Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ten years of Gabo's Solitude and a thanks to Gabo and David Davidar

I have been doing only re-reads this whole month and as the year winds down I realize that it's been a decade since I first read 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' of Marquez. It may seem unimportant as a time-span to others, but for me the book marked a paradigm shift in my reading and. So the post is more about how I came to read the book, its impact one me than about the work itself.
2001 was quite a watershed year as far as India was concerned. The first boom of IT was over, the highs of the late nineties were ending, Y2K was done and dusted and the the dot com boom had gone bust. 9/11 was just around the corner which would cause even more of an devastating effect. More than the financial impact, I felt and saw more of an emotional impact in a lot of people. For a lot of Indians, for whom getting a job would have been a problem, but once they got a job it meant that they would probably stay in it for their lifetime and where job hopping was considered a bad thing, the recession/lay offs was a rude shock and blow to their emotional state (To digress a bit, in 2008/09 a much severe recession, I saw a marked difference in how people took layoffs as a part of their professional lives and didn't take it as an endorsement of their capabilities). And there I was, a raw professional just out of college, been working for about an year, and caught in the midst of all that uncertainty about work and my professional life. My reading till then was limited to the usual suspects, Grisham, Forsyth, Irwing Wallace etc. 

David Davidar, the then editor of Penguin India used to write a weekly column in the Hindu Sunday supplement. Being interested in books, I would read them regularly, but somehow I never got the inclination to look up the books referred. Maybe it was a kind of perception I had that those kind of books would be hard and difficult to read. Anyway, in one of his columns he referred to 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' stating that he kept reading the book at least once year, sometimes in full, sometimes specific parts. I myself had been in the habit of reading books like 'Godfather', 'Day of the Jackal' multiple times , but what caught my attention was that I was probably thinking those days that the so called 'difficult' books could not be read more than once, let alone every year like some kind of ritual. So I bought the book and started reading it and I did understand then why David said so. I am not going to say that the book was a kind of panacea to my emotional turmoil of those days, but the book was an outlet to my feelings. Macondo gave me sanctuary, I felt the heat during the siesta of the drowsy afternoons, got drenched by the sudden downpours  which increased the heat, felt sorry for the solitude that was destined to be the fate all members of the Buendia family. In short, my mind was inflamed, it was the closest I had got to rapture while reading a book till then.

But these were emotions while reading the book. The main impact of the book was elsewhere. It was not a moment of epiphany or some such thing. It is something that came to me in hindsight after a few years. To put it in context I have to digress a bit. When I was in kindergarten, my reading solely consisted of comics. I had a irrational mental block about reading books with just printed words. There was a Hardy boys book 'The Voodoo Plot' in my house that I wanted to read, but kept putting off. Then one day I read it and the couple of hours I spent on it opened a whole new world to me. It may seem like overreacting but the book's experience was incredible because I knew then that I didn't need any visual props to enjoy a book.  If 'Voodoo Plot' was my first step into reading books, then Gabo took it to a different level. I think I subconsciously came to the conclusion that one need not worry about whether the book is lengthy, difficult to understand, convoluted/complex etc. Forget all those things. If I was interested in the core subject matter of the book (fiction/non-fiction), it should be given a try, with a bit of patience. Good writing will transcend all the so called complications and open itself to you. Whatever I have read the past decade has been dictated by this mindset and I have only been enriched by it. That has been the greatest impact of 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude'.

It is one those inexplicable things that someone like me from one corner of India had to read a writer from another corner to the world to get a feel of the truly great writing around me, before reading works in my own language and country. It's a testament of the power of good writing that the journey from a fictional Macondo of Gabo to say the Secundrabad of Asokamitran was seamless and didn't feel alien to me. It seemed the most natural thing to do. Thank you Gabo and David for opening my mind to the infinite possibilities available in reading. The only downside to it is that I have realized that even I get a hundred years of solitude I will never be able to read all the books I want to. 


  1. Thank you for this very interesting post relating your personal history to you your reading. I read 100 years about a year ago-quite amazing-I had read a number of his lesser known books as kind of lean in. I would like to read 100 years again, maybe late 2012. Lately I have been reading a lot of R. K. Narayan-I even watched the TV shows based on the short stories I read-I think I might enjoy living in Malgudi-I hope your reading and personal new year is very good.

  2. Thanks mel. Malgudi is a fictional town much like Macondo. Hope you enjoyed the title music of Malgudi days too :).