Oh, where are my manners? It’s been over a week and I’ve not introduced you to someone important. In fact, there are two personas – one real, one fictional.
Have you heard the story about an obsessed reader who created a make-believe world where he was the protagonist of tales of chivalry and romantic adventures? No?
But you must have heard of the above phrase “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Bet you thought it must be Shakespeare or some English writer. Well it’s not.
Here in this humble magnificent city of Madrid was a soldier and accountant who wrote one of the finest modern Western literature, who took over ten years to produce this magnum opus and who died one day before William Shakespeare.
The Spanish writer was Miguel de Cervantes. The novel is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, published during the Muslim expulsion from Spain in early 1600s and represented the departure of an old world and coming of a new era.
In the novel, Cervantes coined the above phrase – Por la muestra se conoce el paño (the proof of the pudding is in the eating) for his madman hero Don Quixote who after years of reading decided to test his knowledge of chivalry to experience the valour himself.
The story is a satire and described as a comic tragedy. By the time Don Quixote put on his armour, he was already in his 50s and the world had changed since he started reading past accounts of knighthood.
As with all great works, the tome was the subject of intense criticisms and interpretations. Yet it was so influential and has been translated into more languages than any book other than the Bible. (hmmm)
Though I’ve not read the book, I’ve met the man outside the Biblioteca Nacional de España en Madrid. We didn’t have much to say to each other. And I walk his street every day and attend the school bearing the name of his novel. Cervantes is literally everywhere here.
And so is his fictional character cast in bronze posing proudly and steadily to take the pressure of the millions of tourists clamouring for the perfect shot with this incredibly insane scholar.
In a way at times we may be like Don Quixote driven by obsessions or romantic visions of the past or a fictional world. The challenges faced and the problems encountered may not even exist in the reality. Sometimes, we can’t even tell what we see is real and what’s real is seen.
Por la muestra se conoce el paño