It is a pity we don’t sort and discard our beliefs and values periodically like we do most other things in our lives – old clothes, stale friendships, annoying spouses, junk in the spare room, mouldy food in the fridge...But however ill fitting it may be most of us still wear beliefs we have been taught by parents and teachers, lugging throughout our lives our minds stuffed with outdated musty programming like useless software in a computer.
If I were to still believe all that was taught and told to me in childhood and youth then I would still believe that all that was cultured, polite and genteel was always British, all that was great and successful could only be made in America and that Australia was some sort of wild bush country teeming with descendants of criminals who threw boomerangs at each other. I would still believe that elders had to be unquestioningly believed since they were the ultimate authority on whichever subject they chose to gas about and that priests and royalty were known to have special mystical powers handed specially to them directly from God since they were chosen from heaven above to do whatever they do...heck I’d believe pigs could fly if I were to still accept all that was doled out to me. Come to think of it, most of us believe some really, really strange things still.
When I was recommended the book ‘ Mirrors’, I couldn’t find it on bookshelves anywhere in Bangalore. [Ms. Virkar of Strand, yet another pompous Mumbikar living in Bangalore told me that Bangalore readership was not ‘eclectic’ but I’d definitely find the book in Mumbai where the readership was so very eclectic]. Since the book was suggested to me by the same person who recommended The Red Tree and 100 Years of Solitude, I did what most Bangaloreans do, I determinedly ordered it from the utterly super Flipkart service (with their wonderful Cash on Delivery option). If I could I would recommend this as compulsory reading to every student at school. Only the lyricism of Galeano’s prose would probably be marred by unimaginative teachers droning on on hot afternoons desperately trying to finish study portions and the colour of his words would be leeched out if students had to cram and reproduce canned answers to trite questions such as those asked at board exams here.
From the start, the beauty of Galeano’s sentences grabbed me and drew me into world after world within his short precise narratives where I either delighted in the pleasure of a new discovery or gasped in horror at the brutal reality of cruelty. I got to know a very different point of view – that which is not usually articulated.
I got to know stories about countries apart from the two universes shown to me at school - UK and US. Like floating over a world on a Google map and suddenly homing onto my desired destination, I got to know instead Paraguay, Dublin, Nicaragua, Rhodesia...and I learnt what happens to countries who dared show a finger to imperial powers.
We hear a great deal through the media about the successful. We are told to believe that success can be ours through the simple acts of thinking positive and working hard. What we don’t get to hear about is of people who did what it takes and did not succeed. Galeano writes about the people who tried and perhaps succeeded (if you equate success with a result rather than wealth) but who are virtually unheard of now or in their times – Suzanne Valadon, Tesla, Van Gogh...He writes what happened to to some of those after their success – Bebel Garcia, Patrice Lumumba...
It is easier to accept and please than to question and create unrest. It is easier to believe what has been told to you than to think for yourself since thinking for yourself leads you to frightening places like the truth. Truth involves battle, questioning, challenging, holding a mirror at uncouth behaviour, confronting evil, articulating the uncomfortable and transgressing norms, all of which don’t necessarily always lead to trumpets and victory. Eduardo Galeano shows us the truth about ourselves in this book by reflecting to us what we really are.
I leave you here with an extract so that you can appreciate for yourself the chilling truth that Galeano writes about in his powerful and eloquent voice:
HERE LAY INDIA:
Pierre Loti, a writer who sold tales of an exotic Asia to the French public, visited India in 1899.
He travelled by train.
At each station, a chorus of hunger awaited him.
More penetrating than the roar of the locomotive was the pleading of children, or rather the skeletons of children, their lips purple and eyes out of orbit, peppered by flies, beseeching alms. Two or three years previous, a girl or boy cost a rupee, but now no one wanted them even for free.
The train carried more than passengers. In the back several freight cars were filled with rice and millet for export. Guards watched over them, finger on the trigger. No one came near those cars. Only the pigeons that picked at the sacks and flew off.