”I want you to see me naked and performing one or two dozen mad acts, which will take me less than half an hour, because if you have seen them with your own eyes, you can safely swear to any others you might wish to add.” Don Quixote is the perfect parchment paper that turns a world of iron into a world of gold. Suman Mukherjee walks down the chaotic path…
When I embarked upon the grand project of reading Don Quixote, little did I know that the journey will be too long to tire me out. It is a 950-page brick-shaped tome with fonts smaller than baby ants and pages yellowed by greasy hands. Also, the book smells awful. I bought this old penguin version long ago from College Street being attracted by the thoughtful ink sketch on the coverpage. The fame of the great Spanish writer Cervantes also allured me a little. I overlooked the dog-eared pages, bought this 1950 translation for 120/- only and went home as a happy man who is fond of book collecting.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t finish the book. I am only half-way through (The book is divided into two parts, each 450 pages). I have no idea when I will finish the rest of it but when I remember the numerous moments I laughed out loud reading the comic passages and rolled over the floor, I feel restless to return to that book.
For the ignoramus, I will briefly spurt out the design of the maze the author has spun. It’s a maze. The story grows like a huge tree and you easily lose count of the roots and branches. There are many digressions and each of them surpasses the other in terms of excellence. The knight’s story begins from the rusty pages of romances and fables, to which he is dedicatedly wedded for the worse. Fictional characters get into his head and a middle aged man of sound education loses his mind suddenly to embark upon the quest of a grand journey. His dry imaginations are manifold overnight, dimmed courage refueled in seconds and feeble sinews tightened hurriedly. A man who never even chased a sheep in his life takes up armour to drive out evil from this world. If an iota of such courage and honest intention was present in the vagabond youths of this country, ‘mobocracy’ could have been used for good. But you can guess, an armour alone does not make a knight. A rusty sword that has seen his great grandfather’s days and a poor barber’s brass basin that resembled a giant frog’s helmet add to the glory. And it goes without saying that such noble quests are incomplete without a faithful companion. Now this gentleman has read in his favourite fairy tales that all great knights of the past had an entrusted squire without which they lose their status in the community. A squire is like the flag of the knight, bearing his signature. Sancho Panza, in that sense, was the perfect signature of this old fool. He is the stupidest, the basest, the vilest, the most obnoxious, the most vicious vermin that dropped from any mother’s womb. I jumped in joy every time this brute was beaten up black and blue by random people on the road. Sancho is the punchbag our humour needs to practice kicks. Neither the bag suffers nor the foot. I think all dimwit facebook intellectuals in all corners of the world should be given a copy of ‘The Great Life of Sancho Panza’ so that they can see the reflection of their own stupidity in the figure of bigmouth Sancho and recognize themselves without fail. Their pent up frustration would then be directed elsewhere rather than being flushed out in a healthy society.
But here’s more, reader. This grey-haired knight is also the hero of a self-fashioned love story where he is enamoured of the exquisite queen Dulcinea el Toboso who unfortunately happens to be a coarse peasant girl of his neighbourhood. I know you giggled a lot reading the fanciful name. So did I. Now tell me, how many times it happened to you that you are madly in love with a person yet s/he is completely unaware of your affection? Never in your life indulged in such one-sided love affairs? Lucky you. Cervantes is not so merciful and rewarding to Don Quixote as God is to you. Instead of kisses and caresses, a poor old man receives slashes and blows. And the more he is trodden under boots and betrayed by his sidekick the more I hear the laughter of the author behind my back. A saturated reader would feel that the author’s cruelty is justified and clap at every misfortune that befalls these two fools. But after a few claps, pity will surface in mind and s/he would close the book, look close to the bloodless wounds of the knight and discover that s/he too longs for such wounds and be part of such a comical all-forgiving world to heal the real ones received in quotidian courses.
That is why I think psychiatry should be banned and this should be the Bible for the ‘oh-I-am-so-depressed’ community. This is the perfect book to keep you good natured, affable and courteous. Who doesn’t love listening to an impeccably educated madman’s tale? At least I do and I am sure, you will too. You would not believe how this book helped me to manage old problems shelved for long. I was running away from an irritating aquaintance of mine, a certain R.P., whose phone calls I was not returning, deliberately seen-zoning his messages and abusing him day and night in my thoughts. Don Quixote de la Mancha, his illogical actions, his terrific vocabulary, his out-of-place and otherworldly imagination drove me so close to insanity that I invited that obnoxious friend of mine at my place, showed royal hospitality, let him chew my brain for precious two hours, fed his ego with all the praises I could invent readily and bade him goodbye with a smile stretching upto ears. He was blown by the way I treated him. My fears were gone. After that, I felt immensely happy observing how Don Quixote helped me to throw some hurdles out my life. We must welcome such Don Quixotes in our room (like I did); their fancies and ravings dilute the briny reality; their irritable presence allows you to overstep limits and norms. In short, they make you laugh, love and live.
Read Don Quixote to discover the madness within you. Read it to feel proud as a reader as only a handful people have ever thumbed through this great masterpiece. And I am quite sure, even most of the academic behemoths of our country never dared to touch it. They detest magic shows and prefer seminars. Don’t follow their examples. Also be not afraid of the archaic tone. I bet that the ornate style will not fatigue you for a moment. Trust in Cervantes’ magic. A panacea for the melancholic generation whose half-lives are spent in trolling and meme-surfing!
Title art by Trinamoy Das
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