who came to know me so closely when I was old and young at the same time"
Victoria to Tagore, " The days have become endless since you went away…I miss you"

Tagore confessed to her about his immense burden of loneliness as a celebrity and talked about the woman's love he deserved. She wrote that Gitanjali fell like a celestial dew on her anguished 24 year old heart".

The personal meeting also turned out to be a continental encounter. Tagore wrote,' For me the spirit of Latin America will ever dwell incarnated in your person'. She wrote, 'you are and will always be India to me'

They met in Paris in 1930 when Victoria organized the first-ever painting exhibition of Tagore's works in a Parisian art gallery. It is believed that it was Victoria who encouraged Tagore to start painting.

In his last years, Tagore used to relax in the reclining chair gifted by Victoria and even wrote a poem about it in April 1941, just before his death in the same year.

Yet again, if I can, will l look for that seat
On the top of which rests, a caress from overseas
I knew not her language
Yet her eyes told me all
Keeping alive forever
A message of pathos

picture above: the chair gifted by Victoria, kept in Udichi House, Shantiniketan

When Tagore died, Victoria sent a telegram which said ' Thinking of him'. 
This is the title of a movie proposed to be made by Pablo Cesar an Argentine director/producer. The script is about the Tagore-Victoria encounter as well as about the contemporary link between India and Argentina. Cesar is looking for an Indian coproducer.