Cool? Or clueless?
For a couple of years now, arg/machine has seen the stylized face of “Che” Guevara looking out from a variety of local merchandise ranging from tee shirts to shopping bags and backpacks. Nearly all of this merchandise is sported by young folks – from local teens striving to be hip, to actors in local films, commercials, soap operas and music videos – most of whom seem ignorant as to what Che represented.
Always keen to reach out to the masses and instill in them ideas of fiery revolutions, Che would have undoubtedly been pleased to find himself turned into a youth icon. But how would he react on realizing that this rampant inclusion of his likeness on consumer goods is fuelled by reasons that are – so far from being revolutionary – purely cosmetic, and is driven by motives that are… [shudder] wholly Capitalistic?
It’s a comrade’s worst nightmare, no doubt!
The point: The Motorcycle Diaries
Having mentioned that, however, it’s time arg/machine got to the point – the book that he has been rereading lately.
Titled The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America
and written by a much younger Che [translation by Ann Wright], this “Easy Rider
” reveals a different, boisterous and high-spirited side to the personality of a man who was to later gain fame – or perhaps notoriety – as the firebrand leader of guerrilla rebellions.
1951. In their early 20s and barely out of medical school, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his buddy Alberto Granado decide – during an extended party with friends – to embark on a trip though the length of the South American continent. After having done what they could to acquire the necessary papers and official sanctions, the duo sets off on their trusty – if rather aged – mode of transportation: an old 500cc Norton
motorcycle they call La Poderosa
or “the Powerful One”.
The ambitious undertaking, however, acquires more than just a touch of slapstick comedy almost immediately, with their elderly transport’s capricious behaviour, the young adventurers’ complete lack of experience, a perpetual shortage of funds, suspicious diplomats and the various other mishaps – all of which Che narrates with his inimitable wit – that plague the twosome throughout their journey.
Not the ones to give up, Che and Alberto battle their way valiantly through, working – and almost each time with uproarious consequences – as barbecue assistants, impromptu firemen, stowaways-turned-deckhands, mercenary soccer players and – occasionally – as doctors, with their minds always on how and from where their next drink, meal and/or shelter is to be acquired. Full of humour, youthful vigour and spirit of adventure, The Motorcycle Diaries is… well, an “unputdownable” read…
And, at the same time, the reader is afforded an occasional glimpse – through Che’s own astute and compassionate observations – of the impoverished subsistence of the indigenous peoples of the areas the young bikers pass through: observations and compassion that unquestionably played significant roles in deciding the course of Che’s later life.
Che: In our Universe…
Argentinean Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s
brief-but-eventful life was spent in attempts to establish Marxism/Communism, the socio-political system he believed would eventually make real that elusive egalitarian utopia which, he felt, was needed in the various nations he was active in.
Che’s faith in armed Marxist/Communist uprisings saw him relinquish – following the successful revolution in Cuba [in which he participated actively] – his position as the island nation’s Minister for Industry and embrace a life of constant peril, supporting guerrilla-backed revolutions in various countries till he was eventually arrested for insurgency in Bolivia and executed in 1967.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe…
Authors of speculative fiction often write about parallel universes
; physicists do so
, too. In such a parallel or alternate universe, Che gave up his position as Cuba’s Minister for Industry to set up an organization that – with international aid – sought to provide healthcare to needy communities like those he came across on his epic motorcycle journey.
Driven by his tenacity and relentless enthusiasm, the organization grew and, by the 1980s, emerged as one of the largest of its kind, successfully operating over 70 field offices in three continents. And not just limited to healthcare, it now provided basic education, water/sanitation-related facilities as well as guidance for achieving financial independence through sustainable small-scale enterprises to the deprived populations of South America, Africa and Asia.
By the late 1990s, Doctor Ernesto “Che” Guevara was feted the world over for his outstanding contribution towards making the lives of these otherwise-neglected and forgotten people a littlebetter…
For analysts, historians and philosophers
So which Che is more qualified to achieve iconic status? The high-octane leader of revolutions from our own Universe? Or the determined social activist from the parallel one? That, good reader, is a question best left to political analysts, historians and philosophers. And perhaps, toyou, too…
Personally, however, arg/machine has always been suspicious of any socio-political system and/or form of government that, while promising a veritable paradise [egalitarian or otherwise] in theory, leaves itself susceptible – in application – to greed and lust for power: the twin curses afflicting governance and more than capable of turning any paradise into a barely-functioning, struggling dystopia…
And that’s all for this week; more audio and/or visual stuff later.