A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes by Rodrigo Garcia
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

’It’s a dizzying sensation to know the destiny of a human being.’

I should know. But may not. Because no matter how well one prepares to say goodbye to a parent, seeing him/ her inching closer to that sunset with every passing day, warped in time slipping dangerous away , it isn’t enough. And so it wasn’t for Rodrigo Garcia as well.

For Rodrigo, the last few months of watching his father, battle cancer and slip into dementia, turning a pale shadow of the gregarious, expansive and prodigious person that he once was, was numbing. But his book doesn’t circle around this numbing as focal point; it does the opposite.

When the light is about go away, it shines brightest for a brief period one last time, under which (almost) everything becomes clearer. Rodrigo’s book settles near this light and is strangely comforting.

This memoir brought to fore, the various facets of Gabo – the Father, The Husband, The Author, The Man – and gave an insider’s account on how they all added to his personality. His quirks as growing up (he ate from shoes so to keep his siblings from poaching his food), his rummaging garbage bins to scourge food, the controversial writing of his teen years, his first moustache at 17 that never left him (even after his chemo), his surrender to vallenato after visiting the altars of chamber music and pop ballads, his flirty one-liners to the nurses attending him – they all, somehow, painted a picture of a man for me who never yielded ground to obscene demands of the world. He lived on his own terms, stuck to his stories when they were rejected by leading production houses, continued to pen in his native language while letting the world enter him, appreciated art without sanitizing its source, smothered his senses with words from dictionaries sans any intent to intimidate anyone.

In narrating the final months of Gabo, Rodrigo also underlines the banes and blessings that come with being a maestro’s son. It was heart-breaking to read about the way the family took to the garage at the back to move Gabo through to home, with a white sheet pulled up as a screen to avoid media glare and how upon his death, they had to put all the phones and friends on check to not let the news slip before his granddaughters had landed so they didn’t have to hear it from someone else. It was also, however, heart-warming to know of the numerous people who turned up for his funeral and memorial, besides the fans across the world who sent in letters and tributes which, as Rodrigo writes, nourished his soul.

Gabo and Mercedes – Oct 12, 1982 – The morning the Nobel Prize was announced.

I have always felt that two people who love each other, should depart together; they become different people if left behind. Mercedes Barcha didn’t want to be someone else – she was so majestic, fierce, generous and warm that she wouldn’t have loved any other avatar of herself. So, she entertained her late husband’s admirers, including two presidents, joked with family members, kept smoking with panache and joined her husband just six years later. A tiny break of six years to continue the saga of fifty-seven years.

The death of a second parent is like looking through a telescope one night and no longer finding a planet that has always been there. It has vanished, with its religion, its customs, its own peculiar habits and rituals, big and small. The echo remains.

Yes. The echo remains. Manifested in something mellifluous and stimulating, in my world. And I am certain in many others too.

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