Reading Pessoa

This is no critical take on Pessoa. I have not even read him exhaustively but I am increasingly falling in love with his writing so much that I want to expedite my Portuguese learning and read him in Portuguese. While I was in Lisbon (mandatory bragging for Europe travel), I would read his poems on the internet while sitting in a café or at a bar. Since the Lisbon trip materialised rather at the last moment, I couldn’t pick up his Lisbon: What the tourist should see beforehand, nor I was inclined to read it while I was there. But I managed to read some of his poems. After coming back, I have been occasionally reading his The Book of Disquiet (TBOD), as and when I find spare time. I think TBOD is a book I want/ed to write. It is deeply internal, incisive and arresting. Just thoughts, with no compulsions of narrative, linearity or structure and is inviting. And the format too, of short musings is something I myself have been writing. And in my mind, I thought I was making a breakthrough in the literature scene by experimenting with this form, until I came across Ravish Kumar’s LaPreK and finally Pessoa’s TBOQ. Nevertheless, now that I’ve learnt Pessoa has already written what I have been deferring to write, I am planning to gift copies of TBOQ to friends.

I usually read it on my way to the university or before sleeping. In it, Pessoa writes about mundane reflections that are simultaneously existential. Apart from its beautifully flowing prose, I also relate to the subjective position that Pessoa has assumed as a first person narrator in the book, that of a quiet observer of himself and everything else in the chaos of everyday. Every now and then, Pessoa throws in some of the most brilliant one liners and metaphors. Consider

To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror.

Or

Everything was sleeping as if the universe were a mistake.

And what is interesting is the book is as much about Lisbon as it is about Pessoa. He doesn’t fetishize the city yet brings out Lisbon in his writing in most evocative ways. Growing up in Ponda- a small town of Goa, and having lived in Pune and Delhi, I have always wondered if I could locate myself in a cityscape (in a broader sense). I can perhaps write about Goa that nobody wants to read. I am repulsed by Delhi these days and I spend my time here as if I am doing a favour on the city. Pune is the only place I have desired to go back to but I am not sure if I will like it either. In that sense, TBOQ is a great example about how to write about a city without giving it any extra emphasis. I started reading TBOQ to regain my momentum in reading fiction but it is becoming a primer for me on how to write.

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