On Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Eulogy from Islamabad


An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on April 23, 2014.

At the end of Love in the Time of Cholera, the 1985 novel by Colombian Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a riverboat captain, who is transporting his girlfriend and two ageing lovers, is hounded by armed authorities. They want to pull his boat to a nearby marsh and quarantine it to contain new infections of deathly cholera.

The captain is in a rage until he is shocked by a ridiculous idea by one of his three passengers, a man who had just reunited with his beloved after over 53 years: that they navigate up and down the river, circling the waters forever, approaching their inevitable end in isolation.

When the captain realizes the man is serious with a conviction fueled by intrepid love, he is overwhelmed by the discovery that “it is life, not death, that has no limits.”

The end of the novel apparently offers a culmination of ideas about love, death, solitude and an imaginative yet believable reality — all major themes in the vast and inspiring works of Marquez, who died on April 17 in Mexico City at the age of 87.

As news of Marquez’s death spread, millions of admirers across the world offered tributes to the literary giant who popularized the genre of magic realism, most notably through his 1967 novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

There was an outpouring of praise for Marquez in Islamabad too, where writers and editors said he was perhaps the last great storyteller of epic tales. But they said they were not saddened by his demise because they believed he had lived a fulfilling life and had left an indomitable literary legacy for future generations.

Poet and author Harris Khalique said Marquez helped him see the world in a new light.

“I am one of the many around the world who from the day they picked up Marquez have not put him down since,” Khalique said. “Through his all encompassing embrace of life and love, ecstasy and melancholy, we have seen the world differently.”

“Love in the Time of Cholera” was a life-changing book for me when I read the book two decades ago, said Afia Aslam, the editor of the literary magazine Papercuts.

“The idea of old people being capable of romantic love was both unnerving and exhilarating because it afforded such a sense of freedom, such a dramatic break from what I’d been conditioned to consider appropriate,” said Aslam, who is also a co-founder of the Desi Writers’ Lounge.

Some of the Colombian master’s writings were inspired from real-life events in Latin America, including incidents he had heard about from his grandfather. The socioeconomic similarities between South America and South Asia lend a sense of familiarity to Pakistani readers.

“The local reader thinks Macondo (a recurring fictional village in Marquez’s novels) is somewhere here in Pakistan,” said poet and magazine editor Enwar Fitrat.

For Fitrat, the true genius of Marquez was in sentences the writer coined, which he said deserved to become maxims.

There are lessons from his works for new writers, too. Asim Butt, a short story writer, said he often tells his peers that Marquez rewrote 19 drafts for “No One Writes to the Colonel,” a 1961 novella about a retired war veteran struggling with poverty.

“If Marquez, the god of literary skill, had to rewrite his drafts over and over, amateur writers should never fuss over improving their stories,” Butt said.

But Marquez will be most remembered for removing the distinction between reality and fantasy in his novels, making it all believable for readers and future writers alike.

“He refined and developed magical realism so monumentally that none of the generations of writers that followed him have been able to come out from under his influence,” Butt said.

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