NEW DELHI – Nobel prize winner Octavio Paz lived in New Delhi between 1962-68 when he was the Mexican ambassador to India, six years that had a profound influence both on his understanding of the country as well as of himself, when “he discovered his soul,” according to Indian Hispanist Malabika Bhattacharya.
“Mexico and India share a history of colonialism. There are many similarities between the Aztec and Hindu myths. That’s why I think that India was not a foreign country for Paz. In India, he discovered his soul,” Bhattacharya told Efe.
The academic visited the Nobel prize winner during 1977-78 while doing research on Paz’s poetry in the National Autonomous University of Mexico and he spoke “many times” about India, explaining his feelings and impressions,” Bhattacharya recalled.
In his work “Vislumbres de la India” (Glimpses of India) (1995), Octavio Paz narrates his experience in the Asian country.
“It was a happy time: I could read, write several books on poetry and prose – he said – have a few friends with whom I shared ethical, esthetic and intellectual interests, explore unknown cities in the heart of Asia, witness strange customs and contemplate monuments and landscapes.”
“Most importantly,” said Paz, he met his wife, Marie Jose, there, and married her under a neem tree in the garden of the Mexican embassy, the 13th bungalow on Prithviraj Road, in what was “a second birth” for him.
Recently the embassy was moved out of that building after “nearly 50 years,” present Mexican ambassador and its last tenant Jaime Nualart told Efe, as “it was rented property and the owners needed it.”
Nualart, who considers himself “very fortunate” to hold the same post as Paz, described that residence as “a hotbed for artists” where “thinkers gathered to talk about India, artistic trends, politics.”
Nualart also pointed out the importance of the period during which Paz was ambassador, when “the first visit by a Mexican head of state, President Adolfo Lopez Mateos, took place, and later (Indian) Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru traveled to Mexico.”
Adorning Nualart’s office is a photo of the meeting between Paz and Nehru, one of the fathers of Indian independence, whom the poet met “in the last years of his life.”
“Despite his obvious tiredness, I was struck by his elegance: immaculately dressed in white and a rose in his buttonhole. It was not difficult to see that his two great passions had been politics and women,” Paz wrote about the illustrious politician.
This month, New Delhi is commemorating the birth centenary of the Mexican poet (1914-1998) through several events organized by the Instituto Cervantes in collaboration with the Mexican government including the exhibition “Photo-Poetry: Octavio Paz in India.”
In this exhibition, two Indian photographers, Subrata Biswas and Adil Hasan, use images of the Indian capital to interpret Paz’s poems such as those dedicated to the Lodhi Gardens or the Humayun’s Tomb, two places which, according to the Mexican, “encourage us to dream and fly. They are magic carpets.”
The cameras of the two artists try to capture time and night, life and death, and the natural beauty surrounding the monuments as if drawing it out from the very stones that make them, just as Paz did with his words.
“The black, pensive, dense/ Domes of the mausoleums/ Suddenly shot birds/ Into the unanimous blue,” wrote Paz in his poem, “In the Lodi Gardens,” recalling that place near his residence.