|Volume 6 | Issue 06 | June 2012 ||
Death of Carlos Fuentes: a buried mirror?
RAZU ALAUDDIN digs into his memories as well as his readings of Carlos Fuentes, the master Mexican novelist and essayist who passed away on May 15, 2012.
Razu Alauddin presents his Bangla translation to Carlos fuentes, Photo: Marisol Rojas Gonzalaz
When I saw him first on April 24, 2008 at the Mandeville Auditorium of University of California in San Diego, US; it did not cross my mind that he was an 80 year old man. Only his white hair, resting on his head like a peace sign, somewhat hinted at his age. In that auditorium he stood for almost an hour and gave his speech without any interruption. Who will say that he was 80? His speech packed with information, humour, analytical foresight and depth of thought cast a spell upon the entire audience. Now that I think back, I remember he, in that speech had made some predictions about the present plague of global economic crisis. The topic for his speech was globalisation and his ideas on the issue. Somewhere in that speech he said that the monstrous idea of globalisation was particularly dangerous for under-developed nations if it was not adopted in favor of the economic expansion of the nation at hand. As an example, he cited the free market and competitive corporations that engulf medium and small industries creating scarcity of work and pay for the greater population. Today's reality has made that prediction a fact. In Mexico many small industries and businesses have closed down making a vacuum of places for work.
It is not impossible for true artists to have incredible foresight, much like the blind prophet, Tyresias who could foresee the future for three generations. Fuentes was just like Tyresias. Therefore, it is normal that the human race with its past and future will be reflected in the trajectory of his enlightened thoughts and visions. His books of essays reveal the extent to which he expanded his own learning and interests. His area of interest was not limited to just literature and art but also was extended to the economy, philosophy, and art and cinema of other nations. He took interest in a wide array of things. The reader will be delighted to know that Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Roy was in his list of the world's most important people. Bangladesh could not escape his curiosity and vision despite its distance from his own country, Mexico.
When George Bush Sr. attacked Iraq (in 1991), Fuentes was writing a column for one of Mexico's daily newspapers, defining and analysing the events that was taking place in the Gulf. Those were later compiled in a book and released under the name 'Contra Bush', meaning 'Against Bush'. I bought myself a copy the moment it came out in 2004. So far I never wrote anything on the book despite my desire to do so. I would love to use this opportunity to tell the reader about what it had to say about Bangladesh. Since the book is on both George Bush Sr. and Jr., it naturally talks about the numerous crimes committed by them and also about their common greed for foreign assets. In the very first column of the book, Fuentes writes, "Halliburton Inc. stretches its operation of greed from Algeria to Angola, Nigeria to Venezuela, North sea to the Middle East and from Burma to Bangladesh. John Foster Dulles who was the US Secretary of State for President Eisenhower's administration, once said that 'the United States has no friends; only objectives'. (Dick) Cheney in a more subtle way stated that "it is unfortunate that God did not place oil fields within the borders of democratic nations." (My translation from original Spanish)
His book titled 'Buried Mirror' was published in 1992. It is a major work on the histories and cultures of Spain and Latin America. Fuentes herein has reflected on the mutual relationship between the ancient histories of Spain and other Latin American countries. However, instead of being a merely reflector on these countries, his interests towards various spaces of human civilisation emerged as a mirror for the desires of the entire mankind. In other words, I find in this book the images of significant figures and the practices of other worlds being reflected on a living and enchanting mirror that is Carlos Fuentes.
He spoke of Dr Muhammad Yunus and the activities of the Grameen Bank. In his book "This I Believe: An A to Z of a Life", under the essay titled 'Civil Society' he wrote, “In various rural regions in Asia, a democracy of credit is being created. Since its inception twenty years ago, the Grameen (rural) Bank of Bangladesh has designated 2.5 billion dollars to 2 million clients at current interest rates. In one year alone the bank dispensed some 500 million dollars worth of credits to the poor, with an average individual loan of around 200 dollars, and a 98 percent rate of return. The poor -- unlike certain banks in Mexico, Russia, the United States, or Indonesia -- pay back their loans punctually. They do not require taxpayer-subsidized economic bailout plans. The majority of micro-credit recipients are women, and 90 percent of the money they receive is used for their children's health and education; in other words, for the development of citizens.” (Translated by Kristina Cordero, page-54.)
Fuentes is not only familiar with politics and economics, but also with the creative work/ aesthetics of Bengali scholars. Under his essay titled 'Cinema' which is from the same book, he comments about films he had watched and enjoyed. It may be known to some that in the beginning he was directly affiliated with the making of cinemas. The talented and beautiful Mexican actress Rita Macedo was his first wife. He was also friend with acclaimed filmmaker Luis Buñuel and also worked with him in collaboration. So his admiration for cinema was culled from a practical knowledge of films. Among Asian filmmakers he found Satyajit Roy's work as the most significant, after Akira Kurosawa and Kensi Misoguti. 'Apu's trilogy' was his most favorite among Roy's creations.
Fuentes may not be familiar with the entirety of Bengali people's scholarly contributions to the world but being a novelist of international stature, his high opinion for our tiny nation left me amazed.
That day at the University of California, after he finished his speech, I had a chance to meet with him in person. I quickly exchanged greetings and presented him with my book 'Mexican Monisha' (Mexican Intellect) and told him a little about what was in it. It was a collection of essays by five Mexican authors -- Alfonso Reyes, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes and Leopoldo Zea. I said, "It just so happens that the book carries more of your essays than of others. A total of your five essays, to be exact." He was looking at his own work translated in Bengali, with much curiosity -- realisation of which filled my heart with the most vibrant gathering of joy and excitement. I said, "You may not know this but your books have a lot of readers in Bangladesh. Did you know that you were translated into Bengali?" He came up with a modest smile and said, "I did not know. But I am happy to know from you that I have readers in Bangladesh." He then observed the book intently and said, "Interesting. It is good to know that you read and enjoy us." I informed him that besides these essays, some of his stories and interviews were also translated into Bengali.
"Are you giving it to me as a present?" he said, while still holding the book and I said, "Most certainly. I know that you will not understand a letter of this, but I want to feel the pleasure of actually presenting it to you." He placed the book on the table before him and extended his hand to me to convey his warm appreciation. There were plenty other autograph hunters behind me and the fact that I was taking up more time than anyone else must have annoyed them.
After this I gave him some books to take his autograph. I had taken six to seven of his books that were in my collection. While he was signing my copy of 'Contra Bush', I told him that I was surprised to find his attention towards Bangladesh despite its poverty and political instability. He looked up and told me, "Your country is rich in natural resources. Your country is not poor; it is your politics that is poor."
There was a long line of autograph hunters trailing behind me. My son also did not miss the opportunity and got himself an autograph as well. Fuentes did not neglect this tiny autograph seeker. I know he could have spoken on for hours answering my questions and curiosities. But it was not possible in that place. And where will he get all that time? But it gave me immense satisfaction to think that I compared to his other visitors, I happened to be the one who extracted the most amount of time from this great author.
This favourite author of mine recently passed away, casting a shadow on my rare and joyful experience of having met and talked to him. But then, as I picked up some of his books to skim through for a while, a different realisation flooded my thoughts. I whispered to myself, Dear Fuentes, your creations deny your death. I too reject it. We bestow on you our sincerest honor and respect.
(Translated by Samin Sababa)
Razu Alauddin is a writer and translator. He translates originally from Spanish. He is in charge of opinion and bdarts sections at bdnews24. Samin Sababa is a student of English Literature at the Department of English, BRAC University.
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