Love in the Time of Name-Dropping Márquez

Pop Culture

Love in the Time of Name-Dropping Márquez

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Iwas slaving through the brutality of Bombay’s April sun, trying to hack it as an unpaid intern in an advertising agency, when I heard that Gabriel García Márquez was dead.

It was an inopportune time, though to be honest, news of this magnitude would have been unfortunately received whenever it would have been heard. But that particular moment seemed like a particularly cruel choice by the universe. I was whoring out my words to make someone else money and my ideals were crumbling around the scaffolding of my education. I had been told, in no uncertain terms, to forget how words can dance off the page in inconsistent metres and how to pack your memories in a box and unpack it in syllables. I was learning how words could sell, and then, Gabriel García Márquez was dead.

In the same year that he died, Facebook was riddled with a trend where we were to name our ten favourite books in no particular order. With the earnestness of a young social-media user, I rode that train to pretension hell, with all my co-passengers screaming Kafka, Murakami, Márquez in a demented chant. In the fall of 2014, I read his name more often than I read his books. I thought, well here they are, the readers of the world, someone to talk about death and sex with, someone who inhabited, no matter how briefly, the universe Gabo created for us all. What I found instead were products of hurried Google searches, people who read an entire lifetime worth of work in Cliff Notes, and discussed it to add to their pretension points. A man, who had sold everything he owned to live impoverished for eighteen months, was being name-dropped to get someone into bed and Love in the Time of Cholera was reduced to the role of bejewelling your dating profile with a touch of melancholy.

In that year, I heard the name Gabriel García Márquez raise its serpentine head and hiss at me several times at a party. It was always the same conversation, which I let go with a smile because I did not have the energy. Oh you love Márquez? Amazing. Your favourite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude? Lovely! Oh, okay so you read other short stories, but now you just can’t remember? That’s okay; I have forgotten more books than I’ve read. Magic realism is gorgeous. Yes I agree. Did I know he was a friend of Fidel Castro? Why yes, they were both very cultured men, Castro gave him notes on his work. So what did you think of Aureliano’s lifelong obsession with fish? Silence. An awkward shuffling of feet, a large gulp of alcohol. So what movies do you like?

In the hot afternoons of quiet Allahabad, I read English translations of all of his works like a soldier starved for news in the middle of war.

But, it happened, as it happens with almost every new wave that breaks out on the internet, the anti-wave begins almost immediately. And in the backlash of worshipping Márquez as the barometer for cultural intelligence, he was now relegated to being the barometer of cultural pretentiousness.  

I came upon Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, long before I ever heard the phrase “cultural intelligence” or “cultural pretentiousness”. I accidentally discovered a rotting and discoloured book of short stories, where I saw A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, letters lost to termites, pages falling apart. But through those holes in the pages, I was pulled into a different time, of huts overrun with crabs, of a world sad since Tuesday, of angels lying face down in the mud.

Before reading Márquez, I had no idea that one was allowed to write like that. In the hot afternoons of quiet Allahabad, I read English translations of all of his works like a soldier starved for news in the middle of war. I had taken reality at face value for all my life before that. I was reporting events of the world with disengaged, objective accuracy and four syllabled words, calling that writing. I didn’t know that I could tell you about how my hair is pulled back by the wind in the afternoon while the sunlight tells me a secret. The only reason that I can now is because Gabito showed me that I could.   

The man, who transformed me, was transformed the same way by Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. He, in fact, in a Paris Review interview in his later years, said that before Kafka, he never knew he could write about men transforming to beasts in their sleep either. It is a transitive revelation that was passed on to him, that somehow found its way to me. But it is his stories that helped me conceptualise abstracts into fact.  

Today, I can handle death with butterflies and decay, knowing that the bodies that don’t burn somehow wash ashore in villages, where people invent stories of their existence and give them proper funerals. I believe in the stubborn, ugly kind of love that lies and waits in the shadows for its turn, but relentlessly carries on through life in the memory of its beloved. I no longer treat time as a static entity, moment to moment, carried by numbers. I have felt its elasticity throw me back and forth, catch me midair, and knock me out.

I have lived a different life because I’ve read his books.

So when you talk about Gabriel García Márquez, remember that what you’re talking about, is a man who lived his life in the service of his craft, in order to bring us the most earnest reportage of a life lost to time. His is a universe where love and death are equally naked and vulnerable, to know of and think of in their purest states. It is a mountain of wisdom cascading into your consciousness, the minute you decide to pick up a book.

Give Gabito a chance and it will give you life. Not just a date.