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Thursday, April 26, 2012

ANATOMY OF A REVOLUTIONARY


According to me, this world is filled with extremists. There are those who practice materialism in its ugly form and go to any and every extent to exploit, manipulate and reduce others in their quest to unlimited wealth and most of the times glory as well. And then there are a select few (a bunch on the verge of extinction) who lead their lives as epitomes of selflessness and fight for all the people who are oppressed or denied their right to live. The world calls them “Revolutionaries”. These demigods normally lead a troubled but fulfilling life and die with no wealth and limited glory but find immortality in the hearts of all the people they touched and healed. And then there we are, caught in the middle, in no man’s land, leading a life of a dream interspersed with ambition. We want the wealth but our conscience comes in the way (hopefully) when it comes to exploiting others. We dream to be a messiah and fight for a cause but we lack the temerity, discipline and will to give ourselves up. Some people call it normal life; others ordinary!

We don’t have to look hard for the first type; ironically they are well documented and celebrated and for the third type, we only have to look inward. But what does a revolutionary look like? Well, pretty much like you and me, a little thinner and beaten down may be but not necessarily! He (or she) may be less educated than us but certainly more learned; most certainly well read with an eclectic passion for poetry; a consciousness driven more by moral values than materialistic incentives. He wears restlessness and anger on his sleeve and he fears death as much as we do though for different reasons. But there is just one thing that really defines a revolutionary: Love. It may sound ridiculous but it is the love and compassion for a fellow human being that makes a man fight. And he would most certainly have an insatiable hunger to explore the world which gives him a whole new perspective of life and wakes him up to the injustice around. A revolutionary would have most certainly seen the world before the world sees him!  

Until a week ago, the only thing I knew about Che Guevara was that he was an important figure in the Cuban revolution and the only image I had was a stylized visage from a famous photograph that can be seen everywhere worn as T-shirts by youngsters. I am not sure how many of them know his fascinating story, but I sure didn’t. And a small peek into his life tells you what a revolutionary is. But to me the story of how he became one is even more fascinating because it is not about heroic feats but about 2 lives with similar aspirations and dreams running in parallel for a while and how one metamorphoses into the other. Born in a well off and respectable family in Argentina, Ernesto Guevara was an intellectual right from his early days with great passion for poetry, literature and sport. He studied medicine and his hunger to explore the continent he had only known in books took him on an 8000 kilometer journey through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela and Panama that would fundamentally change how he viewed himself and Latin America.

Filled with restlessness and an impassioned spirit, fueled by love for the open road, accompanied by his best friend Alberto Marrero and an old motorcycle that peed oil, Ernesto embarks on a journey that would take him to the farthest reaches of human spirit. In Chile he has his first tryst with a patient when he abandons his date to examine an old lady and feels completely powerless as he sees a plea of forgiveness and solace in her dying eyes. Then he finds himself enraged by the working conditions of the miners in Anaconda copper mine. His overnight encounter with a persecuted communist couple in the Atacama Desert brings him face to face with flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation. In that cold night, amidst those tragic and haunting faces he starts to feel closer to the strange human race. The deeper he goes into the Andes Mountains, the more indigenous people he encounters who are homeless in their own land. Here the crushing poverty of the peasant farmers who worked small plots of land owned by wealthy landlords takes a heavy toll on him.

The world has already changed in his eyes when he and Alberto arrive at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River. About 600 patients live on the South of the river while doctors and caretakers live in the North side. The segregation pains him. He and Alberto refuse to wear gloves and shake hands with patients who call them “real men”. He coaxes a young patient who has lost hope into operation by saying: “You have to fight for every breath and tell death to go to hell”. He sings and dances with them, plays football and literally lives with them. Their camaraderie and spirit make him wonder how the highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise and persist among such lonely and desperate people. On the day before they are supposed to move on with their journey, his birthday is celebrated on the North side. He decides that he has to celebrate it with the patients and not finding a boat, just swims across the Amazon fighting bouts of asthma, and lands in the arms of his loving patients. It was then he knew where he belonged. The journey went on, after hugs and an emotional good bye, but something changed inside him that day. 

That journey brought Ernesto in close contact with poverty, hunger, disease, injustice and inequality. He witnessed the inability of a father to treat a child because of lack of money and was pained by stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment that led the same father to accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident. It was this journey that convinced him that in order to help these people, he needed to leave the realm of medicine, and consider the political arena of armed struggle. And this journey eventually kick started the journey of Che who would go on to change the way the world viewed Latin America. From that moment onward, every man or woman who trembled with indignation at injustice became his comrade!

