I first came to know about ‘The Book of Disquiet’ through a Malayalam movie named Rithu. There is a scene where the protagonist gifts this book to his father who is a translator, someone who translates books from Bengali to English. And the father exclaims “Oh Pessoa!” and continues. “This unpublished collection of writings were found in his trunk 50 years after his death. He was a genius who said that there resides multiple selves within an individual.”
That was enough to trigger my curiosity to learn more about Fernando Pessoa and get a copy of the book. I discovered that Pessoa wrote in more than 70 different names which he called heteronyms instead of pseudonyms. These 70 people were indeed different selves within his own self. Each had their own identity, story and a style of writing. For he is the one who said, “Each of us is more than one person, many people, a proliferation of our one self”.
It took me another couple of years after knowing about book to actually get hold of it. I searched for it in the bookstores in Thrissur, but none of them had it. When I tried buying online, they wouldn’t deliver it to my home address. I then got it delivered to my friend who lived in Mangalore and he couriered it to me. Ever since the book has journeyed with me, or rather I have journeyed with it.
‘The Book of Disquiet’ is a collection of thoughts, experiences, dreams, ruminations, mysteries, sorrows, disdain and more. I have journeyed with this book since the last seven to eight years and each time I pick it up, it serves me with a reflection of myself; how my thoughts and perception of the world have evolved over time. Like the way I interact with the world has evolved with time and experience, the way I perceive the words written by Pessoa has also evolved. Another work of art that provides me with a similar reflection is the movie ‘Waking Life’ directed by Richard Linklater.
I find Pessoa’s writing to share an emotion similar to that of Vincent Van Gogh’s. Both were solitary beings and hopeless dreamers. But while Van Gogh struggled to find the company of someone who understood him (apart from Theo Van Gogh, his brother), Pessoa seemed to choose to be with himself. He wrote: “Freedom is the possibility of Isolation. You are only free if you can withdraw from men (read ‘humanity’) and feel no need to seek them out for money, or society, or love, or glory, or even curiosity, for none of these things flourish in silence and solitude. If you cannot live alone, you were born a slave.”
While Van Gogh as well struggled to pursue his passion of oil painting and could never make a livelihood out of it, Pessoa was a professionall translator. He translated works from Portuguese to English and French. But the words both of them wrote came directly from their hearts. Both of them didn’t mean to impress anyone with their writing. Their only need was to communicate. While Van Gogh mostly communicated with his brother (‘Dear Theo’, a collection of letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo is now considered as his autobiography) , Pessoa communicated with his own self or selves. Another common thread between the two as I see it is that both of them became famous in their respective worlds of creativity — art and literature — after their deaths.
One of the intentions of writing all this down is to see if this opens up possibilities for new conversations. Another is to see if this becomes a chance for someone to get introduced to the works mentioned, for they have journeyed with me and I am grateful to their presence in my life.