My first encounter with the writings of Gabriel García Márquez took place in 1980. Poor, pregnant and jobless, I used to visit and spend long hours at Jaico bookshop located opposite Bombay University in South Mumbai. It was managed by film and city buff Rafique Baghdadi. The 1980s were a time when foreign books were few and costly – much desired as gifts and read strictly in libraries and glanced at in bookshops.
The day I laid my hands on One Hundred Years of Solitude, displayed on the low table along with other new arrivals, I was hooked. It was closing time and I remember Rafique coming up to me and asking me to come back the next day to continue browsing the book. I had barely finished two chapters and was totally immersed in Macondo.
I took Rafique’s warm offer seriously and read One Hundred Years of Solitude over the next 15 days at Jaico, huddled in the niche of the window and immersed in the book. The baby’s movements, somersaults and leaps marked time with García Márquez’smulti-generational story of the Buendía family in the town of Macondo. The elements and events of the book, woven into everyday life, began to live in my mind as did memories of the village I grew up in Goa.
I reread the text several times at critical junctures at my life: my second pregnancy, a freak fall and bed-rest, and post-hysterectomy surgery. By this time, I had been able to amass several editions. A strange khazanesque landscape of nettled shrubs fusing Marquezian imagery with memories of my childhood began to grow and expand obsessively in my thoughts.
I needed to write a book.
This unraveling consumed a decade and by 2010, I had written two books: Tales from the Attic (2007) and Let Me Tell You About Quinta (2011). The breaking-the-ice words that my first editor, Mekhala Moorthy, said from her Penguin office were: “We like your manuscript. It reminds me so much of One Hundred Years of Solitude.” I have heard this time and again from my readers.
This relationship continued to grow and I read everything I could lay my hands on Gabo.
In March 2018, we formed the Margao Book Club (MBC). At the first opportunity, I suggested reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Just a few of the MBC members had read the book; several had abandoned it midway, unable to balance the density of the prose with the busy schedules of their work or study lives. So, we decided to revisit it together in July 2019. Something very natural and organic had led to the genesis of MBC, since the urge to have a book club had been people-driven.
I was anxious and stressed at times to make sure that MBC grows and sustains itself against all odds. Several friends felt the suggestion to read One Hundred Years of Solitude was an impulsive decision. As I sat ruminating over this observation and rereading the book in the wee hours of the morning to be able to balance it with my routine responsibilities of housekeeper, teacher, artist, writer and school director, a crazy thought flashed through my mind. Eureka! Why not make sketches of the chapters in the book and post them on on our Instagram and Facebook pages and Whatsapp group?
It was indeed a privilege to be able to revisit the text of Gabo and splay colours over it. It was worth all the late nights and the wakefulness of the early hours as I worked to meet the deadline. It was worth all the dark rings around my tired eyes and my grogginess during the day as I read and sketched.
The enthusiasm for the book began to rise immensely within our Whatsapp group as soon as I began posting the sketches chapter by chapter. Members realised that these sketches highlighted intriguing reference points. Many started deciphering my images and linking them to the text. The attendance for the One Hundred Years of Solitude book discussion grew to an all time high, and so was the participation for the discussion.
I could only whisper a prayer: Muchas Gracias, Gabo.