Monday, September 29, 2014

On URA, Gabo and Others Who Died: In Kindle This Month

In this month's Kindle magazine, I write about two beloved writers who passed away this year. Read the story here or see below. I also wrote two reports on the Voices from the Waters International Travelling Film Festival 2014. Read them here and here.

The legacy of those famous personalities who have left us is not just that of sweet remembrance of their contribution to our lives. It is also about “perceived kinship”, humanity and a lot more … Deepa Bhasthi talks about the culture of ‘celebrity worship’ …

It was better that I was at home in the hills when I heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died, aged 87. I immediately ran upstairs, to where I house my library, and stood before grandfather’s antique teakwood cupboard, behind whose glass doors stood in line my Gabo books. All of them Penguin editions, hence mostly with orange spines. It was as if I wanted prrof that Gabo was going to be alive still, on my bookshelves, on the bookshelves of millions of others. Genius doesn’t really die. It cannot.

As if from Macondo itself, as I write this, the flimsy broken wing of a dead dragonfly drops down from the roof and lands on this page. Dreamy, from the world not like ours, transparent silver. The broken wing is like the wing of Macondo.

I would never have met Gabo, even if I had made that planned pilgrimage to go to see him, his village that I was told is remote and at the end of a full day’s walk. Yet, I feel a dull sadness that I never knew before at a celebrity’s death. Gabo had long stopped writing. It isn’t that, it isn’t anything I can name. Perhaps it is because of how he inspired my own work. His presence somewhere in the world seemed enough.

He retreats to Macondo. That’s where we will go to see him now. RIP Gabo.

Journal entry dated 18 April 2014.

More recently, the Kannada writer U R Ananthamurthy passed away, after a prolonged illness, as the newspapers worded it. When I interviewed him for Kindle last year, he was too sick to receive visitors, we stuck to an email exchange. And then he bounced back, travelling to London for an awards ceremony. In the madness that was the elections this time around, he said he’d move out of the country if Modi was elected. He got a lot flack for it, predictably, when he died, the fundamentalists burst crackers in mocking joy in places along the Konkan coast. He would have been amused. Till the very end, he wore his heart and his humanity, his humility on his sleeve. Vocal about what many people said ought not to be his areas of concern, politics included, URA was defiant and most importantly, self-critical of the dualism of thought, issue and action that came to define his personal politics.

In the same fashion as Hemingway’s writing episodes in cafes, URA had the luxury to be able to sit in a cafe in Kathmandu to finish a novel, my professor remembers an anecdote he had heard in college. But not restricting himself to the privileges that went with a well-recognized writer in a pretty ivory tower, he immersed himself in mentoring scores of students, involving in politics and remaining deeply concerned about the directions of society, from the local city level to national.

Daily newspapers had a strange concept of collecting “celebrity quotes” on an important issue, a breaking news. I wonder if they still do that. It fell upon the junior most reporters to call up a “celebrity”, sometimes even tell them what the news was and ask for their reaction. Every newspaper would have a stock of people who would always respond. If it was a social issue, URA was always on the list. As a cub reporter, unused to randomly calling famous people, I remember the first time I called him. I remember how patiently he gave his reaction, waiting for me to take notes, wording his sentences in a way that would look perfect as a quote. His gentleness, rare even among the aam junta, let alone among those like him, is something I shall always remember.

He was close to an aunt and uncle of mine and I would remind him that the few times I met him. So I knew him personally, in a way. Not close enough to be too deeply affected at his passing, but nevertheless, it was sadness at the loss of a firebrand who was never afraid to show that he was just as human and thus just as susceptible to faults and contradictions as everyone else.

Why does it matter so much though? I wonder. Famous people are human beings, they are born, they live, they die, just like the rest of us. Yet, be it with a favourite writer, a singer whose songs took us through a rough patch, a sportsperson whose story motivates every day, a film star even, why is there an outpouring of grief, most notably on social media, the new playground for the sharply opinionated? Most of us would probably never meet those who we call our inspirations, our heroes. If you ask me, we best don’t. There is something about meeting a celeb crush that dulls the sheen off the deities we make them to be.

A writer is not the characters he shapes out carefully with his words. A singer is not the romantic he becomes for that favourite song. An actor is just acting. They put their heart and soul into what they create but they are never that which they create. You know that. Yet, something feels not right when one of them dies. I have wondered if it is the perceived kinship we share with them. What they made, made us think they must have felt what we did. Or perhaps it is the loss of who we think they are. Should it matter if a creativist is gone when their works make them beyond death? Gabo didn’t write for a long time before he died, his last work was criticized as a mild embarrassment, at best. He never wrote another One Hundred Years of Solitude again. URA leaves behind a work, soon to be published. He never wrote a Samskara again though.Perhaps we are a species of celebrity worshippers. The Facebook feed, tweets, the onslaught of different tributes in different media perhaps oblige you to think of making a personal tribute too.

The news has moved on now, no one is writing on URA anymore. Yet, here is my somewhat tribute. Though perhaps that’s the thing, not waiting for them to die, or till their news fizzles away, before you speak of them, URA, or Gabo, or any of those others. Genius doesn’t need a publicist. In a quiet moment of a day when you have a minute to think of those things that most touch you, they, and those of their ilk, across the creative disciplines, will always be remembered.