45 comments:

  1. an amazing opening para

    what's his book called motorcycle diaries right? i think they even made it into a film

    loved reading about him in your post

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    1. Thank you so much Sujatha. :) yeah.. you are exactly right. It is the Motorcycle Diaries. It is pretty good. Also there are a couple more movies about his Revolution which are interesting as well. :)

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  2. Brilliant post. I was so impressed by your post that I ended up reading most parts of his wiki article and also watched some of his speech videos on YouTube. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Akshay. :) If my post kindled your interest to read and watch more, then there can be no better compliment. :)

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  3. Very nice post. U have done a great attempt by writing a post about him by which so many people like me who dint even know a bit about him got to know so much about this great personality.. Good work Raj:)

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    1. Thank you so much Sonia. :) yeah.. Not many people know about him. But his story is quite fascinating indeed. :)

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  4. I have his "Motor cycle dairies" in my shelf.Your post made me pick the book right now..:-) Thanks for a very nice article..Written splendidly..:-)

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    1. Yeah.. it is quite a good read. :) Do check it out if you get a chance. And thank you for the wonderful compliment. :)

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  5. That was an exquisite account of the making of a revolutionary that changed the face of Latin America. Closer home, I wish Subhash Chandra Bose had lived and changed the face of India too.

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    1. Thank you so much Umashankar. :) I admire Subhash Chandra Bose and what he did was tremendous. I too so wish he had lived and done much more. He was such an inspiration!

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  6. Hats off! What a brilliant post!!

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    1. Thank you so much Rohu for that wonderful wonderful compliment. :)

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  7. Fantastic post. I have often wondered if many of the people sporting Che Guevara t-shirts actually know its importance. Doesn't make sense when someone wearing such a t-shirt, doles out moolah at a traffic signal to a greedy cop, to avoid the fine for breaking a traffic rule.

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    1. Thank you so much Ramakant. yeah.. I don't know either. He has become more of style icon in a totally unintentional way. But yeah.. not many people know what he stood for.

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  8. I am sure i have seen the movie .. it also came as a series on TV if i am not mistaken ..

    I admire CHE a lot have read about him .. even in india we have had some very good revolutionaries but alas in our nation it was the ones who were in power who got all the recognition and not the others who genuinly did something ..

    Bikram's

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    1. Yeah Bikram. There was a 2 part series about his Revolution. He was a pretty intriguing figure. Yeah.. I feel that history itself is biased because it is written by the few who are in power at the end. India had some wonderful idealists who fought the independence but were never given their due recognition they so deserved.

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  9. Raj - I loved your dig about people like us, who are, caught in the middle, in no man’s land, leading a life of a dream interspersed with ambition..

    but I feel strongly against portraying Che's virtues, for he was blessed with as many an evil as were the virtues.. the motorcycle diaries tells the world, what lead him to the path of revolution.. but then it doesn't say much about what he did after the revolution..

    what he did after the cuban revolution is as important or maybe a little more important than what lead him there.. che was an idealist, someone who tried relentlessly to make his belief be true..then Che was someone who loved the war..not just for making things right the way he saw it, but just because he loved the blood and the feel of adrenalin, being in war..

    Little known about this Argentine who fought the Cuban revolutionary war with Castro is that belief made him fight for the insurgents in Africa..it wasnt against materialism or capitalism..it was for the sheer pleasure of violence.. Che was a violent man and his modes of execution of enemies and his own soldiers, who failed to obey his command were gruesome..

    if I go by the definition that you had given to a revolutionary, which I hold is quite true, then I feel Che in the end was an anarchist or war mongrel, who loved insurgencies and the action in war... he was a revolutionary..but then the revolutionary is always only as good as the cause for revolution is..

    Gandhi was a revolutionary, so was Lincoln and Mandela.. and I do agree Che was as good as any of them or maybe better to have left the materialistic things behind in the life they lead.. I feel leaving the materialistic stuff alone doesnt makes one a revolutionary..you need to believe in a higher cause and it shouldn't be the love for being in action..

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    1. Thank you very much for the comment. I certainly do respect your views but do not necessarily agree with all of them. Well.. my post wasn't exactly based on Motorcycle diaries. Before I write about an individual I do extensive research and reading and I have been reading up and watching every aspect of his life a lot lately. I do not believe in absolute evaluation of a human being. Every man has good and bad deeds to his credit. This post was neither intended to glorify Che nor does it compare to the other great revolutionaries you have mentioned for whom I have utmost respect. It was just intended to bring out the story of a man's transformation. And I also have a second part written on what he did after that and how he met his end in Bolivia which will bring to light what I think about his revolution.

      I have read accounts from supporters of Che as well as those who oppose his ideals. Both obviously contradict each other, so you are free to choose your side. But I tried not to. I don't agree that he fought for his ego. He fought for a very strong cause. His methods may be questionable. But it would be very simplistic to do so as there are so many hardships that go on in the lives of men who are fighting for their entire lives which we may never even know and tend to overlook. He did love war because he was convinced that was the way to free his people. Gandhi had a totally different view for a revolution which sure is noble. But if you see at the same time in India, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and several others fought an arms struggle and I (and India) consider them great revolutionaries as well.

