SLICE OF LIFE
By V. Gangadhar
Who does not remember the eccentric hero who chose to live in the medieval world of chivalry and thought of himself as a knight in shining armour?
SPAIN, the land of Flamenco dancers, clay court tennis champions and the famous soccer club, Real Madrid, redeemed itself after initially supporting the U.S. misadventure in Iraq. The new Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez, is a liberal and ready to honour greats from the past. One of these is writer Miguel de Cervantes whose immortal work Don Quixote recently celebrated its 400th anniversary.
Honour for writer
Proud Spaniards from all over the world joined the celebrations reading parts of the 1,000-page novel. The Prime Minister, six-year-olds, old and young, famous and ordinary people participated in honouring the great hero of the fiction classic.
The novel, published in 1605, is admired all over the world. Who does not remember the eccentric hero who chose to live in the medieval world of chivalry and thought of himself as a knight in shining armour? The poor man lived in a world of delusions and had to pay for it.
JUSTLY POPULAR: Celebrating a unique hero all over the world. PHOTO: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
Don Quixote is a comic character but sections of the novel make one think deeply and shed tears for the hero who did not belong to his time. I don't know from where Cervantes got the idea for his classic work but the medieval period stirred the imagination of several writers. Some like Walter Scott wrote historical romances. Others like Cervantes chose to write an allegory. His hero, Don Quixote was certainly not normal. His imagination was fevered, he thought of himself as a knight from a bygone era and moved around like one, riding a ragged horse. A knight must have a Squire; our Don had Sancho Panza who rode a donkey. A knight must have a damsel to be rescued and loved; he had a country wench Dulcinea. One of his "enemies" was the windmill that he attacked and was brought down.
Cervantes did not realise that his book and its hero would become immortal and would often be quoted in a modern context. When people do something out of character, it is called "quixotic": foolhardy attempts are known as "tilting at the windmills"; and what does one call an ideal chamcha? Sancho Panza. I first read extracts from the novel in high school texts but did not understand what drove its hero to do such bizarre things.
One needed an understanding of the medieval period to appreciate the book. When I read the novel later, parts of it seemed to drag. But slowly I realised that most human beings had a little bit of Don Quixote within. Further, the book had relevance to life in Spain in those days the harshness, religious persecution and so on.
A musical version of the book, "The Man From La Mancha" was a hit on Broadway and I saw an Indian version of the same in Bombay with the talented Dalip Tahil in the lead. It portrayed the hero as a lonely man, persecuted for his beliefs. Is Don Quixote relevant today? He was the hero who followed his heart even if that meant occasionally making a fool of himself. We all have secret desires but we chose to keep them within ourselves. But Quixote did not stop with that and that was why he tilted at the windmills. The people of Spain revealed a unique sense of humour when they chose to celebrate the 400th anniversary of such a character. Most Indians go by tradition-bound heroes but not the Spaniards.
At this rate, the 500th anniversary will be even more elaborate. Why not? The Man from La Mancha deserves all the accolades he gets. The story offers wonderful scope for a comic movie. Handled by an imaginative director it could take the world by storm. And there are plenty of windmills in India itself.
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