Last year I met my friend C (or A – she has two names) at the Chennai Book Fair and she looked at a rather meager collection of two books in my hand – both on Che Guevara – and asked if I was reliving my teenage rebellion years. I said something in response which I don’t remember now. Her comment made me think; I kept turning it in my head.
Where were my rebellious teenage years? I didn’t have regular teenage years where I could sit around and discuss politics or culture preferably with a smoke or a drink as a Bengali probably does in Calcutta. I was in Madras and barely met anyone one could talk to. My family in Madras is full of Anglophiles but are not politically aware. They’d rather see a popular film than read a book. The only intellectual stimulation was in books. All the people around me in school wanted to do was engineering or medicine not even the ever popular Bengali choices, law or economics. No one I knew wanted to change the world. And I went to a rather liberal school. I have no idea what the conservative ones are like. I met like-minded people only in college at age 17 after I started studying English literature.
I feel strangely drawn to Cuba. I did not know for the longest time ever of the affinity between Latin America and our* Bengal. I heard of Victoria Ocampo and Rabindranath Tagore only recently. And recently, I read about a famous photographer Alex Vadukul on a trip Calcutta commented that Calcutta reminded him of Cuba. Basically, whatever she took for granted as a cultural Bengali*, I chanced upon them much much later.
So getting those books on Che was not reliving my teenage rebellion years; I don’t think my rebellion ever happened. I just find Latin American literature, culture and politics quite interesting and keep reading up about them. I saw The Motorcycle Dairies, and read the book as well. I started learning Spanish in 2008 because I wanted to read Marquez in Spanish. (I had to stop because there was not enough takers for the advanced courses and the centre wouldn’t conduct them until there were enough people. I must resume it with some other centre.)
What I wanted to say, is that she may have had some rather interesting teenage years whereas I missed them out and I’m now forever trying to reclaim them.
* ‘our’ because it is C’s Bengal as much as mine. C is what I call a cultural Bengali. She is Tamilian born in Calcutta and working in Madras. She has since shifted back to Calcutta.