      It was not Che's virtues I was propagating or patronizing, it was just the conditions that make a man take up a fight that formed the crux of this post. Either ways I welcome and appreciate your long and well thought out comment. We can certainly agree to disagree. :)

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  10. and to add Che wasn't all that a selfless human towards the end.. the young doctor who went on the tour wasnt the same person who lead the mercenaries in Congo and then in Bolivia...

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  11. well, i am one of those people who wore a Che Guevara t-shirt without knowing who he was, it was just another t-shirt for me with a face on it, which looked good (we all buy such stuffs, don't we?) however, i was informed by a person who cannot speak. he wrote it on a piece of paper and gave it to me when he saw me wearing that t-shirt.

    i am thankful to you for this lovely post. i am definitely going to find more information about him from wiki and other sources. outstanding narration as always.

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    1. Thank you so much Deb for that lovely comment. :) wow.. that must have been quite an experience. Wonder how such encounters move us so much.

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  12. Very well written! The way Che turned out later is the problem with taking the violent path to revolution. A strong belief in the rightness of your own ideals coupled with anger against the people who espouse something different (which later on transmogrifies to the 'those who are not for me are against me' syndrome) is a sure recipe for transforming the revolutionary into a terrorist. Gandhi is a Mahatma precisely because he realized that fighting an ideology need not necessarily involve hating the people who espoused it!

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    1. Thank you very much Suresh. That was a very well written and thought out comment. I totally agree that the greatness of the Mahatma and the tenacity of his struggle are unmatched. But I would also like to add that the circumstances of Che's struggle were totally different. His methods weren't always the best but they were in tune with the geopolitics and economics of Latin America.

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  13. Hi Raj

    That was a very nice post...Wow!! Your writing style is awesome...Got reminded of Kamal's dialogue...'Ithellaam thaana varathu thaan illa'(Assuming you know tamil ) :) .... I was one of the ones who saw Che's pictures on all TShirts and kept wondering who that guy was...Later read a little about him and got some idea....Your post has a lot of interesting info!! Looking fwd to the sequel.

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    1. Thank you so much Jaish. :) Oh yeah.. that is a perfectly good assumption. I know Tamil very well. :) And of course Kamal's dialogue! :) yeah.. I have also wondered so many times in my childhood and during college times as to who he is. Even when I knew something about him, it was just cursory information. It took me this long to actually try and figure out who and what he was. :)

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  14. Interesting, I adore Che and his Last words " Hasta La Victoria Siempre" In Spanish Meaning "Until Victory Always" still holds value. The problem with Che and most revolutionaries is that they are very bad administrators and are not able to continue what they started. Some who do continue end up as dictators good examples are Hosni Mubarak and Saddam Hussein.

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    1. Thank you Vikram for your wonderful comment. I guess Che never wanted to be an administrator in the first place. He could have stayed back in Cuba after he and Fidel successfully completed the revolution. He moved on and continued to fight for the people in other places. I would certainly agree that his methods were certainly questionable but then again it would be too simplistic to do considering the circumstances of his struggle.

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  15. Che - My God :) Thanks a lot for this beautiful post :)

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    1. A very warm welcome to you Puru. And thank you so much for the lovely compliment. I am so glad you liked it. :)

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  16. A lovely post on a lesser remembered hero, Che! The revolutionaries are driven by the power of conviction which most lack!

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    1. Thank you so much Sir. :) yeah.. you said it perfectly. The power of conviction is beyond our limits of endurance.

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  17. I haven't read about Che before but this one was done so well that it has kindled my interest in him. I loved your reply to Ousu too. So controlled, so well put across as the original comment was. That was a great dialogue and I am looking forward to your interpretation of his later life.

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    1. Thank you so much Zephyr. I am so glad you liked it. :) And if it has kindled interest in Che, then I don't need a better compliment.

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  18. I wasn't aware of his story and as you said I thought he is some youth icon as many bloggers upload his picture as their profile. You started it in a way that I was questioning myself of which category I am in or rather wanted to be. A retrospection you would say...

    Thanks for sharing his story and enlightening us with the more finer versions of humans...

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    1. Finer versions of humans! wow.. that was beautifully said. :)

      Very true. I was questioning myself after I read about him and that was how the first paragraph was formed. :)

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  19. i didnt know abt him,, thanks for ur info..

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    1. A very warm welcome to you Ruchi. And thank you so much for the comment. Am so glad you liked it. :)

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  20. Such a splendid post,so well-written & compact...he comes out as a determined fighter,who lived his ideals.

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    1. Thank you so much Indu. Am so glad you liked the post. He is indeed a man who lived and fought for his ideals.

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  21. Another wonderful read from the pen of Raj. Going to read him for sure. Read it late as I was in India trip. hey btw, the recipe came out good. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Latha. Am so glad this post has kindled your interest in him. :)

      And thank you so much.. am delighted that the recipe came out very well. :) That is soo awesome.

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  22. Hats off to the man who bring lights in millions people lives... Great information and thanks for sharing.......

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  23. I am glad I came across your blog. :)
    It was a beautiful post.
    Read and learned.

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    1. A very warm welcome to you here. And glad you liked it. :)

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