For well over three decades, a monsoon-soaked Kerala vicariously lived through the torrential downpour that is so endemic to the fantastic world of love, desire, tyranny, famine, memory and its collective loss so well-etched by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez in intense hues.
It was sheer coincidence that Malayalam writer O.V. Vijayan was building on his own rain-sodden Khasak, an imaginary locale of boundless myths and incredible lives, when the fictional village of Macondo with its unique sense of time and space and which gets devoured by calamitous rains came about in Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, which was published in Spanish in 1967.
The parallels put the legend-loving Malayalis on a high.
They debated Marquez at length, translated his works into Malayalam and screened films based on them to packed houses in film festivals — the latest being the screening of ‘No One Writes to the Colonel’, on his novella by the same name at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram last year.
Took Kerala by storm
His political views — aligned as they were with Kerala’s own strong Leftist leaning — were analysed threadbare and the opening volume of his incomplete trilogy, ‘Living to Tell the Tale’ written upon with poignancy and compassion, an honour rarely extended even to Malayali authors. Seldom was there another Latin American author save Chilean Pablo Neruda and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa in the last decade, who caught the fancy of Kerala’s literature aficionados.
Part of the ‘Latin American Boom’ in literature piloted by the likes of Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, Marquez did not invent ‘magic realism’ as is popularly believed; he commendably added to the rich repository of the ‘marvellous real’ already practised by writers like the Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias, a Guatemalan author, and Cuban Alejo Carpentier, points out Dr. V. Rajakrishnan, literary and film critic.
“For an average Malayali reader whose tryst with Latin American writing began with Marquez, the appeal was tremendous.”
Magic of narration
Marquez himself had admitted being influenced in his formative years by William Faulkner [who had created the imaginary city of Yoknapatawpha] and Franz Kafka [who reveled in fantasy], but it was Marquez’s unsurpassed magic of narration, his arresting storytelling and characterisation in a steadily unstable political landscape that probably held its sway over Malayali readers, he says.
To writer Sethu, Marquez’s popularity in Malayalam is thanks to the universal world of myths and legends that he conjured up, as similar legends and fantastic myths had been a part of Malayali psyche as well.
His neo-realistic style, which mixed the real and the unreal in an inseparable fashion, made the narratives captivating.
Only the late M.P. Narayana Pillai penned works like ‘Murugan enna Pambatti’ and ‘George Aaramante Kodathi’ in Malayalam in a style that was so Marquez-like well before him.
“If translated into Spanish, they would read like their own tales,” he says.