You and I may be saints in a country that garlands
rapists and killers.
One of the delightful short stories of Gabriel Garcia
Marquez is ‘The Saint’. A man named Margarito Duarte, who has not studied
beyond the primary school, becomes a saint in the view of the narrator by doing
nothing but carrying the dead body of his seven-year-old daughter for 22 years
hoping to get her canonised by the Catholic Church.
Margarito, like many others of his village, is forced
to disinter the body of his daughter because a dam that is going to be
constructed requires the acquisition of the parish cemetery. Everyone in the
parish disinters the bones of their dear departed so that they can be buried
elsewhere. When Margarito opens the tomb of his daughter who had died at the
age of 7 due to illness, he is startled. His daughter looked as alive as she
was before her burial eleven years ago. He, as well as the others in the parish,
is convinced that his daughter is a saint and that is why her body has remained
uncorrupted for all these years. Now his quest is to get her canonised.
He takes the body to the Vatican. Popes come and go
one by one. 22 years pass. Margarito is still waiting when the narrator meets
him, waiting for the canonisation of his daughter. The narrator concludes Margarito’s
story saying “he had spent twenty-two years fighting for the legitimate cause
of his own canonization.”
Margarito is the real saint, in other words. His is a
life that has been dedicated to a single cause with the sincerest commitment.
What else is sanctity but that sort of commitment to what you think is your
Absurd, you may say – as I did when I first
read this story some ten years ago. What is so holy about a man spending almost
an entire lifetime pursuing a foolish cause like Margarito’s? The answer is
what I hinted at in the beginning of this post. What is holy, what is heroic,
what is patriotic? Who decides such things?
One of the best parables I have ever read about the
futility of most human pursuits is from Albert Camus. In his sublime essay, The
Myth of Sisyphus, Camus tells us the story of a madman trying to catch fish
from a bathtub. Seeing the guy sitting so serenely holding the fishing rod, the
psychiatrist asks him, “Hey, chap, caught something yet?” The madman’s answer
is: “No, you fool, this is only a bathtub.”
Who is sane and who is mad in this parable?
Camus’s point is that we are not different from that
madman. We are trying to catch fish from the bathtub knowing fully well that
there is no fish in there. And a few of us are like the psychiatrist pretending
to be wise and climbing up holy pedestals. Our endeavours to rescue our idols
from among the fossils of Aurangzebs, our dreams about expanding the borders of
Akhand Bharat beyond the Himalayas, our notions about heroism and greatness…
make us very like Camus’s loony or the loony’s doc. Or like Margarito Duarte.
Absurd or hollow pursuits with firm convictions.
If only we could be a little sceptical, the world
would be a far better place. What we need is not the saint’s certainty but the fallible
person’s scepticism. Don’t be a saint. Take a sip of whisky, sing a song and
dance once in a while. Make some mistakes. Enjoy life.
Wish you a joy-filled New Year.