(This piece was delivered at the launch of the book “La India” by Rosario Cruz-Lucero at the Ateneo de Davao University, on 28 September 2012. Cruz-Lucero teaches Philippine literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman.)
First off, I’d like to say that I am happy to have this occasion to be reunited with good friends and good friends I have yet to meet.
It was some time in July when our good friend Karl Gaspar emailed me to request for a review of this book. Now, Karl here knows that it’s sometimes hard to catch up with me, so he thoughtfully made sure that I would get my copy early. On the first weekend of August when my jealous husband sequestered me from Karl and the rest of the world, the book landed on my table courtesy of another good friend, Pam Castrillo.
It did not stay there. I brought it with me to the wake of the oldest Davao Ilagan, Lola Lita Tablante – God rest her soul – who died in her sleep the day after her 83rd birthday last August 5. The book found its way into my 14-year-old daughter’s hands, and there it stayed for the better part of two hours while my husband and I were going through the conventions of consoling and being consoled. Had Lola Lita lived a day longer, I am sure she would have enjoyed hearing parts of this book.
In the car, I asked Sage how she found the book. She said it was “hilarious in a kind of quiet way. Interesting… tells of the way it was long ago… or maybe the way it could have been. Sounds plausible anyway… but funny.”
Funny. Definitely. It kept her reading about another time and another place for two hours, and that’s something that’s hard enough to make 14-year-olds do these days.
I told Sage I had been asked to do a book review and offered for her to write it for me to read at this launch. I said I’d of course credit her. She replied,
“That’s the review, ma. Sorry. I am a student. I have work to do.”
So you’re actually getting two book reviews in one today. That was Sage’s.
Back home, I found it difficult to finish reading La India. The book kept disappearing. It would turn up in my husband’s car, sometimes on my daughter’s bed or in their schoolbags. I found it among the dirty laundry we brought home from Hong Kong two weeks back. Other times, it joined the precarious pile of bathroom reading materials. I must confess that this book found a lot of standby time in that location, proof further of its relaxing magic to transport one to a state where one can just let go of the world’s more bothersome cares.
Reimaginings are very seductive to psychologists; and indeed, this book is replete with instances when I can call in theories of cognitive construction to analyze how the characters were making sense of their new experiences.
However, the weirder thing about this book is its effect on me. I am a hungry reader. I devour the written word. When I open a book, no matter how atrociously it was written, I don’t stop until I get to the last page, and then I go back and savor those meatier parts some more.
That didn’t happen with this book. Somehow, the words lulled me to tread the sedate, stately pace of the stories unfolding. I was actually content to let the story play out in its own time. These pages primed my mind to stop the outside world, take a vacation to mull over the dynamics of power and subjugation, weapons of the weak, and the fundamental elements of the human heart: love, loyalty, respect. I did that on the bus, on the plane, on my desk in the last two months, so I have yet to finish reading this book.
Such is the power of Chari Cruz-Lucero’s storytelling. It brought me back to the nights of my youth when on rare occasions, my father would be home. By lamplight, we would gather around his chair and listen to him recount tales of the ten datus who founded Panay – of Maniwan-tiwan and her golden necklace nga gasangyad sa lupa, the golden salakot, and the legend of the biray. At my father’s feet I learned to puzzle stuff like fair exchange, political persecution, migration, and myths human beings weave around life altering, history changing moments in their existence.
On odd occasions while reading Chari’s book, it did occur to me that my dad should have sat himself seriously down to write one himself. The magic of the Hiligaynon storyteller – which to my observation was a tradition my father intuitively followed – was captured and distilled in the pages of La India. I can’t tell you how Chari did that so I will let my good friend Macario Tiu explain it to you. I can’t even tell you what exactly I am talking about. We don’t have the words to describe that. The only thing we can do is to allow ourselves to get carried along and be blessed.
In La India, Chari’s writing brings the past to the present, and she does it by holding true to the tradition of the Hiligaynon oral narrative. More polished, more calibrated, more graceful but definitely so rich and generous that it leaves the reader saying, “Sus, laway lang gid kapital mo, mabinagit ka pa.” (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail heads the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, where she is also the editor of the university’s journal, Tambara. For comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)