By Antara Mukherjee:
On the 13th of April, 2014, the world lost one the most beautiful human being on this earth, Eduardo Galeano. He was a poet, a journalist, a historian, an activist and above all, an abominable critic in the crudest sense. No wonder then that he had lived a large part of his life in exile from the dictatorial regime of his home country, Uruguay, and ever since then he is always known to have remained in the limelight given his indefatigable intellectual investments and energies to take on the most powerful, directly head on.
He became famous in India when in a historical event, Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, “presented” a copy of Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America to Barack Obama during a historical visit of the former to the United States. This book talks of the five hundred years of plunder of the Latin American continent by European colonizers and by the imperialist forces of the United States. The Indian press gave it huge coverage and liberal Indian intellectuals were completely overwhelmed with this Latin American writer.
His writings draw from a varied range of historical and contemporary themes from across civilizations, nations and religious or ethnic identities. They dwell on issues of social injustice, exile and un-belonging, political games of powerhouses, ideologies and interest groups, situations of war and feigned peace, violence and hatred, or even of love and tragedy, of football and masculinity. There’s almost nothing about which he hasn’t ever written or no nation or peoples whom he haven’t covered! The most exciting aspect of his writing though is the format; he borrows from the most scandalously popular genres such as the graffiti, TV serials, documentaries, posters, sketching, comic strips and more. This is what make his writing so fantastically reader friendly and really exciting. They are written in bits and pieces so that one need not have to read it from the beginning to the end. It is a really unique experience.
When he wrote about India, he did not indulge in any false adulations about an oriental past, rather he criticised our caste system, our manufactured and chronic poverty and issues of systematized violence against the Dalit and against women; thus he has severe encounters with Manu to raise issues about female foeticides for example, or with Phoolan Devi to empathize with her as a victim of poverty and caste politics. He questions the practice of Sati which was legitimized by Brahmans to expose the politics of such rituals!
There is almost not a single nation or identity that he did not criticize. However, perhaps it was Europe and the United States which were at the most violent receiving end of his intellectual ballistics. His books such as Upside Down, A Primer for the Looking Glass World or The Mirrors or Children of the Days: A Calender of Human Histories are his most famous ones of recent times. He once said in an interview that “Always in all my books I’m trying to reveal or help to reveal the hidden greatness of the small, of the little, of the unknown-and the pettiness of the big.”
As a huge fan of Galeano, it is refreshing to see someone bring out the rawness of everyday actions, things that we take for granted and put them into perspective. His way of writing is full of dry wit, satire and an absolute intolerance for injustice and oppression. His words are charming enough to persuade you to surrender to his world of ideas.
And in the event of his death, the world has lost an intellectual who refused to back down, like many others, from speaking the truth, no matter how ugly. He took it upon himself to represent every facet of the world in his charismatic rants. And that is what this world has lost. A writer who has moved and will keep moving generations of people to think, to recognise the little things, to appreciate the diversity of people, to look down on inequality and oppression, and to do it all with amazing yet unsettling connections of realities. He brings out the fear and the anxiety of our chaotic world.
“It is the time of fear.
Women’s fear of violent men, men’s fear of fearless women.
Fear of thieves and fear of the police.
Fear of doors without locks, of time without watches, of children without television; fear of the night without sleeping pills and day without pills to wake up.
Fear of crowds, fear of solitude, fear of what was and what could be, fear of dying, fear of living.” (Upside Down, 1998)
One read of his works and you’ll find yourself recognising the ugly realities that we have so systematically ignored for centuries. His narration will drift you into a realm where you’ll watch the horror unfold and grow feeling a sense of realisation. When we are ready to face these realities, he will push you to think, to recollect and to remember. And there can be no one as reliable as Galeano for acquiring that knowledge and no one as genuine to help you step into a radical worldview, one that doesn’t convince you to be like him, but to be alongside him with your own interpretations.
Galeano’s identity cannot just be limited to Uruguay or Latin America, he belongs to the world. And that is why the whole world is suffering from an irreparable sense of loss and remorse. May his soul rest in peace.