৷৷ Notes from Kolkata – XI ৷৷
I was reading Shashi Tharoor’s tribute to Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto, popularly known as Pablo Neruda, yesterday, and this particular extract gripped my attention.
“Neruda’s poetry illuminates the Spanish language, its lines cited, its sentiments absorbed to a greater extent than, say Eliot’s in English. His passion, his rage, his tenderness, his wit are as familiar and beloved to literate Hispanics as Tagore’s to Bengalis. And unlike most poets, Neruda was a man of action, serving his country as a diplomat and politician, always willing to put his life and limb at the service of his convictions. The combination gave him a following few writers have ever known in their lifetimes.”
Tharoor then shares one of his favourite stories about Neruda, “This is of the time when Neruda was in his early sixties. He was addressing an audience in a Latin American country and was asked by a fan to recite a particular poem. Neruda started doing so, and faltered; the poem had been written many years earlier and his own memory was no longer reliable. As the ageing poet stood on the stage, stumbling for his half-forgotten words, a man rose from the audience and recited the next line. Then another got up to join him, and another, and soon the entire audience was on its feet, reciting the poem, as its author stood silent and humbled, listening to his poetry coming back to him through the voices – and the hearts – of his readers.”
Today is 12th July and it is the birth anniversary of the virtuoso who was raided by the military on his deathbed, but was spirited enough to say to the commander who marched into his bedroom : “There is only one thing of danger for you here – my poetry!”