May 10, 2015

April 13: We Know How to See You – A Writer for the Poor Celebrating Eduardo Galeano

R Arun Kumar

“FOUR and half centuries before, (on this day) in that very place (the atrium of the convent of Mani in the Yucatan) another Franciscan brother Diego de Landa, had burned the Maya's books and with them eight centuries of collective memory”. This memory of the Mayan civilisation would have been lost, but for Eduardo Galeano's entry for April 13, in his Children of Days. In our books, a post script should be added for this day – the day Galeano left, leaving us to celebrate his memories.

He wrote as if he were saying nothing. And he said everything”. This can well be the epithet for Eduardo Galeano, 'a literary giant of the Latin American Left', who succumbed to lung cancer on April 13, 2015. A maestro in brevity, he once edited his six-page draft, umpteen times, to a single sentence, still managing to convey what he wanted. He left behind a mountain of books, using only a 'mole hill' of words. He considered even graffiti as literature.

Galeano was a master weaver, interweaving the past with the present to project the future. Though not a trained historian, he gave voice to history, that still echoes. 'No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is'.

Galeano was a magician of words. His pen was his wand. For him, 'words are a weapon', and literature, is one 'that refuses to clear up the ashes and tries, on the contrary, to light the fire'. He was a dreamer, an eternal optimist, who enjoyed not only the dreams, but also the process. 'Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I'll never reach it. So what's the point of utopia? The point is this: to keep walking'.

Galeano did 'not vote for market', which 'decides for us without us'. He despised trade, whose god was Hermes, appointed by his father Zeus, for his qualification – 'the best liar'. He never aspired to become a 'best-seller'. One who was awake to reality, he wrote to 'have the joy of helping others see'. Born in Uruguay, exiled to Argentina and later to Spain, he lived among struggles. He was a presence among the piquteers of Argentina, the natives of Bolivia, the peasants of Paraguay, in the Amazon and even among the indignados of Spain. Unlike some writers who feel that 'they are elected by god', Galeano was sure that he was 'elected by the devil', to destroy the existing, for a better creation. He believed that 'in the history of humankind every act of destruction meets its response, sooner or later, in an act of creation'. He knew that the new world of his dreams is possible only through struggles, because, 'if the future came on a platter, it would not be of this world'.

Galeano was denounced as a 'corrupter of youth'. His wit, sarcasm and the challenges posed to hegemony, endeared him to youth. When the impatient youth questioned him, how long they continue their struggle, he replied 'It's like making love. It's infinite while it's alive. It doesn't matter if it lasts for one minute. Because in the moment it is happening, one minute can feel like more than one year'. He was not interested in 'saving time' (by remaining idle), he wants to 'enjoy it' (through struggles).

For a boy with no formal education, the world around him was his teacher. He grew hearing the stories of the common people around him. He treasured his memories and shared them. Blind, for him, is not losing sight, but losing one's memory. His greatest fear was that 'we are all suffering from amnesia'. Galeano is clear about the reasons. 'It's not a person. It's a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten'. In this, his task was, to 'recover our real memory, the memory of humankind, what I call the human rainbow, which is much more colorful and beautiful than the other one, the other rainbow. But the human rainbow had been mutilated by machismo, racism, militarism and a lot of other isms, who have been terribly killing our greatness, our possible greatness, our possible beauty'.

Galeano despised perfection. 'Perfection shall remain the boring privilege of the gods, while our bungling, messy world every night shall be lived as if it were the last and every day as if it were the first'. He was a great writer obsessed with remembering.

Galeano was a man of peace. He identified the world as 'organised by the war economy and the war culture'. He identified himself as a Palestinian, an Iraqi, a Syrian, a Libyan, a you and me, all ravaged by the effects of war. He equates Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama with Spanish jurist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who lived four and a half centuries ago. Both of them defended war as 'not only necessary but morally justified'. Both of their interests were to ensure profits through the control of natural resources – oil, for the former, gold and silver for the later.

Galeano was a man of culture. For him, 'being cultural' was 'not in a narrow sense, dealing only with books and theater and film...but looking for the unknown voices, from the country, from the walls. All the voices not sanctified by those in power'. Galeano believed that 'no one can stop the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all'.

Galeano used his voice for the nobodies – 'owners of nothing...who don't create art, but handicrafts/Who don't have culture, but folklore/Who are not human beings, but human resources/Who do not have faces, but arms/Who do not have names, but numbers/Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper/The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them'.

'The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret. Every year, without making a sound, three Hiroshima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth'. These are his nobodies.

As he writes, in today's world, 'words and deeds run into each other in the street, (but) they don’t say hello, because they don’t recognize each other'. Galeano exposed such hypocrisy. When Pope Benedict visited Auschwitz where Hitler ran his notorious concentration camp, the Pope it seems had questioned where was God and why he had remained silent. Galeano points: 'No one told him that God had never changed his address. No one pointed out that it was the Church that remained silent, the Church that spoke in God's name'.

Galeano, not only made words greet deeds, but made them tango. Living in this upside down world, he egged us on to 'turn it over to get it to stand up straight'.  He called us to 'turn off the TV and turn on the street'. He inspired us to dream. 'If they won't let us dream, we won't let them sleep', was his message.

Abracadabra Galeano. He told us, in ancient Hebrew abracadabra meant, 'give your fire until the last of your days'. He lived true.

'Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking, and if you approach you shine in the fire'. Galeano is that fire, which makes us shine.

'History never really says goodbye, history says, see you later'. Galeano, let us meet once again in our struggle for a better world.

Eduardo Hughes Galeano, born 3 September 1940; died 13 April 2015